first made landfall back in November of 1989, the red-haired Ariel helped herald in the modern era of Disney princesses, creating a veritable tidal wave of animated fairy tales for the younger set to watch over and over and over until their VHS tapes broke and/or their parents finally snapped. Ariel was the first new Disney Princess in three decades, following Snow White (introduced in 1937), Cinderella (who arrived in 1950), and Sleeping Beauty (who first fluttered her peepers in 1959). For a certain generation of Disney fans, Ariel was the only princess, at least until Belle sang to teacups in 1991’s
By then, it was too late. Children of the 80s already had their princess, and Ariel was it. Ariel’s journey from sea to land (and then back again, and then back again) is one of Disney’s best, a lovingly animated adventure packed with catchy tunes and indelible characters.
turns 25 years old today, old enough to rent a car and nearly to be off her parents’ insurance plan. In honor of this very important anniversary (25 is the dinglehopper anniversary, right?), we’re looking back on the many ways the film taught us how to grow out of our kid fins and plant our adult feet firmly on solid ground.
Ariel is the youngest of seven sisters and refuses to play along in their under-the-sea musical performances. (Who hasn’t been there?) Still, the baby of King Triton’s brood is beloved by her entire family, and everyone eventually accepts and adores her unique personality and dreams. Just because you’re related to someone, it doesn’t mean you have to be just like them—you can still love them, feet and all. Coming to terms with your (very different) family? That’s adulthood in a nutshell (clamshell?).
Yes, you can make anything work with a little ingenuity and a ton of confidence, even a seashell bra and a ship-sail dress. Ariel was a fashion plate when she was just a teen princess, but it’s never too late to tap into your own personal style and work it.
The best part of being a Disney princess is getting some cool sidekicks to help you out of various pickles. Ariel is triply blessed, because she has three: Flounder the fish, Sebastian the crab, and Scuttle the seagull. Each sidekick aids and abates her in various ways—and always when necessary—proving that, sometimes, the best love of all is the love of a friend (who may also be a fish, crab, or seagull).
Delicious, healthy, and they make great friends.
Ariel and papa Triton may have a fraught relationship—remember that horrible scene when he destroys her entire treasure trove? Maybe a bit much, Mr. Underwater Sea King!—but it’s still clear that Triton only wants the best for his youngest daughter. Becoming an adult often means realizing that your parents really do have your best interests at heart, even back when you were busy being a sulky teen. Go thank your parents for that, right now.
If there’s one treasure that Ariel should have tried to nab for her specially curated underwater collection, it’s a datebook. The girl is consistently late for things, which is not a good look for anyone.
Ariel’s obsession with life above the surface—her desperate desire to be a part of that specific world—drives her to make some pretty stupid decisions . . . that kind of totally pan out in the end! In the adult world, it’s certainly O.K. to be a touch more prudent than Ariel, but following your heart
won’t land you in the crosshairs of a vengeful giant octopus, either.
Ariel and Eric may fall for each other at first sight—or, considering that the young prince almost kicked it and drowned, at first breath—but that doesn’t really work out for them. Convinced that his true love is in possession of an amazing singing voice, Eric is blind to actual Ariel’s charms, instead falling under the sway of the evil, voice-stealing Vanessa/Ursula. Eric may be a first-class bozo for most of the film, but Ariel truly loves him, and it’s only by being herself that she breaks the spell and gets her guy.
Everyone deserves one—except Ursula, obviously—and asking for one, like both King Triton and Ariel do late in the film, is an exceptional mark of maturity.
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