WHERE, OH WHERE DID MOMMY GO?
A FEMINIST NARRATIVE ANALYSIS OF
DISNEY'S THE LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST AND
Lisa Renee Barry
B.A., University of Colorado, 1991'
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
1996 by Lisa Renee Barry
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Lisa Renee Barry
has been approved
Barry, Lisa Renee (M.A., Communication)
Where, Oh Where Did Mommy Go? A Feminist Narrative
Analysis of Disney's The Little Mermaid, Beauty and
the Beast, and Aladdin.
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Michael Monsour
This thesis will apply the narrative and feminist critical
methods to Disney's The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the
Beast, and Aladdin in order to demonstrate that Disney is
promoting the role of mother as unessential and devaluing
the role of mother. Evidence will also be offered
regarding Disney's stereotypical portrayal of women, via
their physical appearance, which further supports the
devaluation of mother in American society. Census reports
will be offered to support the argument that while these
movies are being presented in current American culture,
they are not representative of the culture. The census
reports document an increase in the number of single-
parent families headed by single mothers. Reports show
that approximately 16 million children in the United
States live with their single mothers. Narrative analysis
operates on the assumption that a culture can be defined
by the stories told in and about itself. If this is true,
the three Disney movies offered for this thesis should
represent current American culture. This thesis argues
that not only are these movies not representative of
current American culture, they invalidate current American
culture by devaluing the role of mother in a culture in
which an increasingly large number of families are headed
by single mothers.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.
1. INTRODUCTION.................................. 1
Purpose of the Study...............................4
Arrangement of the Thesis........................
2. DEVELOPMENT OF THE NARRATIVE AND FEMINIST METHODS
OF ANALYSIS...............................^...... 12
Development of Narrative Analysis................ 13
Feminist Criticism............................... 22
Synthesis of the Methods......................... 28
3. THE LITTLE MERMAID............................... 33
Narrative Fidelity........................ 70
4. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST............................. 7 3
Narrator.................................. 8 6
Narrative Substance....................... 95
Narrative Fidelity........................ 98
Narrative Substance...................... 143
Narrative Fidelity........................ 14 6
6. CONCLUSION...................................... 148
I would like to acknowledge Michael Monsour and Benita
Dilley for their help and guidance throughout the
decision- making process, as well as the research and
writing of this thesis. Without Mike and Benita, this
thesis would not have been possible. Thank you.
According to a Census Bureau report issued on July
19, 1994, "an estimated 17 million U.S. children under the
age of 18, or 27% of all U.S. children, lived with only
one parent" (Facts 772). The U.S. Department of Labor,
Women's Bureau, reports that the number of single-parent
families maintained by women increased from 5.6 million in
1970 to 12 million in 1992 (WIN 20-3, 72). This number
translates into 17.6% of all families in the United States
being maintained by women (WIN 20-3, 72). Finally, 22% of
all U.S. children under the age of 18 live with their
single mothers (WIN 19-1, 75). This means that over 16
million U.S. children live with their single mothers.
Walter Fisher contends that a culture can be defined
by the stories it tells in and about itself (58). As
such, one would assume that the stories told in and about
the American culture of the 1990s should reflect the large
number of families headed by single mothers. Walt Disney
Studios is a front-runner with regard to the number and
magnitude of stories told in and about this culture, which
are targeted at children.
In 1989 Walt Disney Studios released The Little
Mermaid, the first full-length animated classic (fairy
tale) released by the studio since 1958, which became the
"largest grossing animated film to that point in history,
with $84.3 million at the box office" (Petersen 22). When
The Little Mermaid was released on video it broke records
again, selling 10 million copies (Nichols H42). When
Beauty and the Beast hit theaters two years later it set a
new record making it "the highest-grossing animated movie
in history, with box office grosses of $145.8 million"
(Petersen 22). In 1992 Beauty and the Beast broke The
Little Mermaids video record, selling 20 million copies
(Nichols H42). Aladdin grossed $193.4 million in the
theaters shattering records once again and was expected to
surpass the $200 million mark in 1993 (Petersen 22). On
December 16, 1993 Aladdin broke Beauty and the Beasts
video record selling 21 million copies, and was expecting
to sell at least 25 million copies before being taken off
the market (Variety 32).
Early research regarding the television viewing
habits of young children revealed that children ages 3-5
watched television an average of two hours per day during
the week, and an average of 3 hours on Saturdays (Brown
56). While this research was conducted in 1976, prior to
the inclusion of VCRs in homes, the study showed an
alarming trend toward increased viewing by children
compared with studies performed in the late 1950s. A
later study performed by Oklahoma State University showed
that children ages 3-5 watched television as much as
38.5 hours per child during the first week of observation
and as much as 49.5 hours during the second week, although
there were participants who watched as little as 5.5 hours
during the first week and 9.5 hours during the second week
(Goldsmith 7). Again, this study did not involve the
inclusion of VCRs in the home.
Studies directed at ascertaining the amount of VCR
use confirm the belief that children spend a great deal of
time viewing pre-recorded tapes. In a 1988 study, Sims
found that children ages two to eleven years watched an
average of 24 minutes per day of pre-recorded tapes. This
translates to an average of two hours and forty-eight
minutes of viewing per week of pre-recorded tapes. Disney
movies inevitably play a part of children's viewing of
pre-recorded tapes, simply because of the numbers of
In her study, "Exploring the Role of VCR Use in the
Emerging Home Entertainment Culture," Carolyn Lin states,
"as video offerings expanded, VCRs were used to increase
viewing options, via the rental or purchase of pre-
recorded tapes (833). She continues:
It is through these VCR uses that audience
lifestyles have been transformed as well...after
acquiring a VCR, audiences increased their time
spent with TV, family, and home entertainment.
