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It’s a common criticism to condemn Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid as the least feminist of the Disney Princesses. Even before we examine Ariel’s audacious agencies, her potential villainy is immediately obvious in her status as a siren, a paranormal being. The Little Mermaid establishes the world on land and the world under the sea as two contrasting spaces, one factual and one fictive, one real and the other imaginary.
But Ariel’s status as siren goes beyond her dangerously good singing ability; it also means she’s half a fish—and significantly—from the waist down. To take the matter of succession one step further, Ariel could plausibly be said to have begun the takeover already. While I don’t mean to suggest that Ariel will one day be a voluptuous sea witch herself, I do mean to suggest that villainous (i.e. Another instance of doubling between the sea witch and the mermaid is their common tactic of changing appearance, and those appearances’ commonalities. All this is mere circumstantial evidence, however, to my argument that Ariel is a gothic villain in the role of Disney damsel.
In Ursula’s drag scene,[8] Ariel learns that gender is performance; Ursula doesn’t simply symbolize woman, she performs woman.
But more than understanding sexuality as performance, Ariel is distinctly sexually agentic in her interactions with Eric (and his effigy). She objectifies him a second time when she applies the same logic to him that she applies to all the other objects in her cavern. Of course, it is after she has lost her voice and swapped her fins for legs that everyone remarks upon her sexual agency.
What are less often cited are the even cleverer stunts the mermaid pulls in her efforts to lure Eric in. Ariel again feigns innocence to attract Eric, this time when the two are in a rowboat together.
Evidently the rowboat scene is the site of her greatest sexual agency for it is here, too, that she throws Eric her sultry look.
While Ursula gets credit for being masterfully manipulative (and rightly so!), Ariel deserves a share in that glory.
Though by no means the most important way in which Ariel is villainous, it bears mentioning that both she and Ursula have similar ambitions. Unlike Snow White’s need to clean, Aurora’s knack for picking berries, or Cinderella’s mouse clothing line, Ariel’s hobby is somewhat unsettling. In addition to her sexuality, manipulation, ambition, and mania, Ariel is an unusual princess in that she is a risk-taker. Once there, in Ursula’s cave, Ariel again exercises her agency and (questionable) decision-making ability. We don’t like to say it, but I think everyone can agree that the little mermaid is a bit of a stalker. Though Ariel does not get a fade-to-black with glowing eyes like Ursula does, she is the first princess to gaze directly into the camera, the glowing going on around her.[j] This new, direct-address gaze is evidence of a new, agentic, watching heroine. That The Little Mermaid features a protagonist who not only gets away with exerting her agency, but gets rewarded for it, would seem to be excellent news for subsequent Disney Princesses.
This entry was posted in Movies and tagged Ariel, KIm Magowan, Mills College, Stephanie Stott, The Little Mermaid, Ursual by margotmagowan. Although I know this is focused on the gothic element of the argument, it also doesn’t escape my notice that two masculine suggestive metaphors appear in the film, both of potential significance.
Ita€™s a common criticism to condemn Ariel from Disneya€™s The Little Mermaid as the least feminist of the Disney Princesses. Even before we examine Ariela€™s audacious agencies, her potential villainy is immediately obvious in her status as a siren, a paranormal being.
But Ariela€™s status as siren goes beyond her dangerously good singing ability; it also means shea€™s half a fisha€”and significantlya€”from the waist down. While I dona€™t mean to suggest that Ariel will one day be a voluptuous sea witch herself, I do mean to suggest that villainous (i.e. Another instance of doubling between the sea witch and the mermaid is their common tactic of changing appearance, and those appearancesa€™ commonalities. In Ursulaa€™s drag scene,[8] Ariel learns that gender is performance; Ursula doesna€™t simply symbolize woman, she performs woman. In enacting a romantic encounter with Erica€™s statue, she again displays her sexual agency. Unlike Snow Whitea€™s need to clean, Auroraa€™s knack for picking berries, or Cinderellaa€™s mouse clothing line, Ariela€™s hobby is somewhat unsettling.
Once there, in Ursulaa€™s cave, Ariel again exercises her agency and (questionable) decision-making ability. We dona€™t like to say it, but I think everyone can agree that the little mermaid is a bit of a stalker.
