This weekend I watched The Little Mermaid, and, just like Tangled, there are parallels here, too. Nothing as blatant, maybe, but it’s there.
Ariel’s father forbids her from contact with humans. But Ariel is not content with life under the sea – instead, she is fascinated by humans. Then Ariel makes contact and finds they’re not so bad. In fact, she falls in love with one. How does her father respond? He freaks out completely. He lectures Ariel, telling her that humans are all the same, that they have no feelings, that they will only hurt her. Ariel tries to protest but her father refuses to listen.
Ariel is then willing to do anything she has to to be a human. Since she can’t turn to her family, she turns to a con artist, the sea witch, for help. She ends up in a heap of a lot of trouble for this, but at the time Ariel didn’t see anyone else she could turn to for help. Her father had shut her out, and her sisters couldn’t understand.
And then there’s this line:
“If I become human. I’ll never be with my father and sisters.”
Ariel realizes that she has to choose. Does she want to be a human, or a mermaid? This choice is no less stark than choosing between remaining in the Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy lifestyle and leaving it to live a “worldly” life. The choice is the same.
Watching Ariel try to adjust to the human world is similarly interesting. She’s totally clueless – doesn’t know how to act, what to do, or anything. That she originally thought a fork was for brushing her hair says something. When I first left for college, I felt similarly clueless, like I’d been thrust into a society I’d watched vaguely from the outside but didn’t truly understand.
But of course, the whole business with the sea witch blows up and Ariel ends up in grave danger. It is at this point that Ariel’s father must admit that he didn’t handle the situation well at all, and that her current danger is partly his fault. And it is at this point that he has to look Ariel’s beau in the face and come to terms with him – and work with him to save Ariel from enslavement to the sea witch.
Ariel’s father may have treated her horribly in the beginning of the movie, but by the end he lets go of her and allows her to make her own choices and live her own life. You can see that in this conversation he has with his loyal sidekick, Sebastian:
She really does love him, doesn’t she Sebastian?
It’s like I always say. Children got to be free to lead their own lives.
Then I guess there’s just one problem left.
What’s that, Your Majesty?
How much I’m going to miss her.
I have to say, coming from my own personal experience, this ending seems too contrived, too easy. Ariel’s father starts out ignoring her desires and suffocating her, and then he does a 180 and lets her go, let’s her make her own choices and lead her own lives. The whole drama of the movie could have been avoided if he had just followed this philosophy in the first place! In some sense, then, it’s Ariel’s father’s response to his daughter growing up that provides the backdrop of the movie.
There are some movies today that work like therapy (Tangled) and others I can’t watch (Fiddler on the Roof). This one falls somewhere in the middle – triggering without being fully cathartic.