Ariel

Ariel is a pretty divisive character, most people either love her or hate her. Myself… I can’t stand her. I thought I should write about a princess I actually like after the rant about Belle, but it’s just so much easier to write about the ones I don’t like. Maybe next time?

Screen shots from disneyscreencaps.com. Review contains comparisons to Brave, so there may be spoilers to that film too.

Who she is

Ariel is the protagonist of the Little Mermaid. She is a mermaid princess in the underwater kingdom, but she longs to explore the ground above the sea. Unfortunately for her, her father thinks humans are dangerous and forbids her to have anything to do with them. After a bad row with her father and falling in love with a human prince, Ariel takes a sea witch’s offer to trade her voice for legs. To keep the transformation permanent she must get a true love’s kiss from the prince in three days, otherwise she will turn back into a mermaid.

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Appearance

Ariel has the same generic cuteface problem as the one I complained in Belle’s entry, though not to quite that degree. Ariel at least has the huge round eyes and a slightly unusual upper lip so her face is a little bit more memorable than Belle’s.

Ariel has delightfully many outfits, though I’m not a fan of many of them. Her default mermaid look is ok enough, but it kind of suffers because there’s nothing to set her apart from any of the other mermaids. Why not give them all different seashells or something? Anything pink is at a disadvantage by default so I’m not too fond of the pink dress or the nightgown, and the sleeves in the wedding dress are way too poofy. The glittering dress is very pretty against the light, but when it’s revealed to be a lot lighter blue I don’t like it any more. The blue dress is my favourite by far, it’s one of my favourite Disney dresses overall. I hear people don’t like the huge bow, but I think it’s the best part of the outfit. To be fair there’s nothing particularly memorable about the design of the outfit, maybe I just like it because of the colours… oh well.

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Ariel’s bright red hair looks amazing, especially how it’s animated underwater. I just don’t get how the heck her bangs are supposed to look, they look different in every shot so I always have serious difficulties when I try to draw her.

arielRedesignAriel is one of the characters to get quite a large overhaul on her design in the Disney Princess redesigns. I didn’t really have a problem with the red hair + pink dress combo like a lot of other people seem to have, so that alone doesn’t justify the radical change for me. What does (a little bit at least) is the fact that Aurora already had a pink dress, so at least Ariel stands out better now, and at least the new colour doesn’t come out of nowhere. As of the  new dress design itself… not relly a fan, but it doesn’t bother me that much because I never liked the original dress that much to begin with either. It’s kinda floppy and those “curls” of the petticoat look even sillier than average. The new hair bothers me a lot more, to me it makes her look like a completely different person, the random loose strands still look stupid (a little less stupid than on some other characters I must admit), and the shading makes me it look like her hair is dirty and unkempt to me.

The added sparkels on the mermaid design don’t bother me nearly as much as the dress sparkles, because okay scales can sparkle. Not probably in that way, but whatever.

Overall I think Ariel has a great design, but there’s one thing that really bugs me about her looks is how ridiculously skinny she is. I mostly look at fictive characters from my own point of view, so any “Think of the children!!! Is this character a good role model for them!!?!!” is not too high on my priority list. So my problems are more about how sometimes her waist looks so skinny that it’s uncomfortable to look at it rather than what it might teach to little girls. Though I guess this is more serious than something like a design having an oversized head when it’s enforcing a negative real-world stereotype on how women should look or something.

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My problem with women in media wearing annoyingly little/revealing clothing is not an issue with Ariel either. She’s a mermaid, it’s not like anyone would expect her to wear a turtleneck sweater.

What I don’t like about her

Okay, let’s start with stating that I think Ariel is a selfish and irresponsible brat who whines her way to her happily ever after. She’d be my least favourite Disney Princess if it weren’t for Belle and Aurora whom I like even less. And while being selfish and bratty can make a great character if the character develops from that, Ariel never really learns anything and the movie just hands out a happy ending because other characters did learn and change and because any possible problems are brushed under a rug.

