Since today is the 25th Anniversary of The Little Mermaid, I thought it would be nice to talk about why this movie is so wonderful – and refute those claims that The Little Mermaid isn’t feminist.
It’s bothersome when people write off Ariel as “anti-feminist,” a “bad role model,” and complain about her giving up her voice for a man.
So here are 25 reasons why The Little Mermaid is awesome and way more feminist than you thought:
1. Ariel is confident in herself. One of the things that I’ve always loved about the Disney Princesses is how so many of them are filled with self-confidence, and confidence in their own abilities. Ariel definitely fits the mold. Even without her voice, even in a world that is nothing like hers, Ariel doesn’t change who she is. She’s out of her element, but doesn’t try to blend in, or minimize her personality. Ariel is wholly herself, on both sea and land, and I think her self-confidence makes her a great role model for girls.
2. She has hobbies! This might seem like a weird addition, but if you really think about it, how many of the Disney Princesses have hobbies? Not many. Belle has her love for reading (but Belle came after Ariel), Cinderella designs clothes for the mice, and we don’t get to see much hobbies-wise for the other princesses. Ariel is the first princess we have with multiple hobbies. She’s an explorer, she collects human relics, and she even sings in the choir with her sisters. How’s that for a well-rounded list of extracurriculars?
3. She’s adventurous! When a princess starts a movie looking through a sunken ship and facing off against a shark, you know she’s an adventurous badass. Like Belle, Ariel wants adventure in the great wide somewhere, but her somewhere is above land, and she ends up getting exactly the adventure she wants in the end. Everything Ariel does is an adventure, whether it’s facing off against evil sea creatures or figuring out how utensils work on land.
Watch how she takes a simple carriage ride:
4. Contrary to popular belief, Ariel didn’t go on land for Eric; he was just the final push she needed. When people call The Little Mermaid anti-feministic, their reasoning is usually because she gave up her voice for Eric, and well, that’s not a very good value to teach girls, is it? But that reasoning is WRONG. Number #1: The movie makes it very clear early on that Ariel has been fascinated with going on land way before she even met Eric. She’s been exploring and collecting human relics for ages.
Look at that nook of items. There are a lot of things there, which gives us the idea that she’s been doing this for quite a while. Number #2: Listen to “Part of Your World.”
What would I give if I could live
Out of these waters?
What would I pay to spend a day
Warm on the sand?’
And this amazing:
Betcha’ on land, they understand
Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters
Bright young women, sick of swimming
Ready to stand
It takes place before she even meets Eric, and you can already feel Ariel’s burning desire to experience life on land. The song makes no mention of finding love. The things she wants to experience aren’t related to Eric. True, it is meeting Eric that spurs Ariel to go on land. But he’s not the only reason.
5. She isn’t afraid to stand up for herself and her beliefs, even against her own father.
6. She makes mistakes, but more importantly, she owns her mistakes.
When the deal fails with Ursula, she finds a way to defeat her and save her father. She also makes things right with her dad after their fight.
7. She has a really awesome group of friends. Granted, those friends are a pelican, a fish, and a crab, but if you think about it, so many Disney Princesses have animal friends. Pocahontas had Meeko and Flint, Cinderella had her mice, Aurora had her forest friends… Ariel’s friends are basically the best though. They’re supportive of her, but honest; if they’re wary of one of her decisions, they’re not afraid to help her. And they’re right by her side whenever she needs them.
8. She has an amazing singing voice. Okay, maybe this isn’t a unique reason – pretty much every Disney princess can sing, and sings plenty of awesome songs – but Ariel is the first one for whom her singing voice relates to the plot. She sings in the choir with her sisters and Eric first falls in love with her voice when he hears her sing. Her voice is what Ariel has to give up so that she can go on land, and it’s also what Ursula uses to trick Eric and mess with Ariel’s deal.
9. Ursula is an awesome antagonist.
She’s an unabashed female villain, which we don’t get very often in the media, and she’s underhanded, and devious without any shame or remorse. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is such a great song because not only is it just an awesome villain song, but also because it shows how manipulative she is.
She never really lies during the song when she tells Ariel about the deals she makes, or the consequences: she just highlights the reward over the risk, much like a crafty saleswoman. She also knows exactly what she’s doing when she takes Ariel’s voice, because she knows that even if Ariel manages to catch Eric’s attention, she can use Ariel’s voice to distract him, because it’s what Eric originally fell for.