The inclusion of VCRs in the home has dramatically
increased time spent watching television. If the number
of Disney videos sold is factored into the equation, it
follows that children view the movies repeatedly and with
some degree of regularity.
Based upon these statistics, one can logically assume
these movies play an important role in the story base to
which Americans, and more specifically American children,
have been exposed. In his summary of the narrative method
Sillars states, "humans make sense of their world by the
stories they tell about it... While these stories make
sense of the environment, they also reinforce the admired
traits of the culture" (150). And yet these stories
neither define, nor reflect, current American culture.
Walter Fisher states, "narration [is] symbolic actions -
words and/or deeds that have sequence and meaning for
those who live, create, or interpret them" (58). In other
words, stories have the potential to create social
reality. Social reality, however, is not as it appears to
be in these stories.
Within The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and
Aladdin there exists one unifying theme: mother is
unessential. In fact, mother is non-existent. There
exists no mother-figure, nor mention of mother except in
Aladdin when the Sultan, referring to Jasmine's
unwillingness to choose a husband states, "I don't know
where she gets it from. Her mother wasn't nearly so
picky." In fact, of the thirty-four feature-length
animated movies released during the history of Walt Disney
studios, all but three portray a motherless world. In
these movies father is the parent, the provider, the
strength, the person who grants (or denies) approval, the
parent who gives (or denies) love and affection. Given
the statistics regarding the current make-up of single-
parent families, these stories do not accurately reflect
current American culture.
An argument can be made against the inclusion of
these stories in the analysis of American culture. After
all, each of the three originated in a different culture
and in a different era. However, the United States is a
melting pot. Many people from different cultures live in
America. People from different cultures have been
migrating to the United States for centuries. To argue
that these stories are not appropriate for an analysis of
American culture would be fallacious. Additionally, these
stories have been popular with American children, in
whatever form, for generations. In fact, they have often
made wonderful bedtime stories. Disney has, therefore,
added these classics into popular American culture,
Americanizing the stories as well as their characters.
In his book, The Uses ,of Enchantment: The Meaning
and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettelheim presents a
compelling argument for the inclusion of fairy tales in
children's story base. The fairy tales, however, must be
presented in their original form rather than the current
prettified versions. Bettelheim argues that children's
literature, as it exists today, has no purpose but to
entertain (5). The important children's stories, the
stories that last in a person's mind throughout life,
enrich his life...stimulate his imagination;
help him to develop his intellect and to clarify
his emotions; be attuned to his anxieties and
aspirations; give full recognition to his
difficulties, while at the same time relate to
all aspects of his personality and this
without ever belittling but, on the contrary,
giving full credence to the seriousness of the
child's predicaments, while simultaneously
promoting confidence in himself and in his
future. (Bettelheim 5)
"Nothing," argues Bettelheim, "can be as enriching
and satisfying to child and adult alike as the folk fairy
tale" (5). While he admits that fairy tales "teach little
about the specific conditions of life in modern mass
society," Bettelheim claims more can be learned about
human beings and their inner struggles from fairy tales
than from "any other type of story within a child's
Bettelheim argues, "a fairy tale should be told
rather than read" in order to attain its true symbolic
meaning (150). Characteristically, fairy tales "state an
existential dilemma briefly and pointedly" (8). For
example, many of the tales begin with the death of a
parent. This occurrence, or fear of it, is a problem many
children deal with either consciously or unconsciously.
Whereas "safe" stories mention neither death nor aging,
the fairy tale confronts the child with the problem, and
symbolically offers solutions in a simplified format.
This simplicity allows the child to "come to grips with
the problem in its most essential form, where a more
complex plot would confuse matters for him" (8).
In current American culture children no longer grow
up with the security of an extended family or of a close-
Therefore, even more than at the times fairy
tales were invented, it is important to provide
the modern child with images of heroes who have
to go out into the world all by themselves and
who, although originally ignorant of the
ultimate things, find secure places in the world
by following their right way with deep inner
confidence. (Bettelheim 11)
Unfortunately, very few fairy tales are widely known.
Past generations have enjoyed and felt the importance of
fairy tales. Bettelheim argues that most children are not
given the opportunity to know fairy tales at all due, in
large part, to the fact that parents fear the tales will
cause a child undue grief (8). This fear results in
Americanized versions of fairy tales such as those
presented by Disney. According to Bettelheim:
Most children now meet fairy tales only in
prettified and simplified versions which subdue
their meaning and rob them of all deeper
significance versions such as those on films
and TV shows, where fairy tales are turned into
empty-minded entertainment. (24)
As stated earlier, it is characteristic of fairy
tales to state an existential dilemma briefly and
pointedly. This is necessary, argues Bettelheim, because
a more complex plot would confuse children. He goes on to
The fairy tale simplifies all situations. Its
figures are clearly drawn; and details, unless
very important, are eliminated. All characters
are typical rather than unique. (8)
However, the characters as portrayed by Disney, are
more unique than typical. Ariel is a headstrong mermaid
with a spectacular singing voice. Ariel's friends,
Flounder and Sebastian are not typical either they are
talking sea creatures. Finally, Ariel is exquisitely
Belle is not only beautiful, but highly intelligent
and also has a beautiful singing voice. Again, the other
characters in Beauty and the Beast are far from typical -
they are enchanted furniture and kitchenware.
Finally, Aladdin may be a street rat, but he is
incredibly handsome and exhibits strong personal
integrity. His monkey, Abu, speaks to some extent.
Princess Jasmine is the epitome of the beautiful woman (as
portrayed in modern American media), but refuses to obey
the law of the land. Jafar is a sorcerer with a talking -
and thinking parrot.
