Little Mermaids and Vampires that Sparkle

I don’t know when… I don’t know how… But I know something’s starting right now… maybe a blog entry…

So, I read something interesting the other day that kinda hit me. Take a look:

My … problem with the Disney version of [The Little Mermaid] isn’t that Ariel doesn’t die, or that walking isn’t incredibly painful for her, or anything like that. It’s that it’s that Ariel is set up as being immature and rash, but then gets her happy ending entirely on the sacrifices of others. If she’d been presented with the same choice she was presented with in Anderson’s story, and when she refused to kill the prince she got legs for real and lived happily ever after, that would be fine with me.

But she never commits a selfless act like the mermaid in the original story. Triton sacrifices himself to save her, and then Eric makes what looks like a suicide run to kill Ursula. Even though the whole plot is set into motion by Ariel’s stupid actions, she doesn’t have to learn shit, and she gets a happy ending anyway.

I don’t think the original TLM is much of a cautionary tale (moral: “Don’t sell your soul to the devil,” I guess?), but the message the movie imparts is, “Do whatever you want, and if you fuck up, your loved ones will bend over backwards to fix it without you having to do anything.” That’s my problem with the movie. I just want Ariel to have to take responsibility for her actions.


I thought about this for a while, and I found it to be, at least in part, true. I’ve noticed that the movie does send a bad message if you parse it out: a girl who has just turned sixteen falls terribly in love with a man she’s never met, defies her father (who does indeed have good reasons to distrust the surface dwellers), makes a deal with an undeniably evil witch, all to go and be with this man she’s never met and make sure they fall in love in three days. If a sixteen-year-old did that today in real life, she’d at best end up on “Sixteen and Pregnant.”

“I’d even wear this hideous dress just for you, Eric.”

Think about this: She gives up her very identity to chase after this man. She gives up her species, she gives up her way of life and her family (and presumably the bulk of her friends, though a few do follow her), she gives up one part of herself that she greatly prized (her voice), and what does she get? Three days to be with a man she’s never met. This is not a message we want to send to our little girls!

And then I thought of another protagonist who doesn’t protag all that much. Maybe you’re familiar with Bella? You know, in this little-read series that starts out with Twilight? Yeah. Her.

This may be the most unattractive expression ever, and she supports it for 98% of the movie that she’s conscious. Seriously. I’ve seen girls getting electrified by toasters that looked more attractive than this.

Replace Ariel in the rant I’ve quoted above with Bella. Are there many changes? Sure, the situational stuff – there’s no Ursula in Twilight. Now, I’ve read the first book (don’t judge me!). I have no interest in reading the rest, so I’m judging just the first volume. And what does Bella do in that book?

Yeah. I’m stumped.

And what’s the moral? Don’t be creeped out when a boy watches you sleep? If you love someone, there is nothing else? Rainy places make for stupid people? Or is it something similar to the rant above: “Do whatever you want, and if you fuck up, your loved ones will bend over backwards to fix it without you having to do anything”? I don’t know if I give Bella even that much initiative, but she does seem to get rescued an awful lot.

So, what’s the point of all this?

I guess I just look around at my generation and the generation a little younger than me. Maybe it’s that critical eye of someone who “isn’t a stupid teenager anymore,” but that moral sure seems to have sunk into this generation’s brains. I see it in the girls that I council in my day job as a pastor. They went out, got pregnant, and all three of the most recent girls literally shouted at their mothers, “You’re supposed to take care of my baby!” Isn’t that thinking demonstrating the moral in action? Do whatever you want, and your loved ones will fix it for you. Sorry, girls, you sinned, and now one of the consequences of that sin is that you have to either deal with the child yourself or choose to put him or her up for adoption. Yes, you are fully forgiven. That doesn’t mean the consequence goes away.

Pregnant women have plenty of reasons to be angry; being angry that your mother won’t mother your baby shouldn’t be one of them.

And I see this moral in what our generation has absorbed, from a fairly innocent Disney movie to a much-maligned teen supernatural romance.

And then I look at two of the books I most recently read, a duology whose main character is seriously messed up. Does the moral fit that story? Well, it certainly matches the main character at the beginning of both volumes, but by the end… she takes an active role in the tale and tries to make it better. She comes to the rescue both times. She is the one who fixes the problems. And isn’t that a better moral?

