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Monday, August 08, 2011

Monday Matinee: The Little Mermaid

I'm sure that those of you who have been following this blog with some regularity the past two and a half months know that I often like to combine details of my own life with the subject of this blog.  That's just a part of what my writing style is.  Anybody can just talk about something that they saw on television or listened to on the radio in a monotonous measure.  I personally like to link those pop culture tidbits to a real life event in my life.  Sometimes, the memories are pleasant.  Other times, I wish they never happened.  But that is what the essence of life is all about.  Mixing the highest of highs with the depths of despair we encounter day after day.  Somehow, we manage to make it through another day, and life goes on.

The memory that I have to share with you today is a happy one, and one that happens to be linked to the movie that is being featured today in this blog.  That being said, the way that this memory came up might seem a bot unorthodox and even just plain weird.  Nevertheless, it's a memory that will always bring me great joy, and a memory that I'll likely continue to remember as I age and mature further into adulthood.

To begin the story, we'll have to revisit a particular period in my life.  A period that started off like any normal day.

It was September 2000.  I was just beginning living the life of a university undergrad student.  I was nineteen years old, living in Ottawa, Ontario, dreaming the dream, and trying to make it work.  It was about a week after going through Frosh week.  A time in my life most memorable by contracting food poisoning within the first week of classes.  Needless to say, it wasn't exactly one of my finer moments.

After about a week, I was ready to go back out there and face the world again.  By happenstance, my roommate and a couple of his friends were going to head out to the Rideau Centre (a large shopping plaza in the heart of Ottawa), and they asked me if I wanted to tag along.  Since I had spent a week in bed suffering from the after-effects of digesting tainted pizza, I was all for the idea of going out.

So, picture myself, my roommate, his friend, the two girls who lived down the hall with us, and another girl who also lived on the same floor we did, crammed inside a tiny car on our way to the Rideau Centre.  It was an experience that I'll never forget.

So, we got to the Rideau, went off in separate directions, bought some things for our rooms back at the dorms, and went on our merry way.

At some point, we had decided that just driving through the streets of Ottawa wasn't enough for us.  We needed to have some sort of cruising music to get us back home in style.  'Radar Love', 'Love Shack', heck, we would have even played a rousing chorus of Hanson's 'Mmmbop'.

Alas, the CD selection in the car we were in was quite limited.  Limited as in, there was none.  Add to the fact that the radio in the car wasn't working properly, and we were pretty much out of luck.

Ah, but not so!  One of the girls who was in the car with us had some CD's in her purse that she took along with her.  She grabbed a random CD out of the handbag, popped it in the disc player, and we sat back, waiting for some really rockin' music to blare out the open windows of the car on this abnormally humid September afternoon.

So imagine our shock and awe when this song began to play.

And I was like...HUH?

Just picture a group of eighteen and nineteen year old college students zooming down the heart of Bank Street without a care in the world...and having a song sung by a talking crab blasting out in full volume all the way down the street.

Surprisingly enough, we all had a laugh over the mishap, and what might have been an embarrassment for some turned out to be absolutely hysterical for the six of us in the car.  It was a hoot.  I loved every minute of it.

When we got home, the girl that had the CD confessed to us that the Little Mermaid soundtrack actually belonged to her five year old sister, who was in love with the Little Mermaid movie, and somehow she accidentally grabbed the CD with her when she was packing up her stereo.  And because we were noble, kind, open-minded people, we all told her to her face that we believed her story.

Even though we secretly suspected that she had fibbed a bit in the origin of the soundtrack's appearance in her CD rotation.

At any rate, this seems like a good opportunity to introduce the subject of the blog for today's Monday matinee!

My first experience with the Disney film 'The Little Mermaid' was quite a while back.  The first time I watched the movie in full was during fourth grade.  It was one of those holiday parties that we used to have in class (for some reason, I want to say that it was our fourth grade Valentine's Day party, but I'm not too sure).  After we had our Valentine's Day cake that the teacher brought in, and after we exchanged valentine cards, it was time to watch a movie for the rest of the class time.  This would be back in the winter of 1991, when Disney was just started to release their wide catalogue of movies onto VHS tapes.  One of those movies that had come out of the Disney vaults was the Little Mermaid, which one of the girls in out class brought in for us to watch.  Naturally, all the girls in my classroom were excited about the movie.  A lot of them had seen it in theatres when it debuted on November 14, 1989, and most were looking forward to it.

The boys in my class were a little less than enthused.  They would have rather seen the Ninja Turtles movie, or Batman, or even Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  Anything but the Little Mermaid.

I was a little bit intrigued though.  I had never seen the Little Mermaid in the theatres, and while most boys my age shunned the film, I actually wanted to see it.  As a kid, I had seen Bambi and Cinderella in the movie theatre in the days when Disney would re-release movies in theatres, and had my eyes glued to the movie screen the whole time while shoveling handfuls of buttered popcorn and Sour Patch Kids in my mouth.

