Questioning Everything Disney Little To Much

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Fan Art Tuesday


The Little Mermaid: Change Everything for Your Man?

Today, we’re talking about Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I’ll go ahead and admit up front that I have a vested interest in this argument, owing to the fact that Ariel is actually my favorite Disney protagonist. She’s the one I connected to most strongly when I was a kid. I liked collecting things and learning about my favorite hobbies, just like Ariel. I looked petite and disarming but had a will of steel, just like Ariel. I was passionate, a romantic, and best of all, a redhead.

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So what’s so controversial about The Little Mermaid, you may ask? Isn’t it just a cute story about a mermaid who loves a human and finds a way to cross the divide? In case you haven’t heard the gripes about this movie, let me catch you up.

First, people say it gives a dis-empowering message to little girls. The protagonist, critics say, is a woman who gives up her voice (her metaphorical agency) for the purpose of getting a guy. She leaves the only world she’s known and changes herself completely just to be with him. What’s worse, she goes directly from being under her father’s rule to being under her husband’s.

The second thing I’ve heard this movie criticized for is encouraging teen rebellion. Ariel disobeys her father’s instructions about staying away from humans, disobeys the ban on visiting the Sea Witch, and is ultimately rewarded for her rebellion by getting what she wants: marriage at 16 and her own set of wheels—er, I mean legs.

I maintain, however, that innocent Ariel has been falsely accused! The evidence shall show “Not Guilty” on all counts. Let’s begin.

Accusation #1: Ariel Gives Ladies A Bad Message

I must admit, the first time I heard the explanation of how Ariel takes women back half a decade, I was devastated. I mean, the evidence was right there. She does give up her voice. She does go straight from her father’s home to marrying the prince. My favorite Disney protagonist was the antithesis of everything I now believe about women. Woe is me! My childhood was built on a vicious line of propaganda designed to keep me dependent on my father and future husband!

And then I stopped and actually thought back on what happens in the movie. Let’s examine the attacks piece by piece.

1. Does Ariel change herself (become human) for her man?

Nope. Ariel changes herself for herself.

Look, I know finding Eric and making him fall in love with her is a huge part of the plot. But let’s not forget who Ariel was before she met him. She was already obsessed with humans. She swam through dangerous, shark-infested wreckage just to bring a few human objects home. She went repeatedly to the surface though it was forbidden. She had an entire cavern of human paraphernalia, illegal in her world.

People, she even has a song about how much she wants to be human (“Part of That World”).

Yes, Eric may have been the catalyst that finally drove her to do something about her desire (except actually he wasn’t, because if you recall, it was her father’s temper tantrum that drove her to the Sea Witch), but she already had the heart to be human. She didn’t change her desire or goals to conform to Eric; that accusation is contradicted by every single bit of background and character development that occurs for the first half hour of the movie. To the point where I wonder if some of its critics have actually watched it.

Oh, but there’s so much more, you say! What about the fact that…

2. Ariel gives up her voice to get her man, which equals giving up your agency for a boyfriend.

Let’s take a multiple choice test. I want you to think back on the plot of the movie and choose the correct answer to a question. Ready?

Of the following characters, whose idea was it for Ariel to give up her voice?

#1

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#2

eric

#3

triton

#4

ursula

The answer, of course, is #4. Ursula.

The vicious antagonist of the film.

At this point in the movie, the audience knows that Ursula plans to trick Ariel and use her as leverage to overthrow King Triton. So when Ursula suggests Ariel give up her voice and become human, we know it’s a TRICK. It’s a BAD idea. It’s probably going to backfire in a way that benefits Ursula and harms Ariel. So why would that make a child think that giving up your voice is a good thing? Let me tell you something. I was way less likely to visit sea witches in caves and let their little yellow smoke hands pull out my glowing voice box after seeing this movie—not more likely!

Ursula, incidentally, is the character who espouses the view that women’s voices aren’t important. Remember her song “Poor Unfortunate Souls?”

“Come on, they’re not all that impressed with conversation
True gentlemen avoid it when they can
But they dote and swoon and fawn
On a lady who’s withdrawn
It’s she who holds her tongue who get’s a man”

This comes right after she’s reminded Ariel that “You’ll have your looks—your pretty face!”

