Hans Christian Andersen: Fairy Tales

A Tale of Two Mermaids: A Comparison of Hans Christian Andersen & Disney’s Protagonists College

Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” and Disney’s 1989 film adaptation differ in a multitude of notable ways, from key elements of plot to those of character. Perhaps the most distinct difference, aside from the highly contrasting endings, is the characterization of the protagonists, the little mermaids themselves. Disney’s version presents to its viewers a wild, adventurous, 16-year-old girl named Ariel, while Andersen’s original story features a pensive and quiet 15-year-old who remains nameless throughout the entirety of the tale.

Due to her rebellious, outspoken nature, Ariel’s character may initially appear to viewers as a more positive, feminist role model for girls and young women. After all, the Disney film was released about 150 years after the first publication of Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” during which the women’s rights movement made countless advancements in the western world and beyond--perhaps most notably, women in the United States gained the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. However, despite this vastly different cultural climate, Disney's Ariel still ultimately proves to be under patriarchal reign, in some ways even more so than Andersen's...

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