I am a natural redhead. When I was growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s, it was hard to find on screen characters who looked like me. Among the handful who I could look to as inspiration was Ariel (Jodi Benson) in the 1989 film, The Little Mermaid.
Over the last few years, Disney has rebooted their beloved animated films into live action films. The newest addition to this trend is the live reboot of The Little Mermaid with Halle Bailey stepping into the fins of Disney’s first modern Princess.
I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about this casting. While I applaud Disney for choosing an actress of color to play the role, my heart is still wedded to the idea that Ariel is a redhead. When your growing up and you look different from your peers, you look to film and television characters who look like you. When I was a kid, that was Ariel. As an adult, I don’t agree with her narrative, but her image and the impression she made back then are still with me to this day.
Readers, what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the casting?
16 year old mermaid Princess Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson) is curious and slightly rebellious, as many teenage girls are. Her overprotective father King Triton (voiced by Kenneth Mars) wants to keep his family and his kingdom as far away from the humans as they can get. When Ariel saves human Prince Eric (voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes) from drowning, she falls in love with him. To return to her human Prince, she goes to the sea witch Ursula (voiced by Pat Carroll) to trade her fins for legs. But “magic comes with a price” as they say in Once Upon A time. Ariel will soon learn that the magic that Ursula uses to change her physique comes with a price that will have to be paid.
I have very fond memories of this movie. Disney princesses up to this point were for the most part blonde. It was nice to see a ginger in the mix. Ariel to me at least, has this kind of Marianne Dashwood, Catherine Morland sensibility, which seems normal for a teenage girl. Open hearted, slightly naive, but also curious about the world around them. I haven’t watched this movie in years, but for little girls around the world, it’s not a bad movie.
On a wet, windy night, an old woman bangs on a castle door, begging for shelter from the storm. The young prince (voiced by Robbie Benson) refuses her shelter. She is not an old woman, but an enchantress who punishes the prince by turning him into a Beast and his servants into household objects. She gives him a rose, which will wilt until his 21st birthday. If he cannot show love and give love, when the last petal falls, he is dead. Miles away, Belle (voiced by Paige O’Hara) lives in a small town and hates it. She is the bookworm outcast with the unpopular father Maurice ( voiced by Rex Everhart). Gaston (voiced by Richard White), is courting Belle, but she wants nothing to do with him. When Belle’s father does not return from a fair, she goes to where he is being held. The master of the castle is a Beast. To save her father, Belle takes his place.
This movie made a huge impact on me as a child. It is one of the few Disney movies that I still own today. I understood both lead characters. I understood Belle’s love of books and her feeling like she didn’t quite fit in. I understood the Beast’s psychological damage and why he chose to lock himself away. What keeps me coming back to Beauty and The Beast after all of these years is when you don’t feel like you fit in and then somehow fate guides you to where you fit in and it all makes sense. The square peg in the round hole finally finds the square hole it was meant to fit into. Little girls around this world will love and have loved this movie for two decades.