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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #94: Ariel

New shells?

Heading to Disney Hollywood Studios today, and I'm hoping to bump into one of my two favorite princesses (the other is rumored to hang out at Morocco in Epcot - more on her later). It's become fashionable these days, politically useful, to hate on Ariel, on all the princesses, to denigrate them as antiquated male fantasies and harmful narrow role models for girls. I suppose there's some truth there, though if we expect uniformly dogmatic progressive social commentary from our children's animation, we're likely to be routinely disappointed.

If we can set aside our hot button moral outrage for a moment, there's a lot to like about The Little Mermaid. It signaled the return of classic Disney animated greatness in 1989, with a fantastic musical score and epic storytelling. I loved it then and still do. I enjoy Sebastian's antics, King Triton's weary, apparently single parenting, and Ursula's over-the-top menace.

But Ariel is my favorite. Like every other then-fourteen-year-old boy, I fell in love immediately. Redhead in seashells with a killer voice and daddy issues? Headstrong, curious, adventurous, with eyes taking up about a third of her face? And while criticism focuses on what she gives up in pursuit of a man she hardly knows, I see instead a young woman not content to live under the strictures of her society, who craves new experiences and wants more.

As is usually the case, the guy isn't the point - it's the idea of freedom, of novelty, of adulthood that drives our young protagonist. It's not the man she wants - he's just a pretty face. After all, it's "part of that world" long before its "part of your world." Ariel is smart, ambitious, brave, and resourceful. If we can't find things in there to teach our daughters, maybe we're the problem.

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