Set in a divided Germany in 1983, during a peak period for Cold War tensions between East and West. 2015-06-24Martin is ordered to break into the hotel room of a high-ranking NATO official and steal a top-secret report.
When Martin receives a shocking order from East Germany, he quickly realizes that his concern about their paranoia has just been validated.
You are now on the page of a Deutschland 83, which includes such genres as Drama, Thriller. So I was fascinated by this paper written by Stephanie Stott, a student in my sister Kim Magowan’s gothic lit class at Mills College.
The argument goes something like: Ariel is a misogynist patriarchy’s dream girl because she alters her body[1], forsakes her family[2], and gives up her voice for a man she doesn’t know, a man who has the nerve to save her![3] And, without a voice, she can only attract Prince Eric with her appearance[4] and cannot actually give consent to be kissed[5]. Unlike in other Disney Princess movies, where the hero and heroine must overcome gothic forces in order to reach their resolution, this princess is part of that gothic world.
After all, to Ariel (and to us viewers because we identify with her), it is “all she’s ever known.” I argue the mer world is a gothic space because of its status as feminine and mysterious in relation to the masculine and rational world on land. In this dualistic and hierarchical construction, the human world can be aligned with the white male system and the water world situated outside that system.
As the site of female orgasms, childbirth, and other “unladylike” bodily processes, a woman’s nether regions are mysterious, mythic, dangerous (just as the gothic is sexual and feminine, so female sexuality is gothic). As Elizabeth Bell observes, Ursula’s “octopus tentacles physically manifest the enveloping, consumptive sexuality of the deadly woman” (117). Ariel further resembles a gothic villain in that she doubles with villainous Ursula in many ways.
If the battle between princess and stepmother resolves itself either through the escape of the young woman (as in Cinderella) or through a kind of matricide (as in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, and The Little Mermaid), Ariel’s lack of mother could be read as evidence of an earlier succession.
Ariel “only” gets legs, but Ursula gives herself a full-body makeover, complete with new identity as Vanessa. To reassure viewers that “what you see is what you get,” Vanessa’s true identity (Ursula) may be seen in the young woman’s reflection.[d] However, this mirror scene mirrors another, earlier on in the movie. And she shares this penchant with other villains: “the Queen [in “Little Snow White”], as we come to see more clearly in the course of the story, is a plotter, a plot-maker, a schemer, a witch, an artist, an impersonator, a woman of almost infinite creative energy, witty, wily, and self-absorbed as all artists traditionally are” (Gilbert 39).
It makes sense, then, that Disney has thus far only depicted “the vain, active, and wicked woman of folktales [as] the femme fatale, the ‘deadly woman’ of silent film and of Hollywood classic film” (Bell 115). Ursula uses a camp drag queen performance to teach Ariel to use makeup, to “never underestimate the importance of body language,” to use the artifices and trappings of gendered behavior” (Sells 183). She objectifies Eric (and in so doing, subject-ifies herself) after saving him from the shipwreck and again later when she sees his statue. Hands clasped, feigning surprise, she says to his effigy, “Why Eric, run away with you?” Then, leaning her head on his shoulder, lowering her eyelids and dropping her voice, she murmurs, “This is all so, so sudden…” Ariel doesn’t just know the moves, she could write the book!
Bell cites her sexy poses in “sailcloth rage” to Scuttle’s “accompanying wolf whistle” as evidence of her feminine wiles (114). Ariel allows him to “catch” her watching him from the palace window, managing thus to communicate both her admiration and modesty as she shyly ducks back into her room. Ariel claims not to hear her fellow conspirators’ pointed song encouraging Eric to appreciate her beauty and kiss her, when—if he can hear it—she certainly can.
As he leans in for the kiss, Ariel gives him a sly, come hither glance from beneath her lashes, a look reminiscent of Ursula-as-Vanessa’s sly, self-satisfied smile when the sea witch’s engagement to Eric is announced.[g] The two sea women have more in common than we might at first think, certainly in terms of sexual agency.
It is undeniable that the sea witch is a slippery salesman—for one thing, she was conceived as such: “Pat Carroll, Ursula’s voice actress, envisioned the character as ‘part Shakespearean actress, with all the flair, flamboyance and theatricality, and part used-car salesman with a touch of con artist’” (italics imposed) (“Ursula”). In her very first scene, she uses good old peer pressure and fear mongering to goad Flounder into accompanying her onto the sunken ship.