The Disney characters are neither typical nor simple.
The plots are simple, yet fail to state an existential
dilemma. With the exception of Beauty and the Beast, the
tales portray simple selfish desire. Bettelheim states,
"the fairy tale... confronts the child squarely with the
basic human predicaments" (8). Basic human predicaments
are portrayed neither in The Little Mermaid, nor in
Aladdin. Beauty and the Beast, however, does portray the
need to find beauty within rather than without.
The three classics chosen for this thesis lend
themselves to analysis for the discernment of whether or
not Disney's telling of them is representative of current
American culture. In examining culture, this thesis will
examine societal makeup as well as parenting practices
(i.e. maternal versus paternal roles).
Narrative analysis examines not only those who use
stories, but also the culture revealed in their
understanding of the stories. Through the application of
a narrative analysis, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the
Beast and Aladdin will be examined from a feminist
perspective in order to demonstrate that Disney is
promoting the role of mother as unessential and devaluing
the role of mother in current American culture.
Chapter 2 will offer an examination of the
development of both the narrative and feminist methods of
analysis, and will then offer a synthesis of the methods
outlining those elements that will be used for the
analysis of the texts. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 will be
devoted to the analysis of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and
the Beast, and Aladdin respectively. Chapter 6 will
synthesize the findings of the analyses and draw
conclusions. Following will be a discussion of the social
impact of the findings, and suggestions for future
Why is such a large segment of the American
population being denied in popular media? Hopefully the
treatment of these texts will allow for a broader
understanding of American culture, with the goal of
reshaping the stories that define it.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE NARRATIVE AND FEMINIST METHODS OF
In a discussion of rhetorical criticism, it is first
necessary to define communication criticism. Malcolm 0.
Sillars states, in his book Messages, Meanings and
Culture: Approaches to Communication Criticism, "a
communication critic seeks to make an argument that
interprets or evaluates the messages to which the
individual or society is exposed" (2). According to
Sillars, "[criticism] has two purposes, to interpret and
to evaluate, which may appear together or separately" (2).
In the interpretation of a text, the critic seeks "to
explain the meaning of messages to individuals and
society. They examine the text of a message and the
context in which it is found to discover its significant
meanings" (3). Therefore, the following discussion will
highlight the way in which each method seeks to discover
the meaning in a given text.
Development of Narrative Analysis
In his creation of the narrative paradigm, Walter
Fisher proposes a structure by which the probability and
fidelity (or truthfulness) of a story can be tested. The
structure examines narration, character, action, scene and
music in order to determine whether or not the audience
will think, feel or behave as an author intends (108) .
Upon examining the elements of the structure, one might
notice similarities with methods established by other
theorists. The following will examine the historical
development of methods which appear to have contributed to
Fisher's narrative paradigm.
Circa 335 B.C. Aristotle published his Poetics in
which he discussed the method for evaluating Epic poetry
and Tragedy. Aristotle asserted that each is, "in their
general conception modes of imitation" (31). Aristotle
The objects of imitation are men in action, and
these men must be either of a higher or lower
type (for moral character mainly answers to
these divisions, goodness and badness being the
distinguishing marks of moral differences), it
follows that we must represent men either as
better than in real life, or as worse, or as
they are. (32)
Aristotle believed that imitation is an instinct of human
nature, implanted in man from childhood.
While Aristotle offers discussion for the evaluation
of Comedy, he argues that the drama of poetry and Tragedy
is a higher art form. The difference between the two,
according to Aristotle, is that Epic poetry is narrative
in form and contains no limits of time, whereas Tragedy is
an action and confined to "a single revolution of the sun"
(35). The two are similar, in that each "is an imitation
in verse of characters of a higher type" (35).
Although Aristotle treats Epic poetry, the majority
of his Poetics is dedicated to the treatment of Tragedy.
Aristotle offers a complete and specific definition of
what has been synthesized into current methods:
Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that
is serious, complete, and of a certain
magnitude; in language embellished with each
kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds
being found in separate parts of the play; in
the form of action, not of narrative; through
pity and fear affecting the proper purgation of
these emotions. (36)
Here, then, lie the general components for the
evaluation of tragedy. Aristotle asserts that Tragedy
must contain six elements which will determine the quality
of the play: plot, character, diction, thought, spectacle
and song (36). Plot is defined as "the arrangement of the
incidents" (36). Character is defined as, "that in virtue
of which we ascribe certain qualities to the agents" (36).
Diction is described as, "the mere metrical arrangement of
the words" (36). "Thought is required wherever a
statement is proved, or, it may be, a general truth
enunciated" (36). Spectacle requires that spectacular
equipment will be utilized, such as the deus ex machina.
Song needs no explanation.
Aristotle argues that the incidents and the plot
determine the play's success or failure because without
action there cannot be a Tragedy. In order for the
Tragedy to be successful it must contain powerful elements
of emotional interest. Thus, the plot must contain
peripeteia, the unexpected reversal of circumstances or
situation. Aristotle further explains peripeteia as "a
change by which the action veers round to its opposite"
(40). Aristotle offers Oedipus as the preeminent example
of peripeteia. Peripeteia, then, allows for the proper
purgation of emotions, an element in Aristotle's
definition of Tragedy.
Character is the second most important element in
Tragedy. Aristotle defines character as, "that which
reveals moral purpose, showing what kind of things a man
chooses or avoids" (37). Third is thought, that is, "the
faculty of saying what is possible and pertinent in given
circumstances...[and] is found where something is proved
to be or not to be, or a general maxim is enunciated"
Aristotle treats each element fully, giving
sufficient detail to allow for the creation of quality
Tragedy. He concludes that because both Epic poetry and
Tragedy are the imitation of an action, they are relevant
to the culture and to each citizen of the culture.
