The Evolution of the Little Mermaid

October 30, 2013
By emmajames BRONZE, Richmond, Other
emmajames BRONZE, Richmond, Other
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

As Friedrich von Schiller once said, “Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told me to in my childhood than in the truth that is taught by life.” To this day, Schiller’s quote still holds true. Fairy tales have been a way for society to express and impose their core values upon children at a young age. Many of these classic tales have been re-told throughout the years, and their stories have been altered accordingly. The Little Mermaid is an admirable example of such a change. Originally written in 1837 by Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid is a tale of love, sacrifice and learning that you don’t always get what you want. The more recent version of this fairy tale was created by Disney in 1989, a little over 100 years later. People’s values had evolved from such a dark time and The Little Mermaid definitely reflects such an evolution. The Little Mermaid (the movie) is much more black and white, in terms of good and evil, and tells a story in which the good triumphs evil in such an all-encompassing extent that it is unrealistic. Why has society evolved so much that their values are contradicting what they believed but a hundred and fifty years ago? The written version, The Little Mermaid is more relatable because it is more realistic and the values are more meaningful compared to the idealistic telling of the story by the Walt Disney Company.
As society has evolved, so too has the strive for perfection, namely the urge to be blamed for nothing, even if it your own fault. In the older version of The Little Mermaid, the mermaid is the cause of her own problems. The mermaid visits the Sea Witch completely of her own will, and strikes a fair bargain with the Witch. The Witch has no motives in taking The Little Mermaid’s voice, other than the fact that a bargain requires both parties to have both gained and lost something. Due to societies view on being blamed, the Sea Witch is renamed Ursula, and turned into a villain. Disney has changed her role as a catalyst in the tale, and morphed her actions into those of an antagonist. Ariel is portrayed as a pure character who is manipulated by an ugly and malicious octopus-human hybrid. It is in the version of the story that Ariel is stalked and coerced by Ursula’s servants to follow them to her lair. In addition, the Sea Witch tries to interfere with Ariel’s budding romance by using the mermaid’s voice and attempting to take Prince Eric for her own. Even though it is Ariel’s fault she has given the Witch her voice, Ursula becomes the antagonist who is ruining everything for Ariel. The conflict becomes person vs. person, rather than person vs. self caused problems. The belief that there are flawless people and you should be too promotes the thinking that you should not be the blame for any of your problems. It is this thought process that Disney uses to in the making of The Little Mermaid, and therefore they twist the events of The Little Mermaid’s hardships so that somebody else can take the brunt of the burden that is are her problems.
If Ariel and The Little Mermaid were ever to have a conversation, they would find that they have many very different values. Primarily, The Little Mermaid values her family to a much greater extent than Ariel does. In the Andersen telling of this fairy tale, The Little Mermaid might have chosen romance over familial love, but she makes an effort to keep in touch with her family as much as possible. She and her sisters have yearly visits and The Little Mermaid does grieve the fact that she can’t see her siblings as much as she would enjoy. Likewise, The Little Mermaid and her sister’s bond of love was strong enough, even after several years of annual visits, that they willingly cut off their hair for a chance for her to live. If they hadn’t loved her a lot, and likewise with The Little Mermaid, then her siblings might not have sacrificed something so dear to them for her. Would Ariel’s sisters ever give up something of that much value to them for her? It is Ariel who sacrifices her family’s happiness by purposely not telling them that she has become human; who puts immense stress on her father by trying to find her. Furthermore, when she becomes a mermaid once more, she cannot just appreciate that she and her family are alive, but she ignores them and goes pining after Eric. People who come from Ariel’s time value independence from family much for than people in The Little Mermaid’s century. Nowadays, children do so much more independently, and coming-of-age stories (such as this one) are much more common as teenagers begin to come into their own.
The consequences of The Little Mermaid’s actions vary drastically between the original and the never retelling of the tale. In the older version The Little Mermaid sacrifices everything – her family, home and friends – for the possibility of romance. Furthermore, because she could not win the Prince’s love, she ends up dying and becoming an air spirit for a few centuries. These are immense consequences for a naive little girl, but they are just ones. Completely contrasting The Little Mermaid’s situation is the remake of this take, the Disney version of The Little Mermaid. Ariel is a young mermaid who is just as brainless as her elder counterpart. She too makes the naive decision of trading her voice and briefly her soul, to become human, but in the end everything ends up all right for her; her father lives, Ursula dies, and she marries her prince. The problem is, Ariel never quite fulfilled her end of the Sea Witch’s bargain and rightfully deserves to be a withered old soul at the bottom of Ursula’s cavern. Due to the fact Ariel was going to be a withered soul for eternity, the mermaid’s father sacrificed his kingdom and life in order to have her become a mermaid once more. Had the Ursula not been killed, the kingdom would have been ruled by a horrible dictator thus sacrificing the entire underwater population’s well-being, just so Ariel may become a mermaid once more. In the end, the Witch does die, but Ariel never really owns up to all the mishap she caused. The more modern version of this classic protagonist is a prime example that today’s society feels that children shouldn’t have to take responsibility for their actions as they do not know better. This view promotes the idealistic concept of perfection, which isn’t possible as well as the thinking that everything will be alright no matter what mistakes you make, which is untrue. Fairy tales such as The Little Mermaid can be very useful learning tools, but they can also promote ideas that are not quite so beneficial to the teenage mind.
Clearly, the two versions of The Little Mermaid are very interesting to compare and contrast because they represent very different social viewpoints. The tale that Walt Disney told had a clearly defined view of good and evil and, while it was an idealistic viewpoint compared originally dark story, it failed to connect with many viewers on a more intimate and personal level which is important for any story. The tale which Hans Christian Andersen wrote emphasized meaningful values such as family and being responsible your actions. The Disney movie was able to show values too, but they were not nearly as eloquent and significant as the story’s older counterpart. Consequently, the characters in the written version The Little Mermaid were much more robust and multi-dimensional than those in the Disney version. In conclusion, while both versions of The Little Mermaid were interesting and unique, the original contains much more depth and meaning, making it a much more valuable story to people of all ages.



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