Is Disney Retconning Their Little Mermaid (Again)?

We have to wait a bit longer than initially anticipated for the new trailer of Disney's live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. To ease the wait, fans were treated to a surprise yesterday in the form of an excerpt from the upcoming prequel novel, Against the Tide by J. Elle. Typically, books like these are considered side stories that don't need to fit perfectly with the main canon of the films, but that would be difficult in this case. It would be impossible for the little that has been revealed of this book not to have any effect on the upcoming May 26th film release. So much of it is different from what Disney has already established about Ariel's backstory in both the prequel series and the 2006 direct-to-DVD movie, Ariel's Beginning, which already contradict each other to an extent. According to this upcoming novel, Ariel and her sisters are granted responsibilities as Protectors of various territories in the sea as teenagers, which would make her later decision to run away from home even more reckless than it was in the original 1989 animated film.

Granted, these changes would work beautifully for an original take on the fairy tale. I am one of many people who has complained that the Disney remakes rarely add anything new or exciting to the original films. The problem here is that Disney is trying to have it both ways. Instead of making a completely new version of "The Little Mermaid," they are picking and choosing elements from their own beloved version, such as calling the character Ariel, giving her flowing red locks, and incorporating Alan Menken's sensational soundtrack among other things. My favorite version of "Cinderella" is Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella from 1997 starring Brandy, which is also owned by Disney, but it is a remake of a different version of the fairy tale, which gives them free reign to change as much of the story as they want without needlessly comparing it to the 1950 animated film like they had to do with the 2015 remake. There's also the fact that the Disney Parks are currently casting actresses to play the live-action version of Ariel, something that has never been done for any other remake before, right on the heels of the re-opening of Ariel's Grotto, where fans can meet the animated version.

This isn't the first time Disney has tried to retcon Ariel's backstory. In 2006, Ariel's Beginning awkwardly revealed that King Triton had banned music from Atlantica for most of Ariel's life even though the animated series, which took place a year before the film (the same time period as upcoming Against the Tide novel) had loads of fantastic songs from creatures all over the sea and made no mention of how they were forced to hide their musical abilities until just recently or needed to learn music again. Granted, that is a minor enough detail to gloss over than the assumption that Ariel was sneaking off on all these adventures with Flounder and Sebastian when she was supposed to be spending her time in the underwater territory of Carinae using her supernatural abilities to protect all the creatures of the sea. I get that the new movie isn't supposed to be related to the series, but is it really such a good idea to give Ariel three completely different backstories when she is only supposed to be one version of a character created by Hans Christian Andersen?

Then there's the complete overhaul of Ariel's sisters who have not only all been renamed, but also completely redesigned and are rumored to have superpowers. Instead of Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Adella, Attina, and Alana, we have Indira, Caspia, Karina, Mala, Perla, and Tameka. Ariel's sisters in the animated movies and series were only given minor personality traits when it was convenient to the plot, many of which got retconned in Ariel's Beginning. Yet, those of us who have been fans for all these years have grown to love the sisters and what little slivers of personality was provided for them. Arista had the most focus in the series as the overlooked middle child who was always jealous of the attention Ariel got from her family and friends. That would have been a great thing to build on for the new movie as opposed to removing her character entirely. If Disney said they were making a completely new version of "The Little Mermaid" like they did with Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella and didn't call their lead character Ariel, I would say this looks like a really neat new take on the story with original mermaids to get to know and love, but they're trying to do both.

As it stands now, my biggest concern is that the version I grew up with is going to be erased. The Disney Princess line has always largely featured the animated versions of the characters, so I take some comfort in knowing that the animated version of Ariel will live on in that respect. Those of you who have been reading my posts up until now know that I have no issue with Halle Bailey playing the character. I'm just hoping that Disney doesn't try to by create an entirely new feminist take on the fairy tale and acting as though this was always "their" version and pretend that the 1989 movie never existed. Up to this point, none of the live-action movies have changed enough of the story to retcon their animated films aside from adding minor details to the characters' backstories. With Against the Tide being canon, not only are Ariel's carefree adventures from the series no longer relevant because of her Protector duties, but everything that we know about her sisters has been erased entirely. Am I overreacting? Maybe. What do you think? Is Disney trying to replace their classic with this new version, or is there a place for both of them to live in harmony?


Sugar said…
Well honestly? I don't think Disney can erase animated Ariel forever but I do suspect that they want to make the new one much more relevant, in fact I don't have much confidence in the romance of the movie I see it as likely that Ariel's desire to be human is based almost 100 % is exploring another world with the prince as an extra that makes the process easier for her.
With all my heart I hope that this is not the way of Star vs "look how great a rebellious and irresponsible princess who has no interest in her boring duties" and "being responsible and acting well does not matter as much as doing what you want".
Among other things I saw the Brandy Movie! and it's lovely, in fact Tiana's light blue costume at the beginning of her movie seems to be a tribute to Cinderella's party outfit, and the encounter between Cinderella and the prince is very's funny how in the new versions Cinderella "rises up to the boys" when she meets the prince riding or while he's hunting, in Brandy's version it's the Prince who shows his vulnerability by singing expressing his feelings that coincide with those of Cinderella
While in that version the prince is a romantic, in the new ones it is as if Cinderella should become less dreamy and more of a fighter.
Now if you don't have anything to do in the next few days I recommend you read "Swimming lessons for a mermaid" on webtoon it's already finished and it's beautiful, a Korean version of the little mermaid a bit similar to Mermaid melody but with a much sweeter boy, friendly and mature. I AM Enjoy the story a lot!
Lisa Dawn said…
I can't see them making her a bad role model in this version because the newer movies tend to try to "fix" complaints about the originals, and a lot of people claim that the original was a bad role model (even though I disagree)!

I've seen comparisons of Tiana's white/light blue dress to Brandy's, but if you look at the details, they're actually rather different. :) I also really liked the prince in that version and how he helps her gather all the boxes her stepfamily asked her to carry. I can't recall a single other version where the prince helps Cinderella with any of her chores. I think that's a really nice touch because the main reason marrying him is such a happy ending for her is that it eases her burdens, and that movie foreshadows it!

I'll check out the webtoon when I get a chance. Thanks!

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