In 1945 Kenneth Burke published his Grammar of
Motives in which he unleashed his dramatistic theory on
the world of rhetoric, as well as his pentad. Burke is
considered to have derived many of his theories from the
classicists, and an examination of his pentad reveals
strong similarities to the elements outlined in
Similar to Aristotle, Burke bases his dramatism on
action. However, rather than drama being an imitation of
an action, it is action itself. Burke's dramatism is the
study of human motivation through the analysis of drama.
It is "a technique of analysis of language and thought as
basically modes of action rather than as means of
conveying information" (Burke, Action 54).
The key assumption to Burke's dramatistic theory is
his conception of animal symbolicum, meaning humans are
symbol-using, and misusing, animals. Additionally, Burke
perceives all communication as social drama which
typically arises out of conflict. Specifically, Burke
sees rhetoric as functioning in society through the
creation of consubstantiality and identification.
In his Rhetoric of Motives Burke states, "in acting
together, men have common sensations, concepts, images,
ideas, attitudes that make them consubstantial" (21).
Later he asserts, "you persuade a man only insofar as you
can talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order,
image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with his"
(55). Thus, Burke illustrates the means of persuasion in
The primary structure in Burke's dramatism is the
pentad. The meaning of a message (or text) is discovered
through the evaluation of the five elements of the pentad:
act, scene, agent, agency and purpose. The pentad, then,
is a critical instrument designed to reduce statements of
motives to their most fundamental level. As Burke
discusses in his Dramatism and Development, the elements
As outlined in his Grammar of Motives, the pentad can
be described as follows: The act names what took place,
in thought or deed. The scene is the background of the
act, the situation in which the act occurred. The agent
is the person or kind of person who performed the act.
The agency is the means or instruments used. The purpose
is described as the agent's private purpose (overt or
covert) for performing the act. Burke synthesizes the
pentad when he states:
Any complete statement about motives will offer
some kind of answers to these five questions:
what was done (act), when or where it was done
(scene, who did it (agent), how he did it
(agency), and why (purpose). (Grammar xv)
Burke bases many of his ideas and terms on the
nomenclature created by Aristotle in his Poetics. In
fact, Burke often references Aristotle and the Poetics in
the explanation of his choices for the pentad. A
comparison of the two will reveal similarities. Aristotle
states, "Tragedy is the imitation of an action; and an
action implies personal agents, who necessarily possess
certain distinctive qualities both of character and
thought" (Poetics 36). Aristotle's agent is synonymous
with Burke's agent, meaning the actor or person performing
the act. For Aristotle the plot is the imitation of the
action, the arrangement of the incidents. This
corresponds to Burke's act, as well as scene, for the
scene is the situation in which the act takes place.
Burke uses the term purpose, which is derived from
Aristotle's character, defined as, "that which reveals
moral purpose, showing what kind of things a man chooses
or avoids" (Poetics 37). Finally, Burke uses the term
agency to represent the means or instrument used. This
corresponds with Aristotle's thought and diction, where
thought is defined as, "the faculty of saying what is
possible and pertinent in given circumstances," and
diction is defined as, "the expression of the meaning in
As Burke describes in his Language as Symbolic
Action, words alone can be the means or the instrument
used. In fact, Burke discusses Shakespearean tragedy in
order to illustrate the written word as rhetoric. Burke
focuses on the actors' speech as forms of rhetoric which
represent the character, as well as the motives of the
author, in which specific social issues are used as a tool
for identification by the audience.
Walter Fisher states:
the most revolutionary move in the twentieth
century regarding rhetoric is that of Kenneth
Burke. Viewing rhetoric as the symbolic
function of inducement, rather than as a form of
discourse, Burke sees rhetoric as an attribute
of all symbolic expression and action. (18)
Fisher refers to Burke's assertion, "wherever there is
persuasion, there is rhetoric and wherever there is
meaning, there is persuasion" (Burke, Rhetoric 172).
Fisher claims his narrative paradigm "is fully in accord
with these views, but it differs from Burke's dramatism"
(18). Fisher argues that Burke's theory implies people
are actors performing roles which are predetermined,
whereas his narrative paradigm:
...sees people as storytellers, as authors and
co-authors who creatively read and evaluate the
texts of life and literature...Viewing human
communication narratively stresses that people
are full participants in the making of messages,
whether they are agents (authors) or audience
members (co-authors). (18)
Alasdair MacIntyre argues, "man is in his actions and
practice, as well as in his fictions, essentially a
storytelling animal" (201). Herein lies one of the
essential postulates of Fisher's narrative paradigm. The
basic nature, then, of the paradigm lies in the argument
that if all communication can be perceived as narration,
and humans are essentially storytellers, all communication
can be turned into a story.
Fisher defines narration as, "[the] symbolic actions
- words and/or deeds that have sequence and meaning for
those who live, create or interpret them" (58). Fisher
further argues that narration has relevance to real as
well as fictional creations, to stories of living and to
stories of the imagination.
The narrative paradigm is based, in large part, on
good reasons. Fisher states, "the paradigmatic mode of
human decision making and communication is "good reasons,"
which vary in form among situations, genres, and media of
communication" (64). Good reasons is defined as, "those
elements that provide warrants for accepting or adhering
to advice fostered by any form of communication that can
be considered rhetorical" (57).
