Thursday, December 1, 2016

My First Disney Movie

            I have not been posting nearly enough this year and I want to steer back from that.  To that end I have found a 30-day blog challenge and fluffed it out to 31 entries (since December has 31 days).  I have done a 30-day challenge before for movies, though that one was poorly executed (I started it in the middle of a month, at one point I posted 2 entries on one day, it is a mess).  I did another one just this year in August on Video Games, that one was better, go read it after this one, all of it.  Or don’t, no pressure.

            Today is day 1 and the topic is fittingly “My First Disney Movie”.

            I was born in 1985, so I was in the prime age of 2 things:
1)     The growth of home video to a world dominating concept in media
2)     The Disney Renaissance which began in 1989 with “The Little Mermaid”, which allowed Disney to grow into a world dominating media entity

So, “The Little Mermaid” was my first Disney movie.  A film that works so well on the strength of its fantastic music and animation that its annoyingly naïve protagonist and shockingly bland love interest were allowed to slide.  I should note, I don’t really like this movie as a whole, and that is a theme that will reoccur this month.
Ariel, who like most Disney protagonists has inspired shocking amounts of Waifu like devotion.
The Plot
Let me talk about the plot for those of you who don’t know (and the movie is 25+ years old, so that might be a lot of people).  Ariel is the undersea princess of a race of mermaids but views the surface world of humans as a magical place that she wants to learn more about.  Her father derides this obsession and after he destroys her collection of tchotchkes taken from human ship wrecks, Ariel runs—swims—away from home.
Ariel meets with the sea witch Ursula and strikes a deal to turn human for three days, if during that time she can find love on land she will be allowed to remain human and live out her life on the surface world.  If she is unable to she will become one of the cursed creatures that Ursula torments for amusement.  Ultimately Ursula uses trickery to win the bargain and leverages Ariel’s freedom to take over the undersea kingdom.  She is then justly murdered and happily ever after.

My Thoughts
Ariel, the protagonist of the film is a strong character, just not a very good one.  We understand her hopes, hobbies, friends, loved ones, place in her society, and beyond that we see her save a drowning man so we know she is not a complete jerk—we understand and identify with her completely—but, I don’t like her.
Ariel doesn’t take responsibility for her part in her family, she leaves them hanging; her friends are often dragged into dangerous situations by her desires to gather more junk; she ignores authority (which I guess I am supposed to say, “teenagers” with a shrug); and while she seeks to know more about the surface world as her own personal obsession she does it thru a poor resource, the moronic seagull, Scuttle—really her willingness to take the moron’s word for what things are and then add it to her undersea wall of junk kind of predicted the fake news issues currently plaguing social media, “I don’t know what it is, but I will post it on my wall and pretend that I am informed on the subject”.

Make Atlantis Great Again.
All of her personal shortcomings make sense, she is a child who is in the process of growing up and it would be expected that she will grow over the course of the movie.  This process is usually termed “A Character Arc”.  But, she really doesn’t.  At the end of the movie, Ariel is still the same naïve child as she was at the beginning, only now she is allowed to fully indulge in what was previously just a personal curiosity.  What is more, she only escapes being turned into a creepy sea crawler because her dad bails her out of one of the most ludicrous contracts I have seen in fiction—say what you will about Faust, he was an adult who had a good grasp on what he was doing when he sold his soul.
In fact, let me talk about making a deal with the devil in this movie.  Ursula has a child sign a contract, without the presence of the child’s parents.  Ursula then interferes with Ariel’s ability to fulfill the contract twice, first by flipping the canoe at the end of “Kiss the Girl” and again by just shapeshifting and using magic to brain rape the bland prince—this is called acting in bad faith.  She then transfers the contract to Triton… and then usurps his throne?

True sign of someone who knows what they are getting into: Closed eyes, torso turned away in horror.
How exacting can a contract made with a child and violated by the issuing party be transferred to someone else and that someone else end’s up relinquishing titles to the contract holder?  How does Ursula get Triton’s powers?  This makes no sense!  Even if minors can enter into magical bargains shouldn’t the spell be broken after the first time Ursula acted in bad faith?  This isn’t professional wrestling, if the ref doesn’t see the cheating the cheating is still cheating… do spells not care?  Because I would think magic would require certain rules or else it would just fall apart like cake in heavy storm.
Whatever.  Let’s go back to Ariel.
Ariel does something I see as being bad on multiple levels: Objectification.  She does not know anything about the target of her “true love”, Prince Eric.  She does not know anything about the human world in general.  But she builds them up in her mind as an exotic fantasy that is just out of reach.  Eric is not really a person to her with his own wants and needs, but instead as distant two-dimensional figure that provoke her curiosity (and lust?).  When she saves Eric and later attempts to seduce him she does so knowing nothing about him or knowing anything at all about the world.  It is all just a set of things that she wants to fill some emptiness inside her.

I may be boring, but I am rich... and far less threatening than King Triton on the masculinity scale.
So let me put it to you this way, “What is Eric were gay?”  Ariel just sold her soul to Ursula to seduce a gay guy.  Anything in the fine print of the glowing contract to take a mulligan on that one?  I’m guessing not.  But, I guess she got lucky in that Eric was merely boring and without flaw or interesting traits at all.
Let’s talk about Prince Eric, in contrast to Ariel I know almost nothing about him and interactions with Ariel are bland meet-cutes.  He has no idea of the stakes she has in getting him to fall for her, and the only reason he has any positive disposition toward her is Ariel saved his life and he vaguely remembers what she looked like.  Compare this to the romantic interactions of “Beauty and the Beast”.

(I realize this is not a fair comparison)

Beast is a complex, damaged character who knows full well that he will be a monster forever if he cannot find love, but having been a monster for so long he doesn’t know how to connect; Belle spends her time finding out why he is so damaged and seeing him grow as a person as she recognizes the nobility behind the monster.  Eric by contrast has no tension, Ariel does but can’t express it, and neither of them is damaged or able to see damage in the other person.  They do not grow thru interacting with each other, they don’t grow of their own volition, and they don’t grow as a result of the story.  Eric and Ariel are awful as romantic leads.
Really the story could have gone another way entirely, have Ariel realize that Eric is not what she wanted, that Eric is a jerk, or just a nice person she doesn’t connect with, have her break the contract with Ursula.  Have her fight and win on her own.  If you want a magic way to weasel out of the stupid contract plot just have Ariel say, “I have grown so much by learning about myself and the world above I am not the person who signed that contract.”  Not the best lesson to teach kids about contract law, but certainly better on the topic of love, empathy, and growing up.

I guess in my version we wouldn't get kaiju sized Ursula.
But, we also wouldn't have so many people now thinking Eric is a good romantic target.
That all being said, the songs are great, and the movie looks gorgeous with a style that subtle changes to match the tone of the scenes, being goofier in funny instances, but taking on an ethereal quality during “Part of Your World”.  It is a good movie to look at and listen to, but not a good one to think about.

Beg for Attention
            Share your own thoughts on this in the comments.  I know I am not the only person out there who is nostalgic for Disney products, and I am sure many people disagree with my thoughts on today’s entry.  Honestly I picked Disney stuff just because I knew there was so much of it to talk about and it lends itself to discussion in the comments.  So please, tell me how my opinion about cartoon movies is biased and how your opinion on cartoon movies is objectively right.  Or, just share your first Disney movie.
            Thank you for reading.

If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

1 comment:

  1. Little Mermaid is the first movie that I can remember seeing in theaters. My grandmother took me and I remember she hid a can of Coke for each of us in her purse, so merit of the movie aside, it has nice memories. :)