Things I Learned from Disney Princesses: Ariel
by Erin M Rogan (@Rogue98)
Since I began writing these articles, I have become attuned to listening for comments on Disney princesses. As I mentioned in my posts on Rapunzel and Belle, they are common, and often, negative. But no princess gets as much bad press as Ariel!
Ariel is often accused of being bratty, impulsive, and rebellious; and all these things are pretty true. But you’ve got to remember that Ariel is also sixteen and even the best-behaved of us were probably at least one of those things at that age. So, for this week, I propose that we view Ariel’s journey because we can learn a great deal from her mistakes.
Don’t be trapped by your parents’ beliefs.
To be fair, this is not a mistake Ariel made; I thought she deserved some credit, though, so this is where I’m beginning. One of the best qualities Ariel has is one that we often see in young people: she is unwilling to accept the world as seen through the eyes of the older and jaded. Yes, when we, the older and wiser, look upon the young and idealistic we say, “It’s going to hurt when you learn what I know.” But I’ve heard it said that the most successful people were those who didn’t know they might fail.
I’m sure King Triton was just waiting for Ariel to be disappointed by the humans with whom she was so enamored. He was so sure they were all the same: spineless and fish-eating. Given his way, Ariel never would have known any differently; just as many parents want to shelter their children from the awful things they have learned about the world. But their children often have to find out for themselves anyway, just like Ariel. And it turned out that she was right to give Eric a chance, even if he was a fish-eating human.
Don’t always trust those who “know.”
Ariel, because she is so young, relies very heavily on the adults in her life because they should know more than she does. But, as I said above, that’s not always true. Sometimes you encounter adults like Ursula who say they know what’s best for you, and at best, they are wrong. At worst, more like Ursula, they use the things they “know” to manipulate. Ariel is taken in by the belief that she can trust the adults around her and we should remember that this is not always true.
Read the fine print.
The contract Ariel signed was incredibly unbalanced. At first it seems like it’s going to be fine (sort of) because there is a clear exchange of risk: if Ariel succeeds, Ursula has to give her legs forever and if she does not, Ursula gains a slave. But then the sea witch tips the scale by asking for payment on top of that risk, and Ariel agrees to it! Being sixteen, she doesn’t really understand the consequences of her decision. From watching Ariel make this mistake, we know to make sure we understand what we’re agreeing to.
Sometimes you know what you want, but not the best way to get it.
You can take it for granted that the characters in Disney Princess movies live happily ever after. So, we can be sure that in spite of how young Ariel is, she and Eric will be happy. Thus, we can’t fault Ariel for falling in love with Eric because she wasn’t wrong.
However, the way she went about getting close to him was a terrible idea! There is nothing about making a deal with a sea witch that sounds like it will work out well. We find out in the end that King Triton also had the ability to turn Ariel into a human. Ariel would have had far fewer problems if she had found a way to get her father’s help instead.
Make sure you have supportive friends.
Lots of people think that being supportive means always agreeing, but it really means saying, “I love you, but that thing you’re doing is dumb. If you do it, I will still love you, but I will still think it’s dumb.” Lucky for Ariel, she had genuinely supportive friends. She had Flounder to go on adventures with her. Sebastian tried to keep her safe until she made her deal with Ursula and then shifted his efforts to helping her get close to Eric. In the end, it’s not a kiss from the prince that gets Ariel her voice back, it’s her friends that attack Ursula and break the sea shell. Your friends are often the strongest support system you have, so make sure it’s a good one.
Don’t mess with Sebastian! (Or any other “little guy”)
Sebastian may be one of the tiniest characters in the movie, but he kicks a lot of butt! He outsmarts the deranged chef and manipulates an entire swamp to serenade the awkward couple. The crab is a force to be reckoned with and I bet that’s true of most people we underestimate because they’re small or meek.
Ariel is a young princess and I don’t think enough people consider that when they condemn her for being anti-feminist or weak or childish. But, the truth is, she is a child and she is a more accurate representation of a teenager than most princesses even though they are all under 21. For example, people don’t like the fact that Ariel acts impulsively and then her father has to come to her rescue, but that’s what fathers do when their daughters mess up! The Little Mermaid gives us a surprisingly accurate look at a teenager and, as a result, we get the chance to learn with Ariel.