Ariel is after the love of a human, but as Ursula says, “not just any human—a prince!” Very little is made of this fact in the movie, but Ariel is effectively gunning to be queen (because Eric, without any parents, is arguably king) of a world not hers.
Like gothic villain Egaeus in Poe’s “Berenice” or the duke in Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” Ariel is a fetishistic collector. Unlike other Disney heroines who end up in their tricky situations out of bad luck (Snow White’s father marries the wrong woman, Cinderella’s father marries the wrong woman, Aurora’s father messes with the wrong woman, Belle’s father messes with the man who messed with the wrong woman), Ariel seeks out this wrong woman.



However inadvisable it might seem, Ariel signs the contract with the sea witch knowing full well the terms and conditions and, what’s more, that she need not go through with it. According to Sebastian, “she [Ariel] won’t say a word, and she won’t say a word until you [Eric] kiss the girl”. Moreover, they [were] the only characters who address[ed] the camera directly, both advancing the narrative diegesis and confronting the spectator’s gaze with their own.
Ariel lusts after Eric just as Ursula hankers after Ariel (and just as we viewers have always yearned after all the Disney Princesses). However, while Ariel may be said to have inspired greater agency in her younger peers, none are really femme fatales like she is. What ultimately forced Ariel to choose between the world of her family and that of her desire was her father’s explosive reaction to her previous encounter with said human. In fact, the score stays even: first Ariel saves him from drowning, then Eric saves her from being pitchforked, then Ariel saves him from being blasted, then Eric saves her from being blasted. Ariel might not be able to get into philosophical discussions without a voice, but she can emote a personality.
This scene would mark his introduction to the possibility of sirens, and a brief glimpse during his birthday celebrations would serve as his first encounter with the dangerous maidens.
She shimmies and wiggles in an exaggerated style while her eels swirl around her, forming a feather boa.
The argument goes something like: Ariel is a misogynist patriarchya€™s dream girl because she alters her body[1], forsakes her family[2], and gives up her voice for a man she doesna€™t know, a man who has the nerve to save her![3] And, without a voice, she can only attract Prince Eric with her appearance[4] and cannot actually give consent to be kissed[5]. After all, to Ariel (and to us viewers because we identify with her), it is a€?all shea€™s ever known.a€? I argue the mer world is a gothic space because of its status as feminine and mysterious in relation to the masculine and rational world on land. As the site of female orgasms, childbirth, and other a€?unladylikea€? bodily processes, a womana€™s nether regions are mysterious, mythic, dangerous (just as the gothic is sexual and feminine, so female sexuality is gothic).
As Elizabeth Bell observes, Ursulaa€™s a€?octopus tentacles physically manifest the enveloping, consumptive sexuality of the deadly womana€? (117). If the battle between princess and stepmother resolves itself either through the escape of the young woman (as in Cinderella) or through a kind of matricide (as in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, and The Little Mermaid), Ariela€™s lack of mother could be read as evidence of an earlier succession.
Ariel a€?onlya€? gets legs, but Ursula gives herself a full-body makeover, complete with new identity as Vanessa. To reassure viewers that a€?what you see is what you get,a€? Vanessaa€™s true identity (Ursula) may be seen in the young womana€™s reflection.[d] However, this mirror scene mirrors another, earlier on in the movie.
And she shares this penchant with other villains: a€?the Queen [in a€?Little Snow Whitea€?], as we come to see more clearly in the course of the story, is a plotter, a plot-maker, a schemer, a witch, an artist, an impersonator, a woman of almost infinite creative energy, witty, wily, and self-absorbed as all artists traditionally area€? (Gilbert 39).
It makes sense, then, that Disney has thus far only depicted a€?the vain, active, and wicked woman of folktales [as] the femme fatale, the a€?deadly womana€™ of silent film and of Hollywood classic filma€? (Bell 115). Ursula uses a camp drag queen performance to teach Ariel to use makeup, to a€?never underestimate the importance of body language,a€? to use the artifices and trappings of gendered behaviora€? (Sells 183). Hands clasped, feigning surprise, she says to his effigy, a€?Why Eric, run away with you?a€? Then, leaning her head on his shoulder, lowering her eyelids and dropping her voice, she murmurs, a€?This is all so, so suddena€¦a€? Ariel doesna€™t just know the moves, she could write the book! Bell cites her sexy poses in a€?sailcloth ragea€? to Scuttlea€™s a€?accompanying wolf whistlea€? as evidence of her feminine wiles (114). Ariel allows him to a€?catcha€? her watching him from the palace window, managing thus to communicate both her admiration and modesty as she shyly ducks back into her room.
