Ariel seems to believe that all she wants in life is to be human and to escape her overbearing father and life as a mermaid. She wants so much more than being a mermaid princess. This is an incredible premise for growing as a woman and becoming her own. “Part of That World,” one of Ariel’s big numbers in The Little Mermaid, she doesn’t mention a man in the entire song. She merely focuses on the freedom that she would encounter as a human, and her longing for it.
What would I give if I could live out of these waters?
What would I pay to spend a day warm on the sand?
Bet’cha on land they understand
Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters
Bright young women sick of swimmin’
Ready to stand
However, as the movie progresses, Ariel encounters Prince Eric and falls in love. Falling in love is an incredible emotion and my critique should not be taken as one of love, but rather as a critique that falling in love with a man is the only thing that gives a woman value.
Ariel “falls in love” with the first human being she sees. Eric is, by all accounts, a friendly and caring man. But Ariel is only 16. Essentially, a sophomore in high school. As she deals with teenage rebellion, she projects that onto Eric. She sees him as her way out, like an escape, instead of seeking to find herself as “Part of That World” describes. The song itself transforms into an ode to love and devotion instead of a anthem of independence.
What would I give
To live where you are?
What would I pay
To stay here beside you?
What would I do to see you
Smiling at me?
At the end, she marries him. Marriage today is evolving into something beyond traditional gender roles. But did The Little Mermaid really move beyond those traditional roles?
No, it didn’t. Ariel was rendered voiceless in exchange for human legs to meet her man, and she was told to make him fall in love with her body. She was literally voiceless — something women have been fighting to rectify for centuries. In Ariel’s fight against the feminine mystique, she lost and sucked back in. She never has a moment to be herself in the whole film. The beginning she spends railing against her father, and the following scenes are spent searching for a way to be with Eric and make him fall in love with her as she has fallen in love with him.
There is not a single person of color in the entirety of the movie. One thing that critics have noted is Sebastian, with a Jamaican accent, seems to portray stereotypes of Jamaican culture and Disney pokes fun at the non-white culture by integrating Sebastian as some comic relief in the film. Sebastian does not qualify as a PoC (person of color) as he is a crab and not a human.
Feminist rating: 3/10
Fails Bechdel Test ~Ariel does speak to Ursula in the scene where she turns human, but the whole scene is about turning into a human for a human prince, and I refuse to count that as passing.
Fails Racial Bechdel Test