The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

More What Ifs from The Little Mermaid

ariel the little mermaid glow

What if Ursula never gave Ariel a vagina? What if she didn’t know what one looked like, since she’s been under the sea for so long and has no interest in humans. So she just left her blank down there, like a Barbie doll, because she didn’t know there was supposed to be something else. That would explains Ariel’s lack of reaction to the new features between her legs (in that there wasn’t anything to react to).

Boy, wouldn’t that be a surprise for dear old Princey.

In Which I Condemn Ariel to Misery

simpsons homer ned flanders

Okay, so I am not a lawyer. But there’s this post by Shon Faye (@shonfaye) that’s gone viral. And I thought it’d be a fun experiment to see if I could argue the other side of it. So, yes, I’d be defending Ursula.

unfrozen caveman lawyer phil hartman snl
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury — I’m just an octopus. Your world confuses and frightens me.

1. Ariel being a minor is subjective, and I disagree this makes the contract any more nullable. I would assume that there are no clearly established laws of consent in this medieval world, either on land or sea. But let’s say there are. Ariel’s still old enough to get married and be emancipated from her father. I would argue that if she’s old enough for that to be socially accepted, she’s no minor.*

2. The contract is not for Ariel’s soul. Verbatim, Ursula says “You turn back into a mermaid and… you belong… to me.” This has nothing to do with a soul. It’s more like eternal servitude or slavery. Now this is all a gambit to gain control of Triton, but that’s beside the point. Ursula has no intention, nay the ability, to do anything with Ariel’s soul.

Also, do we know the extent of the magic Ursula used? The three days may not be arbitrary. It may be an attribute of the spell. In the same vein, perhaps these are ingredients that will never be seen again. Perhaps they exacted an extremely large price. When you pay for medication, you’re not just paying the cost to manufacture some pills. You’re paying for all the research, the trials, the failed experiments, the doctors, the logistics that came together to make that pill. Ursula had to learn her magic. Plus she is the only one in the sea who can perform these acts, which means in a free-market, she’s able to charge whatever she wants.

Now I put it to you — the cost of doing the spell in itself is one voice. If Ariel fails to fulfill her side of the bargain, her free will is forfeit. Is that reasonable? That’s a matter of opinion, and it depends on what Ursula had to spend in order to make it happen. Ariel deemed it a fair exchange of services, and I believe she was old enough to make that judgment. Even if she was emotionally distressed, things you do under that influence are still things you’re responsible for. Otherwise, we’d never have “Girls Gone Wild”.

3. Has Ursula attempted to sabotage Ariel’s end of the contract? In one instance she sends her employees to prevent an incident that might fulfill her contract. In another, she disguises herself and places Eric under a hypnosis spell that blockades Ariel from fulfilling her contract. But even Shon Faye acquiesces that either party may not have a duty to act in good faith. In this case, I would argue character flaw. Ariel KNOWS that this is the sea witch. She KNOWS her past history, her, do we dare say, selfish and evil ways. Yet, she still proceeds forward. Therefore I argue that she knew that Ursula may attempt to interfere at anytime, and still took the risk.

According to Wikipedia, the “implied covenant of good faith” is just that — implied. It wasn’t adopted into law until the Uniform Commercial Code of 1950. And it’s pretty obvious The Little Mermaid takes place before 1950.

The problem with the term “good faith” is that it’s an unwritten rule based on community standards of ethics and morals. These definitions vary from community to community, and thus, are hard to enforce. This is a world that deals with thieving crocodiles and lobster mobsters. How can any of us judge them by our standards?

And honestly I don’t know what any of her argument means after “she and Triton would be liable only in damages”. I’m not being sarcastic. I really don’t know what it means. I’m not a lawyer.

4. Given that the sea is an absolute monarchy, with King Triton given all executive and judicial power, he should be able to declare the contract void. Sure, that’s a valid argument, except that HE TRIED THAT. And it DIDN’T WORK.