Ariel claims not to hear her fellow conspiratorsa€™ pointed song encouraging Eric to appreciate her beauty and kiss her, whena€”if he can hear ita€”she certainly can. As he leans in for the kiss, Ariel gives him a sly, come hither glance from beneath her lashes, a look reminiscent of Ursula-as-Vanessaa€™s sly, self-satisfied smile when the sea witcha€™s engagement to Eric is announced.[g] The two sea women have more in common than we might at first think, certainly in terms of sexual agency.
It is undeniable that the sea witch is a slippery salesmana€”for one thing, she was conceived as such: a€?Pat Carroll, Ursulaa€™s voice actress, envisioned the character as a€?part Shakespearean actress, with all the flair, flamboyance and theatricality, and part used-car salesman with a touch of con artista€™a€? (italics imposed) (a€?Ursulaa€?). Ariel is after the love of a human, but as Ursula says, a€?not just any humana€”a prince!a€? Very little is made of this fact in the movie, but Ariel is effectively gunning to be queen (because Eric, without any parents, is arguably king) of a world not hers.
Like gothic villain Egaeus in Poea€™s a€?Berenicea€? or the duke in Robert Browninga€™s a€?My Last Duchess,a€? Ariel is a fetishistic collector. Unlike other Disney heroines who end up in their tricky situations out of bad luck (Snow Whitea€™s father marries the wrong woman, Cinderellaa€™s father marries the wrong woman, Auroraa€™s father messes with the wrong woman, Bellea€™s father messes with the man who messed with the wrong woman), Ariel seeks out this wrong woman.
However inadvisable it might seem, Ariel signs the contract with the sea witch knowing full well the terms and conditions and, whata€™s more, that she need not go through with it.
According to Sebastian, a€?she [Ariel] wona€™t say a word, and she wona€™t say a word until you [Eric] kiss the girla€?.
Moreover, they [were] the only characters who address[ed] the camera directly, both advancing the narrative diegesis and confronting the spectatora€™s gaze with their own. What ultimately forced Ariel to choose between the world of her family and that of her desire was her fathera€™s explosive reaction to her previous encounter with said human. Tensions reach a fever pitch as protests interrupt West German War Games that look like a preemptive nuclear strike to the East. However, I argue that the Little Mermaid is among the most feminist of the Disney Princesses because she exerts taboo forms of agency and is ultimately rewarded for these un-princess-like methods.
In Beauty and the Beast, for example, the Beast and all the castle’s inhabitants shed their gothic forms upon the movie’s resolution.
As Laura Sells points out, Disney renders the mer world in “…sweeping seascapes which resemble Georgia O’Keeffe paintings, rich with the female imagery of sea shells and cave openings” (178). Look out, lad, a mermaid be waiting for you in mysterious fathoms below.” It is human sailors who set up the story, characterizing the undersea world as “mysterious” and warning a “lad” (Prince Eric? Upon his rescue from the shipwreck, Eric appears principally concerned with the voice of his savior: “a girl…rescued me. Slapping on a fishtail in place of legs—and, significantly, what lies between those legs—is only replacing one female mystery with another.
Adding to this, Sells gives us Roberta Trites’s claim that “Embedded in gynophobic imagery,[a] Ursula is a revolting, grotesque image of the smothering maternal figure” (181). As the seventh and youngest daughter to King Triton, Ariel might have caused the queen’s death through childbirth, and might thus already be guilty of matricide.
However, apart from a dye-job and a different parting in her hair, Vanessa could be Ariel.[c] Of course, it’s easy to say that the art department only had one template for “pretty girl” and that the visual doubling was an effort to save money, but a more interesting explanation is that Vanessa’s false exterior calls into question Ariel’s.
When Ariel first meets Ursula, she sees her (Ursula) in a mirror.[e] If mirrors reveal one’s true identity, then on some level Ariel is Ursula.
