She did what to get a guy? At 25, ‘Little Mermaid’ flounders in age of ‘Frozen’

Image: Ariel and Eric

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By Ree Hines

Monday marks 25 years since the release of "The Little Mermaid," the animated feature that ushered in a new era of big-budget box office toons and put Disney princesses firmly back on the movie map.


Now, it's a classic. Everyone who's been a kid, had a kid or known a kid since the film's release in 1989 has seen it. Or rather, almost everyone.


In honor of the anniversary, I decided to take the plunge and finally see why "The Little Mermaid" is such a big deal.

Of course, on the surface, there's no mystery about it. Disney animation magic, great songs and a plucky heroine, like Ariel, have long been a winning combination, and this movie has all of that and then some.

But a lot has happened over the last 25 years that can color one's impression of the vibrant princess film. For instance: "Frozen."

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In 2013, sisters Elsa and Anna flipped the script on the traditional princess tale, giving viewers a glimpse of girls who would go to great lengths for true love — their true love for each other.

It's hard to watch "The Little Mermaid" today without viewing it through that post-"Frozen" filter, especially when it comes to Ariel's true-love quest.


The mermaid, who'd long had an interest in all things human, fell in love at first sight when she spied Prince Eric. She watched him from a distance for a few minutes, saved his life and — boom! — that's all it took for her to decide she didn't just like humans, she wanted to be one.

She was willing to leave behind her father, her sisters and her underwater world if it meant she could grow a pair of legs and get the guy.

But that's not all she was ready to give up.


Ariel made a deal with the devil, or a reasonable facsimile in sea witch Ursula. The baddie sang to the mermaid, "It's she who holds her tongue that gets her man." If Ariel would give up her voice, she'd get those legs and a three-day opportunity to receive a kiss from the prince and thus remain human.

Now, offer a princely deal like that to even the boy-craziest of the "Frozen" sisters — that would be Anna, of course — and she'd make a shocked face before backing away from the scary lady.

Sure, both Anna and Elsa would be willing to sacrifice that and more for the life of a treasured sister. But for a shot at some guy they barely knew? Nope.

Ariel, on the other hand, put her name on the dotted line of that dark contract without a second thought.

Maybe back in the day, in the first Disney princess animated feature since 1959's "Sleeping Beauty," Ariel's rash decision in favor of romance seemed somewhat sweet.

Now it seems alarming. She had a chance to land the man of her dreams — as long as she changed physically and cut herself off from her family.

Of course, in the end, Ariel got the happy ending she wanted: She got her voice back, and she got the guy (though that's certainly not how the original, moral-packed Hans Christian Andersen tale of the same name played out). This is a Disney flick, after all.



None of this is to say "The Little Mermaid" isn't entertaining. Even with the skewed-by-today's-standards theme, the animation is stunning, the music catchy and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better villain than Ursula. It's still worth the watch.

But it's easy to see why Disney has let go of the formula.

As Don Hahn, an executive producer of "Maleficent" recently said of the new Disney approach: "The idea is, yeah, you can have your prince, but that's a component of your life."

He's not your whole life.

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