First some meta-level complaints. A popular defence I see for her is “but she saves her prince first! If she hadn’t saved him there would be no story, give her more credit!“. Okay, the fact that she saves him is cool, but why should I care about who saves whom ~first~? It sounds about as interesting as who gets the FIRST COMMENT on a Youtube video. I’m far more interested in who is heroic at the climax, so if your only notable achievement is in the first thirty minutes of a movie and everything else is downhill from there it isn’t exactly a good thing in my book. I’ll rather have a character who is passive from start to finish over a character who starts as heroic but regresses into a damsel so at least I don’t get any false expectations. To be fair Ariel does save Eric in the climax too, but that scene is over in a few seconds and feels more like an afterthought than a crucial part of the story.

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Another argument I’ve often seen in Ariel’s favour is that “She did it for her dream! Are you saying that following your heart is wrong!?“. Frankly I hate this argument, just because something is your pwecioush dweam doesn’t suddenly mean that you can do whatever you want and nobody is allowed to criticise you. But that’s more of a problem with her fans(?) and not the character herself so nothing more on that.

But to the girl herself. I hate how she acts in a selfish and irresponsible way through the whole film, but she never has to learn or sacrifice anything to get what she wants, and in the end I’m expected to be happy that she got her way despite doing very little to earn it. Having a selfish and bratty character is great (I love Merida), way better than the idealistic saints who never do anything bad or thoughtless, but only if you have them learn from their mistakes and change for the better.

Ariel sure gets the ‘selfish and irresponsible’ part down right: she urges a friend to join her life-threatening treasure hunt and only laughs at his fear, she doesn’t attend a concert where she’s expected to perform as the star, she goes to places where she’s been forbidden to go, she makes a point of not listening to advice she’s given, she completely ignores it when her friend almost gets eaten, she runs away from home after one row with her father, she makes a magical deal with a witch she knows to be suspicious, she never once thinks how her family might feel about potentially not seeing her ever again, and whenever she does apologise the scene is played so fast that whether she genuinely feels sorry has no significance whatsoever for the plot.

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People bring up that she does apologise for the Ursula mess she’s caused, but to me it doesn’t sound like she’s sorry about what she’s done at all, she’s sorry about how it ended up affecting her father. She’s the teenager who is sorry that the party she hosted without permission ended up destroying the house and now her parents are mad at her, not the one who successfully kept the party secret and is now feeling sorry for betraying her parents’ trust. At no point is she thinking of anyone but herself while her life on the shore is still going as she wants and the thought that her family might be worried to death about her sudden disappearance doesn’t seem to cross her mind even once. Just because she apologises for getting her father turned into a mollusc doesn’t mean I think she’s sorry for something else.

Also, her apology scene is like two seconds long and has no bearing on the plot. For example in Brave, Merida accepting that the bear fiasco is her fault is critical to break the spell. Merida also has to take responsibility of her bratty actions, and she would have been ready to sacrifice her own happiness to stop the clans from fighting. Whether Ariel feels sorry or not has no emotional weight, and the plot doesn’t let her do anything to fix the mess she’s caused. Have her abuse a loophole in the contract so she can sacrifice herself (and get better by the end of course) and make Ursula vulnerable or something, now all she gets to do in the finale is take out Ursula’s mooks in a scene that lasts a few seconds and which could have been cut out without affecting the plot.

And while Ariel does save her prince (FIRST!!!1), in the end she is still the damsel in distress. Other characters (men, by the way, those filthy swines! How sexist!) have to fix the problems she’s caused, and we just can’t have the movie not end in a dramatic climax where the princess has to be saved by the daring prince right? Ariel is supposed to be the hero and water is supposed to be her element, was it really absolutely necessary to give all the glory of destroying Ursula to the human male while Ariel wriggles helplessly at Ursula’s… trident-point?

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The issue I have with Ariel only thinking of herself in so many scenes wouldn’t be such a huge problem if there was only a few of them, but like with Belle the problems just pile up to the point where I can’t just ignore them, which ends up ruining many otherwise potentially good scenes. In a different context I’d probably see Ariel apologising for not attending the concert in a different way, but with her being pretty selfish for most of the movie the scene feels like it’s less about her being sorry that the concert was ruined and more about how it’s inconvenient for her that Triton is upset with her. Likewise, stuff like Ariel going to sleep while Sebastian still lectures her or Ariel ignoring Flounder’s fear could be a cute or fun scenes if it wasn’t for Ariel being similarly selfish in almost every other scene she’s in.

