Monday, December 29, 2008

Princess Rant #2

OK, I'll be the first to admit that Disney knows how to make a quality kids movie. And Lord knows that my kids and I have loved every film in the Disney /Pixar franchise. The princesses, though, give me plenty of occasions for doubt, though. I have already ranted about the issues I have with the lack of growth the princesses experience in their movies. Now, I'm going to rant about Ariel.

It was The Little Mermaid that saved the Disney name and revived a flagging animation industry. Ariel is the sine qua non of the Princess line. Yet I find The Little Mermaid the most objectionable of all the Disney princess movies, especially now that I have an impressionable four year old daughter.

No Princess is so overtly sexualized as Ariel (not counting Esmerelda from Hunchback, whom Disney dropped from the Princess line like a live grenade. Elitists). Given the fact that her age (16) is explicitly mentioned, ANY reference to her sexuality should give one substantial cause for heebie-jeebies. But there she is, in her training shells, looping through the cracks in coral formations in underwater dances that would make Dr. Freud marvel...

Not convinced? The catalyst for Ariel's transformation is her crush on the human Prince Eric. She cannot woo him in her mermaid form; she needs to present herself in human form with compatible sexual organs. Ariel's theme song, "Part of Your World" actually begins with Ariel's fascination with the surface world. The lyrics emphasize that Ariel wants to be "part of their world." It's only when her fascination turns to lust that the "their" becomes "your." And in the final stanza of the reprise, Ariel sings
I don’t know when
I don’t how
But I know something’s starting right now
Watch and you’ll see
Someday I’ll be
Part of your world!

And just to drive home the point, in the last measure, as the music builds to a climax, we are treated to this little visual...

Just can't wait for those legs, can ya, Ariel? Something starting, indeed...Oh, god, I feel dirty. She's sixteen, fer crissakes. But every time I see the movie, the "sexual awakening" theme puts a damper on my enjoyment of what would otherwise be an enjoyable kids movie (with great music, it goes without saying).

So what's wrong with a hidden mature theme in a kid movie? After all, my students, high school seniors, are shocked when I describe how sexualized Ariel is. If it went over the heads of these intelligent young women well into their teenage years, how much will the target audience pick up?

Too much, I worry. After all, Princess merchandise is aimed at kids still in the crib. And when the message of the core film is "Ignore your family, tradition, and common sense in pursuit of the object of your lust", it becomes high hurdle for a parent to make the case for restraint. And counter to the "good sexuality" of Ariel comes a darker side: the evil (and dare I say Butch) sexulaity of Ursula, the Sea Witch. Lust for a handsome young man is good, but lust for power is bad. The zaftig Sea Witch schemes, deceives, and almost steals the man. This, of coursse, warrants her death at the hands of Prince Eric, the prow of a ship into her giant torso in what has to be the most overt symbolic rape in cenematic history. With the villaness out of the way, Eric is thus free to impale his teenage bride with the happy sanction of her father.

Hey, Eric, what's the age of consent in Denmark?
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