Howdy fellow interwebbers,
Welcome to the first ever weekly issue of The Powerwolf’s Mailbag! In an effort to bring new voices and new conversations to this forum, I will be answering your questions and hosting your fan theories!
For our first week’s episode, we answer the questions: Is the Little Mermaid insane, why Pixar so white, and would a return to the Pie Hole be fruitful?
May I just start off by saying, hello Powerwolf.
Alright, let’s get down to it. People give Ariel a bad rap in The Little Mermaid about her judgement, and she doesn’t deserve it. They say she falls in love with Prince Eric based on nothing and decides to leave her family and whole life without knowing anything about him.
Not so! She is watching him while he interacts with his dog, while he interacts with the man who is his closest friend, when he gets a bad birthday present! She sees him interacting with people who are his servants and pitching in with the work. On top of that, she witnesses him during an emergency in which he acts heroically, putting himself into danger to save his beloved dog.
On the other hand, Prince Eric’s reasons for loving her are as follows: “She saved me… she was so beautiful… and that voice! I’m gonna find that girl, and I’m gonna marry her!”
Ariel shows good judgement in her choice of husband. Eric just got lucky he didn’t accidentally marry the wrong beautiful girl with a nice voice.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on this theory.
I feel like your thoughts hit on something really misunderstood about how love functions in classic Disney films, and furthermore how story works. In a 90-minute film, events cannot play out in real-time in a realistic way. Just like paintings or music use shorthand to evoke concepts of love and passion, an animated film for children typically will not go into the nitty-gritty details of what a romantic relationship entails. Rather, they want you feel romantic, so that you can follow their hero on the next part of their journey. Usually this is because the romance is a maguffin to explore another concept, like fate in Sleeping Beauty, or, in this case, coming-of-age.
The good thing about using this strategy is that it makes the characters more archetypal, and their struggles more universal. This is why Disney is such a successful brand, and why The Little Mermaid was such a triumphant return to form for them. The bad thing is that if you were to take these stories as literal, and you lacked the experience to fill in the blanks with mature life choices, you may think that an evening stalking somebody from the shadows is all you’d need to know you wanted to spend the rest of your life with them. Since these stories are for children, many of whom lack this maturity, I am glad that newer films such as Up and Frozen make the effort to be a little more specific about what love really is. That said, I definitely think there is a place for the classic fairy tale, especially if discussions with a mature co-watcher focus on what the broad beats are getting at in these stories.
Specifically to your point, I agree with you that the beats of Ariel getting to know Eric do support her understanding him as a whole person. Putting myself in her shoes (flippers?) I could definitely see developing a huge crush under these circumstances. For most mature adults, I don’t think it would be enough to develop into the type of honest, pure, and selfless love that, for instance, Anna has for her sister in Frozen. As far as fairy tale shorthand goes, however, I agree that it works great. However, considering Eric is the lesser developed character, with shorter screen time, I feel like “super hot girl saved my life… damn she so cool” is actually a pretty solid motivation. Realistically, yeah, they’re both immature. But hey, she’s 16 years old, she’s just a child.
Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if The Little Mermaid is simply guilty of falling into an uncomfortable developmental period in story. That is, while it leans towards the archetypal love-at-first-sight of Sleeping Beauty, its slightly higher focus on character development, like the well drawn romances of today, make us feel like these are the details we should be focusing on.
I think the thing that does bother me the most about Ariel is that, as the hero of the story, she isn’t often shown doing heroic things. She mostly just follows her heart for selfish motivations and her friends are obliged to be heroic on her behalf. Then she thanks them all by leaving them forever. That last shot of Flounder waving goodbye to her sadly as Scuttle lowers him back into the water is pretty heartbreaking. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if they didn’t straight up insinuate she was never going to see him, or her father, or her family ever again.
Again… this is a film whose theme is about longing to grow up and moving from childish things into adulthood. Emotionally, and as a metaphor, I think it works incredibly well. I wish it relied a bit less on Ariel’s love-struck nature and marriage to resolve its problems. That being said, the love story has never been as concerning to me as Ariel’s lack of empathy for her friends.
First time caller, long time fan… ha ha.
Just watched Inside Out! It’s that Pixar movie about Riley playing hockey and moving to SF and being grumpy about it because she’s a spoiled white girl who, up to that point, had no experience of hardship in her ultra-cushy world.
I was wondering, why do you think Pixar only makes movies about white families? Do you think it’s because of their inability to relate to any family of non-Caucasians? Curious your thoughts on this! Would love to see Pixar tackle an impoverished black family of Baltimore existing in one of the neglected cities of America. What do you think?