What makes Ariel’s inability to take responsibility of her actions even worse is that next to her is Triton who goes though similar situations and does everything Ariel should be doing. After they have a row he considers if he’s being too hard on her. After his temper tantrum that leads to him destroying Ariel’s possessions he’s immediately sorry about what he’s done. He sacrifices himself and changes his own name to the contract. In the finale he admits that he’s going to miss his daughter, but still grants her wish and turns her into a human. Triton has a good character arc, but now it only highlights how bad Ariel’s is in comparison.

triton

Ariel’s arguments with Triton are treated in an unpleasantly biased way. In Brave Merida and her mother’s difficult relationship was interesting, because they both had their faults and both were right about something, but here Triton is the only bad guy. Okay, Triton needs to learn his lesson about not being a racist against humans, but it really bothers me how Ariel is treated as being 100% right about everything she says about humans. She doesn’t meet a single bad human, there is nothing bad or evil about the human world, ever, all she does in the human world is having fun. And humans DO eat fish, who as we are told, are sentient and Triton’s subjects. Shouldn’t that be a valid point for Triton? The movie brings up the humans-eat-fish angle at least three times, but Ariel never needs to to have an opinion about that. Shouldn’t it warrant some kind of reaction from her that her boyfriend may have eaten a thousand Flounders? But nope, she even knows that Sebastian was almost eaten, but she just shrugs it off and we’re supposed to laugh at it, it’s not like Ariel should worry her little head about anything other than achieving her personal dream.

Then the romance. I know Ariel was obsessed with the human world long before she met Eric, and that it played a large role in her decision to make the deal with Ursula, but sometimes it feels like the film tries really hard to make me think that her attraction to the guy she hasn’t even spoken to was 90% of her motivation. Just before she makes the deal we have scenes where she acts like a lovesick… well, teenager, plucks petals from a flower, fawns over the statue of Eric, and even during her talk with Ursula we have this:

Ariel: “If I become human, I’ll never be with my father or sisters again.”

Ursula: “That’s *right*. But – you’ll have your man. Life’s full of tough choices, innit?

So I can’t really blame people who think her dream to explore the ground above played a large role in her decision, because the movie keeps pushing the man to our faces and does not mention her fascination of human world nearly as much. And then there’s of course the fact that the entire plot revolves around her romance being succesful, and the happy ending is solely focused on the romance as well.

statue

I think this could have worked a little better if Ariel was shown enjoying the surface world more without Eric. Like, she doesn’t get Eric as her babysitter in the first ten minutes she spends on the beach and instead explores the world herself and meets some other people first (preferably ones that weren’t privileged royalty). Or while living in the castle, have her go on her own little adveture while Eric does political prince stuff. Or end the movie with, I don’t know, SHOWING HER ENJOYING THE GROUND IF THAT WAS HER BIG DREAM. Instead of just fawning over and kissing this one guy. In a boat. In the middle of the sea.

I also have a problem with the romance only needing three days. Okay, it’s a fairytale, and Disney, the three first princesses had their romances develop in a few hours at most, but I see those differently. The princesses and princes in the first three princess films are so much non-characters that the fact that the romance is nonexistant bothers me a lot less (not that it makes the romance any good though, but that’s a different story). Their movies don’t even try to make us care about the characters’ feelings, they run on fairytale logic where highly idealistic princesses get their princes and live happily ever after, and whether the couple has any chemistry doesn’t matter one bit. But in the Little Mermaid Ariel and even Eric to an extent are made more relatable characters with distinct personalities, we see them fall in love, and how their romance works out is a plot point. So when I’m actually expected to get interested in whether Ariel gets just this particular man it’s a bit jarring when the narrative explicitly states that the whole romance only needs three days.

Not that the romance is developed particularly well either, though. Especially with the ridiculously short time span, I just can’t get into this romance and it comes across extremely shallow on Ariel’s part. To me it feels like that she’s in love with what Eric represents (the human world) rather than what kind of person he is, and any reasonably cute and decent human guy would have sufficed. She “falls in love” with him after seeing him for a few minutes and before communicating with him in any way, and the next time we see her acting like a teenager who has a crush on her favourite actor. How am I supposed to take this seriously? Nothing wrong with showing a teenager in love, you can show a romance start out as a superficial crush, but you have to develop it further from there to get me to care. And I never get that from the Little Mermaid.

arielFlower

What I do like about her

Unlike Belle whom I can’t stand starting from the moment she appears on the screen and Aurora who never does anything worthwhile Ariel starts out pretty well and would have good potential to be a great character.

