I have never given Ariel, the bright-eyed, red-haired heroine from Disney’s 1989 film The Little Mermaid, any credit. I had always thought she was a naive, love-sick teenager who changed everything about herself to be with Prince Eric. She gives up her voice–literally and presumably symbolically–to try and win the heart of the handsome prince. At first glance, she’s not independent. At first glance, she’s kind of dumb (who would give up her voice for a pretty man?!).
It’s not that I didn’t like Ariel. I just thought she was a flat character, a princess only admired for her doe eyes and gorgeous flaming hair, not for what she could do or for who she was.
I thought this until very recently, and then I changed my mind about Disney’s little mermaid. I gave her signature song a closer listen–“Part of Your World” has got to be one of the best Disney songs, and it’s all about one girl’s ambition to be something other than her norm. It’s about one girl’s unquenchable curiosity; Ariel wants to “be where the people are” and “ask them [her] questions.” She asks, “When’s it my turn?” She’s tired of waiting. She wants to experience her dream of becoming human; she’s tired of being something she thinks she’s not.
Ariel has some spunk, now. I just was always blind to this spunk.
My favorite line of the entire song is as follows:
“Bright young women…sick of swimming…ready to stand.”
Ariel is a bright young woman. She’s sick of swimming with her the mer-people, she’s sick of conforming to something she’s tired of. She wants to be her own person and experience new things. Ariel is a typical girl in her twenties (minus the fact that she’s only 16). She’s ready to venture on her own and be part of something that excites her and scares her.
Ariel wanted to be a part of the human world before she even thought about meeting her prince. Eric just happened to be a part of the package.
I can see why Ariel gave up her voice. She wanted to be a part of the world that had seemed so unattainable; with Ursula’s help, her dream was at her finger tips. She was ready to test out her legs in untested waters (irony), and she was desperate to discover a world where she knew she belonged. She’s also not immune to questionable decisions.
Ariel, I’m sorry I underestimated you. In fact, I’m a lot like you in many ways–I love doo dads (“thingamabobs”), I’m an incessant daydreamer, and I want to experience a world where I know I can belong. I appreciate my roots, like you do, but I have a thirst for adventure as well. I also appreciate a man with dark hair and blue eyes (let’s face it–Eric is a good looking prince). I want to learn as much as I can, just as you want to learn as much as you can about the human world.
Ariel, you are awesome and a role model to boot. I’m sorry it took me so long to figure that out. From now on, I’ll take your lead and venture into untested waters, be unashamedly curious, and go after what I want with a ferocity that may seem a little questionable.
The joke’s on me, Ariel. You knew what you were doing all along.