10. “Part of Your World.” It’s Ariel’s “I Want” song of the movie, and it’s amazing. It’s one of the most relatable “I want” songs because think about it: haven’t we had that feeling like we don’t quite belong? Or that we want something more out of life?
Ariel does, and she has the drive to follow through and pursue her dreams of stepping on land.
11. Triton and Ariel’s relationship is wonderfully realistic and heart-warming. A father and daughter who don’t see eye to eye? Story of pretty much every parent-child relationship. We all clash with our parents, and Ariel and Triton happen to clash over their opinions on the world above their own. Ariel wants to see more of it, Triton insists it’s dangerous. Both of them make a mess of things. Triton destroys her relics, basically throwing a temper tantrum, and Ariel runs out without so much as a word to him about where she’s going, which terrifies him. (Bonus: The Broadway version expands on this conflict a bit more on Triton’s side with the amazing song If Only. Listen here.)
But ultimately, the two of them make things right in the end. Triton even gives Ariel his blessing (and restores her legs) so that she can live on land. When she hugs him and says “I love you, daddy,” you know that all is right between these two, and it warms your heart.
12. Eric is an amazing Disney Prince. He’s not my favorite (because no one can top the Disney Prince of my heart, Aladdin), but he’s a close second. Eric is kind, funny, sweet, charming… and most importantly, he loves all of Ariel. He initially falls in love with her voice when she saves him, and spends a lot of the movie wondering about the girl who saved him, but when Ariel turns up on land sans her voice, he starts slowly falling for her all over again. When he realizes the melodic singer that saved him and the voiceless girl who’s charmed him are one in the same, it’s such a great moment for us the viewer because he realizes what we knew all along: he’s fallen for all of Ariel.
And when Ursula is thwarted and Ariel is dragged back under the sea by her, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to take her down and save his beloved. He never asks Ariel to give up her place in the sea, and he never asks her to change; more reasons I love him.
13. Ariel saves Eric. A Disney princess saving her man, say it ain’t so! The Little Mermaid is the very first Disney movie to feature a princess doing the rescuing. In that moment a ship is sinking, she’s just seen fire for the first time and realizes it is dangerous, and a serious storm is brewing. She’s been separated from her friends. Yet, she saves Eric. She pulls him out of the water and brings him to safety. At the end of the film, Eric jabs his ship into Ursula, creating a balance between them. Ariel doesn’t always need to be the strong one because she has an equally strong man at her side. There is a give and take in their relationship. Having that equilibrium is healthy and important!
14. Sebastian. Let’s just talk about Sebastian’s character. You know that friend, the one who’s always like “I’m not sure this is a good idea,” or “maybe we should think this through?” The one who keeps the group from getting into chaos? That’s Sebastian. Other reasons Sebastian is awesome: he has a song all to himself (“Under the Sea”) and it is amazing, he’s the mediator who keeps the peace between Ariel and her dad, and despite his stern attitude, he really cares about Ariel. He also gives some hilarious dating advice.
15. We can’t talk about Sebastian without talking about Flounder. He’s an adorable sidekick, super loyal to Ariel and super sweet as well. He’s naturally skittish and shy, but he’s not afraid to stand up for Ariel and help her out however she needs him. These two have true friendship. ❤
16. The Little Mermaid is one of the earliest examples of a princess with siblings who aren’t horrible to each other. (Cinderella’s step-sisters don’t count, at least not initially, because it takes a few movies for Cindy and Anastasia to bond.) We don’t get a ton about Ariel’s sisters, but her, her sisters and her father seem like a fairly close-knit family unit. Her and her sisters even sing together! That’s true family bonding. I thought their A-themed names were cute, and I think part of why Ariel doesn’t feel belonging is because she’s a part of a huge family unit, and she wants to be a part of something that’s hers alone.
17. During Ursula’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” she brings up men’s views on women, which sadly we still deal with in this day and age:
The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber
They think a girl who gossips is a bore
Yes, on land it’s much preferred
For ladies not to say a word
I personally think it’s pretty brave of Disney to tackle societal issues like this, and it’s important for young girls and boys to realize that you should be who you want to be, not what society expects of you.
