Years before Miley Cyrus couldn't be tamed, there was a different Disney princess who stirred up controversy for her rebellious ways. Trading talent to fit into a world she deemed more glamorous than the one in which she lived, this young woman caused a bit of drama and wouldn't take advice from family or friends. No, not Lindsay Lohan... another redhead.
I am completely aware that Disney's The Little Mermaid is a movie meant to entertain children, but is it sending the right message to young ones, specifically little girls?
Ariel is an adored, adventurous, smart and kind beauty with an amazing gift -- her voice. Not only is she perfectly slender, naturally curious and socially superlative among the creatures of the sea, she is the king's daughter -- a legitimate princess with social stature.
As we soon find out, swimming around the ocean and singing songs is not enough for our leading lady. Ariel desires to become something she clearly is not -- a human being. She continues to question her environment (sea of friends), her body (lack of legs) and her happiness, envying us land folk, until she gets what she wants (a man).
To achieve her desires, the bubbly redhead gives up her special voice to be part of a society that would not normally accept her in her true form.
Because every Disney movie teaches us that the story is incomplete (read: no happy ending, no ride off into the sunset, no fairytale) without a man, Ariel changes herself for a partner of the opposite sex. Enter charming Prince Eric.
With a sexy smile, confidence and a cool boat (a cute dog, too), Eric falls in love with Ariel, who has never spoken a single word in his presence. Forget politics, religion and issues of the world -- these two do not discuss anything.
The moral of the story lies here: change who you are -- not simply to be loved, but also to be accepted by others. Additionally, it portrays men as physically judgmental, only caring about the way a woman looks, bats her eyes and smiles -- that they do not consider any thoughts, feelings or concerns in one's pretty little head.
I'm in favor of Ariel evolving from girl to woman (thanks, Britney Spears, for that gem) and discovering/exploring her identity, but I don't feel comfortable when influential characters and role models suddenly cast away their differentiating and admirable qualities for acceptance... or, like Ariel, gunshot weddings (again, thank you, Ms. Spears).
Is there a hero in this story? I'm not sure. Though I do think there are some redeeming lessons to be learned.
Sure, the dark and villainous Ursula is cruel and harsh -- a bit self-centered and unpredictable, but there are many of these people who walk (no pun intended), talk and strive among us. They exist, and it's important for kids to know that not everyone is going to look out for their best interests, however tempting some offers may be.
While adolescent celebrities in the coming years will continue to amaze, mesmerize and shock us, it's easy to feel that we've been let down by these idols. In reality, they are people, and, like Disney plots, people are imperfect. Some of our icons' stories will have happy endings, some will not. Many of these famous individuals will have lives, opportunities and accomplishments we very much envy, and ultimately, some will not.
Instead of glorifying movie stars (actual or animated), I think it's important to teach kids and remind ourselves to be thankful for the gifts we have. Maybe with this attitude, sooner than later, we can learn to stop sizing up our environments, our bodies and wanting to be "part of that world."
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