Not a Post About the San Diego Comic-Con
Comic-Con is this weekend, and being the nerdy kind of guy I am, I feel like I ought to write about that. Maybe something about how despite living in San Diego for five years, I still haven't been. Or something about the opportunity to take interesting pictures of cosplayers. Or at least some local's grumbling about 100,000 extra tourists clogging the roads.
I'm not going to write about that, though. No, today I want to write about The Little Mermaid.
I've seen The Little Mermaid--or parts of it--at least thirty times over the past year. This would be considered odd for a normal, rational adult, but since a toddler is the one calling the shots with respect to the DVD player these days, I don't really have the luxury of being a normal, rational adult. Instead, I get to go days on end with "Part of Your World" stuck in my head. (It happens to be right in my vocal range, too, which used to entertain Jason and now causes him to shout "NO SINGING, DADDY!" Which is both hilarious and a little heartbreaking for me. But I digress.)
Anyway, you can't watch The Little Mermaid thirty times without noticing certain interesting little tidbits. Well, you can't if you're me. (I may also be playing a little fast and loose with the word "interesting.") If you're me, you start thinking about plot holes and imposing an actual adult perspective on the characters.
For example, when Sebastian discovers that Ariel has been turned into a human and decides to go back and tell the Sea King all about it, saying:
I'm gonna march meself home and tell him right this minute and don't you shake your head at me, young lady! Maybe there's still time. If we could get that witch to give you back your voice, you could go home with all the normal fish and just be... just be... just be miserable for the rest of your life.
I find myself turning to Juliette and saying, "No she wouldn't. She's sixteen. Realistically, she'd be mooning all over some other mer-teen before she turned seventeen."
Or, when King Triton, discovering that his daughter has made a Bad Deal with Ursula, tries to remedy the situation by shooting the contract with his trident, I recently wondered why he didn't just shoot Ursula instead. I mean, it's clear that the contract would be undone by the Sea Witch's death, which we see not ten minutes later when Prince Eric kills her by stabbing her with a sunken ship. And that's after she's become a gigantic sea-goddess, having stolen Triton's power. Presumably she would have been even more vulnerable at the point when she was face-to-face with Triton.
But, no, it doesn't even occur to Triton to shoot the witch. He shoots the scroll, instead, which is impervious to his might. Which brings me to an interesting observation: in the entire course of the movie, only two characters are ever seen killing anyone. Ursula, of course; she not only accidentally fries her two pet eels, but also pops a live shrimp-looking creature into her mouth as a snack in her first scene. The other is Eric, who, as mentioned, kills Ursula in the climactic scene.
Looking a little closer, we see that two other characters attempt to kill: the shark that chases Flounder and Ariel around the sunken ship, and Louis, the French chef who tries to cook Sebastian. They don't succeed, but not for lack of trying. So we have a sum total of four characters who attempt fatal violence toward other characters.
It's interesting that three of them are bad guys. We have the shark, which is less a real character than a sort of embodiment of mindless, chaotic evil. Then there's Ursula, the calculating, power-hungry schemer. And finally Louis, who while only really there for comic relief, is nonetheless cast in a villainous (if mildly so) role. What, then, does it say about Eric that he's in the same company as the other three?
This is a pretty recurrent theme in our cultural mythology about heroic figures, actually. We are presented with the two central male figures in a girl's life: the father and the husband. (To be clear, I'm describing the mythology here, not the way I think it is, must be, or should be in real life.) Both appear powerful, but the former is ultimately shown to be impotent, while the latter conquers his foes. And it's the latter who eventually carries off the girl. These are the kinds of stories we tell ourselves. And that we tell our kids, I guess.
OK, OK, yes, I did just spend over 400 words examining cultural mythologies and archetypes as presented in a Disney movie. I know. But you watch the same kid's movie thirty times and see what happens to you.