So again, the BAD GUY is espousing a horrible view of women. But the movie continues to give blatant evidence that having a voice is important for Ariel. It’s the thing Eric first fell in love with, after all. When he meets human Ariel on the beach, she is beautiful and mute—qualities Ursula said men value—but Eric feels there’s something missing. He’s disappointed. The thing that makes Ariel Ariel is gone.

He wants the real her, not a pretty China doll.

3. Ariel goes from being under her father’s rule to being under her husband’s.

I think people say this based on one important misunderstanding: they believe the conflict between Ariel and Triton is about who has control. Through that lens, this story is about a girl who isn’t allowed to choose what she wants until her father gives her permission.

But I don’t believe that is the lens through which to view this movie. I don’t believe it’s about who has control or who has the right to give permission. But we have to delve into the next section to fully answer that, so please hang on to your hats, hold those thoughts, and stay with me!

Accusation #2: Does Ariel Endorse Teenage Rebellion?

….Sigh.

Y’know, I’m just not even sure where to start.

If you believe that movie portrayals of kids going outside their parents’ jurisdiction is bad for your kids, then probably most of my opinions about life in general are things you’ll disagree with. But I’m going to try and explain this one anyway.

Remember way back, a few seconds ago, when I said people mistakenly believe the Ariel/Triton conflict is about control? Well, that misunderstanding is also what fuels the belief that The Little Mermaid endorses teen rebellion. In actuality, I believe the Ariel/Triton conflict is a classic case of “children, obey your parents, and parents, don’t frustrate your children.” Rather than asking the question, “Will Ariel learn to submit to her father’s will?” the movie asks “Will the father and the daughter learn to understand each other?”

The point is that Triton and Ariel are learning mutual respect. They both have to swallow their pride and recognize their mistakes. Ariel acts rashly and does dangerous things in an attempt to get back at her father; by the end of the movie, she sees what a mess her anger made of everything. Meanwhile, her father refuses to respect his daughter’s differences and acknowledge that she’s old enough to make her own choices; he must face the reality that his little girl is grown up, and will start choosing things with or without his help.

They both make mistakes. They both grow.

So if you’re one of those parents who wants all movies to teach that parents are always right, then I can see why you dislike this one. But I hope, as a parent, you’re open to the idea that you have things to learn from your kids, too.

This is why I don’t believe the story is about Ariel going from the rule of her father to the rule of her husband. It’s not about a father owning his girl-child and selling her off to a prince. It’s about a father who holds on too tightly until he’s forced into the reality that his girl has become a woman.

I mean, for heaven’s sake, Sebastian says it right out loud at the end of the movie: “It’s like I always say, Your Majesty. Children got to be free, to lead their own life.”

That is the line that ultimately makes Triton realize Ariel should be a human. It’s her decision, not his.

But back to the whole “it will teach my daughter to rebel” thing. I have to argue against this just on movie-making principle. Stories about kids or teenagers are only interesting if the kid or teenager is somehow moving through the world outside the parents’ protection. This is Children Storytelling 101. That’s why most young protagonists are physically separated from their parents for the duration of the film. Land Before Time, anyone? Finding Nemo? Beauty and the Beast? American Tale? The Great Mouse Detective? It’s not a coincidence that all these kids’ movies feature kids making their own decisions. It’s more interesting that way.

Yeah, but this character is beyond her parents’ protection specifically because she disobeyed, not because of circumstance or natural disaster or death.

And your point is? Look, here’s the bottom line, and this is actually really good news: Your relationship with your child is not determined by what they see in the movies. If your kid learns to trust your judgment, it’s because of choices you made in real life that affected them—not because they watched a movie where a mythical creature wanted to try inter-species dating. Conversely, if your kid mistrusts your judgment, it could be because of choices you made in real life that affected them. Or maybe they made a conscious choice to go their own way, or any number of other factors. But I highly doubt you can really blame it on one movie.

If you want some proof, you’re looking at it. I, the girl who practically was Ariel, the girl who watched that movie literally hundreds of times throughout childhood, had an incredibly trusting relationship with my parents. We did not experience the apocalyptic teenage friction that pop culture promised we would. We didn’t fight over who I dated. I never went to a sea witch, or anyone else for that matter, for help going behind their back.