According to Colette, such a woman is “characterized by decollete, a ‘clinging black velvet dress,’ and weaponry. After the rescue, she takes the liberty of stroking his unconscious face, saying wonderingly, “He’s so beautiful.” It does not appear to occur to her that he is also a human being who can think and talk and that he hasn’t given her permission to touch him in that way. Ariel objectifies him by substituting the statue’s outward appearance (a knight in shining armor) with Eric’s inward reality. No one misses, either, the grin she throws her fellow conspirators, upon stumbling and “falling” into Eric’s arms. In letting him see her in the window, Ariel takes on the role of the good queen from “Little Snow White,” the Angel in the House who begins that story “framed by a window” (the next, bad queen will also be framed by glass, but hers will be a mirror) (Gilbert 37).
In doing so, she manipulates him into believing the lyrics are his internal thoughts, and pretends an innocence she does not have. When her fish friend asks if they can leave now they’ve glimpsed the vessel, Ariel grabs his retreating back, saying (not unmenacingly), “You’re not getting cold fins now, are you?” leaving Flounder with two options: appear cowardly by admitting he wants to leave or save face by continuing on. She is a possessor of forbidden knowledge, like the controlling patriarch (the Beast) in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. We know she has considered her options because she reasons aloud, “If I become human, I’ll never be with my family or sisters again.” Unlike other Disney heroines, she knowingly and intentionally deals with the devil. The little mermaid goes double or nothing on her own ingenuity, and this points to a fount of inner strength the likes of which we have not seen in previous princesses. It is one of the wonderful qualities in her that reminds us of aunt Ursula, who, of course, is watching Ariel watch Eric.[h] It is the two sea women’s unabashed gazes that remind us of their status as dangerous women.
If anything, Ariel’s resorting to more dangerous means should be read as an indictment of Triton’s parenting; if he had not dismissed her out of hand, she would not have gone behind his back (“Common Criticisms”). Soon, he would come across a naked, speechless woman on the shore and begin to wonder at her dark secret. This performance is a masquerade, a drag show starring Ursula as an ironic figure” (Sells 182). I’ve never thought about the potential to read Ariel as a young villain, but the author makes a strong case for it. In Beauty and the Beast, for example, the Beast and all the castlea€™s inhabitants shed their gothic forms upon the moviea€™s resolution. As Laura Sells points out, Disney renders the mer world in a€?a€¦sweeping seascapes which resemble Georgia Oa€™Keeffe paintings, rich with the female imagery of sea shells and cave openingsa€? (178). Look out, lad, a mermaid be waiting for you in mysterious fathoms below.a€? It is human sailors who set up the story, characterizing the undersea world as a€?mysteriousa€? and warning a a€?lada€? (Prince Eric? Upon his rescue from the shipwreck, Eric appears principally concerned with the voice of his savior: a€?a girla€¦rescued me.
Slapping on a fishtail in place of legsa€”and, significantly, what lies between those legsa€”is only replacing one female mystery with another.


Adding to this, Sells gives us Roberta Tritesa€™s claim that a€?Embedded in gynophobic imagery,[a] Ursula is a revolting, grotesque image of the smothering maternal figurea€? (181). As the seventh and youngest daughter to King Triton, Ariel might have caused the queena€™s death through childbirth, and might thus already be guilty of matricide. However, apart from a dye-job and a different parting in her hair, Vanessa could be Ariel.[c] Of course, ita€™s easy to say that the art department only had one template for a€?pretty girla€? and that the visual doubling was an effort to save money, but a more interesting explanation is that Vanessaa€™s false exterior calls into question Ariela€™s. When Ariel first meets Ursula, she sees her (Ursula) in a mirror.[e] If mirrors reveal onea€™s true identity, then on some level Ariel is Ursula.
After the rescue, she takes the liberty of stroking his unconscious face, saying wonderingly, a€?Hea€™s so beautiful.a€? It does not appear to occur to her that he is also a human being who can think and talk and that he hasna€™t given her permission to touch him in that way. Ariel objectifies him by substituting the statuea€™s outward appearance (a knight in shining armor) with Erica€™s inward reality. No one misses, either, the grin she throws her fellow conspirators, upon stumbling and a€?fallinga€? into Erica€™s arms. In letting him see her in the window, Ariel takes on the role of the good queen from a€?Little Snow White,a€? the Angel in the House who begins that story a€?framed by a windowa€? (the next, bad queen will also be framed by glass, but hers will be a mirror) (Gilbert 37). When her fish friend asks if they can leave now theya€™ve glimpsed the vessel, Ariel grabs his retreating back, saying (not unmenacingly), a€?Youa€™re not getting cold fins now, are you?a€? leaving Flounder with two options: appear cowardly by admitting he wants to leave or save face by continuing on.