As demonstrated in both this movie, there are forces at work behind these contracts stronger than human judgment. Triton’s trident, which can destroy a multi-thousand pound concrete statue cannot make a dent in this piece of paper. Conversely, when Hades fails to protect Megara from harm, the contract automagically becomes void and Hercules strength is instantly restored. Since at no time during the time the contract was signed and Ursula’s death did the contract lose its power, we can assume whatever powers that enhance this contract did not declare it

Quod errata demonstratum. Cogito ergo sum. Et cetera habeus corpus vis a vis ex fina boda. C’est magnifique.

little mermaid signing contract ariel
Go ahead and sign that scroll, dollface. You got nothing to lose.

*If you absolutely have to have a country’s system of laws to go by, you should be using Denmark’s, which, as certain clues have suggested, is the location of The Little Mermaid. The age of majority there is 18, same as America.

The Books I Read: July – August 2016

bookshelf books
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Fans of Neil Gaiman will love this book. The closest I can call it is a modern fairy tale, but that word gets thrown around so much it’s become meaningless. I’ve never used it until now (I think). It felt like a combination of Stardust and Holes. Jacob Grimm has become a ghost and, after traveling the ethereal plane, attaches to the only boy who can hear him. A lonely boy struggling with a single Dad with a failing business.

The thing keeping this good book from being a great book is that nothing happens until about 66% through. The first fifteen percent, the exposition phase, is good then the rest is filler. It’s kids hanging out, a plot thread about a trivia game that never comes back, and other junk. It’s a wide boring lawn where the author drops Easter eggs for the third act. Character motivation is lacking too. Why does the girl take any sort of interest in the main boy? Why is she at all interested in him? It reduces her to a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, like Bridge to Terabithia.

Also, I don’t know where or when it’s set, and that bothers me. It’s a small town, apparently in America, but you have to strain to decipher that because the people and setting is so weird. One of the people uses “zounds” and not in an ironic way. The bakery is the teen hangout spot, where his special cakes are the thing to get, like ramen in Japan. They’re still in school but walk (not drive) places. No one has a smart phone. It has the feel of a book that was translated (maybe that was the intention, since Jacob Grimm is the narrator). And the dad’s sole source of income is a bookstore that sells one book. How does that kind of business stay open past two weeks?

So the line between fantasy and reality gets a little blurry. But if you can get past some of that minor stuff, it’s a recommended book.

Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
(unfinished)

I have never read a Star Wars book before, so keep in mind I’m coming in fresh. I don’t believe in any homosexual agenda. I have no opinion of Chuck Wendig and never read one of his stories.

I didn’t like this and didn’t finish it. I’m not sure how much of the content was dictated by Disney or Wendig’s own, but there were some fundamental problems with the narrative I couldn’t get past. It read like Stephen King’s “The Stand” — tons of characters and storylines — none of which tie in to anything between Episode Six and Seven. It’s just floating out there. I don’t know anyone’s back story. Every character is a pastiche of an existing one — the bounty hunter (Boba Fett), the smuggler (Han Solo), the young hero (Luke Skywalker), etc. And it’s all action. No one thinks or reflects. At one-third of the way through, the story was still introducing new characters, preparing for a long haul.

Maybe these books are for diehard fans — I had to keep looking up terms in the Wookiepedia. Maybe it was the foreign names and races, but I couldn’t keep track of anything. The text has no problem with style or tense, at least not for me. The “cute points” were the best. At one point a character plays Star Wars Settlers of Catan with a droid (instead of something cliche like chess or that holographic game Chewie and Threepio play.

Other than that, I was bored. I didn’t know the characters and there was never anything to make me care or sympathize. They were shallow action figures doing things that translate better in film.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I read one-quarter of it in a day.

The title and B&W cover make it look like it’s a bit snooty and removed from reality, like A.A. Milne or Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton edition). But it in fact, it reads just like any YA novel and takes place in a firm, explained setting with a flawed protagonist. In the first chapter he demonstrates his jerk streak to much delight. And he’s American and interesting and interesting things happen to him and he goes out to do interesting things (which sounds like par for the course, but you’d be surprised how many books lack this).