As a side note, I also watched Back To The Future without thinking time travel was real, watched JAWS without going around the house biting people, watched The Great Mouse Detective without becoming a sewer-dwelling supervillain OR a stripper at an underground mouse pub, and I watched the show Beetlejuice without believing that the phrase “Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice” would make a disturbingly bizarre little man pop out of my closet (okay, okay…I did try the Beetlejuice thing once. Not gonna lie. But nothing happened).

Oh yeah? Well, what about the fact that she doesn’t see any consequences for disobeying her dad, but instead gets what she wants?

She doesn’t see any consequences? So almost being killed isn’t a consequence? The Sea Witch getting Triton’s triton and almost becoming the ruler of the sea isn’t a consequence?

Ariel doesn’t “get what she wants” (a human life and marriage) because she disobeyed and went to the Sea Witch. After the witch is defeated, Ariel is left a mermaid, right where she started. As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

She “gets what she wants” because she and her father finally work out their differences. She gets closure on her childhood issues. The healed rift with her family is what gives the power for her to move on and start her adult life .

So there you have it. All the reasons why I still love The Little Mermaid and don’t worry about it corrupting my children in either direction (too rebellious or too retiring). Any other questions? No? Good. I’m going to go watch that movie again.


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Disney Confession #79

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Fan Art Tuesday


The Princess and The Frog: The Princess is Black!

Controversy Over ‘The Princess and the Frog

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One of Disney’s most recent leading ladies has a big job: Tiana is the first Black princess the fairy tale imagineers has ever featured. Viewers and critics alike want to make sure that “The Princess and the Frog” represents Black people in the best possible light.

When Disney announced that it would make a film with a Black heroine, we said, “Yay!! It’s about time.” Since then, some of the company’s decisions regarding Princess Tiana have been called into question and some minor tweaks and changes needed to be made.

Concerns were voiced over the princess’s original name, Maddy–which was thought to be an unlikely name for a Black woman–as well as her occupation, as a maid for a white family. To appease its customers, Disney changed her name to Tiana and placed her in the kitchen as the family’s chef. Now that’s what we call affirmative action.

There were still complaints over Princess Tiana’s love interest: The frog prince is not Black. Truth be told, throughout much of the movie he and his fair lady are frogs. He has a Middle Eastern name, Naveen, is voiced by a Brazilian actor, Bruno Campos, and comes from a made up place, Maldonia. Critics have cried, “What’s wrong with a Black prince?,” while others rebut, “What’s wrong with portraying multi-racial love?”

Other questions have been raised about why the 2-D cartoon movie is set in New Orleans, a place where many African-Americans were displaced due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina and Rita, as well as the racial implications that the use of voodoo in the film may raise. However, as the first Disney cartoon musical since “Hercules,” the legendary city that birthed Jazz seems a likely setting for a fairy tale, and the use of magic in Disney stories is almost customary (see “Aladdin” and “Sword and the Stone”).

While Disney animated films often draw controversy–remember the phallic symbol on the VHS box cover of “The Little Mermaid”, the Jessica Rabbit scandal of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” and the claims of subliminal messages in “The Lion King”–they typically tend to bring home a family-friendly message.

“The Princess and the Frog” is the stoy of a beautiful girl who kisses a prince who’s been turned into a frog only to turn into a frog herself. It presents themes about believing love even in tough circumstances, the struggle of moving up from one’s social standing, and the idea of beauty being skin deep. These are all great lessons to be taught by Disney’s first Black Princess. Most creative ideas face challenges and criticism.


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Disney Confession #78

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Fan Art Tuesday


Beauty and The Beast: True Love or Stockholm Syndrome?


There has been much debate over the years on the…let’s say, authenticity, of Belle’s love for the Beast in Disney’s film, Beauty and the Beast. The most common argument is that Belle is not in love with the Beast at all, but eventually falls for him do to a mental condition called Stockholm Syndrome. This condition is commonly defined as when a victim over a time starts to sympathize with his or her captor. Since Belle is, technically, a “prisoner” in a Beast’s castle, I suppose it’s easy to make the assumption that she suffers from this mental condition – if one is ignorant of the details and facts of it. Those who accuse Belle of having Stockholm Syndrome are wrong on many accounts, by both the specifics of this condition, and the story and characterization in the movie itself.

