I recently read Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale, “The Little Mermaid,” and then watched the Disney version. Though I’ve grown up with Disney’s rendition, I found that I prefer the original fairytale.
I understand why Disney lightens the ending, (If they did it to Hunchback of Notre Dame, they can do anything I suppose) but why add the angst? Disney’s version creates a dysfunctional family relationship which is never truly healed. The daughter is sweet, but irresponsible and selfish. The father is loving, but stubborn and violent. In my opinion, the ending doesn’t completely resolve these faults. The message ends up: “Just let kids do what they want; they’ll be happy that way.” I think it is a fun movie, with good songs, lovely art, and a cute story, but the dysfunction twinges a nerve every time I watch it.
In comparison, Anderson’s fairytale creates conflict through an excess of love. The young princess’s love for the prince brings her to the sea witch, who gives her human legs and a chance to gain a soul. As a price for human legs, the littlest mermaid must endure knife-like pain with every step she takes—but she suffers it willingly. She risks her life to gain a human soul through marriage. After the prince marries another, her sisters sell their hair to the sea witch to give her a chance to live. They give their sister a knife and tell her to kill the prince, but she chooses his happiness over her own. Instead of killing him, she jumps overboard as the sun rises and turns to sea foam. It is so beautiful, so tragic, and I do not recommend ever getting yourself in this situation.
Of course, Disney could never produce a story like that. They don’t want to make their audience cry, they want them to laugh! But the laughter is cheap in comparison to the original beauty.