The story is built around these odd photos his dead grandfather had — ones that might have used old-timey trick photography (e.g. two reflections in a pond where just one girl is standing). But these happen to be the peculiar children (i.e., they’re basically X-Men — one’s super strong, one’s invisible, one can grow plants, etc.) We find this out when he goes to England where this home supposedly is, though it was destroyed in World War II.

The anticipation of the movie (also by Tim Burton, what can you do?) prompted me to give this a try. I’ll be reading the next two books, so I have a good feeling about the movie.

The Third Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

It’s worse than the first two. It’s tedious. It leaves big gaps between books. Explanations are left on the floor in favor of vapid philosophical questions. It’s got nothing to do with the cool swords. It brings up some topics relating to gods and mortals that might have been interesting in the eighties, but are old hat now. The plot focuses more on ideas than engaging characters. And it all ends with a big confusing war where characters die and I just don’t care, because I don’t remember them. There’s nothing resolved with the swords or the gods at the end. It’s better as a premise than a book.

Emily Fox-Seton or The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I read this as research for a book I might be writing. The BBC made-for-TV movie is better, and I could only watch that drunk. The book is just so damn tame. The bad guy confesses everything without provocation then leaves peacefully. Then dies accidentally. The women are all so weak. The littlest things throw them into an emotional tizzy. Arranged marriages and racism are the least of this story’s problems.

Everything happens through hearsay and after-the-fact conversations. People talk about things, they don’t do them. There’s always the threat of things happening, never actual things happening. Sure the book’s a hundred years old, but you only get so much leeway.

Hero-Type by Barry Lyga

The promises at the beginning of the book don’t match the content. The main character is a town hero after saving a girl in his class from a rapist. And as the reader finds, it wasn’t just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. However, no one knows this, and no one’s going to know, because that isn’t the meat of the book.

The meat is that he gets a ton of flak for taking some “Support the Troops” magnetic ribbons off his car, ones he didn’t put on in the first place, and is forced to take off by his Dad. All of a sudden, this makes him the town pariah. It gets worse as he rolls with it, defending the non-decision as it relates to the first amendment. And it all snowballs into discussions on politics and free speech.

One of these stories interests me. One of them doesn’t. Guess which is which (hint: the stalker angle interests me and the political one doesn’t). I could make a case for why one fits into the other. But the two themes just don’t seem to fit with each other. 

A big chunk of plotline is the character holding the idiot ball. Problems that could easily be solved if someone just explained what happened instead of being cryptic or obstinate. He took the ribbons was because his dad freaked out (he has PTSD from the Iraq War). But the main character doesn’t, because then there’d be no story. The dad doesn’t tell anyone the reason he was dishonorably discharged from the army, which turns out to be a because he was a whistleblower. The school administrator allows not one but TWO student-run student-organized debates about this “controversy” which devolve into chaos. (I swear, Barry Lyga’s fictional school has the most inept administration since Lawndale High).

I thought this book would be about what it means to be a hero. But the plot overstates to the point of melodrama, which makes this my least favorite Lyga book.

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

I know what I said before, but I’m pretty sure this is the last Tiffany Aching book this time. It’s good. The easiest to follow of the five. I say this all the time, but it gives a fitting end to the Tiffany Aching saga, giving the main character a mantle from her mentors, passing on the torch.

What feels unusual is that it seems a little rushed. Wrapped up a little too quickly. The previous books’ antagonists like Wintersmith and The Cunning Man enveloped abstract concepts. The other books had more plot threads, interactions with different and new characters, and sundry subplots. But I suppose there was a reason for the rushedness — Terry Pratchett was suffering Alzheimer’s and he wanted to produce something before his mind or life had gone. I salute you Mr. Pratchett. Shall we all be as hardworking as you.

