Disney’s latest live-action version of The Little Mermaid is scheduled to release in May 2023, with actress and singer Halle Bailey starring as the beloved Ariel. While children of all races seem absolutely (and adorably) thrilled by the first images released at Disney’s D23 expo, some grown-ups have a big problem with the upcoming movie.
In fact, they’ve been having a problem with it since the movie was announced, prior to any image being revealed: the main actress seems to be the issue. But what’s their main problem with the live-action Ariel exactly? Well, what you can mainly hear from them is that (I’m quoting them here) casting an actress of colour for the role of Ariel is a lack of respect and completely ruins the original fairytale.
Interesting point of view. The “original fairytale” you say? Well, let’s rewind a bit and see what Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairytale is about.
What’s the original Little Mermaid about?
Hans Christian Andersen wrote the Little Mermaid in 1837, a fairytale about a mermaid willing to give up on her voice and tail in favour of human legs. She wants to join the prince she’s in love with, but he doesn’t love her back. There’s no friendly fish, crab, or seagull. And there certainly isn’t a happy ending.
Drinking the potion gives her a sensation similar to being pierced by a sword, and every step she takes on her human legs is an unbearable torture for her… However, the prince likes to see Ariel dance: Therefore, she dances for him under endless agony with each movement, just to please and please the man she’s in love with.
The prince, however, is never romantically interested in Ariel, whom he considers merely entertaining. Eventually, he announces his royal marriage to another woman. As they celebrate the ceremony on a boat, Ariel watches them from afar, heartbroken and still in physical pain.
How does the original Little Mermaid end?
While she’s watching the wedding, Ariel’s sisters emerge from the water with a gift from the sea witch: a dagger. They explain that the only way for her to become a mermaid again is to kill the prince with the dagger, and let his blood drip on her human legs, so that they turn back into her mermaid tail again. This way, she could go back to her family under the ocean.
But Ariel cannot bring herself to kill the prince, so she throws herself into the water, killing herself. She is welcomed by the spirits of the air, who warmly congratulate her for her selflessness, before taking her with them. And that’s how our story ends.
Then came Disney’s Little Mermaid
One hundred fifty years later, Walt Disney took Andersen’s classic, rewrote it, distorted its story and core lesson, and presented his own toned-down version of the tale to the world. The mass audience completely forgot about the original story and chose the altered version. So, “original” story, you said?
Like all stories, there is never a single version, but a multitude of reinterpretations and one version does not cancel out the others. I personally consider this “multitude of versions of the same story” as a multiverse (yes, I do love the word). The story was adapted so many times in different forms – books, plays, movies, games – that I think there are plenty of versions for everyone to enjoy. And it’s even possible to enjoy multiple versions of a character! (Spider-Man fans, I see you).
As much as I love Walt Disney and his legacy with all my heart, never forget that the worldwide beloved visionary never created a single original story with his company. He merely took other authors’ works to adapt them to fit his company’s image (which was bright, fun, colourful and full of happy endings) and society’s expectations of his time.
Now, to bully and mock artists online because they do not fit one of the versions of the story is pure dumbness. And calling the Disney version the “original” version just doesn’t make sense either and is only used by haters to validate their own argument.
I personally can’t wait to see Halle Bailey as Ariel, and see how the story is going to be adapted this time!
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