Stockholm Syndrome is technically a defense mechanism: simply put, an unconscious way the brain reacts in order to protect itself from any potentially harmful feelings or situations. In other words, it’s a survival mechanism. In order for a defense mechanism to come into play, the subject has to feel threatened enough to where the mind’s only interest is that of protection and survival, and all rational thought is put to the back of the brain. Now, this is important – Stockholm Syndrome is, first and foremost, an irrational mental condition: “This condition does not result from a conscious decision or a rational choice to befriend a captor.” Someone who consciously decides to befriend his or her captor does not suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. All of its power lies within the unconscious mind, when it pulls out this defense mechanism at a desperate attempt for survival.




Now, relating this back to Beauty and the Beast: when Belle is made a prisoner of the Beast, befriending the (rather horrifying at the time) creature is clearly the last thing on her mind: “I don’t want to get to know him! I don’t want to have anything to do with him!” All throughout the first act of this story, as the Beast continues to be rude and unkind, Belle is unbudging in her feelings of hatred towards him. Although she is obviously afraid of him, fear does not push her into submission, as she outright refuses to be pushed around (as when he “asks” her to go to dinner); with Stockholm Syndrome, the hostage’s behavior is very much the opposite: “Hostages are encouraged to develop psychological characteristics pleasing to hostage takers, such as dependency; lack of initiative; and an inability to act, decide, or think”. Not only does Belle never act this way to begin with, but as the story continues and she and the Beast’s bond grow stronger over time, if Stockholm Syndrome were to be present in Belle, she would eventually become submissive and weak due to fear. But there is no evidence of her lacking any sort of emotional or psychological independence as the story goes on: although she grows fond of the Beast, she obviously has enough independence and sense of self to leave when the Beast lets her go, which most of those with Stockholm Sydrome, due to the strong mental constrictions of the defense mechanism, are simply unable to do.



Backtracking a bit to before Belle and the Beast become friends: the only time Belle does feel threatened to the point of fearing for her survival (when the Beast tears apart the West Wing), the defense mechanism that her unconscious pulls out is probably the most logical one in the circumstances: to flee. Not once, but twice – including after the Beast saves her from the wolves. Her unconscious and her instincts are still screaming for her to flee, even after she is safe – but instead, she makes a conscious decision to help the Beast and not leave him to die. Not only is it a conscious decision (is that term nailed into your head yet?) on her part, but it is a logical one: the Beast had just saved her life, the direct opposite of what Belle unconsciously feared the Beast would do to her. In Freudian terms, her super-ego and her id are in major conflict at this point: to leave and be free with guaranteed survival, or to do the right thing and save the one who had just saved her? Considering that Belle doesn’t have much to fear from the Beast at this point, it is totally reasonable to assume that Belle taking the Beast back to the castle is a logical and safe choice on her part.

And now, we finally get to Belle and the Beast’s blossoming friendship and – eventually – love. This is when most people argue that Belle’s Stockholm Syndrome starts to develop: after the Beast saves her from the wolves. Now, if the Beast had continued to be as cruel and unkind to Belle as he had been at the beginning of the movie, and then Belle started falling for him? Then yes, I’d agree wholeheartedly that she had Stockholm Syndrome. But the thing is – Belle only starts becoming friends with the Beast after he stops being an ass and starts acting like a kind and compassionate creature.

With most cases of Stockholm Syndrome, the hostage takes small acts of kindness that the captor does for them, and unconsciously over-exaggerates them in their mind – for example, the captor gives the hostage a balloon, as s/he sincerely considers them Mother Theresa for doing so. In other words, the reaction to the captor’s “gift” is not equal to the action of the hostage giving it – and in the eyes of the hostage, the captor’s “gift” is often just allowing them to live: “Captives often misinterpret a lack of abuse as kindness and may develop feelings of appreciation for this perceived benevolence.” Belle at this point of the story does not befriend the Beast because he’s allowing her to live (and she believes there’s a true risk of him killing her, which is only how Stockholm Syndrome can be manifested), or even the fact that he saved her life (though that probably helped him gain enough of her trust to stay). It’s when the Beast actually shows his affection for her by giving Belle a certain something that things start to turn around.  And I don’t know about you, but I think Belle’s reaction to the Beast giving her an entire library to be pretty damn appropriate, especially for a bookworm whose only previous source of books was a small-town peasant library.



