In this day and age it seems nothing can be innocent anymore, things that my generation enjoyed as children and teens with seemingly no issue, are now deemed inapporoatie or, the new buzz word "problematic". I've seen articles criticizing the TV shows Saved by the Bell, The Gilmore Girls, and Friends and now I have to hear about how my beloved Disney princesses are also, "problematic".
At the recent PopSugar Play/Ground event, actress, Mindy Kaling (The Office, A Wrinkle in Time) had this to say about the Disney classic The Little Mermaid:
"The Little Mermaid is a little problematic to me. I love the songs, I love the crab, Ursula the Sea Witch is a great character, but it bums me out looking back on it because she gave up her voice and left her family and friends in pursuit of a man. And she's 16 years old. When my daughter and I watch it together and she gets older, I'll still let her watch it, but I'll have to do the running commentary of like, 'You don't have to be mute to attract a man and get all your dreams to come true. It's fine! The people in your life who are your enemies are not just an older woman who's jealous of your beauty. The ultimate dream in life is not to become married to a white prince.'"
In her assessment of the plot she totally misses that Ariel doesn't do all that she does for a boy, per say. In fact, all she wanted was the option to go up to the surface, which had been completely forbidden by her over-protective father.
It is Ursula, the Sea Witch, that Kaling ironically calls a "great character" that turns Ariel's wish to be "where the people are" into a quest to land a man with "body language". In order to give Ariel legs, she takes her voice for her own pleasure and casts the spell that will expire unless Ariel kisses Eric.
At sixteen Ariel decided that her father's pre-conceived notion about humans were wrong. She didn't understand or chose to believe that "a world filled with such wonderful things, could be bad" and she also had an intense quest for knowledge, wanting to know learn more of the world her father and Sebastian would rather her forget. Remember the line "what's a fire, and why does it, what's the word burn"?
Don't we want our daughters (and sons) to have questions? Don't we want them to cast aside preconceived notions and racist views and become friends with and fall in love with whom ever the choose? Don't we want our children to learn who people really are and determine if they want them in their lives based off of anything other than where they live or what they look like?
I think Mindy Kaling does a total disservice to the story of Disney's The Little Mermaid by not acknowledging how strong and brave Ariel had to be in order to go on her journey. The ending also teaches kids that even if they do mess up, they can never mess up big enough where their parents won't come help them. At the end of the movie, King Triton goes in search of Ariel and takes her place in Ursula's contract. King Triton also sees that humans aren't so bad after all and he realizes his prejudice was wrong and harmful to his relationship with his daughter.
Yes, Ariel and Eric get married and live happily ever after. But is that really so bad?