Fisher argues that the production and practice of
good reasons are ruled by matters of history, biography,
culture and character. According to Fisher:
The narrative paradigm implies that human
communication should be viewed as historical as
well as situational, as stories or accounts
competing with other stories or accounts
purportedly constituted by good reasons, as
rational when the stories satisfy the demands of
narrative probability and narrative fidelity,
and as inevitably moral inducements. (58)
The criteria, then, by which stories are judged are
narrative probability and narrative fidelity. Narrative
probability is synonymous with coherence. Narrative
fidelity simply refers to the correspondence of the story
with what is known to be true in an individual's life.
Coherence, according to Fisher, is central to all stories.
Whether a story is believable depends on the reliability
of characters both as narrators and actors. "Coherence in
life and literature requires that characters behave
characteristically" (Fisher 47). Fidelity, on the other
hand, refers to the truthfulness of the story.
Finally, in the application of the narrative
paradigm, Fisher proposes a structure which can be applied
in order to test the probability and fidelity of a story.
Fisher states, "a next step in pursuing the nature and
functions of good reasons is to identify the modes of
warrant in diverse kinds of communication, the ways, for
instance, that narration, character, action, scene, and
music induces the audience to think, feel, or behave as an
author intends" (108). Once again, an examination of the
elements reveals similarities between Fisher's structure,
Burke's pentad and Aristotle's structure.
Fisher contends one way to understand a culture is to
examine the stories it tells. People define their world
by the stories they tell about it. The stories which are
told, as well as the way in which they are told, reinforce
the admired character traits in a society. The purpose,
therefore, of a narrative analysis is to decide whether or
not to accept the version of the world or society -
which the stories present.
The term feminism typically conjures negative images
of angry, man-hating women burning their bras in protest
of the patriarchal establishment. Foss argues, in her
Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice:
feminist criticism quite possibly could be
considered more central to the analysis of
rhetoric than almost any other method of
criticism. Its focus is on a fundamental
element of human life gender and it is
dramatically changing the form and content of
knowledge about rhetoric. (151)
There are many definitions of feminism. Foss defines
feminism as, "the belief that men and women should have,
equal opportunities for self expression" (151). Maggie
Humm defines feminism as "the ideology of women's
liberation since intrinsic in all its approaches is the
belief that women suffer injustice because of [their] sex"
(74). This definition "incorporates both a doctrine of
equal rights for women...and an ideology of social
transformation aiming to create a world for women beyond
simple social equality" (74) .
Liesbet van Zoonen argues feminism "is not easily
delineated or defined" (2). She goes on to state, "much
contemporary feminism has taken on the form of women's
caucuses, women's studies and women's bureaux which often
prefer to speak of their activities as 'emancipatory'
instead of 'feminist'" (3). Van Zoonen claims the
existence of reluctance among women in their twenties to
associate with feminism believing it was a battle which
their mothers fought.
In her book Modern Feminist Thought, Imelda Whelehan
quotes E. Wilson as saying:
Feminism embodies many theories rather than
being a single discrete theory, and rather than
being a politically coherent approach to the
subordination of Women, is a political
commitment or in some of its forms an ethical
commitment to giving women their true value.
Bell hooks argues "many women are reluctant to
advocate feminism because they are uncertain about the
meaning of the term" (23). She finally defines feminism
as the "struggle to end sexist oppression" (24). In her
essay titled "Feminist Criticism and Television" Ann
Kaplan argues, "feminism is a "political" position, and
feminist research (no matter what type) must look for
issues having to do specifically with women and the place
they are assigned in society" (213) .
Foss explains that feminism views "gender" as a
psychological and cultural term, whereas "sex" is viewed
as a biological term, determined by such physical
characteristics as chromosomes and genitalia (Criticism
Foss defines gender as "a culture's conception of the
traits and roles considered typical and desirable for
males and females; it deals with masculinity and
femininity" (Foss, Criticism 151). Gender has not been
constructed equally for men and women. This is true not
only in current American culture, but also in cultures
throughout the world, both currently and historically. In
fact, only recently have women's place in society been
challenged. According to Foss, "the feminine gender tends
to be devalued and denigrated" (Criticism 151).
Feminist criticism, then, "interprets communicative
artifacts by and about women" (Rushing 83). According to
Janice Hocker Rushing, it is necessary for feminist
critics to analyze texts in order to determine whether
they "offer replacements for the old rules of patriarchy,"
or instead, "[reaffirm] the old ways," asking whether or
not "they speak with or against an authentic feminine
Finally, in their discussion of feminist film
criticism, Bywater & Sobchack argue "the aim of the
feminist critic is to uncover the hidden structuring
devices in any medium whereby the male maintains dominance
and reduces the female to a passive position" (18 3) .
Feminist criticism operates on two basic assumptions:
"(1) women's experiences are different from mens; and (2)
women's voices are not heard in language" (Foss, Criticism
152). Although men's experiences are assumed to be
universal, a feminist perspective argues women experience
the world differently. The first difference is
biological. Women, according to Foss:
menstruate, have the capacity to bear children,
experience and express themselves sexually in
particular ways, and have greater development of
the right hemisphere of the brain the center
of the relational, intuitive, and artistic
The second difference rests in sex-role or gender
socialization, "the process by which children identify as
girls or boys and learn what society considers appropriate
behavior for their gender" (Foss, Criticism 152). These
sex-roles are taught by parents, teachers, churches, the
mass-media, etc. The ideals for each sex are different
and, as such, result in different treatment for children.
The second assumption of feminist criticism argues
"women's perspectives their perceptions, experiences,
meanings, practices, and values are not incorporated
into language" (Foss, Criticism 152). According to
Kaplan, this assumption is based on "Jacques Lacan's
theories of the way the subject is constructed in a
patriarchal language order (which Lacan calls "the
Symbolic") and in which woman is normally relegated to the
position of absence, or lack" (Feminist 218) Kaplan
Because signifying systems are organized around
the phallus as the prime signifier, the woman
occupies the place of lack or absence. The boy
and girl, thus, find themselves in vastly
different positions vis k vis the dominant order
once they enter the realm of the Symbolic.
