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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Little Mermaid is based on the classic Hans Christian Andersen story and has some scary moments. Ursula the sea witch grows into a giant and wields a trident in a climatic scene. A bloodthirsty French chef merrily chases after Sebastian the crab with a cleaver, hoping to make him the main course. Romance is central to the story, with Ariel sacrificing everything, from her family to her voice, to (hopefully) be with the man she falls in love with at first glance. That aspect has long troubled some viewers. Ariel is a very popular Disney princess with a brand that reaches far and wide.
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What's the story?
THE LITTLE MERMAID tells the story of Ariel, a mermaid princess who collects human artifacts she finds in the sea. One day, she rescues Prince Eric, who was thrown from his ship during a storm, and Ariel falls in love. Desperate for the chance to have a life with Eric, Ariel enters into an agreement with a sea witch, Ursula. She gives up her voice and gets legs, in hopes of wining him and being part of his world. But she only has three days to woo Eric. If he doesn't kiss her in that time, she will become Ursula's slave forever.
Is it any good?
After some lackluster years, Disney came back into the top rank of animated features with this superbly entertaining musical. The story is based loosely on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen (but with a happier ending). Ariel was the first in a series of refreshingly plucky Disney heroines; instead of dreaming about the day her prince will come, or waiting for a fairy godmother or a prince's kiss, Ariel is a spirited and curious mermaid who is willing to take action in order to meet Prince Eric, the man of her dreams, though she is gullible and impetuous in agreeing to the terms demanded by the sea witch in exchange for making it possible for her to go on land.
The wonderful voice characterizations in this film include Buddy Hackett (The Music Man) as Scuttle the scavenging seagull and Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian, the calypso-singing crab. The first-class musical score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (who worked together on the off-Broadway hit, Little Shop of Horrors) ranks with the best of Broadway and won Oscars for Best Score and Best Song ("Under the Sea"). Some viewers criticize The Little Mermaid for providing yet another wasp-waisted Disney heroine whose whole world revolves around a man. But Ariel is adventuresome, rebellious, and brave. It's true that she makes the mistake of giving up her voice to the sea witch (a very strong female character, to say the least), which provides a good opportunity for family discussion.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about villains. Why is Ursula both a little scary and a little fun?
Why do you think Ariel chooses to give up her voice (and her family) for Eric in The Little Mermaid? Are you troubled by the message her decision sends about women and their priorities, or is that over-thinking this kind of movie?
Talk about Disney princesses. How often do you see your favorite princesses on display when you're out shopping? Does watching this movie make you want to buy more Ariel stuff?
Why do you think Sebastian tries to help her even though he doesn't agree with what Ariel's doing?
- In theaters: November 15, 1989
- On DVD or streaming: October 1, 2013
- Cast: Christopher Daniel Barnes, Jodi Benson, Rene Auberjonois
- Directors: John Musker, Ron Clements
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Book Characters, Music and Sing-Along, Ocean Creatures
- Character strengths: Curiosity, Perseverance
- Run time: 83 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: March 24, 2020
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