This Bloody Mary is the Last Thing I Own: A Journey to the End of Boxing by Jonathan Rendall
(unfinished)

John Green recommended this, but it was out of print and not to be found in any libraries. I finally decided to buy a used copy, because I like boxing.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that John Green’s favorites do not run parallel to my own. The writing style is too journalistic. It’s a memoir, but there’s not enough interesting things happening. The main character doesn’t come up against enough conflict. It’s basically “I saw boxing. I liked boxing. I went into boxing.” And then there’s a laundry list of celebrities and famous pugilists whom I don’t recognize. I’m sure it’s a fine book if you know boxing and/or sports history, but for everyone else… well, there’s a reason these books become unavailable.

Village of the Mermaids by Carlton Mellick III

Bizarro fiction, but less bizarro than others I’ve read. The plot is not so much a “monsters in the deep”, but a “Village of the Damned”/”Children of the Corn”. Our protagonist is a doctor with some kind of terminal medical condition where his skin turns to putty. He arrives at an island to figure out where the mermaids went and makes friends with a young girl. When the ferry sinks and there’s no way off the island, he keeps a cool head. There’s some gross sex stuff and people genetically-engineered to be delicious for mermaids.

I feel it needed more character development. It ended too early. The main character appeared to have changed, but I don’t know for what. It’s presented as a mystery novel, but the answers are in plain sight, not even hiding. The answer isn’t really found through deduction or mistakes of the enemy, but coincidence and luck. And then it ends in a gory, creepy mess. Which is fine if you like that kind of thing (I do), but doesn’t seem to fit the promises made in the beginning. The man’s condition has no bearing on the plot. Really, I just picked it up for the mermaids.

Poor Unfortunate Soul by Serena Valentino

So… Ursula is Cthulhu.

Oh, you didn’t know? Yes, apparently she can transform people into Deep Ones. Also, she was raised on land in a small village by a fisherman and can transform into a human at will, no magic needed. This was happening behind the movie the whole time and you didn’t know it. Isn’t it good to be informed?

The plot uses the non-canon lore that Ursula is Triton’s sister, but that’s what little of Ursula there is here. Again, this is more about the three witch sisters and Circe and Tulip and a bunch of other non-Disney characters who I don’t give two shits about it. If I hadn’t read “The Beast Within” I would have been totally lost (although you’d think I would have learned my lesson from that book). At least Valentino took the time to get the lines from the movie right this time.

The only reason I read this was the “The Little Mermaid” connection, and let me tell you, people, it’s not even worth that. There’s no character investment in anyone. And there’s less than forty percent of the page count dedicated to “The Little Mermaid” lore, let alone Ursula. It’s probably going to end up on my “worst books I read” of the year.

Mermaid Thoughts After Dark

ariel flounder sad face

Okay, I don’t mean to be gross here, but did when Ariel turned into a human, did her carpet match her drapes?

ariel tries to speak
What’s that, Ariel? Got nothing to say on the topic?

I don’t expect Ursula has done a lot of research on humans. Books on physiology are hard to come by under the sea. So I’m not sure how she would know that human hair is all the same color. For that matter, Ursula might have overlooked that whole business and given Ariel an unfurnished basement. These days, trimming the hedges might be commonplace, but it must have freaked Prince Eric out — finding out that his bride doesn’t have secondary sex characteristics.

For that matter, does Ariel even have a vagina? Ursula’s no xenophobe, but it doesn’t look like she’s spent much time in the human world, if any. How does she know what humans look like down below without their pants on? Has anyone done a study of humans, maybe by dissecting the corpses in the sunken ships? I don’t know how long the sea kingdom’s been anti-human but it looks like it stretches farther than mere monarchical law.

ariel naked flounder
“Just keep looking up, keep looking up…”

So does that mean Ariel’s got the anatomic structure of a Barbie doll? (She’s got the proportions, but…) All Ursula would have done is make two legs and no extra parts. How would she know there’s more to put down there? What a surprise for the honeymoon night. We all know about the mermaid problem. Poor Prince Eric thought that would have been solved by her transformation. It explains why there’s no scene of Ariel trying to figure out what’s that new opening between her legs.

alan rickman dogma
What would have happened if Ariel was male?

