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December 31, 2012
A set of brown curls springs in time with the tireless bouncing three year old, while her weary parents pray for nap time to draw near. But sleep is out of the question, for naps are simply a clever trick mutually practiced by all adults, so that they can have all the fun while their little ones dream. I for one was not going to fall for that, as those chestnut curls of mine were attached to a mind that was far too active for any type of rest. There were too many Barbie dolls that needed playing with, too many pictures of puppies left uncolored, and my favorite movie of all time had gone unwatched for a record breaking twenty-four hours. Since the movie would provide the most satisfying and effective results of silence and entrancement, the next step of action was obvious: cuddle up on the couch and have mom press play.

The Little Mermaid was the most thrilling eighty-six minute pastime I could experience as a child. This movie was my remedy for any childhood dilemma. If I had a bad day at the preschool, where someone had knocked over my blocks or ate my animal crackers, I could always count on coming home to my precious video waiting to comfort me. If I ever had to stay home sick with the sniffles, there was no need to worry, because the cassette hadn’t left the VCR from the last time. This movie has the type of story that could just transport me into this whole other world: a world with beautiful mermaids and charming prince counterparts. I was thoroughly committed to supporting my movie, and even today, it remains a part of my childhood that continues to live on.

The story of The Little Mermaid originated as a folktale written by Hans Christian Andersen in 19th century Denmark. The tale describes an ambitious mermaid who longs for an eternal soul and a life on Earth with a handsome prince. After implementing some kid-friendly adjustments to the storyline, this story then became the inspiration for an animated Disney adaptation. That year, Disney named their new princess, Ariel, in an effort to revive the Disney princess franchise. Although this version was released to theaters in 1989, it did not grace my presence until nearly a decade later. Theaters decided to re-release the movie to theaters in 1997 in preparation for the new digitally re-mastered edition. These circumstances were perfect for my four year old self; the movie and I were ideal companions for one another. I was the target demographic audience member for this movie, and consequently, everything about the storyline appealed to me. Thus, this is what led to my first trip to a movie theater.

As I waited for the film to begin, I squirmed anxiously in my large, cushioned seat. I was intrigued by this new place, and I marveled at the people around me with their oversized bags of popcorn. As the lights dimmed and opening title appeared, my eyes widened in excitement. The opening scene introduces its audience to Eric, the handsome prince who is anticipating his eighteenth birthday, as he sails on his grand ship with his beloved crew. The scene then plunges into the ocean, as the sunlight permeates the water and illuminates a magnificent view of the shimmering undersea kingdom of Atlantica. This view, accompanied by voices that I can only equate with the sounds of angels and pearly gates, gives the first glimpse of the mermaids that inhabit the sea. The screen was so large that I felt as if I had just been submerged right into the ocean along with the characters, and they had been brought to life right before my eyes.

“Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat? Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete? Wouldn’t you think I’m the girl, the girl who has everything?”
Ariel quickly became my favorite character, and I couldn’t get enough of her merchandise. After receiving the video for my fifth birthday, I also obtained two Ariel dolls, Ariel bed sheets, countless coloring books, and a toy resembling her sidekick Flounder. I subconsciously mimicked Ariel in every fashion possible. I filled my playroom with those toys just as she hoarded her human collectibles into her secret grotto. When she woefully sang about how she had everything but still wanted more, I could relate. Being an only child, I felt fully deserving of any and all opportunities to receive attention and presents. At this point in life, I had fully accepted the fact that I was actually a princess. I would shamelessly parade around the house in my princess clothing. I also proudly displayed my birthstone necklace whenever I was given the opportunity to wear it. Of course, the fact that the aquamarine, a stone that resembles the sea in both color and name, is my birthstone was more than a coincidence in my mind.

