Friday, 18 February 2011

Friday is for Fairy-Tales: Andersen's Mermaid vs. Disney's Mermaid

This is a meme hosted by me every Friday.

This post today is about: Andersen's Mermaid vs. Disney's Mermaid

The Little Mermaid (the 1989 Disney animation)is based on the fairy-tale of the same title by Hans Christian Andersen. In this post, I will examine the similarities and the differences between the two.

1. A quick profile of the mermaid
Andersen: The mermaid doesn't have a name. She lives with her father the sea king, her grandmother and her six older sisters. In the story, every mermaid is allowed to swim to the surface and watch the world above at the age of fifteen. The little mermaid listen to her sisters' tales about the world above with longing. Appearance: not specific. She also has the most intoxicating voice in the world.

Disney: The mermaid's name is Ariel. She is sixteen and in love with the human world up above. She even collects human artifacts in a cave. She is not merely interested in the human world; she wants to belong to it. Her father is King Triton. She has six older sisters who are all named: Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Attina, Adella and Alana. Ariel's appearance: flowing red hair, big blue eyes, a green tail. She also has a beautiful singing voice.

2. Meeting the Prince
Andersen: When the mermaid swims to the surface for the first time, she sees a ship with a handsome prince (not named) and falls in love with him from a distance. A great storm hits and she saves the prince from drowning in the sea. She brings him to the shore near a temple and he's unconscious. She waits with him until a young girl from the temple finds him. The prince never sees his true saviour.

Disney: Ariel often swims to the surface. One night, she sees a ship and on the ship is Prince Eric, with whom Ariel falls in love. A sudden storm hits and everyone manages to escape in a lifeboat, but Eric goes back to rescue his dog Max. He almost drowns saving Max, but Ariel saves him and brings him to the beach. Ariel sings to Eric, but dives underwater when Max returns to Eric. When Eric wakes up, he has a vague impression that he was rescued by a girl with a beautiful voice. He vows to find her and Ariel vows to find a way to join Eric.

3. Becoming Human
Andersen: It is said that merpeople don't have an eternal soul. When they die, they turn to sea foam and don't exist anymore. Human, however, have an eternal soul and continue to live in Heaven. The mermaid wants both the prince and an eternal soul, so she goes to the Sea Witch (not named) to become human. The Sea Witch sells her a potion in exchange for the mermaid's tongue and warns her that she will never be able to return underwater again. Getting legs will hurt very much and every time she will walk, it will feel as if walking on daggers, but the mermaid accepts this for the sake of the prince. The Sea Witch also tells her that she will only get a soul if the prince falls in love with her and marries her, as then, a part of his soul will flow into her. If he doesn't love her, she will die brokenhearted and disintegrate into sea foam.

Disney: The witch, Ursula, makes a deal with Ariel to transform her into a human for only three days. During the three days, Ariel must receive the 'kiss of true love' from Eric, or she will transform back into a mermaid on the third day and belong to Ursula. As payment for legs, Ariel has to give up her voice, which Ursula takes by magically removing the energy from Ariel's vocal chords and storing it in a nautilus shell. Ariel's tail is transformed into legs and her friends help her to the surface.

4. Meeting the Prince as a Human
Andersen: The mermaid meets the prince and he likes her beauty and grace, despite her being mute. Most of all he likes to see her dance and she dances for him despite her excruciating pain. When the prince's father orders his son to marry the neighboring king's daughter, the prince tells the the ermaid he will not because he does not love the princess. He says he can only love the young woman from the temple, who he believes rescued him, but he also adds that the mermaid is beginning to take the temple girl's place in his heart. It turns out that the princess is the temple girl. The prince loves her and the wedding is announced.

Disney: Eric and Max find Ariel on the beach. He initially suspects that she is the one who saved his life, but when he learns that she cannot speak, he decides he is wrong. He helps her to the palace, with everyone believing she is a survivor of a shipwreck. Ariel spends time with Eric and at the end of the second day, they almost kiss. Ursula is angry that she might lose Ariel, so she takes the disguise of a beautiful young woman named Vanessa and appears onshore singing with Ariel's voice. Eric recognizes the song and Ursula casts a hypnotic enchantment on Eric to make him forget about Ariel. The next day, Ariel finds out that Eric will be married to the disguised Ursula on a ship. She cries and is left behind when the wedding barge departs.