As a result, language does not function in the same manner
for men and women. Language "features men's perspectives
and silences women's" (Foss, Criticism 152).
Maggie Humm states, "criticism is feminist if it
critiques existing disciplines, traditional paradigms
about women, nature or social roles, or documents such
work by others, from the point of view of women" (40).
Therefore, feminist criticism seeks to re-examine
rhetorical concepts and to create new concepts into which
women's experiences are incorporated. In this way
feminist criticism has a social purpose. The feminist
critic examines the way in which masculinity and
femininity have been created, and offers suggestions for
the change of this particular construction of gender
especially if it silences or devalues women's
perspectives. Therefore, feminist criticism is activist,
arguing not only for equal opportunity for self
expression, but also for the inclusion of women's
perspectives in rhetorical practice (Foss, Criticism 155) .
Synthesis of the Methods
In order to determine the validity of the version of
the world as presented in those movies chosen for this
thesis, the elements from the narrative paradigm which
will be examined are theme, characters, narrator and
style. Those elements from the feminist method which will
be examined are theme, topics, characters and language.
Finally, the analysis will culminate with an assessment of
both narrative probability and narrative fidelity.
At first glance, one will notice that both the
narrative and feminist methods examine theme and
characters. Obviously, it is not necessary to examine
both elements twice, rather each will be examined from
both perspectives in order to ensure that a complete
analysis has occurred.
For the purpose of this analysis, theme is defined as
the general concept or idea presented in a story which
either represents, or determines the social values within
a culture. In addition to examining that which is
presented in the stories, the analysis will also examine
that which is omitted. Additionally, this analysis will
examine the topics presented within the theme.
Specifically, the analysis will attempt to identify those
topics which relate specifically to gender roles.
Every story has characters. Characters are the
people, animals or objects who participate in, and tell
the story. These characters are personal that is,
identifiable to the audience, and understand what is and
what is not acceptable behavior. Often, names given to
characters are indicative of their essence. In examining
characters, the analysis will include the identification
of those traits which distinguish each which may help to
reinforce the themes presented in the story. Worthy of
note for this thesis is the fact that in animation
characters are specifically drawn to appeal to those
traits being presented.
The narrator is often of utmost importance in the
analysis of a text. The narrator is primarily responsible
for the presentation or discussion of themes and topics,
and often comments on the qualities of characters. In
animation the narrator almost always presents the story in
the introduction. This initial introduction to the story
lays the foundation for the story and creates the mood,
attitude and point of view.
In an examination of language, the analysis will seek
to discover the way in which the language used by both the
characters and the narrator oppresses, marginalizes or
empowers. Language will be examined in order to identify
the way it either reinforces gender roles or is reshaped
to include everyone that it, to give equal power and
importance to both genders. From a feminist perspective,
language oppresses and marginalizes the female gender
(Foss, Criticism 152). Language is not limited to verbal
usage, however. Body language is equally important. In
animation, the physicality of characters is drawn very
specifically and, as a result, body language is of utmost
importance. This author believes an understanding of non-
verbal behavior would helpful when analyzing language in
Although language may be an element of style, style
is not simply a language phenomenon (Sillars 164). There
are visual styles such as those styles known as abstract,
impressionist, etc. Additionally, there are film styles
such as animation. Color plays an important role in
animation and an analysis of color must be a part of the
analysis of style. For this analysis semiotic coding will
be used. Additionally, the analysis will examine camera
styles used. Because the genre is animation there is no
actual camera usage. However, animated movies are drawn
"as if" cameras are actually "filming" the action. As a
result, the animators are specifically knowledgeable about
camera usage and effects. Therefore, is will be important
to examine the way in which character relationships are
enhanced, as well as the way in which the story is
presented through the use of the "camera."
Because content is so important in animated fairy
tales, it is necessary to assess narrative substance. The
text will be evaluated using one or more of the following
criteria: Does the content of the text embody and
advocate values that the critic deems good, worthwhile or
useful, either implicitly or explicitly? What are the
effects of adhering to this value, and are the effects
desirable? How readily can the text be refuted by the
audience to which it is addressed? What alternatives can
be offered to refute the text? In other words, what
events, characters, settings, etc. would need to be
incorporated into the text to refute the text
persuasively? Because narrative analysis is based on the
proposition that stories define the culture within which
they are told, an examination of narrative substance is
critical. However, substance is not the only element
which determines the accuracy of a text.
Narrative fidelity refers to the truthfulness of the
text. Here, the critic examines whether the text
"represents accurate assertions about reality or
corresponds with fact or a given quality, condition or
event" (Foss, Criticism 238). In other words, the critic
must determine whether the text accurately represents or
corresponds with the society in which it is presented.
Because the stories are not about actual people and
situations which have occurred in the world, the
assessment of fidelity "becomes whether the narrative is
true to life" (238).
The application of the above elements to Disney's
animated fairy tales should offer an understanding of the
texts, and will help to determine if these texts are
accurate reflections of current American culture. Because
these fairy tales contain the potential to have tremendous
impact upon the lives of young and old alike, the critic
must identify the message and its meaning in order to
determine the social ramifications, if any, of these
Chapters 3, 4 and 5 will analyze The Little Mermaid,
Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin respectively. Chapter 6
will offer a summation of the findings along with societal
implications, and suggestions for future research.