Like with Belle, even if I don’t really like giving points just for sucking less than some other character I guess it’s worth mentioning that Ariel definitely isn’t a passive doll that is moved around by the other characters like the three first Disney princesses. Even if her character arc is kind of nonexistant she does manage to affect the plot through her conscious decisions. And yes, she does save her prince too.

My favourite part about Ariel is when she’s exploring the human world. The pure joy and excitement simply ooze from her, right now I can’t think of any other Disney movie which manages to show “I’m having fun!” so well from a character’s face. Being mute means she has to communicate through her expressions even more, so she makes great faces during the whole time she has no voice.

yaay

Even if the romance takes a larger and larger part of Ariel’s goals as the story goes on, major points to her for having a motivation outside getting a boyfriend in the first place. Even if I find the execution flawed, Disney did try not to make it look like she gave up her current life for a man and I think a lot of criticism Ariel gets on this issue is unwarranted. I really like how she had a specific dream on what she wanted to do and where to go (as opposed to the vague “I want more” from many of the other princesses whose dreams are more about complaining how they don’t like their current situation than what exactly do they want instead). And she was also doing what she could for her dream; while she couldn’t go on land herself for obvious reasons she does whatever other measures there was for her to get in touch with her dream.

Also, not only is Ariel assertive with her dream, she also knows what she’s doing with her relationship. She doesn’t just sit there with a demure look like a good pure and chaste girl should; she flirts as much as she can to get her magic kiss.

kissTheGirl

I love Ariel’s singing voice. Not the one in her song numbers, I mean the “Aaa~~” she sings to Ursula’s seashell thing. The movie really managed to capture an ethereal mermaid voice there.

Palace Pets

Ariel was a bit more lucky than Belle when it comes to Palace Pets. For starters, (so far) she only has one of these abominations, which is always a plus in my cynical mind. Her pet is a cat named Treasure, and being more of a cat person I can stomach this one a lot better than many of the other pets.

The cat is as overcrowded with accessories as the other pets. And why does it have hair?! And how does the tail work, I’ve never seen a cat have a tail like that… And the tiny muzzle looks icky to me.

But overall, I think Ariel’s cat is at the better end of the Palace Pets. Which probably says quite a lot about what I think of the others, since I didn’t have anything good to say about this one…

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Gallery

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Pixiv links that require a Pixiv account to be viewed properly:

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8 Responses to “Ariel”

  1. The Little Mermaid | Hapuriainen's Animation Blog Says:

    […] « Ariel […]

  2. MountainLord-92 Says:

    You know in the original fairy tale it ends with Ariel becoming the wind (or something) so does get punished for what she does, of course this wouldn’t make a very good disney movie so they had to give it a happy ending. I’m betting you would prefer the original ending much more.

    • Hapuriainen Says:

      Indeed I’d like the HC Andersen ending more because I like sad/bittersweet endings, but I can handle a Disneyfied happy ending just fine if it’s done properly. I wouldn’t mind Ariel getting her happy ending at all if she worked for it and was clearly shown to learn from her mistakes.

  3. axecaliva Says:

    Everything I’ve ever felt about Ariel except put way more eloquently than I could hope to manage. No comment on her recent redesign though? She may be a lousy character but aesthetically it’s my favorite of all the new stock artwork… I just think the seafoam dress works so much better with her red hair than that awful pink number ever did! ;D

    • Hapuriainen Says:

      Apparently I didn’t start including the redesigns until Jasmine. I guess I could add them to the older character reviews as well, though that section is always a bit repetitive since I’m not overly fond of any of the redesigns (not that this has stopped me from including the Palace Pets part in every review).

  4. Emma Says:

    Ariel has gotten a pony since you wrote this. It looks pretty horrible if you ask me.

  5. Jenny Says:

    What`s maybe interesting: The character developers based Ariel`s
    personality and her looks on Alyssa Milano who had a eating disorder. The other women who acted for Ariel´s movements was a professional swimmer. Also she was very very skinny.

  6. theanorsianhero Says:

    Ariel actually acts like a selfish, spoiled teenager deep in the throes of teenage passion (instead of the impossibly saintly “good girl” most of these princesses are), so she gets a pass from me. I’m dealing with a teenage girl right now who reminds me quite a lot of Ariel.

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