With the recent spate of children’s classics (among other works) being rewritten to be ostensibly less offensive, one question comes to mind: Who asked for this? Contrary to what some believe, there usually isn’t a “woke mob” clamoring to sanitize every kids’ cartoon and bedtime story. No piece of past media is perfect or above criticism, but it’s unclear where the desire to edit out the most minor grievances stems from. The latest victim of this treatment is The Little Mermaid, which has apparently seen some songs rewritten to be a better example for young girlbosses everywhere.
Legendary composer Alan Menken told Vanity Fair that the lyrics to “Poor Unfortunate Souls” underwent revisions “regarding lines that might make young girls somehow feel that they shouldn’t speak out of turn, even though Ursula is clearly manipulating Ariel to give up her voice.” Ursula famously being the villain of the piece, it’s puzzling as to why her track would need to be more woke. (Isn’t the point that she’s nasty?) Hers isn’t the only song that was altered, Menken revealed: “There are some lyric changes in ‘Kiss the Girl’ because people have gotten very sensitive about the idea that [Prince Eric] would, in any way, force himself on [Ariel].” Are the sensitive people in the room with us right now?
But seriously folks, only in the worst faith possible interpretation of “Kiss The Girl” would anyone assume that Eric was “forcing himself” on Ariel. The whole point of the song is that Eric hasn’t made any romantic overtures to Ariel at all, and is being encouraged to do so by Ariel’s friends because it would break the curse she’s trapped under! There is absolutely no issue of consent in The Little Mermaid—the girl wants, and in fact needs, to be kissed. Most ’90s kids could tell the difference between a Prince Eric and a Gaston when they saw those movies the first time around.
The original Little Mermaid, though much beloved, has not been entirely exempt from feminist discourse. Many have criticized her tale for boiling down to “giving up her entire life for a man she’s never talked to,” something remake star Halle Bailey addressed in a recent interview. “I’m really excited for my version of the film because we’ve definitely changed that perspective of just her wanting to leave the ocean for a boy. It’s way bigger than that. It’s about herself, her purpose, her freedom, her life and what she wants,” she told Edition.
With respect to the new Ariel, this ongoing criticism doesn’t account for the fact that the mermaid princess always longed for land, as demonstrated by the song “Part Of Your World,” which occurs before she ever encounters the prince. Becoming enamored with Eric is simply the impetus to finally act on those desires, a storytelling device that has existed so long as people have been telling stories.
At the end of the day, it matters very little what changes Disney makes to its own source material, even if those changes seem to invent problems where none exist. Manufacturing a little outrage along the way isn’t likely to hurt the megacorporation’s bottom line. The live-action remake was as inevitable and inexorable as the tide, but at least the animated classic is still available to be enjoyed in all its imperfect, “problematic” glory.