And no, I haven’t forgotten that Triton actually changes her permanently in the end. Considering that, it’s even worse. He’s even more anti-human than anyone under the sea.

Who is the Protagonist in The Little Mermaid? (Follow-up)

the little mermaid logo

So I got my kids to watch “The Little Mermaid”, and honestly, I hadn’t seen the full film for quite some time. In the context of my last article about who the central figure of this movie is, I began to wonder, what if Prince Eric is the protagonist?

Let’s think about this. For one, he’s the first person we see, usually a giveaway. Ariel doesn’t appear until eight minutes in, after two other scenes. Also, Eric is the one who finally defeats the antagonist, not Ariel. Even though he doesn’t know Ursula from Adam, maybe she represents the Mrs. Wrong he’s been trying to avoid — a bride with bad motivations.

Like all good protagonists, there is something he wants and forces that act as obstacles to it. The kingdom wants to see him “happily settled down with the right girl”. Why the kingdom’s full of gossipy yentes, I don’t know. I always figured it had something to do with royal inheritance or power shifts. Prince Eric must have a real close relationship with his people if they’re so nosy. There’s a great unwritten fan fiction about the Princess of Glowerhaven somewhere.

Anyway, Eric tells his sidekick that he’s not interested in a marriage of convenience or power or arrangement or wealth. This contrasts his role in the original fairy tale where the prince is actually kind of a bad guy. The titular (pun intended) mermaid falls in love with him, sleeps outside his door, follows wherever he goes. The prince ignores her and marries someone else. (Not for love, if I recall.) She’s so devastated, she almost kills them, but chooses to end her own life instead.

Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. Another factor is that he has a change. His quest is to accept the reality, rather than the dream. Sir Grimsby’s worried that he’s too picky or searching for something he’ll never find. He astutely notices Eric’s affections for the mute girl, and advises him that “far better than any dream girl is one of flesh and blood. One warm and caring and right before your eyes.”

When he throws his flute into the ocean, that symbolizes his capitulation of finding the mystery maiden. Life’s full of tough choices, in’nit? One could argue that this demonstrates a lack of change. But the dramatic irony is that it’s the same girl. So, if Vanessa hadn’t come along, he would have gotten what he wanted all along. Reminds me of an O. Henry story.

And last, we learn a moral from his quest — if you accept reality instead of the dream, the dream might become your reality. And from what I’ve learned in my personal life, I think that’s true.

Love you, honey.

The Real Mermaid Problem

mermaid minecraft blocky pixels

Let me tell you my pet peeve with mermaids and the movies. No matter what kind of production it is, big or small budget, bit player or star, Hollywood always makes the same mistake. Maybe it’s just ignorance or a limited special effects budget. Probably a bit of both. So let me take the opportunity to enlighten you.

Mermaids don’t have knees.

If anything, a mermaid’s spine is closer to a dolphin’s. It tapers into a tail with lots of vertebra. There’s no joint that lets them tuck their knees in. If you asked a mermaid to lift her tail, it would curl up like a snake.

Right

But you know what, I would forgive Hollywood this, if they would make more mermaid movies. They’re probably one of the best known mythological creatures. And they’re prime cut for Hollywood — sex appeal, artistic, a reputation that’s both seductive and stained. But what do we get instead? Vampires by the barrelful. You’ve got a few black and white classics like Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid and Mermaids of Tiburon or YA fodder like Aquamarine.

Wrong

Many stories circumvent this by shapeshifting their mermaids to spend most of their time as humans. Splash, maybe the most well-known and well-loved live action mermaid movie, set the standard. I don’t believe this is simply a matter of production budget though. Unless you include some kind of deus ex convenience, you are basically making a movie about a disabled person. And as close as we’ve gotten to a mainstream romance involving a girl in a wheelchair was “Notting Hill“. Superman actually wasn’t afraid to test this route with Lori Lemaris — Superman’s college sweetheart. She and Clark Kent met in college, and he even proposed marriage, but had to break up when she returned to Atlantis.