THE LITTLE MERMAID
Disney's The Little Mermaid is loosely based on Hans
Christian Andersen's story of the same name. It is the
story of Ariel, a headstrong, vivacious, beautiful young
mermaid (16 years old to be exact) who falls in love with
a human prince and longs to be human herself.
The movie begins with a grand ceremony in which Ariel
will be presented for her first singing recital. The
audience is introduced to Sebastian, a crab who is to
conduct the orchestra, and then to King Triton, ruler of
the merpeople, King of the Sea, and Ariel's father. The
audience is also briefly introduced to Ariel's five
sisters. When Ariel's is introduced she is absent.
Ariel and her fish friend, Flounder, are searching a
shipwreck for human treasures. In the process they are
chased by a shark from whom they narrowly escape.
Swimming to the surface, Ariel and Flounder meet with
their seagull friend Skuttle, a self-proclaimed expert on
humans. Ariel presents Skuttle with a fork that Skuttle
names a "dinglehopper" and claims is used for the purposes
of combing one's hair. Ariel also presents Skuttle with a
pipe that he claims is a musical instrument. Suddenly,
with the mention of music, Ariel realizes she has
forgotten the concert and races home. At this point the
audience meets Ursula, the Sea Witch who has been watching
the events of the day, complaining about her sorry
existence in exile. As Ursula watches she realizes Ariel
might be the key to King Triton's undoing.
When Ariel and Flounder arrive back at the palace
they must explain their absence. In an act of good will
Flounder attempts to explain being chased by the shark
without revealing their excursion to the shipwreck.
However, he accidentally mentions the ship. King Triton
realizes Ariel has become infatuated with humans and warns
her to stay away from them claiming humans are
"barbarians!" Ariel angrily states she is 16 years old.
King Triton responds, "As long as you live under my ocean
you will obey my rules!"
Ariel swims off to a hidden cavern in which she has a
collection of human gizmos and gadgets. She places her
newfound treasures on her shelves, and says she just
doesn't see things the way King Triton does. As she sings
about her desires to become human she sees a shadow pass
overhead. Swimming to the surface Ariel sees a ship. On
Board is a celebration with fireworks that scare Sebastian
(who has been charged by Triton to keep Ariel under his
Ariel approaches the ship and peers through a
porthole. She sees singing, dancing, celebrating, and a
dog, Max, who runs to her and licks her face. At this
point the audience is introduced to Prince Eric. Ariel
sees Eric and is immediately smitten with him. The
celebration is for Eric's birthday and he is presented
with a statue of himself commissioned by Grimsey, Eric's
servant/guardian. Eric and Grimsey discuss Eric's
inability to find a woman to marry. Eric replies, "I just
haven't found her yet." Grimsey responds, "Perhaps you
haven't been looking hard enough." Eric replies, "believe
me, I'll know her when I find her."
Suddenly the wind begins to blow violently. A crew
member shouts, "hurricane!" All members on board begin
tying down the ship, and attempt to control the ship on
the rough seas. Lightning and thunder crash catching the
sails on fire. All crew members jump into life boats. In
the distance Eric hears Max barking. Max is stuck on the
ship. Eric swims back to the ship to rescue Max and in so
doing gets stuck as he throws Max into the water. As Eric
tries to free himself gun powder catches fire and
Ariel notices Eric holding onto a piece of wood.
Just as Eric slides off the piece of wood Ariel catches
him and carries him to shore, saving his life. She sits
next to him on the beach, holding him, staring into his
face and singing. As Max approaches, again barking, Eric
opens his eyes just long enough to catch a glimpse of
Ariel's silhouette and to hear her sing before she
disappears into the sea. As Ariel rejoins her friends,
Sebastian insists that they should all "forget this whole
thing ever happened. The Sea King will never know."
Ursula, watching the chain of events, squeals with
excitement claiming that it's too easy, "the child is in
love with a human, and not just any human, a Prince!"
Ursula devises a plan to take over King Triton's position
of power by using Ariel's desire to be human.
Back at the palace, Ariel is lost in thought,
fantasizing about Eric. Her sisters, realizing that she's
in love, say "she's got it bad." King Triton replies,
"what's she got?" Her sisters, amazed, answer "isn't it
obvious daddy? Ariel's in love." Triton asks Sebastian
with whom Ariel is in love. Sebastian, convinced that
Triton already knows, tells Triton of the hurricane and
the shipwreck, and explains that Ariel rescued a human.
King Triton explodes.
Flounder brings Ariel to her cavern and presents her
with the bust of Eric's statue. Ariel is ecstatic and
swoons over the vision of her Prince. King Triton enters
the cavern and hears Ariel singing about the human. Triton
states, "I set certain rules and I expect those rules to
be obeyed!" Ariel replies, "Daddy, I love him!" Triton
angrily asks, "Have you lost your senses completely? I'm
going to get through to you and if this is the only way so
be it!" He destroys the cavern and all of its trinkets.
Ariel is devastated. Enter Flotsam and Jetsam,
Ursula's eels. They inform Ariel that they represent
someone who can help her, and who can make all of her
dreams come true. Ariel agrees to follow them to Ursula
while Sebastian and Flounder try unsuccessfully to change
Ursula explains to Ariel that the only way to get
what she wants is to become a human herself. She presents
Ariel with her proposal. Ariel may become human. She
will have three days to win Eric's love. Before the sun
sets on the third day the Prince must fall in love with
Ariel and kiss her not just any kiss, the kiss of true
love. If he does, Ariel will remain human permanently.
If he does not, Ariel will become a mermaid again, and
will belong to Ursula. The payment for becoming human is
Ariel's voice. Ariel is shocked. Ursula explains to her
that she can't get something for nothing. Ursula states
Ariel has her looks, her pretty face, and tells her not to
underestimate the importance of body language. Ursula
claims, "the men above don't like all that blabber.
