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FROM: Beauty and the Bitch A Disney Dispatch Feature

The Little Mermaid

To net her true love, Ariel gave up voice, fin, and family. Dennis explores what else a person gives up when they surrender their voice, but Bob finds himself tongue-tied in a surf-side Socratic dialogue he can't hope to win.

Can you be a beauty - and a bitch? Absolutely! (And often, quite likely.) The fairy tale princesses are no exception. In fact, they are the perfect examples, contend award-winning playwright Dennis Giacino and non-award-winning non-playwright Bob McLain, who each week will do a princess/counter-princess take on their royal majesties.

Bob has the beauty; Dennis, the bitch. From Bob, you'll read the traditional princess story; from Dennis, you'll read a modern interpretation, as the princess in question dishes on what pop culture has done to her fairy tale prospects.

This week, Bob weighs himself on Ariel's scales and finds himself wanting, while Dennis listens to his modern Ariel kvetch about the temporary loss of her voice, the permanent loss of her fin, and the hair on her newfangled legs.

The Little Mermaid: Hard Truths and Happy Endings [by Bob]

Today, we'll talk of the redhead.

Not that redhead, the one perpetually up for auction in Pirates of the Caribbean, though I certainly wouldn't mind bidding, er, writing about her colorful history.

I'm referring to the other redhead. The one who swims beneath the seas. The one who was fleeced of a flipper in the lure of love by a most unlovely - and tentacled - sorceress.

In what is perhaps the ultimate example of self sacrifice, and possibly sub-servience, the Little Mermaid underwent anatomical adjustment to pursue the man of her dreams. The stuff of fairy tale? Or the stuff of feminist fury?

Let's swim a bit closer to the surface and waggle our tongues above the waves.

Disney returned to the reliable Hans Christian Andersen for the basis of The Little Mermaid, a hugely successful film that spawned equally popular rides and shows at the Disney parks.

Young Ariel lives beneath the sea with fish and family, collecting the refuse and relics dropped into the ocean by the humans who live above and who fascinate her. One day, she spies handsome Prince Eric aboard a ship, and despite the obvious problems, falls immediately in love. When the ship sinks, Ariel saves Eric, who doesn't catch sight of his rescuer but does hear her voice and vows to find its owner.

Back under the sea, conditions worsen for Ariel: now she's in love! And the object of her desire has feet, not fins or flippers. Who can help her? Possibly... a villain? Enter Ursula, a sea witch. Her deal: she'll transform Ariel into a human for three days, but if the prince doesn't kiss her during those three days, she'll transform Ariel back into a mermaid - Ursula's slave... forever!

To ensure victory, Ursula disguises herself as a beautiful girl and causes Eric to fall in love with her. They're to be married the next day. Climactic battle alert!

It all works out happily ever after - as if there were a doubt - with marriage between mermaid and monarch. I wonder, though...

Ariel is my favorite Disney princess. The obstacles she must overcome 'dwarf' those of Snow White, Cinderella, and all the others. For Ariel, it's not enough to don beautiful clothes and fashion a carrige out of a pumpkin; for our little mermaid, the change is far more drastic.

And yet, she's willing!

To enter into a deal with a sea witch to transform you into another species, just so you can entice a prince you've never met (at least not while he was conscious) to kiss you, smacks of desperation, doesn't it? But Ariel is young, a mere girl, and it probably seems like a minor adjustment to her, not too much different than if she were to sneak off into the briny night for a tattoo.

The prince, as usual, hasn't given up anything. He's there to look good, and to be ready to accept his future princess provided she makes herself suitable for him.

Nowhere in the fairy tale, or in the film, does Eric say: "Gee, Ariel, no other girl has ever jumped species for me before."

Uh oh. Ariel is giving me that look.

"Stupid air-breather. Why must you make things so complicated?"

"Well, Ariel, fairy tales are complicated, especially when deconstructed in light of modern..."

"Arghhh! Haven't you ever wanted something, or someone, so badly that nothing else mattered?"

"As a matter of fact, yes - twice."

