November 21, 1989 [The Little Mermaid]

I have an old copy of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, and I’m pretty sure the children have been read “The Little Mermaid”; and somewhere in their heads--forgotten, I think--I hope--lie hidden the sad details, the Mermaid having to watch the prince marry another, the pain like knives in her new legs, the melting into air--where she waits for centuries to go at last to Heaven. What prices Andersen makes her pay, the melodrama exacting its morality.

--all of which is lost amid Disney’s assertion of its old self in a movie as bright as the tunes everyone gets to sing, the victories won, the laughter drowning all temporary sorrow. Disney finds its voice like a puzzle-box easily opened and spilling all kinds of happiness--a talent the studio had for years, despite the huntsman commanded to kill the little girl, the mother dead or chained, the bad little boy braying with his donkey’s voice--Gothic flourishes necessary to make the good times better. And I want to scoff--thinking of Andersen’s mermaid, broken and patient--but Sebastian is so cool, and the Prince is just enough of a goof, and the songs are as good as the Golden Age, wishing upon a star and pink elephants on parade. And the toys, you can’t forget the toys, slipped into Happy Meals and piled under Christmas trees--soon, soon. The Happiest Place on Earth rises up like Atlantis in irresistible primary colors.


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