Right

It’s a problem, especially in an adventure. Unless the hero is willing to carry her everywhere, it’s going to be difficult for her to scale the craggy rock face of a mountain or wander through a mad scientist’s castle. At least with any sense of dignity. She’s not even going to make it across a field, unless her wheelchair is a 4×4 off-roader (which I’m not opposed to).

Wrong

I believe we’re getting closer though. Glee and “My Gimpy Life” (free on YouTube) illustrate some of the difficulties of plotting around people who are less than mobile and less than average height. But that’s part of the forbidden romance — a mermaid isn’t even suited to live in the same environment as a human, much less marry one. And thus, the need for a shapechange during the majority of the story.

Right

The movie industry is ready to bring sirens back to the cinema. They’ve been able to green-screen out body parts since Forrest Gump. Underwater filming can be replaced with CG and wire-work (lord knows there’s enough flying people these days). Beowulf motion-captured actors and then created animation around their performance — no need for cameras. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was shot entirely in front of a green screen. The technology is there, and we’re ready. If Peter Jackson can create a convincing fantasy world, why can’t it be done underwater?

Wrong

Of course, all the movies I’ve mentioned above were very expensive, and not all of them were successful enough to continue the trends they tried to set. I’ve always believe that a strong story is crucial for any movie to rise above the middling limbo, lest it be rendered infamous like Godzilla. And to my recollection, I can’t think of a really epic mermaid story. Perhaps that’s another thing the world is ready for.

Right

As a final note, there were a few movies that got the curve right. You know what they were? Schlocky horror movies. Like She-Creature and Nymph. Ironic.

Is Ariel the Protagonist of The Little Mermaid?

the little mermaid logo

During my Ursula analysis, I came upon this question (also posed by Lindsay Ellis and Doug Walker). Who is the protagonist of The Little Mermaid?

Through my studies of narrative, I’ve learned that a protagonist is not necessarily the main character or the hero. Don Quixote is the main character, but Sancho Panza is the protagonist. A protagonist is the person who changes as a result of the story. The protagonist enters the story because of conflict with the antagonist. The protagonist is supposed to be the person the audience mostly identifies with.

There are many different kinds. The hero protagonist is the most basic, most common. This is when the protagonist and the force for good in the universe is the same character. They’re sympathetic because they’re who we want to be, not who we are. Supporting protagonists are usually the POV character, but not the hero. Examples are Red from The Shawshank Redemption, Watson from Sherlock Holmes, and Mary Poppins. A Pinball Protagonist is simply bounced around from one situation to the other. Always reactive, never proactive. Forrest Gump, Charlie Bucket, and Bilbo Baggins tend to this type. Sometimes a protagonist doesn’t win, or dies right away, maybe as a decoy (like in Psycho), and other horror movies.

That means Darth Vader is the true protagonist of Star Wars. He’s the one that changes the most. True, Luke Skywalker does go from farm boy to uber-ninja, but Darth goes from noble warrior to dark lord and then redeems himself. In The Dark Knight, the Joker is not Bruce Wayne’s antagonist. It’s Harvey Dent. How can you tell? Because Harvey Dent is the one getting in the way of what Bruce Wayne wants. Bruce wants to stop being Batman. Harvey’s got the skills to do it, but he needs to step up. That’s why those incidents like Harvey torturing the fake cop for information are so devastating to Wayne. That’s why, in the ending, Batman is facing Two-Face, not Joker.

So now that those terms are defined, who is the protagonist of The Little Mermaid? Well it’s clear that Ariel is our main character and hero. She’s the force for true love in the world. For pursuit of knowledge and acceptance and curiosity. She has agency — she makes the decisions that affect the plot events. She’s the one who wants something. She’s the one who overcomes obstacles. But is she the one that changes? Some say no, some say yes.

