There are a lot of princess shenanigans in my house due to the presence of my four-year-old girl. Watching The Little Mermaid with her, I was reminded of an article I read in college about the “dangers” of this movie. The article warned parents to beware the message to little girls that rebellion against their father’s stupid restrictions is rewarding as long as they are following their heart’s dream. I considered this as I watched this delightful fairy tale with Eleanor. Will she learn to mimic Ariel’s rebellious attitude? Will the portrayal of Triton warp her idea of a loving father?
Will she learn to mimic Ariel’s rebellious attitude?
First of all, I believe that rebellion is not something we learn from watching others. It is something that is lodged deep inside of us. My daughter was born a rebel. She will identify with Ariel, like I do myself, in wanting her own way in disregard to the loving restrictions of her father. Ariel may give ideas of how to express defiance, but to defy authority is to be human.
Since we are natural born rebels, the question then becomes what is the result of our sedition? Does it bring satisfaction and happiness or misery and death? And does The Little Mermaid give an accurate portrayal of a rebellious child?
Proverbs tells us that life is hard for those who don’t obey. And Romans says that the outcome of our rebellion is death. Ariel, in her quest to be human against her father’s will, risks her freedom, her royal identity and her life in exchange for the slim chance at fulfilling her desires. She is deceived by the hope of something better and doubts her father is looking out for her good. Sound familiar? It is the garden of Eden reset in a watery world, recast with an octopus as the devil and a mermaid as Eve. And like Eve, she is doomed to failure as soon as she reaches out in selfishness to grasp things forbidden. Ariel fails to meet Ursula’s demands and sobs in terror as the witch demands her soul. It is only through the grace of her father at the end of the story that she lives happily ever after.
Will the portrayal of Triton warp her idea of a loving father?
At the beginning of the movie, we view Triton through Ariel’s eyes; mean, over-restrictive and un-compassionate with a young daughter’s desires. Immaturity clouds her viewpoint. But, if we use the benefit of adulthood when we study him, we see a father who knows the dangers lurking behind her discontent and self-delusion. He knows the grass is not greener on the other side. He knows that if she persists in following her own desire, it will lead her to dark places and evil acquaintances. So, he places boundaries to protect out of love.
Ariel defies her father’s love and abandons his home. When Triton learns of her betrayal, does he return in kind? Does he leave her to fend for herself and pay the consequences of her folly? No. And here is the clincher…HE TAKES HER PUNISHMENT. (I shiver at the thought!) He relinquishes his throne in exchange for damnation. He sacrifices himself to save the rebel. How can a Christian not rejoice in such beauty and respond with praise to our Father even in the viewing of a simple tale?
This IS how I want my daughter to understand fatherhood; powerful, lovingly protective and sacrificial.
Teaching kids to spot the gospel in the story
As a storyteller at heart (I have a degree in film production), I am convinced that the most powerful and successful stories are rooted in redemption and sacrifice. The world revolves around its Maker, even if the world is not aware of Him; and His story is at the core of every human. The Little Mermaid is no different. At a young age, children may not see the gospel lurking in Ursula’s cave. They may miss the parallels to gospel in the sacrifice of Triton. It is up to us, as parents, to talk about it with them. As a Christian mother, it is a pleasure to enjoy entertainment with my daughter, utilizing the story to teach her the power of redemption even under the sea.
I found this article by Parent Previews. It offers more thought provoking questions to spark spiritual discussion with your kids from The Little Mermaid.