'Little Mermaid' Furor: Why so bothered?

Most stories — real and fiction — have one thing in common over time: change

click to enlarge 'Little Mermaid' Furor: Why so bothered?
Halle Bailey has the title role in the coming liveaction Disney movie “The Little Mermaid".

click to enlarge 'Little Mermaid' Furor: Why so bothered?
Will Thompson

Ominous ocean waves. A multitude of sea creatures. Ethereal strings wafting as the camera rushed through the ocean. And then — a Black mermaid?

I found my first viewing of “The Little Mermaid” (2023) trailer to be disorienting. There was just enough familiarity that I guessed what I was watching before the end, but it lacked the characters I expected. I was in kindergarten when the original Disney animated movie came out, so I barely remember a pre-Ariel world (apologies to those whom I just made feel old; and to those whom I just made feel young, your time is coming). I was the only boy on my block and spent a lot of time with the Dehaven sisters who had “The Little Mermaid” VHS tape on repeat. I’d complain to my mom that they had fired it up yet again, though I had sat enraptured just as the girls had.

As an adult, I don’t hold a fondness for the movie and, since Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, my favorite Disney princess is Ellen Ripley from the “Alien” movies with Moana as a close second. Like a lot of folks, I find Ariel grating. Poor little rich girl, right? I suppose her appeal lies in her relatable naivety and burning desire to do what she can’t.

Now, though, Ariel lives at my house. I’ve got two daughters, and you can guess who my youngest was for Halloween last year or which ride we went on the most at Disneyland. And while I was mostly nonplussed by the new “Little Mermaid” trailer, as I have been by all the live action Disney remakes, my daughters are looking forward to it. Lots of people are. It’s a fresh take on a familiar favorite.

Much has been made of the decision to change Ariel’s skin color, though I do wonder how much of that is really to stoke the nonstop news cycle that’s constantly beating at our door. I’m not surprised by the outrage, but I find it both humorous and disconcerting. First, the thought of grown people being angry enough about this so as to voice their opinions en masse on the internet is absolutely absurd. Second, I think these folks could use a quick look at history and literature.

There are four versions of the story of Jesus in the New Testament and there are differences among them. There are versions of Jesus’ life in the Apocrypha (books rejected from the canonized version of the Bible) that are vastly different from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. All those accounts were written within a few hundred years of Jesus’ life. Modern views on the life and work of Jesus are quite varied compared to even 50 years ago.

I’ve chosen to make the Christianity comparison for obvious reasons. There are countless examples from throughout history where stories have been changed and rewritten. Historians know to take ancient written accounts of societies like the Romans with a grain of salt because “history is written by the winners.” The history of America from the perspective of, say, an immigrant, be they slave or free worker, is vastly different from those who arrived from Europe with a full bank account and land claim.

If world history’s not your thing, let’s take the history of Disney animated movies, where Walt and his crew shaved off the darker edges of familiar tales and turned them into family entertainment. This trend continued through the 1988 “Little Mermaid,” which bears little resemblance to the original Hans Christian Andersen story on which it’s based.

To get biblical one last time, there’s a parable Jesus told to a group of religious fogeys called Pharisees. They asked Jesus why he and his disciples weren’t following some old, arbitrary religious customs that were more ceremonial than spiritual. Jesus responded by telling them that you don’t put an unshrunken cloth patch on clothes that have already shrunk or new wine into old wine skins (pouches for holding wine in biblical times) because the new wine will make the old skins burst. He was referring to the fact that he had come to bring something new to the established traditions. He was letting them know it was time for a change.

Thompson enjoys putting somewhat carefully chosen words in relatively meaningful order. He has been to college and even took a class in New Testament. He lives in Lewiston and can be reached at lcvrecordswap@gmail.com.