“Just look at the world around you, right here on the ocean floor. Such wonderful things surround you, what more is you lookin’ for?”
I was able to see Ariel in real life several times… or at least real life imitations. My six year old self was overjoyed when she was the first character to sign my little autograph book in Disney World, although there was something about her that didn’t quite coincide with her movie appearance. A year later, my mother took me to see The Little Mermaid on ice during February vacation, where I looked down on the show in my newly acquired Flotsam and Jetsam binoculars. Another trip to Disney World the next year meant another encounter with Ariel, although her stature and signature had been slightly altered since the last visit. Visiting the theme park was like a fantasy realized. I enjoyed splashing around in the replica of the underwater world, as I pondered how much being a mermaid would really differ from being human.
“I admit that in the past I’ve been a nasty. They weren’t kidding when they called me, well, a witch.”

Undoubtedly, being mermaid royalty has its perks, but encountering vengeful sea witches is not one of them. Ursula is the most feared creature in the ocean, and the most feared character in my childish eyes. Every aspect of her nature is dark and sinister, from her slithering tentacles to her diabolical laugh. The sea witch resides in a colossal sea monster’s skeleton, and the floor is lined with her collection of poor unfortunate souls that writhe in the agony of their sad existence. However, I was able to look past all of these ominous details; I even braved the ghostly green hands snatching Ariel’s voice right from her throat. Yet, the scene that always had me cowering under my blanket in terror was when she transformed into the attack of the fifty foot octopus woman. Matters only grew worse upon witnessing her death: a nightmare-inducing scene which had me scrambling for the fast-forward button. I was well into my elementary school years before I graduated from using my blanket as a shield to just peering through the space between my fingers. Eventually I was able to calmly watch the movie in its entirety, but, even now, I still experience the occasional shiver down my spine.

Despite my previous fear, I have come to appreciate Ursula as the perfect villain and foil for the heroes. Her appearance, which was based on the iconic drag queen Divine, is ideally humorous and menacing at the same time. Pat Carroll, who provided Ursula’s resonant voice, describes the character as "part Shakespearean actress, with all the flair, flamboyance and theatricality, and part used-car salesman with a touch of con artist". The dimension that Carroll was able to bring to her character is one of the many reasons I keep coming back for more. Everything about this movie completely draws me in, and I become truly invested in the story. The vivid colors and precise animation are visually stunning, and I find the enchanting and dreamy music to be mesmerizing. Each flourish of the music only complements and enhances Ariel’s celestial voice. Co-director Ron Clements remarked that Jodi Benson brought a quality of "sweetness" and "youthfulness" to Ariel’s voice that was defining and unique: a quality that I feel cannot be duplicated no matter how hard others like to try. Nevertheless, there is always someone out there that insists on trying.

“Out of the sea, wish I could be part of you world.”

In 2008, a production of The Little Mermaid debuted on the Broadway stage. There is no doubt that the actors are exceptionally talented and most likely provided acceptable portrayals for the rest of society. However, similar to my experiences with the Disney World versions of Ariel, I’ve found that live actors simply don’t live up to my unreachable expectations that animation has created. The movie also inspired a sequel and a prequel, both of which I found less than desirable. The sequel, which appeared in the year 2000, merely recycled the original plot with new characters. The 2008 prequel gave an interesting backstory, but it abandoned the original version’s fantastically detailed hand-drawn animation for bland computer simulations. Perhaps the Disney producers were trying to recapture interest by attempting to be new and current, but I’ll stick with watching the original tape until it is worn out beyond repair.

“Ready to stand and ready to know what the people know. Ask ‘em my questions and get some answers.”

Over the years, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that despite what my television screen might tell me, mermaids are fictional, crabs don’t sing reggae music, and a fork is not a tool that functions in combing hair. Yet, no matter how much I grow and learn, this movie serves as a time capsule that allows me to relive the excitement of being five years old again. Childhood is an aspect of life that everyone must experience, and those events compose the cherished memories of our lives. So the next time I’m ready for a nostalgic excursion, I’ll be curled up in my blanket watching the credits roll.

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