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Welcome to Disney Water: The Little Mermaid Without a Spirit

June 13, 2023

Welcome to Disney Water: The Little Mermaid Without a Spirit

Niels Jørgen Langkilde: The big problem with Disney's version of The Little Mermaid is not that the mermaid's skin color has changed, but what has been left out.


The manuscript for HC Andersen's The Little Mermaid was stolen in its time. It looked like commissioned work when the thieves broke into HC Andersen's House and took the manuscript with them. Another robbery has now taken place in broad daylight. Disney has taken The Little Mermaid and robbed her of her spirit. 

Totally in the cautious business spirit of the times, which also disregards spirit and focuses on harmless entertainment. 

Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with working on old classics – even quite harshly. It can provide more understanding or a completely different understanding, and there are many examples of radical changes to the narrative in Disney's new film. Andersen himself used many publishers, so here he gets a taste of his own medicine. 

HC Andersen describes The Little Mermaid, among other things. thus: "her skin was as clear and sharp as a rose petal, her eyes as blue as the deepest lake". 

She is not portrayed like that in the film. The skin is not that little bit darker - few rose petals have that colour. It has excited several people, but there is no reason for that. It is not a bearing on the story. One could argue that precisely the fate she gets when she sells her voice to get human legs fits very well with the chosen protagonist's ethnicity, as this has often been robbed of her voice in the public space in the most unpleasant way. 

You can also live with the fact that the five sisters, who were almost equally beautiful, have been transformed in the taste of the times into a rainbow family of many ethnicities. The sea people can very well adopt without it changing anything significantly. For the film company, which perhaps like the Danes counts ethnicity, it gives a few pluses.

Andersen's mermaids can climb onto icebergs and other somewhat Nordic surroundings. That doesn't happen at Disney. Here, the environment is Latin American with many elements from Latin culture.

This applies to the music , which sounds very Caribbean, the tiles on the walls in some of the castle's rooms, which suggest Portuguese relations or, if necessary, Dutch, which are certainly also visible in the Caribbean area, the clothing , which is Spanish-Portuguese marked with special Disney- elements added. The climate with the abundant and strong sun, the lush vegetation and the wildlife also lead in exactly the same direction.

But one thing is missing in Latin and in Disney's production: spirit or religion. The churches, monasteries and priests, which occupy so much space in Latin culture and in HC Andersen, are completely gone. In the fairy tale it is called "see the many churches and spires, and hear where the bells rang; precisely because she could not get up there, she longed most for All this”. 

It has disappeared. Instead, we've got talking fish, a talking crab and an equally talking gannet. It is certainly quite cheerful, and it adds some of the whimsy that Andersen created in a completely different way to the film.

But the only thing left that can lead the mind to religion is the Southern Cross – the familiar constellation that can only be seen in the southern hemisphere. The Southern Cross is included in the flags of Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Samoa, as well as a number of regional and state flags. This lack is part of the Disney spirit: you don't want to alienate anyone. So rather strip the story, the characters and the narrative to the essentials.

Life under water is quite different in Andersen's fairy tale and Disney's film. The beautiful castles with amber windows that Andersen's imagination created have almost changed to pure nature at Disney. The many sports divers do not go here in vain. Here, the seabed is mostly peaceful, with a few wrecks and a dangerous shark, which represents evil together with the sea witch in that universe. 

The sea witch is not scary like in HC Andersen, where she cannot be overcome. Disney makes it to a happy ending , which does not need to be revealed here. The enjoyment must not be spoiled for any new viewers of the film.

There is only a few moments of doubt about the mutual love at Disney. The Little Mermaid's unhappy love grows very violently with Andersen because of the lack of language. With Andersen, the missing words are the disaster that causes the relationship to run completely awry. Andersen's Mermaid gets the opportunity to get eternal life if she kills the prince. As you know, she refuses, and thus her tragedy only becomes even greater. 

This whole striving to acquire a soul and immortality, which is the common thread of Andersen, does not exist at all at Disney. Characteristically enough, the Disney couple sails off in a beautiful ship, but with no fixed destination.

In Disney's spiritless universe, we have a harmonious mix of all ethnicities, and common marriages certainly do not abound. The prince's father and mother have here become an African-American Dowager Queen accompanied by a male prime minister, so family life and equality have taken on a modern twist. The Little Mermaid's caring stepmother has also disappeared in the seaweed forest.

You can easily take the spirit out of literature. This big hole is tried to be drowned out with great pictures, dramatic haircuts and beautiful people. Welcome to Disney water. 

Niels Jørgen Langkilde is director of communications for the HC Andersen Institute .

Niels Jørgen M. da C. S. Langkilde Ana Maria Martins da Costa Santos
Halle Bailey som havfruen Ariel i Disneys udlægning af H.C. Andersens klassiske eventyr. (Pressefoto: Disney)
Niels Jørgen Langkilde