But… the Little Mermaid gave up her voice!

Ah, Ariel. I love many things about your movie, particularly the music. But as a character, you made such poor choices. Giving up your voice to get a man? That set a really poor example for girls. In a society that positions girls as weak, and often suggests their voices don’t count as much as male voices, girls need to see female characters they love who raise their voices. They need to be inspired to speak out. 

For that reason, I find it odd that Disney is now describing The Little Mermaid as a classic that “gave voice to a whole generation”:

Did the film give a whole generation princess fever? Sure?

But did it give a whole generation a VOICE? No way.

I think it’s a really strange choice of words. Readers: What’s your take on this one?

15 Comments on “But… the Little Mermaid gave up her voice!

  1. I think it’s a marketing department trying to justify their existence to the higher ups. No-one that I know of sees the Little Mermaid as the defining moment of a generation; specifically my generation.

    What’s often forgotten is that Ariel originally just wanted to live on land; getting a man figured nowhere in her plans until Ursula used it as a tool.

  2. I’d be interested to hear Disney explain what kind of voice it gave to it’s generation. I’m from that generation (that was a child when it was released). Not sure which of my issues it gave voice to. Being misunderstood by your father? So giving up your voice to go and replace him with another man? No – that doesn’t sound right. I think it’s quite an ironic statement. A non-deliberate ironic statement.

    I do love the film. Buuuuut……. I think Disney is attempting to give it more weight than it actually has. Isn’t about to be re-released? I think that has a lot to do with such poorly thought out statements.

  3. I remember when Little Mermaid first came out, it was spun as a more modern, “spunky” princess story. It was supposed to appeal to feminist sensibilities by portraying a more active, engaged female protagonist. Similar to “green washed” products, though, Little Mermaid is also the same old princess tale with a new coat of “paint”. Ariel is still daddy’s girl, Ariel’s mom is still dead, Ariel still gives up everything for the love of a prince, and suffers trials and tribulations because she’s beautiful and kind and good.

    The voice of the generation may have been yelling “we’re tired of passive princesses!” but Ariel certainly was a bait and switch answer to that cry. Jasmine of Aladdin was no better. Only Mulan has anything like true female agency, and they still had to tack on an unnecessary love story. Now we have Brave, and people seriously debate whether Merida is a lesbian because she doesn’t want to enter into an arranged marriage before she’s 20. The more things “change”. . .

  4. I took my toddler girl to Disneyland/California Adventure for the first time this summer (we were there with some family) and even with the ‘whitewashing’ the Disney movie gives the traditional story (i.e., she fundamentally modifies her body and gives up her voice because she’s curious about dry land, not–at first–because she’s in love), I was crying–crying!–by the time we finished Princess Ariel’s undersea adventure or wtf it’s called. My beautiful, beautiful, inccredibly verbal, already perfectly herself little girl, looking up to those magical cartoon characters with wonder in her eyes, being told that if she IS QUIET and CONFORMS PHYSICALLY she will be happy and loved. Argh. Her grandmother told me I was bringing “my own baggage” to the story–DAMN STRAIGHT I AM. And I will be damned if I don’t do everything possible to keep that kind of baggage off my kid.

  5. I have to disagree with you there, one the originally story was that she gave up her voice and that she also was in pain every time her feet touch the ground it was to feel like she was stepping on glass. At least Disney left that part out. But and I say this in defense of Ariel because she is my favorite Disney princess and my daughter’s at almost 2 years old, which is also her name, the major part of this story isn’t that she is quiet and modified her body to get a man. It’s that she risk everything and went against all rules to DO WHAT SHE WANTED! She longed to see dry land, she was obsessed with it, she collected human items, she did whatever was necessary to MAKE HER DREAMS COME TRUE. I actually completely agree that she gave a generation a voice. She told us to go after our dreams. Sorry just had to defend my mermaid dreamer.

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  7. I’m not happy to shatter someone’s dreams, but in the original story the prince she rescued doesn’t fell in love at the end of the third day and she turns into sea foam (and many other relevant details). So far for trading your voice for a pair of legs…

  8. I think you’re underestimating Mermaid’s role a bit… maybe you don’t find it that appealing but it’s a highly HIGHLY important film for the animation industry. Mermaid was one of the movies that launched Disney into their renaissance and brought them out of their dark age.

    Mermaid and Roger Rabbit were the two movies that came out in the 80s that renewed the public’s interest in animation. In the 1980s, Disney was in shambles and crappy Saturday morning toy-driven TV shows from Filmation and Hanna-Barbara dominated the animation industry. Animation was seen as merely “kiddie fare” not as an art form or a genuine film-making medium.

    Without Mermaid and Roger, I doubt there would be a Disney today. I think the animation unit would have been shut down since their animation studio was not doing well up until this point.

    Say what you will about the film itself but you can’t deny it’s importance to the ART of animation. It may have not given kids a voice (Mermaid was made just as much for adults as it was for kids, btw, take a look at the behind-the-scenes doc on the DVD), but it certainly gave a lot of amazingly talented young animators a voice.

    Watch the documentary “Waking Sleeping Beauty”. It goes into this history a lot more in detail.

    • Thanks for this perspective! I appreciate it. The Little Mermaid certainly ushered in a new era; there’s no denying it began a new age for Disney.

      The idea of the Little Mermaid “giving voice” when in the storyline she gave UP her voice just struck me as rather ironic. But what you wrote about is probably what they really meant to reference–a generation of animators, not kids.

      Thanks again.

  9. The Little Mermaid — impudent, grandiose, a multilevel crowd-pleaser — almost returns the Disney animated features to their glory traditions of the ’30s and ’40s.

  10. Ariel was tricked by Ursula, the villainous sea witch, into giving up her voice for a pair of human legs. And she did it for love. People do stupid things for love. So your outlook on a child Disney movie is a reach at best.

    • Absolutely agree, she did it for love and to pursue her dreams. Both men and women do this btw. Heck, perhaps men even more so. I applaud her courage and ability to think for herself. Sad how this PC culture will spin just about anything.

  11. I was a college freshman when TLM came out, and it quickly became one of my favorite movies. I loved the story, music and art. It actually made me want to become an animator (I was an art major.) BUT I always thought that Ariel was a brat, LOL! I don’t think her actions would have influenced me as a child in any way, just as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella did not when I was a kid watching them on video or in theater re-releases. I saw them as strictly fantastical cartoons. My uber-feminist parents taught me about how to approach real life, which that fantasy world had NO bearing on in my little brain.

    Which makes me think – for the first time since my daughter was born – that perhaps we’re giving too much weight to (and worrying too much about) what the media portrays vs. what children see and learn in real life. I’ve been very interested in this since she was born, and made sure to discuss anything in media that I feel might give her the wrong ideas about real life. But how do we actually tell how much influence Disney movies have on children? Are there studies that have been done? I know of one study in which little girls said that to become princesses they’d need to have lighter skin. What else? There is a lot written about it, but as far as I know it is all opinion, not evidence-based.

    • Also, I tend to agree with those commenters who pointed out that her actions were indicators of a great deal of self-will, to do whatever it took to achieve her dreams–rather than indicators of submissive conformity. The fact that it involved her voice was incidental and not symbolic of any inferiority on her part. It was surely done so that she couldn’t just tell Eric who she was! (Though, she could write–so why didn’t she WRITE it down??) Also, all the negative messages about how men like ‘quiet’ girls were expressed by the VILLAIN, so obviously not trustworthy.

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