"Were you young?"

"Yes. And foolish."

"Was it complicated? Did you deconstruct your emotions?"


"Did you listen to anyone - or simply to your heart?"


"Were your endings happy?"

"Had they been happy, it would have been a fairy tale. It would have been your story."

"That's why people - especially little girls and I suppose some little boys, too - love to hear my story. And it's why no one wants to hear yours."

"You were my favorite princess."

"Am I still?"

"Who knew a fish could be so frank."

Ariel laughed, and we sat together on the rock for awhile, not talking about fairy tales, as the tide slowly receded. She looked out to sea once or twice, wistfully I thought, and then I clambered down onto the muddy sand of the beach. I held out my arm to help her off the rock, but she laughed again and jumped down herself. "Do you never learn?" she said.

"A fairy tale is just an impossible situation that turns out the way you wish it would."

Then she extended her arm, which I gladly took in mine as we strolled toward Prince Eric's castle and the bright gleam of torches and the faint but rising strains of music.

The Little Mermaid: These Two Legs! [by Dennis]

Ouch! Geesh, I hate shaving my legs! The nicks, the cuts, the scabs - oh, Epilady, how you vex me!

Yes, it's me, the Little Mermaid! Sorry for the mess, but I've just gotta go through this limb-butchering ritual twice a week. Shaving my legs is one of the newfound tasks I've had to take on since choosing to become ambulatory. Oh, and then there's the humbling acts of stepping on the bathroom scale (we never weighed ourselves as mermaids), walking in six-inch heels, jogging on the treadmill - oh, the things we'll do with our two legs to keep them fit and shiny. After all, they are the perfect bait with which to catch a man!

I often think back on my life as a young mermaid - pre-lower-appendage phase, of course. Oh, how I loved to frolic around in the sea, play hide and seek with the moray eel, dive and breach (and munch on crill, don't tell anyone!) with the humpback whale. Yes, those were the days. I didn't have a care in the world; an unfettered life. I was ... what's the word you humans use? Oh, right ...


Of course, that was before the shipwreck. One night, a storm swept over the Baltic. A small ship found itself caught up in the tempest, unable to maneuver. Well, before you know it, a handsome prince falls overboard, and having the swimming abilities of five Esther Williams', I saved his life. Okay, I gave him mouth-to-mouth, if you must know. From that moment on - I was hooked - no pun intended.

Yes, through sheer luck (as often happens to us princesses in fairy tales because God forbid we should actually work toward creating our own fate!), I had met my knight in shining armor ... well, minus the armor. And thank goodness because if my knight actually wore armor, he would have sunk at least 20,000 leagues under the sea, and I wouldn't have been able to save him. And instantly fall in love with him. Even though he remained unconscious. And never spoke a single word to me. And without that true-love-at-first-near-death-experience moment, I would have never made the decision to give up everything I had (my family, my friends, MY FIN!) ... for a pair of these.

Two legs.

Two stubbly, gotta-constantly-cross-them-or-else-you'll-give-the-boys-a-peek legs. What we won't do to net a man, eh?

Two legs.

Did you know that in my Hans Christian Andersen story (and my subsequent Disney movie), I traded my voice for the chance to be with the guy I love? It's true - I literally (and figuratively!) gave up the power to speak. The power to sing. The power to voice my ... oh, what's that word? Oh, right ... opinion. I literally swapped my ability to speak my mind for these two gangly things hanging off my hips.

Two legs.

C'mon, how realistic is my story? I mean, what princess is desperate enough to give up all that defines her just to get a guy? Truth is ... quite a few of us. Now, don't think me wicked. There's nothing wrong with actually falling in love and marrying a prince. They just did it on the 'telly' and it was very moving.

I think it's time we 'mermaids' learned to stand on our own two feet (as it were!) and reclaim that voice Mr. Andersen and all the men who created the Disney flick would so easily have us give up. Without a sense of self-worth, an inner confidence, a sense of strength and identity - a voice, if you will - without all that ... well, let's face it. We wouldn't have a leg to stand on.