We know Triton definitely changes. He goes from hating humans to letting his daughter marry one. From staying isolationist under the sea, bigoted and unsympathetic, to letting their two worlds interact (I always wondered if the existence of mermaids becomes a “thing” after TLM). After Ursula blows up, Triton should be one happy camper. His primary threat to the throne is gone, his daughter’s back. It’s pretty much back to status quo. Nevertheless, he realizes how wrong he was, and grants her wish to be human, so she can marry a guy she barely knows at the age of sixteen be with her one true love. Parenting 101.

But how does Ariel change? Does Ariel ever stop wanting the thing she wants? From the time she sets on eyes on him, she never stops loving Prince Eric. She never stops chasing her dream of staying human. She never turns from her goal, she never gives up (except for that small part where she’s crying on the dock, but who wouldn’t be doing that). Modern criticism says that Ariel is simply a ball in Triton and Ursula’s court.

Or is she? There’s one small part where, when Ursula is dragging her back down into the depths, Triton confronts her. As Ursula shows him the contract, the eels hold Ariel back as she says “Daddy, I’m sorry, I- I didn’t mean to…” That would indicate regret — a look back at where events led and the realization that this may not have been worth it. It’s just a blip, barely a few shots, but it seems to indicate that she’s learned something. So where does that leave us? Is she a changed person? Is she as stubborn as when we got into this whole mess?

Maybe Ariel is a deuteragonist. That’s always a hard one to define. It’s not a sidekick or a supporting protagonist (neither Triton or Ariel are assisting each other or following each other around). Not a decoy protagonist, since both are in the movie for the length, and it doesn’t end in a bait-and-switch. The deuteragonist has his/her own story, own character arc. Definition-wise, he/she is simply the second most important person in the story.

Triton and Ariel revolve around each other. Each is doing something the other doesn’t like, and that causes conflict. Both have flaws, both make sacrifices to get what they want. Triton may not be the protagonist, but he is definitely Ariel’s antagonist. Not Ursula. And in the end, neither are in the same place they were before. Much like Lady & the Tramp or Frozen. It’s Lady’s story, but Tramp is the one that changes. Lady never wavers from her belief that a good home in exchange for servile guardianship is better than freedom & risk. In Frozen, both girls change. Anna learns not to jump headlong into situations. Elsa learns the consequences of rejecting love.

I think this question all depends on one thing — what is Ariel thinking when she’s on that rock?

She’s up there, gazing at her prince. Is she saying goodbye? Or is she contemplating a new way to get legs? Is she unchanged? Is she giving one last look before diving back under the depths, never to return? Have the choices and obstacles she faced changed her?

We may never know. The writers didn’t even give her a line after Ursula is dead. I guess they left that mystery up to us, to forever ponder.

Analyzing the Disney Villains: Ursula (The Little Mermaid)

ursula little mermaid
URSULA
Origin: The Little Mermaid (1989)

Ah, the beginning the Disney Renaissance. A time of renewed hope and ambition. A time of threat that Don Bluth is eating into profits.

motivation ursula little mermaid magic green

Motivation: In the source material, the sea-witch’s sole purpose is as a business broker. But here, she’s out for vengeance. Triton apparently banished and exiled her (for reasons unknown — trivia and sequels aren’t canon in this analysis) and wouldn’t she love to wreak havoc on his youngest daughter. A pretty good way too. Why make the object of your ire suffer when you can get a two-for-one? My only complaint is, like other Disney villains, I would have liked a little more background into the reason for her banishment. But I think we can surmise that it has something to do with black magic.

strengths ursula little mermaid

Character Strengths: Ursula has no sense of justice. She has enough knowledge and cleverness to make Faustian contracts her primary tool, even above sorcery. The contract also prevents any backtracking or brute force approaches, as when Triton tries to explode it. I want to know where she gets her parchment from.