Basically, as a kid, I had never seen a Disney film I DIDN'T like.  I was willing to give The Little Mermaid a chance.  I'm really glad I did too because it really was a masterpiece.  So much so that the movie is often credited with the beginning of a renaissance of sorts for the Disney company and animated movies in general.

The movie is loosely based on the fairy tale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.  It follows the basic plotline of the tale, but in true Disney fashion was changed enough to have a happier ending.

Because in the original version, the little mermaid ended up losing her life, which would have just ended any and all hope of having Disney pop out a couple of direct to video sequels and prequels.

Our heroine of the story is Ariel.  Ariel has just turned sixteen years old.  She's beautiful, she's got the voice of an angel, and she has fiery red hair, which seems to contrast with her soft-spoken voice and fragile looking appearance.

Oh, and she happens to be half human, half-fish.

That didn't seem to deter Ariel.  For the first sixteen years of her life, she had a happy childhood living under the sea in the kingdom of Atlantica.  Still, she had always dreamt of what life was like in the upper world beyond the crests of waves and ocean tides.  She often goes up to the surface to get updates about the human world courtesy of her seagull friend Scuttle.  She also goes on the hunt for human artifacts that have fallen into the ocean over the years with her pal Flounder.  Everything she finds seems to have some sort of value to Ariel.  It could be something valuable like a candelabra or a statue.  It could be something worthless like a fork.  It didn't matter to Ariel.  Her increasing curiosity of the human world combined with her attraction for odd looking things helped Ariel amass a sizeable collection of human artifacts and treasures.

Basically, Ariel was an underwater hoarder.

However, like the popular show 'Hoarders' that currently airs on A&E, Ariel had a reason for the accumulation of junk, much like those featured on the show.  Ariel really wanted to be a part of the human world.  She was fascinated by it, and didn't think that it was as scary a place as her father, King Triton, or Sebastian the crab had let her believe it was.  As Ariel said herself, how scary could a place be if it had beautiful things inside of it?  King Triton believed differently.  Because his only interaction with the human world was through fishermen, he assumed that all humans were predatorial, and therefore must be avoided at all costs.  He assigned Sebastian to watch over Ariel and Flounder to make sure that she never ventured up to the surface again.

Fate had a way of interfering in Ariel's life.  In this case, fate happened to be a member of royalty.

As it so happened, Ariel, Sebastian, and Flounder happen to witness a birthday celebration for Prince Eric.  The celebration takes place on a ship and once Ariel lays eyes on Eric, it is immediately love at first sight. 

Shortly after the celebration kicks off, a wild storm enters the path of the ship that the party is on, and the strong winds and powerful weather cause the boat to start sinking into the ocean.  Luckily almost everyone on board escapes without injury, but Eric happens to go down with the ship while trying to save his dog.

Ariel manages to rescue and revive Eric by singing to him, but when he wakes up, she's forced to leave as a search party locates Eric.  Eric never forgot the voice that sang to him, and vowed to locate the woman who saved his life, unaware that Ariel herself had her own wish.

So we have our conflict.  Eric wants to find the woman who saved him to thank her profusely and because he probably would like to get to know her better, not realizing that she is a mermaid.  And Ariel wants desperately to be a human so she can be a part of Eric's world, but knows that it would be an impossibility.

Ariel reluctantly returns to life under the sea, but her loved ones notice that she is behaving strangely.  King Triton questions Sebastian about Ariel's behaviour, and in a moment of weakness, Sebastian tells King Triton all about the incident between Ariel and Eric, which makes Triton very, VERY, angry.

Want to see an angry father in action?  Take a look. do NOT want this guy on your bad side.  Nuh-uh.

Still, you had to really feel for poor Ariel.  We know that she did nothing wrong.  She saved Eric's life.  That was the right thing for her to do.  I'm almost certain that if the situation were reversed, Eric probably would have done the same thing.  That's why King Triton destroying the one place Ariel had that brought her happiness and hope seemed to be the ultimate act of cruelty.  It broke Ariel's heart to have everything she held on to destroyed with the zap of a trident, and it made her extremely vulnerable.

On the other hand, it made the appearance of this character seem timely.

Enter Ursula.  A sea witch who lives in one of the gloomiest places in the whole undersea world.  She and her two minions, Flotsam and Jetsam wreak havoc in their lair, transforming innocent mermen and mermaids into polyps by offering them false promises and reneging on any deals she made with them.

Ursula made your skin crawl with her deviousness and callous behaviour.  But Flotsam and Jetsam took advantage of an emotionally distraught Ariel, and had Ariel believing that Ursula could make her wildest dreams come true.

Ariel ended up making a deal with the devil.  Ursula could turn Ariel into a human for three whole days.  If she ended up getting a kiss from her one true love, she could stay a human forever.  If not, she would revert back to mermaid form after the seventy-two hour deadline was up.

Like all shady deals with loan sharks, the cost of the deal proved to be very steep.  In order for Ariel to shed her fish tail for a pair of gams, she would have to give up her voice.  She would gain the ability to walk, run, and dance, but lose the ability to talk or sing.

