back when the little mermaid did not have a happy ending

In the Dark Ages, fairy tales were originally grim and macabre to illustrate harsh life-lessons to children (i.e., scare them into behaving properly). Through the years those stories have been cleaned up by the likes of Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen, and then glitterized by Disney in the 20th century. Fairy tales these days are not as much for teaching lessons as they are for making producers rich entertainment.

The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen

Before the year 1989, everyone knew that the Little Mermaid who had no name did not get the prince to fall in love with her and did not get a happy ending. She gambled her life to get three days of silence and unrequited love, afterward she threw herself into the sea and became sea-foam. It had a tragic ending but it was nonetheless a well-loved classic fairy tale.

When i was a little girl, i was familiar with the original, tragic version; it was first told to me by my Aunt (... or was it my grandmother? Anyway ...) and I can still remember how I froze in disbelief when I heard the words "sea foam". Despite the horrible end that befell the mermaid, there was still something compelling about the story that kept me reading and watching different versions of it. And no matter how many times I read or watched, it always left me heartbroken. I particularly fell in love with a beautiful shoujo anime version, featuring a lovely mermaid with silky straight, golden hair that floated like gossamer. The mermaid left her prince two souvenirs just before she jumped: the pearl-flower she wore in her hair, and a scale from her tail. It left me mourning and pining for days.

I think this was it. Han's Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid (1975)
Image from here.

The little girl that I was, I'd daydream of a version where the prince loved her back, where she didn't die and they got married and had children. Sigh

Still the lessons of that sad story were clear: Don't trust wicked people. Don't make foolish decisions about being in love. You don't always get what you want.

Disney's The Little Mermaid (1989) turned the tragedy into a magical musical. When word of its production was going around, it instantly got people excited. For one thing, it had been years since Disney released an animated fairy tale (I think the last one before it was Cinderella, 1950); for another, people were curious about the ending.

It pleased viewers to see a version that did not end in sea-foam, of course. And it pleased them extra that it came with vibrant animation.

... And a catchy soundtrack. It won Oscars for Best Song and Best Score - and it isn't a wonder; the music was spectacular. Little girls who were Ariel-wannabes memorized Part Of Your World. For those who preferred something less girly, they tried to catch whatever lyrics they could understand from Under The Sea (play. pause. write. play.)

Ariel's story was a big comfort to me personally. It's my happy daydream version put to animation. I have since appreciated that story that didn't kill the mermaid in the end.

Disney changed The Little Mermaid forever. Kids who were born after 1989 don't even know about the original denouement involving a murder attempt and a suicide. To them it's Kiss the Girl, shalalala my-oh-my, a happy tale of self-centered values romance and positive vibes. It's easier anyway to embrace the Disney tale because it's more hopeful.

The Little Mermaid changed Disney forever as well. It raised the bar for animated movies. As seen in the following wave of Disney fairy tales - Beauty and the Beast, Alladin, et al - Disney had since then a whole new flavor; it was more upbeat and contemporary.

Ariel and her friends influenced pop culture since they debuted on screen. Heck, to this day I still see her face on merchandise. Little-Mermaid-love has never grown old. There's even a Broadway musical now. Those who were kids back then still love her for being part of their growing up years, kids of today also love her because she can still relate.

The Hubby and I watched The Little Mermaid again today (he was looking for videos to play as "background noise" while he worked and decided to put on a couple of Disney cartoons). It still seemed fresh and current. It doesn't look like something that was released as long ago as twenty years.

Now that I am an adult though, I kinda think I like the original ending better. The Disney version kind of teaches little kids that it is justifiable to compromise with evil people, it is romantic to rebel against your family for reasons of love, and that you will get what you want in the end against all odds. The original tale had lessons that were more moral and practical.

But of course everybody likes happy endings. We like happy endings so much that we keep wishing for ours. We just have to remember through all the romanticism and glitter, we've got to be wise too (i.e., no making stupid deals with evil sea witches). And hey - endings only happen when you die, and I'm sure no one wants to die after marrying Prince Charming.
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