I think about Rapunzel in Tangled. It’s true that Flynn ends up saving the day, but Rapunzel is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for him, and attempts to do so. That’s not “someone else will fix it.” That’s “I will do what it takes to serve my loved ones.” Go to Harry Potter. Harry’s willing to sacrifice himself for his friends – and his friends stand with him. Even (gasp!) Hermione.

You’ve probably seen this before, but it’s still a great comparison piece.

This is a little rambling, and I apologize. It’s just that the original quote caught my eye and started me thinking. What other movies and popular entertainment espouse that moral, even if it’s hidden? Any thoughts? What are some good ways to combat that moral? Again, any thoughts?

Or am I just randomly musing and none of this means anything anyway?


19 thoughts on “Little Mermaids and Vampires that Sparkle

  1. The first thing that jumped in my mind was Susan in “Prince Caspian.” She desperately wants to stay, to fall in love with the prince, to be a princess and a queen again. But at the guidance of Aslan, she swallows her own desires and moves forward. Lucy does the same in a later book (sorry, I can’t remember which book it was).

    Do I have to say much about Katniss from “The Hunger Games?” Or, turning to Scripture, Ruth? Esther? Abigail?

    1. While the Susan thing is in the movie… it’s most decidedly not in the books in any way. Lucy never faced this in the books either. Susan, Lucy, Jill, Polly all struck me as eventually responsible ppl.

      Belle = Good.
      Aurora didn’t listen to the fairies and things turned out fine.

      1. Belle shows self-sacrifice; she’s willing to stay with the Beast in what appears to be a horrible life so her father can survive and return home. Aurora… man, I’d need to go back and rewatch Sleeping Beauty!

    2. Are you maybe thinking of Lucy being tempted to be beautiful? IIRC, that’s in Dawn Treader — and she defeats that temptation with Aslan’s help, as I recall. I haven’t read Hunger Games yet, so I really can’t help there…

      1. You mean Lucy being tempted to be beautiful in the movie, right? Lucy was tempted to see what others thought of her in the book. And found out that it very well may have destroyed a close friendship.

  2. Personally, I was kind of thinking the same thing. I was watching LOTR The Two Towers the other day and I kept thinking that besides carrying the ring, frodo didn’t seem to do much. The others in his company defended him.

    1. It’s true that Frodo doesn’t do a lot of combat — but that’s not his purpose, nor his talent. He chooses to sacrifice himself. He chooses to carry the ring. When it’s clear that he can either turn back or live or continue carrying the ring and likely never return home, he chooses to go on to destroy the ring. Frodo shows self-sacrifice, so I’d put him in a different category entirely from Ariel or Bella.

  3. Congratulations! I think this is the first comment I have made on your blog. I am Brandon’s cousin, and Michael’s cousin through marriage, just so you know.

    I totally agree with your assessment of the little mermaid movie. And also of the first book in the twilight series.

    But as I have read the rest of them, I believe that Isabella (easier for Dragon NaturallySpeaking to type than the shortened version) does make some self-sacrifices, especially in the last book. That’s why there are four books. It takes her that long to grow up. Which I think is more of an honest portrayal than someone figuring it all out by the end of one book or one movie. The same for the Lord of the rings. I believe his sacrifice was carrying the ring. Did you see what it did to his mind? And then, having to throw it in a pit when everything is telling you not to? Moreover, having to sacrifice the life of someone that you had begun to think of as a friend, or at least have pity for?

    Although I have not read all of the Chronicles of Narnia yet because in childhood I was not allowed to because my parents didn’t think I would understand the concept of allegory, (but they were all about the Lord of the rings, so I was little confused about that one) I believe the biggest self-sacrifice all of the children made eventually was having to give up Narnia in the first place. I.e. getting so old they were not allowed to come back, like Susan giving of being a princess in favor of returning to the real world. Believe me, I know that giving up childhood innocence knowingly, instead of gradually so you don’t notice it, is one of the biggest and saddest sacrifices a person has to make. I am physically disabled. I can do hardly anything in the real world. I would have given anything stay only in the world I made as a child.