Belle interacts with the Beast more and more due to the fact that the Beast has grown softer and kinder, which is visible to not only to her, but to the other servants – and most importantly, to the audience. Many wouldn’t disagree that the Beast is much less of a monster and more like an awkward love-struck puppy by this point of the movie. There isn’t a temper tantrum or scary look to be seen from the Beast now. Belle warming up to the Beast isn’t at all irrational with this in mind. And since Stockholm Syndrome is an irrational condition, it’s fair to assume that their relationship is in a “normal” emotional place at this point of the story.

Also, in order for Stockholm Syndrome to be a factor, there has to be a constant awareness in both of the position of “captor” and “hostage” – one always has to appear more dominate than the other. Thus, the weaker of the two befriends the dominate more out of fear that the dominant with use their power against them. This is not the case in this relationship. In fact, Belle is the one who takes the Beast’s ego down a few notches (“And you should learn to control your temper!”). Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the Beast’s line to Belle when he lets her go in the stage version: “You’re not longer my prisoner…you haven’t been for a long time.” Except for Belle’s loss in her father, which cannot be forgotten about since it’s the factor that separates them at the end of the film (and the fact that Belle actually leaves furthermore proves that her attachment to the Beast hasn’t overridden her responsibility for her father; the Beast is obviously important to her, but her sense of duty and love for her father comes first in her mind, and she acts as any sensible and loving daughter would act), the two of them seem to have mostly forgotten who is the master and who is the prisoner in this relationship in their mutual happiness and possibly of love.


There’s also something very important to be considered with this specific case of “prisoner” and “captor” – there are other people involved. In fact, there are dozens of them – possibly hundreds. An important factor in Stockholm Syndrome is that the hostage only interacts with the captor, and so more or less forgets how everyday relationships work, and how we ordinarily interact in them. Thus, it’s easier for the hostage to assume that their relationship with the captor to be a loving one (even if it is abusive in reality), since it’s all they know after a time. But this is very much not the case with Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast. Belle makes many friends with the other servants in the castle due to how well they treat her (but the reasons behind such treatment belong to a different essay entirely…), and Belle interacts normally with them all on a daily basis. True, she is kept away from her father, an important factor in her life, as well as the rest of the outside world, but it’s rather obvious that Belle wasn’t very involved with her surrounding environment to begin with: having virtually no friends and hardly taking the time to take her nose out of her books, she lived much more in her mind than through social interactions. In truth, she interacts with more people in the castle –and has more, um, “options” – than she ever probably did in her hometown (most didn’t think very highly of her thanks to her love of reading). So then…why didn’t Belle fall in love with Lumiere? Cogsworth? If she could fall in love with a Beast, it wouldn’t be unusual for her to fall for another …inhuman personality. But obviously, love has something more to do than who you’re trapped with, with real love has anything to do with it.




Now…what about love? Well, since Belle and the Beast’s friendship had absolutely no basis in Stockholm Syndrome, then why on earth would their love have any? Nothing has really changed in how either of them treats each other in the stages between friendship and “something more” to assume as much. If anything, the Beast’s looks have become warmer, and his touch more loving (notice how tenderly he runs his massive claws through her hair) – and in all truthiness, whose heart wouldn’t be moved to be treated in such a way? He not only acts like a perfect gentleman, but a sincere lover – not a trace of his former cruelty is to be seen. It is not more than reasonable for Belle to start to love him?


For those still convinced that her infatuation is nothing more than Stockholm Syndrome – to weigh help her rationality in these feelings, we can easily look to the audience (in other words, ourselves). Does the audience sympathize with the Beast as well? If this movie has done its job, then yes, we should. And if we (mostly) “rational” and “mentally stable” people can sympathize, then so can Belle – without any notion of Stockholm Syndrome attached. And if we can fall in love with the Beast (as I and several thousands have done, if indicated by box sales and Academy Award nominations alone), than why is it so impossible for Belle to fall in love with him in the end?

The fact of the matter is – it isn’t impossible. It’s not unnatural. It isn’t even unusual. Belle fell in love with the Beast not because of some mental condition or defense mechanism – not out of fear, not out of instinct to survive – but because he started acting like a kind and loving human being. And because of that, Stockholm Syndrome simply isn’t a factor in this story, even on a minimal level. The “greatest love story ever told” is just that – a pure, touching love story of two hearts that learned to change and see past appearances.


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Disney Confession #77

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Fan Art Tuesday