5. Finale
Andersen: The prince and princess marry and the mermaid's heart breaks. She thinks of all that she has given up and of all the pain she has suffered. She despairs, thinking of the death that awaits her, but before dawn, her sisters bring her a knife that the Sea Witch has given them in exchange for their long hair. If the mermaid kills the prince with the knife and lets his blood drip on her feet, she will become a mermaid again, all her suffering will end and she will live out her full life. The mermaid cannot kill the prince lying with his bride and, as dawn breaks, throws herself into the sea. Her body dissolves into foam, but instead of ceasing to exist, she feels the warmth of the sun. She has turned into a spirit, a daughter of the air. The other daughters of the air tell her she has become like them because she tried with all her heart to gain an eternal soul. She will earn her own soul by doing good deeds and she will eventually rise up into the kingdom of God.

Disney: Ariel and her friend Flounder chase the wedding barge and another friend informs Triton, Ariel's father. With the help of various animals, the nautilus shell around Ursula's neck is broken, restoring Ariel's voice and breaking Ursula's enchantment over Eric. Realizing that Ariel was the girl who saved his life, Eric rushes to kiss her, but the sun sets and Ariel transforms back into a mermaid. Ursula turns back to her true form and kidnaps Ariel. Triton confronts Ursula and demands for her to release Ariel. When Ariel is released, Triton transforms into a polyp and loses his reign of Atlantica. Ursula takes his place and declares herself as the new ruler. She is attacked by Ariel and Eric, causing her to kill her minions. Enraged, Ursula begins to grow big on the seafloor. Ariel and Eric reconcile on the surface just before Ursula grows past and towers the two. She then gains full control of the entire ocean, creating a storm. As she prepares to kill Ariel, Eric turns the wheel of his ship hard to port and runs Ursula through the abdomen with the ship's splintered bowsprit, mortally wounding and destoying her. The ocean calms after her demise and Eric makes it to shore before losing consciousness. Due to her death, Ursula's power breaks, causing all the polyps in Ursula's garden, including Triton who would regain his reign, to revert back into their original forms. Later, after seeing that Ariel truly loves Eric and that he also saved her and the ocean in the process, Triton willingly changes her from a mermaid into a human permanently using his trident, where she reconciles with Eric once more. Ariel and Eric have their wedding on a ship, where both humans and merpeople could attend, before sailing away afterwards happily married.


Which version do you prefer?


Jan von Harz said...

The Disney version was my daughter favorite when she was little, and while I like Anderson's version too, I would have to say I love the happy ending best, not to mention all the other great characters in Disney's version and the songs.

Unknown said...

I really like the Disney version (I have a fondness for all the Disney films, really) but I do love Anderson's version, although it's much sadder. I hated it as a child, as it used to make me cry! But the more I read it, the more I think it's much more beautiful than the disneyfied version!

Jo K said...

You wrote a very thorough comparison. The Disney version has a happier ending but it feels too commercialized. I'd kind of prefer Andersen's version, although it is sadder.

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I never noticed that the characters didn't have real names in Andersen's version although that does seem to be a common feature in fairy tales.

I definitely prefer the happy ending of Disney although I do think the original is very beautiful.

Unknown said...

I prefer the Disney version. I like that the characters have names and a bit more personality. From all my reading of Russian tales I've realised that it is quite common for the characters to be nameless and rather anonymous in character. More archetypes than individuals.

Blodeuedd said...

The Disney one. I didn't even know about the real version, I mean how it ended before I saw this animated short story and ended up crying at the end

Enbrethiliel said...


I prefer the Andersen version, by far! It's the one I grew up with and the one I will always love more--although I can never figure out why the mermaid didn't just tell the prince who she was, using sign language or something.