3 Truths the Little Mermaid Teaches About Desires

3 Truths the Little Mermaid Teaches About Desires June 13, 2023

The new live-action Little Mermaid is amazing. I’ve slipped back in time to when I was five years old, ejecting the VCR only to rewind it and start the movie all over again. Halle Bailey did such a great job and the entire movie was magical (for my full review of the movie click here). Not only that, but the movie teaches us important truths about our desires!

I’ve watched the movie 3 times and the joyful, dance-filled scenes of Prince Eric’s kingdom led me to book a semi-impulsive trip to the Dominican Republic. I’ve been listening to the music non-stop. And now here I am, putting a Catholic spin on the movie just so I can write about it here.

Happily, the Holy Spirit isn’t limited to Bible stories. Stories, fictional or not, keep us human. All stories carry truth, because each story has an imprint of the writer’s soul. This is why I’m not worried AI bots will steal my place as a writer (if you want to support me, feel free to follow me on instagram @birdloversmusings).

This month on the Catholic Bird Lover, we’ve been reflecting on desires: On how they play a key role in discernment; on how our desires are revealed to us; and on reasons God might ask us to go against our desires.

Today, we’ll discuss Ariel’s desires. Her desire to explore the human world is all-consuming. Read on for three truths the live-action Little Mermaid teaches us about desires. (Note: when I refer to desires in this article, I’m talking about more than things we want. I’m talking about the deeper desires of our hearts, such as the desire for happiness, for adventure, for love, etc.).

1. Desires are Stronger than Fear

King Triton is the voice of fear in Ariel’s life: The human world is dangerous. Humans are dangerous. They killed your mother.

Fear draws generalizations and it keeps us trapped in the past.

Perhaps when Ariel was younger, this fear had a firmer grip on her. Her father’s influence must have been necessarily stronger when she was a child. In addition, as a young girl she lost her mother.

But the desire to know about the human world never left her. In fact, she inherited it from her mother. As the years went by, the call of her desire grew stronger and more insistent. By the time we meet Ariel, this desire is all-consuming. Her heart is calling out so desperately that the voice of fear has no effect on her anymore. In fact, she is able to recognize fear’s flawed logic. 

She argues back against her father,

One man killed her mother, why blame everyone else? Besides she witnessed the compassion of a human with her own eyes. And look at all the wonderful things humans make. Surely that is proof of their goodness.

Ariel’s desires are stronger than fear, as they should be! The Bible is full of exhortations against fear. For example, in the parable of the talents, the servant who received one talent buried it rather than investing it out of fear. And he is punished for it.

“So out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground” (Mt 25: 25).

Fear is never the voice of God. (I’m referring here to fear of following our desires, not good and necessary biological fears of fight/flight or reasonable caution).

Concrete Resolution

In our own lives, who or what is the voice of fear? How can we take a stand against this voice?

2. Desires can’t be Suppressed

Despite the voices of fear, despite the prejudices of her entire culture, despite the good that she already has under the sea, Ariel cannot suppress her desire for the human world.

By the time we meet Ariel, she has been overwhelmed with a desire to known the human world for years. Her collection of human things is extensive and she spends every waking moment searching for more. This isn’t a phase. Rather, the desire to know the human world is so central to her heart that it is impossible to ignore. It can’t be suppressed or appeased.

The collection of human things isn’t enough. What she truly desires is to explore the human world. And no matter how she tries to fill this void with the collection, it isn’t enough.

After years of holding herself back and hiding from the surface, Ariel can’t resist any longer. She heads for the surface and finds a world more beautiful than she had even imagined.

Despite the voices of fear, despite the prejudices of her entire culture, despite the good that she already has under the sea, Ariel cannot suppress her desire for the human world.

Let’s think about the ultimate desire of the human heart: the desire for God.

The desire for God is written in the human heart…and God never ceases to draw man to himself (CCC 27).

This deepest desire can never be suppressed and it can never be substituted. No matter how much we fill ourselves with good things, without God we will never be satisfied.

Concrete Resolution:

How have I tried to substitute or suppress God in my life? How can I reach for God directly today?

3. Desires aren’t the primary goal

And now we reach the harsh truth. Our desires aren’t the primary goal. Sometimes, we have to give them up. If the only way to fulfill our desires is through sin, then we must give them up.

Ariel should not have accepted Ursula’s deal.

Though it is understandable how Ursula succeeded in manipulating Ariel (especially in the live-action retelling), it does not change the fact that agreeing to the deal was wrong. Ariel endangers the entire ocean. She signs a deal with a person she has been warned doesn’t have her best interests at heart (not to mention the skeletons that litter Ursula’s cave like trophies). She gives up essential parts of herself. She leaves without thought to anyone who loves her. Need I go on?

Ariel should not have accepted Ursula’s deal. She should have been prepared to give up her desires for the human world. Ultimately, she makes this choice in the final battle.

In the movie, Ariel has a chance to redeem herself and no major damage is inflicted. But even so, Ariel was called to be patient. She should have refused Ursula’s deal. Perhaps if she had been patient, a better way to fulfill her desires would have manifested itself. But she should have been prepared to give up her desire for the human world altogether. This is not the same as suppressing her desires. In giving them up, she acknowledges her desires but chooses to let them go anyways.

Ultimately, Ariel does make this choice. After the final battle, she chooses to go after the trident rather than Eric. In returning the trident to her father, she is willing to give up her life on land. It was a hard choice, but one we must be prepared to make.

Our life’s goal is not to fulfill our desires. Sometimes we are called to give them up. God never calls us to take a sinful path. The ends do not justify the means.

We live in a society that prioritizes pleasure and self-satisfaction above all else. This is not the Christian way.

Sirach points out this harsh truth: “for dreams have deceived many, and those who put their hope in them have failed” (Sir 24:7).

Concrete Resolution

Am I pursuing my desires in a sinful way? How can I pursue them in a different way? Or am I called to give them up, at least for now?

Key Takeaway

The desires of our heart exist for a reason. They are stronger than fear and cannot be suppressed. Though at times we might be called to give them up, they remain a critical part of life. After all, it is our deepest desire, the desire for God, that makes us human.

Check out my last post on why God might ask you to do something you don’t want to do. 




Fun Fact About the Catholic Bird Lover: Whenever I was bored in elementary school, I would play the Little Mermaid in my head. I had it memorized from beginning to end!

Follow me on Instagram @birdloversmusings for more. You can see my attempts at art like this one:







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