She is a possessor of forbidden knowledge, like the controlling patriarch (the Beast) in Disneya€™s Beauty and the Beast. We know she has considered her options because she reasons aloud, a€?If I become human, Ia€™ll never be with my family or sisters again.a€? Unlike other Disney heroines, she knowingly and intentionally deals with the devil. It is one of the wonderful qualities in her that reminds us of aunt Ursula, who, of course, is watching Ariel watch Eric.[h] It is the two sea womena€™s unabashed gazes that remind us of their status as dangerous women.
If anything, Ariela€™s resorting to more dangerous means should be read as an indictment of Tritona€™s parenting; if he had not dismissed her out of hand, she would not have gone behind his back (a€?Common Criticismsa€?). This performance is a masquerade, a drag show starring Ursula as an ironic figurea€? (Sells 182).
Though cast in the position of damsel in distress, Ariel as a character exhibits all the trappings of a gothic villain (by which I do not mean to suggest that she is evil, but rather active and assertive, as such villains are). Even more striking, their castle is “madeover” from distinctly Gothic (grey stone, gargoyles, black rooftops) to Rococo (sandstone, angels, red rooftops).
If fish fins are an indictment of the dangerous vulva, octopus tentacles most definitely are. I argue that this visual doubling is not mere coincidence but implies kinship and succession, as visual similarities do in the real world. Disney shows us that Ariel is good by making her beautiful, but Vanessa has the same exact kind of beauty, and she is bad. What we see, then, in the later mirror scene is not actually reassuring, but reminds us of the earlier instance of doubling, and that this Ariel look-alike is, on some level, actually like Ariel. She catches the spectator in her gaze, ‘sinuously turns her serpent’s neck…and—having first revealed enormously wide eyes, she slowly veils them with soft lids’ (qtd in Bell 115). Though moments before she had even us viewers fooled, the sidelong smile lets us know her “damsel in distress” is an act. In Andersen’s version, the little mermaid actually is an Angel in the House: “Many a night she stood by her open window and looked up through the dark blue water where the fish waved their fins and tails” (Andersen).
This pretending in order to get her man points to her understanding of and her willingness to use her sexuality.
Like the best of femme fatales, Ursula manipulates the victim into digging their own grave. Which of course he does, until they reach a porthole, at which point Ariel must use a new strategy to induce him to enter: “Alright. Disney has largely ceased production of Norma Desmonds in favor of Joan of Arcs—and that’s okay, because it has simultaneously reinvented its existing Norma Desmonds to be protagonists in their own right.
While perhaps she is a bad role model, she’s not a simpering victim and her active choices are what made her a hero for me as a child. If she expanded it a bit to draw more upon the scholarly literature (probably with a specific literature review section added towards the beginning, reviewing both the scholarship on what constitutes something that is gothic, and on other scholars’ publications on The Little Mermaid), it would be very much publishable in an academic journal or scholarly anthology.
Even more striking, their castle is a€?madeovera€? from distinctly Gothic (grey stone, gargoyles, black rooftops) to Rococo (sandstone, angels, red rooftops). She catches the spectator in her gaze, a€?sinuously turns her serpenta€™s necka€¦anda€”having first revealed enormously wide eyes, she slowly veils them with soft lidsa€™ (qtd in Bell 115). Though moments before she had even us viewers fooled, the sidelong smile lets us know her a€?damsel in distressa€? is an act. In Andersena€™s version, the little mermaid actually is an Angel in the House: a€?Many a night she stood by her open window and looked up through the dark blue water where the fish waved their fins and tailsa€? (Andersen).
Which of course he does, until they reach a porthole, at which point Ariel must use a new strategy to induce him to enter: a€?Alright. Disney has largely ceased production of Norma Desmonds in favor of Joan of Arcsa€”and thata€™s okay, because it has simultaneously reinvented its existing Norma Desmonds to be protagonists in their own right. In this way, she is the first Disney heroine to have her cake (use her sexual, intellectual, and entrepreneurial agencies) and eat it, too (attain her own happy ending). This final alteration is unnecessary (they could live happily ever after in a Gothic castle) and seems to imply that all things gothic—the architecture as well as the curse—must be eliminated for a happily ever after.
