Today, I’d like to once again delve into classic movies from the Disney renaissance. Specifically, I’d like to talk a bit about The Little Mermaid.
But don’t worry. This will not be a critique of the movie. The one critique I do have, I will leave for a later date, since it ties together with a concern I have with Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.
Instead of a nitpicky rant, this will just be a short article where I share an observation about this movie.
So what is that observation?
Well, I was thinking about this movie recently, when I realized that King Triton is actually a mass murderer.
And since I can almost taste the inevitable confusion born from that statement, let me explain.
As you all know (unless you’ve lived under a rock and never seen the movie, in which case, spoiler warning) King Triton is the ruler of the Merpeople, governing his domain with the help of his magic trident. This trident, we’re shown, is capable of many things, like creating fantastic light shows, or firing energy beams that can destroy statues and reduce fish to dust.
However, it can also (and this is the important thing) control the weather.
We know this, partly because when the movie begins, some sailors muse that the sea is calm and the weather is favourable, and suggest that King Triton must be in a good mood.
And later in the movie, near the end, Ursula uses the trident to create an enormous maelstrom.
So, where am I going with all this? Well, the first we see of Ariel, the eponymous mermaid, she is fully engrossed in her favourite hobby: collecting treasures and keepsakes from the world above.
And she does this in an area clearly not that far away from the castle, i.e the area where Triton has the most influence, oversight and power.
Specifically, she’s searching in what’s essentially a ship graveyard.
Now, my question is this: How did those ships sink?
I put it to you that the vast majority of those ships sank as a result of bad weather. As in, that thing Triton has direct control over with his trident!
Just think about it. How many sailors died in those shipwrecks? How many drowned, or died from starvation or thirst, clinging to floating crates or other flotsam?
Now, granted, one might make the logical argument that Triton perhaps didn’t directly cause those shipwrecks. After all, while he does control the weather, he is not omniscient. He doesn’t control the weather everywhere at all times. If he did, how would he have time to blow up his daughter’s treasure trove and drive her to do something rash, like seeking out a half woman half squid sorceress that just so happens to hate Tritons guts?
So fine, maybe he didn’t cause those storms.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that he had the power to prevent those shipwrecks, and yet chose to do nothing.
I think you’ll agree that’s still pretty bad.
Of course, you may argue that maybe he wasn’t aware of the effect those storms had… but then, how come there are so many ships in that one area?! Surely, he would notice after the third ship lands on the seabed, right?
Either way, the blood of those humans are on his hands.
But like I said, this is not a criticism against the movie. It’s in fact very in character for Triton. One of his defining characteristics is his xenophobia towards land dwellers. It’s to the point that, in terms of a character arc, he’s the main character, not Ariel.
I’m not the first to point this out, of course, but it bears repeating. Triton is the one who develops in the movie. He evolves, going from declaring that Eric’s death would mean “One less human to think about” to actually giving his daughter his blessing when she marries Eric.
He grows from his experiences, having seen the consequences of his actions, with Ursula taking advantage of his xenophobia, and almost costing him his daughter forever.
Not only that, but had he been more open-minded and merciful towards humans, not only would he not have pushed his daughter away, but she might not have developed a fascination with the surface world, simply because there would be fewer ships littering the ocean floor, filled with odd human trinkets.
He is truly the catalyst for everything that happens in the movie, be it through indifference or callousness regarding the lives of humans.
Granted, there may be ecological reasons for not preventing those storms. Maybe stopping those storms might affect the ecosystem of the oceans. I’m not a marine biologist, so I don’t know if that is true or not.
However, even if it IS true, it’s hardly a comfort for all those sons, husbands, fathers, brothers and friends, being suddenly swept off deck into the sea by a freak wave, struggling in vain desperation against the tides as their lungs filled with water…