18. And do you know what else is awesome about The Little Mermaid? The movie subverts Ursula’s assumptions by having it not be true for Eric. Eric is the exact opposite of that. He falls in love with Ariel despite her lack of voice, but that’s because Ariel is so expressive that she still finds a way to showcase her voice to Eric without saying a word. I think voice or no voice, Eric still would’ve fallen in love with Ariel, and part of what Eric loves about Ariel is how expressive and enthusiastic about life she is. He loves her, with or without her voice, with legs or fins, in a dress or a conch shell bra.
19. Also, just as Eric subverts Ursula’s expectations of men, Ariel doesn’t bend to Ursula’s version of what women should be. Ursula tells her to be “withdrawn”, and that “it’s she who holds her tongue that gets the man”, but those things go against the very core of Ariel’s personality. So does Ariel follow her advice? Not a chance.
20. Ariel is resilient. Her father destroys all of her relics and tells her to never go to the surface? Well, she’s not giving up on her dreams, no matter what he says, and she finds another way to get there. She doesn’t have her voice to win over Eric? She uses her extroversion to win him over: she’s naturally a bubbly, expressive person, and she uses that to her advantage. Ironically, one of Ursula’s bits of advice proves to be helpful for Ariel: body language helps her communicate with Eric, despite her lack of a voice. Ursula messes with the people she loves? Ariel fights back to make things right. She’s someone who doesn’t give up easily, and all of her persistence and hard work pays off in the end when she finds her happy ending on land.
21. She proves that women don’t have to give up everything for a man. One of Ariel’s big worries is that she’ll lose her father and sisters if she goes up on land, but Ursula tells her that she’ll have her man, and that life is full of tough choices. Like much of what Ursula says, this turns out to be a lie, because in the end, Ariel learns that she doesn’t have to choose between both worlds. She can live on land with Eric and still keep close ties with her family. The Little Mermaid is all about worlds uniting, and how Ariel can still hold onto her home and family while embracing her place on land with Eric. She also doesn’t have to change who she is for Eric. Yes, she gives up her fins, but that doesn’t mean she has to give up on where she came from or who she is.
22. Ariel is not afraid to cry, but then she can get right back up and fix her problems. After Triton destroyed the grotto, she was emotional, but then she took a visit to Ursula and found a way to get what she wanted.
When “Vanessa” arrived and Eric was going to marry her, Ariel was heartbroken, but when she found out Eric was being tricked and the marriage wouldn’t make him happy, she jumped into the water and saved him (again!). There’s nothing wrong with crying when you need to! Crying is natural and it makes you stronger if you can let your emotions out. Ariel is a fully formed woman: she’s not a weepy do nothing, but she’s also not this impossibly strong person. That’s a great message for girls (and boys).
23. Ariel is our first non-human princess, or at least, she starts out that way. Her world is vast and filled with gorgeous scenery, and there’s also some interesting world-building there as well. It’s such a wonderfully thought out world, and I love the fact that so much of the movie is focused on the differences between both worlds, and how the human world is just as fascinating to Ariel as the world under the sea is to us.
24. There’s this super interesting hinted at backstory with Ursula and Triton, because Ursula mentions once living in the palace and being banished. So what exactly did she do to get herself banished? And if we consider the fact that the original plan was for Ursula to be Ariel’s aunt, how much more twisted and interesting does that make this movie? (I personally like to imagine this as canon that’s not mentioned, because it adds some really interesting depth to the plot.)
25. Finally, one of the things I love about this movie is that Ariel is 16, and it’s clear in her personality that she’s still growing and developing.
She’s playful and sometimes naïve and stubborn and I think people get grated by her sometimes because of her immaturity, but think about when you were a teenager. Teenagers tend to have this “I know best” mentality, even if we don’t, and I think Ariel really personifies that. But she learns from her mistakes and matures greatly by the end of the movie without losing her sense of self or her sense of fun and adventure. She becomes the best version of herself, essentially, and isn’t that supposed to be what love is? Finding someone who brings out your best qualities, doesn’t try to change you and makes you want to be your very best self?
The next time anyone scoffs at Ariel you’ve got 25 awesome comebacks ready!
What do you think? Can you think of anymore reasons The Little Mermaid is an awesome feminist film? Leave them and your opinions below in the comments!
Happy 25th Anniversary to one of the best Disney films.