Both Ariel and Ursula, if only because of their paranormal bodies, have the makings of gothic villains. According to Bell, the physical similarities we see in the wicked stepmothers may be read as portents of the princesses’ future; these young ladies will someday be the active, assertive villains who are currently making their lives miserable. Though Snow White, Aurora, and Cinderella could each be described as such a selfless martyr, Ariel in no way fits this description. Ariel becomes the sexual subject, the admirer, giver, doer; Eric becomes the sexual object, the admired, receiver, done-to. And if part of the femme fatales’ allure is their “living and thinking only for themselves as sexual subjects, not sexual objects” (Bell 116), then Ariel falls into this category, even before meeting Ursula. She has created a shrine for her fascination like a religious fanatic, and her crowning piece—the ultimate site of her mania—is the statue of Eric, which she is thrilled to “have.” Mingled with the awe that viewers experience upon first seeing this sixteen-year-old’s cavern is a sense of trepidation at the unwavering commitment that such a collection must have required over the years. Frozen and Maleficent are obvious examples of this shift in perspective, each telling the story of an agentic femme fatale with whom the viewers can identify, and who gets a happy ending!
This final alteration is unnecessary (they could live happily ever after in a Gothic castle) and seems to imply that all things gothica€”the architecture as well as the cursea€”must be eliminated for a happily ever after.
According to Bell, the physical similarities we see in the wicked stepmothers may be read as portents of the princessesa€™ future; these young ladies will someday be the active, assertive villains who are currently making their lives miserable.
And if part of the femme fatalesa€™ allure is their a€?living and thinking only for themselves as sexual subjects, not sexual objectsa€? (Bell 116), then Ariel falls into this category, even before meeting Ursula. She has created a shrine for her fascination like a religious fanatic, and her crowning piecea€”the ultimate site of her maniaa€”is the statue of Eric, which she is thrilled to a€?have.a€? Mingled with the awe that viewers experience upon first seeing this sixteen-year-olda€™s cavern is a sense of trepidation at the unwavering commitment that such a collection must have required over the years. An analogous ending in The Little Mermaid would be tragic, involving the destruction of the mer world and Ariel, as a prime representative of that world. You can just, stay here and, watch for sharks.” By implying that sharks lurk outside the vessel, she makes entering the ship appear the safest option.
The previously opposite tropes of angelic heroine and monstrous villain are gradually colliding to form a new, stronger, more realistic leading lady.
You can just, stay here and, watch for sharks.a€? By implying that sharks lurk outside the vessel, she makes entering the ship appear the safest option. Where could she be?” Yes she was attractive, yes she saved his life, but most importantly, she had a pretty voice. Where could she be?a€? Yes she was attractive, yes she saved his life, but most importantly, she had a pretty voice. We know it is the voice that holds power over him because it instantly bewitches him a second time, despite the fact that it issues from Ursula-as-Vanessa. Of course, the way Disney animates this scene makes it appear that the voice bewitches Eric because it issues from Ursula-as-Vanessa: tendrils of yellow light snake their way out of the sea witch’s nautilus and into Eric’s eyes, as though it were the yellow light—not the siren’s song—that bewitches him. Of course, the way Disney animates this scene makes it appear that the voice bewitches Eric because it issues from Ursula-as-Vanessa: tendrils of yellow light snake their way out of the sea witcha€™s nautilus and into Erica€™s eyes, as though it were the yellow lighta€”not the sirena€™s songa€”that bewitches him. However, Eric’s affections already tended toward whomever possessed the voice: first Ariel when she sings him awake, then Vanessa as she sings along the shore. However, Erica€™s affections already tended toward whomever possessed the voice: first Ariel when she sings him awake, then Vanessa as she sings along the shore.
Yellow light or no yellow light, the fact remains that whoever gets Ariel’s voice seems to get Ariel’s man.
Yellow light or no yellow light, the fact remains that whoever gets Ariela€™s voice seems to get Ariela€™s man.
This little mermaid has some powerful assets, more powerful than either Disney or critics want to admit.



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