I can see where you’re coming from, but I think you’re being a bit hard on Riley. It’s true that she seems to have had a charmed life up until the beginning of the film, but I think it’s clear that this was a purposeful story telling decision. Her lack of experience with hardship is the cause of the weakness that fuels the plot. It’s what allows the misunderstanding that Joy should always be our primary emotion, and that Sadness is to be avoided at all costs. It allows the personification of Joy to be both the protagonist and antagonist of her own story, and sends a very powerful message about valuing our own nuanced emotional makeup.
I think it also establishes some of the simplest and most powerful stakes I saw in a movie last year. The danger is not world ending, it’s not even in Riley not getting what she wants, it’s about a human’s inability to process loss because she doesn’t understand it, and nearly losing herself in the process.
To your second point, it is true that these stakes are approached in a First World White People Problems manner. The fact that this is only Pixar’s second film with a female protagonist is a clear illustrator of how poorly they’ve promoted diversity in their films. But this is not so much the problem of Inside Out in particular, but of the industry as a whole.
I think that part of what you said may be true. I don’t have access to racial statistics about Pixar’s employee base, but I’m guessing it’s overwhelmingly white males in the senior writing and directing positions. (A cursory glance at their credits on IMDB confirms this.)
The awesome thing is that questions like this one are getting results! Just a week ago, rules of membership for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences were changed as a result of the Oscars So White movement.
I look forward to upcoming movies about cultures I’m less familiar with, like Disney’s Moana, which comes out this year, and stars a Samoan woman. Hopefully it will perform well, and prove to the world that stories about women of color are bankable in the modern box office.
Either way. Keep talking about it. Keep asking for it. Slowly but surely we will change the world!
I really wish Pushing Daises wasn’t cancelled so soon. It feels like the timing wasn’t right for the show but that if it came out now it would do so much better in the new era of the Netflix binge for television. What are your thoughts on a Pushing Daisies movie? Or would you rather see the series continue?
Second question. After watching the Steven Universe series I was pleasantly surprised with the long form storytelling throughout the show. Those are my favorite because I feel much more invested in the characters and my attachment to the story grows exponentially. Series like Firefly, Buffy, and Gilmore Girls are other favorites for that reason. What are some of your favorite character development driven shows and why?
Pushing Daisies had it rough. Its first season was hit by the Writer’s Guild strike in ’07, after which it struggled towards a rushed finale and resolution to meet an abrupt second season cancellation. I am of the opinion that it was just too beautiful for this cruel world.
I know that showrunner Bryan Fuller and executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld have been looking into un-deading the show for the last couple years now, so the will is there. Crazier things have happened.
My feelings about a Pushing Daisies revival mirror my feelings for the resurrection of any long dead property. The thought makes me excited… and very nervous. Even if they are able to reassemble the old cast, it could be that the magic won’t return with it. Speaking of the age of Netflix, Arrested Development is a good example of this. Difficulty in organizing actor schedules resulted in an entirely new format for the show, making each character the star of their own episode. This in turn prevented the audience from escaping that character’s particular brand of madness for a full 30 minutes. While the writing was just as clever as always, the long hard look this gave us at each player made the tragedy of their foolishness overpower the humor. Also, having survived the housing market crash of ’07 (damn… rough year), the antics of an entitled family of property developers felt a lot less amusing.
Speaking of Firefly, a similar thing happened to its miraculous-it-ever-happened follow up, Serenity. I love the film, and the job that Whedon did wrapping up his characters’ arcs with such little time. But many decried it for being too dark, protesting the deaths of fan favorites and resisting the cold side of Captain Mal that Joss Whedon always intended, but never fully delved into in the series.
So I have mixed feelings. It’s possible that bringing the show back to life as a movie or Netflix mini-series could result in an all new brand of magic, but I also worry that if we forgot to re-dead it before a minute passed another show nearby would be cancelled.
Speaking to your second question, I could probably write a whole dissertation on long-form storytelling pros and cons (maybe I will), but I think you give some great examples of the pros. Steven Universe may be the best thing on television today and is playing a fantastic long game, mirroring the feeling of the Harry Potter book series (which itself may be the best long form fiction of our generation).
Game of Thrones and the Netflix Marvel series represent some of the highest dramatic potential energy I currently see on the market. Both look like they could have some really fantastic payoff based on what they’ve established. Thrones seems like it could go anywhere at this point, and could end as an exhilarating example of the strength of a mankind united, or a harrowing cautionary tale about the cost of greed. Daredevil and Jessica Jones are all revved up for their very own “Avengers Assemble” moment in The Defenders, which could be really cool, or could undermine the entire grounded reality they live in.
Fingers crossed that these shows don’t implode under the weight of their own potential like LOST did. (My theory is that the last three seasons of LOST were meant to make you feel like you were in the plane crash from episode 1… but in slow motion.)
Thanks to everyone who wrote in for our first ever episode. For a chance at being featured, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow up in the comments section below to keep the conversation alive!