By the way, props for her to sticking to the spirit of terms. She could have “Twilight Zone”d her easy. Ariel just asked for legs, she didn’t specify what kind. Lots of things have legs! Spiders, squid, lobsters, giraffes, elephants, platypuses…

evilness ursula little mermaid

Evilness: She eats things with a face. I think under Atlantican rule, this is considered cannibalism. Although, I do not see how they could live on seaweed and kelp to keep up the metabolism needed for a mammal to live on the ocean floor with that little body fat. If you can’t consume anything on the evolutionary ladder above oysters, you’d have to be a garbage disposal.

But I’m getting off track. The most evil thing about Ursula is that she has a nice blend of flavors — jealously, greed, sloth, lust for power. But they’re all tempered by her desire for vengeance. She has no compunctions about ensuring her success through underhanded means, such as when she tips Eric and Ariel over in the boat, and then inserts herself as a second contestant in The Dating Game. If this was a more realistic movie, she’d have no problem — what boy declares true love after three days? (Although, Ariel could have written a message in the sand and ended it even earlier. But then where would we be?)

Also, I should note that Ursula’s contract is not the most airtight (Ariel’s a minor, a contract with a known criminal, not acting in good faith, and so on…). But this is movie magic, so I’ll allow it. It’s not like they had a modern legal system back then. I bet even Prince Eric had a pillory in his courtyard.

tools ursula little mermaid

Tools: Eight arms can be handy (or are they her feet?). She’s got a tidy home inside a Leviathan’s skeleton that includes a hallway featuring all her past conquests (and there are quite a few). After that, you enter her chambers where she has an assortment of potions, a personal vanity, and a giant bubbling cauldron. For henchmen, two electric eels that have eyes she can see through (and she’s surprisingly kind to them). She even has enough savvy to use the trident for more than just blasting stuff (or is she using black magic there? I was under the impression she needed the trident to get big.)

ursula complement little mermaid

Complement to the Hero: Ariel is little, thin, powerless, and naive. Her greatest strength is that she’s stubborn. When she wants something, she will go after it. Ursula is larger than life, boisterous, clever, and incapable of love. It’s delightful to see her reaction when she wins. Twice, even: one when the sun sets, and the other when she picks up the trident. She doesn’t even expect it. Weirdly, this causes her to get even more psycho.

fatal flaw ursula little mermaid

Fatal Flaw: Ursula exhibits some of the same loyalty to her friends that Ariel has, interestingly enough. When her “poor little poopsies” are accidentally killed, she goes blue screen of death and unleashes the kraken. The problem is that means you’re an easier target. The bigger they are, the harder you fall. And that’s a bad thing when you’ve pissed off not just one kingdom but two. Even the best sorcerer will fall to a knife between the shoulder blades. Or in this case the prow of a ship.

method of death ursula little mermaid

Method of Defeat/Death: Prince Eric fetches his girl from the clutches of evil, which results in the zapping of Ursula’s two slippery hench-eels. Enraged, she becomes fun-sized and creates a giant whirlpool. The whirlpool dredges up some sunken ships, one of which Eric climbs onto. Ursula spots Ariel and zaps the rock she’s clinging to. She falls to the bottom of the vortex (a straight drop from sea level to ocean floor — shouldn’t that kill her?)

After a few potshots, Eric rams the galleon into her chest. And is simultaneously struck by lightning. She kinda shrinks, kinda explodes, and turns into a million octopus crumbs that rain down on the poor unfortunate souls turned into seaweed, which brings them back to life.

Is there supposed to be some irony in this that I’m missing? Some symbolism or motif in the villain’s demise? It’s cinematic, sure, but our protagonist doesn’t get to strike the final blow. Her linebacker boyfriend does it for her.

final ursula little mermaid

Final Rating: Five stars

PREVIOUS ANALYSES:
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk)
Hades (Hercules)
The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Shan Yu (Mulan)
Man (Bambi)
Clayton (Tarzan)
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Cobra Bubbles (Lilo and Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)