A desperate Ariel saw no other choice but to accept Ariel's deal, and within moments, Ariel's voice became a possession for Ursula (in the form of a necklace), and Flounder and Sebastian were forced to bring Ariel up to the surface before she drowned.  Of course, Ursula had no intention of making sure that Ariel's dream of becoming human permanently, and sent Flotsam and Jetsam to spy on her to make sure she didn't succeed.

As it so happened, when Ariel reaches the surface, she immediately runs into Eric, who seems pleased to see her.  He suspected that she was the one who saved his life, but is disappointed when Ariel was unable to speak.  Because this girl could not sing or speak, he thought that there was no possibility that she was the one, despite Ariel's best efforts to make him believe it.

Regardless, Ariel is suspected to be one of the survivors of the shipwreck disaster (the one that Ariel saved Eric from), and she is brought to the palace as a guest of Prince Eric's.  By Ariel's second day of being a human being, she and Eric grow closer, and have a romantic boat ride.  Sebastian witnesses the whole thing, and the hope that Ariel and Eric will seal the deal with a kiss prompts this song.

Yeah, you saw the part at the end where the boat flipped?  That was courtesy of Flotsam and Jetsam, who were serving as a distraction for Ursula to put the finishing touches on her plot to get what she wanted.

She ended up disguising herself as a woman named Vanessa who was eerily similar in appearance to Ariel herself.  Thanks to the voice that she stole from Ariel, it was fairly easy for her to get Eric's attention.  Once she did, she cast a spell on Eric that made him forget all about Ariel and to make him marry her.

Day three comes, and Ariel is depressed over hearing the news that Eric and Vanessa were going to get married.  At first, she is emotionally distraught when the barge leaves, but thanks to a little eavesdropping by Scuttle, she discovers that Vanessa is really Ursula.  While Sebastian leaves to alert King Triton of this development, Ariel, Flounder, Scuttle, and others try to sabotage the wedding long enough for Ariel to plant a kiss on the still hypnotized Eric.  It takes a little effort, and a lot of confusion, but the necklace around Ursula's neck is eventually broken.

Alas, the moment comes but a microsecond too late.  The sun sets down over the horizon, and Ariel's legs become fins once more.  This prompts Ursula to make one final attempt to kidnapping Ariel and disposing of her once and for all, leaving Eric and the rest of Ariel's friends to try and save her from Ursula's evil clutches once and for all.

Keeping with tradition for the Monday matinee, I won't spoil the ending for this movie by telling you EXACTLY what happens...though considering that a sequel was made in 2000, you pretty well know that Ariel at least survives the ordeal.  How she does lips are sealed.

The Little Mermaid was a movie that a lot of boys in my fourth grade class didn't really want to watch.  In the end, I'm really glad I did. 

It really goes to show that just because someone tells you that a place isn't right to be in, or that a certain group of people are dangerous doesn't mean you have to believe it.  Ariel certainly didn't believe that, and during the course of the movie, she really seemed to adapt to both the human world as well as the sea world.  Once her loved ones saw how happy she was with Eric, they made it their mission to see that Ariel's happiness lasted as long as it could.

Another thing to note is the huge support system that Ariel had along the way.  When Ariel's father was strict and dominating, and she felt as though she was being misunderstood, she could always count on Flounder and Scuttle to be there for her no matter what.  During the course of the film, Sebastian changed his ways to want to help Ariel, and in the human world, Eric was nothing but a perfect gentleman to Ariel, solidifying any feelings that she had for the prince.

She didn't exactly make the best choices in life (I mean, seriously, what was she thinking making that deal with Ursula).  Somehow though, it all seemingly worked out for the little mermaid.  I guess if you wanted to pardon the pun, it worked out swimmingly for her.

I guess in many ways, I can relate to Ariel in that I was kind of a dreamer when I was a boy.  I always dreamed of what life was like in another world, and how I longed to be a part of someone else's world.  And sometimes my family didn't quite understand me as much as I would have liked them to...but I won't go into too much detail here, as there's some things that I'm not ready to discuss about that.  When I am ready, they will be dealt with, I'm sure. 

The point is that Ariel survived as long as she did by having that hope and that support system.  Sure, Flounder didn't have to collect human belongings for Ariel's grotto...he did it because he loved Ariel enough to want to see her happy.  And nothing made her happier than being around human possessions, for it was just one step closer towards Ariel making her ultimate wish come true.

I think that's why I'll always have a soft spot for The Little Mermaid.  After reading this blog entry, I encourage you all to rent the movie at one of the few video rental stores still around, or choosing it from Netflix, or downloading it on a computer.  And when you do watch it, I hope you'll have just as much of a soft spot for this movie as I did.

Not only did it bring back memories from childhood...but it reminded me of that carefree September day cruising down Bank Street to the tune of 'Under The Sea'...knowing that for one brief moment, I was having the time of my life with people who had become a part of my world...a world that I never knew, but wanted to be a part of.

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