    And in the hunger games, there is plenty of self-sacrifice. Most of them go in there knowing that they will die, all for nothing but sport, a reality TV show that everyone is forced to watch. Basically like the Roman Coliseum. You give up your family, your dignity, your allies, everything, just so someone can see you die live on TV. That’s a pretty big sacrifice to me. By the way, I love those books, and the movie.

    Anyway, that’s just my probably uninvited two cents.

    1. Hi Amber! Your two cents are most certainly invited — why wouldn’t it be?

      I’ll fully admit (as I did) I’ve only read book one of Twilight, and after that I just don’t have the compulsion to continue reading. It’s good to know there’s some sort of character development!

      I’m glad there’s some popular self-sacrifice; awesome to see that! It needs to be brought out to combat the message of “someone else will clean up your mess.”

  4. The Little Mermaid didn’t bother me as a kid. But after I grew up, I could never put a finger on what bothered me about it. Thanks for finding the words.

  5. Good article and I very much agree, although I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to compare Hermione with Bella. For one thing, they were left in different ways. Hermione had reason to hope she might see Ron again, at least enough not to completely despair. He didn’t really leave /her/, he abandoned the cause. On the other hand, as far as Bella knew, Edward was gone forever with no hope or choice in the matter.

    For another thing, their characters aren’t really that comparable because they weren’t really presented with similar options. I mean, it’d be easy enough to press on when you’ve got a higher purpose to fulfill like “destroying the world’s most powerful dark wizard”. Purposes don’t get much higher than that, haha. There’s a very clear choice there with moral implications, and a very clear target, and a greater good to fight/sacrifice for. Not to mention the special abilities needed to accomplish such a feat. Wizards are equipped to fight wizards, but Bella would probably have trouble overcoming an ultra-fast mega-strong vampire on her own. That’d be like a muggle trying to take on a dark wizard, which would basically be pointless suicide. They’re unequally matched, therefore fewer opportunities to fight/sacrifice and a greater need to be “rescued” by someone who can.

    In other words, when you’re a hero with superpowers and you’ve got an obvious supervillain to eradicate, it makes your choices a bit more black and white. There’s nothing more important or useful that Hermione could be doing. She has a purpose to turn to, and although burdensome it’s about as meaningful as it could possibly get, so of course she’s going to make the choice to press on rather than dwell on Ron’s moment of weakness. At least she /has/ something to do. What comparable purpose did Bella have? When you’re just a regular person with an ordinary life (minus the whole vampires thing), it’s hard to find a task to focus on that’s as important to you as the love of your life.

    And as far as she was concerned, the loss of him was like a death (and worse in a way considering that she had no hope of seeing him again even after her own death, he being immortal and all). It might seem a bit dramatic in the context of the story, but realistically I wouldn’t say it’s a stretch for someone to fall into a deep grieving depression and mourn the loss of the love of their life for several months.

    Just a few thoughts.

    That said, I’m no fan of “Twilight” and only moderately interested in “Harry Potter”. I haven’t actually read either story yet. I’m speaking from what I’ve seen in the movies and read about the stories, so my understanding of them might be murky.

    But again, great article and I enjoyed reading it! =]

    1. You make some good points in comparison; again, I’ve not read anything past Twilight, so it’s not exactly fair for me to compare, anyway. Bella and Hermione are apples and oranges. Their main similarity is their popularity. I WOULD say that Bella still had a lot of life left to live; people lose their true loves all the time and learn to move on (given time). Otherwise every high school love story would be the last love stories any of us would ever live, and I’m very happy that’s not the case!

      I will agree that Hermione had more of an external motivation to keep going. Again, great observation! And thanks for the compliments!

      1. Yes. =] She did move on in time though, didn’t she? I’m not sure, I only saw the movie once a few years ago… But didn’t she eventually get out of the house and start to spend time with Jacob and his friends? It seemed to me that given time she would have moved on completely if Edward hadn’t re-entered her life. That was my impression, anyway. It took her several months to get there, but it takes a long time to come out of a severe depression and start feeling alive again (seeing visions of him only prolonged the grieving process I’m sure). Hermione was sad, but not exactly depressed; and Bella probably wouldn’t have been quite so immobilized by it if she had an important job to do like saving the world, haha. She didn’t really have anything to do except homework, lol. Hardly a reason to feel like you’ve got something to live for (although she does, of course).

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