They're not all that impressed with conversation. She who
holds her tongue will get her man." Ariel agrees, signs
the contract, and Ursula captures her voice in a shell
that she wears around her neck. Ariel becomes human and,
unable to swim, is pulled to the surface by Sebastian and
Eric and Max are walking along the beach. Eric is
playing the flute, and is looking for the girl who saved
him. Ariel, sitting in the water, is amazed with her new
legs and toes. Max recognizes Ariel's scent and runs to
her. Eric catches up with Max, sees Ariel and says, "You
seem very familiar to me. Have we met?" Ariel nods.
Eric claims, "we have met! You're the one!" Ariel nods,
but can't speak. Eric, realizing that Ariel can't speak,
says she can't be the one. He remembers very little, but
he does remember the singing.
Eric brings Ariel back to his castle. Ariel is
cleaned up and presented for dinner. She is dressed in a
beautiful pink dress. Eric is stunned with Ariel's
beauty. Grimsey suggests Ariel might like a tour of the
kingdom. Eric agrees. In the meantime, King Triton
realizes that he has made a huge mistake. Ariel is gone,
and he has charged everyone with finding her.
The next day Eric takes Ariel on a tour of the
kingdom. At the end of the day Eric and Ariel are
drifting in a rowboat. Ariel is gazing into Eric's eyes.
Ariel's friends are upset that Eric hasn't kissed her yet.
Skuttle tries to sing, but doesn't realize how awful his
singing is. Sebastian derives a plan to seduce Eric into
kissing Ariel. According to Sebastian, "first we got to
create the mood." Creatures of both land and sea joing
and become a chorus, singing and enticing Eric into
kissing Ariel. Just as Eric leans to kiss her, Flotsam
and Jetsam flip the boat. Ursula is furious claiming,
"she's better than I thought. Well it's time Ursula took
matters into her own tentacles." With this she transforms
herself into a beautiful brunette named Vanessa.
Grimsey tries to convince Eric to marry Ariel. Eric
walks along the beach weighing his options. He finally
decides to marry Ariel and throws his flute into the
water, the flute he has used to remind himself of the tune
sung to him by the girl who rescued him. Vanessa
approaches, singing and enchanting Eric. Eric becomes
The next morning Skuttle awakens Ariel and
congratulates her on her upcoming nuptials. Ariel is so
excited she runs downstairs in her pajamas. As she
approaches she hears Grimsey apologizing to Eric for not
believing him, and admits the mystery girl is real. Eric
insists the marriage be today. Ariel is devastated.
As the wedding ship departs the sun is beginning to
set. Ariel is crying. Skuttle hears Ariel's singing on
the boat and approaches to congratulate her again.
However, as he peers through the window he sees Vanessa
pass by the mirror in which the reflection is that of
Ursula. Skuttle flies to warn Ariel and her friends,
telling them of the Sea Witch, stating "the Prince is
marrying the Sea Witch in disguise."
Ariel jumps into the water, but can't swim. Flounder
pulls Ariel as she holds onto a barrel, and they swim to
the ship. Skuttle is charged with stalling the wedding.
He gathers birds and other sea creatures to help create a
On board the ship the wedding has begun. The sun is
setting. The birds attack before Vanessa can say "I do,"
and starfish seal her mouth shut. Skuttle pulls on the
shell hanging around Ursula's neck. The shell breaks and
Ariel regains her voice. Max and Eric run to Ariel and
Eric realizes the mistake. As he begins to kiss Ariel the
sun sets. Vanessa has turned back into Ursula and, as
Ariel becomes a mermaid again, takes her back. Eric jumps
in after her claiming, "I lost her once, I'm not going to
lose her again!"
As Ursula and Ariel return to Ursula's lair, Triton
emerges and tells Ursula to let her go. Ursula refuses,
presenting the contract. Triton attempts to destroy the
contract with his trident, but is unable. Ursula then
informs Triton that she would be willing to bargain. Her
offer is to exchange Ariel for Triton. Triton, remorseful
for what he did to his daughter, agrees and becomes a
slave. Ursula takes the crown and the trident.
Eric arrives and tries to save Ariel. As he tries to
swim away, Flotsam and Jetsam grab him. Sebastian and
Flounder save Eric. In the commotion Ursula accidentally
destroys Flotsam and Jetsam. Enraged, Ursula transforms
into a huge sea monster. She creates another hurricane.
Ariel gets sucked to the bottom of the sea and can do
nothing to help Eric. The hurricane becomes more violent.
Eric manages to climb aboard a wrecked ship, and drives
the mast through Ursula's heart, destroying her and
freeing Triton and the other slaves.
As Eric lies unconscious on the beach, Ariel sits
upon a rock watching. Triton asks Sebastian, "she really
does love him, doesn't she?" Sebastian nods, claiming
"children got to be free to live their own life." Triton
says, "well there's only one thing left... How much I'm
going to miss her." With that he transforms Ariel into a
human. She returns to the beach.
Eric and Ariel are married. The merpeople wave to
the newlyweds. As Triton lifts himself up on a wave to
kiss Ariel, she says "I love you daddy." Triton waves his
trident to create a rainbow under which Eric and Ariel
sail away into the sunset.
As discussed in the previous chapter, this analysis
will consist of an examination of theme, characters,
narrator, language and style. The analysis will culminate
with an examination of narrative substance as well as
Hans Christian Andersens version of The Little
Mermaid is one of self-sacrifice and of good deeds
regardless of the outcome. However, Disney's version of
this story is lacking in morals and lessons. Whereas
Andersen's version of the story takes place in a world
populated with competent women, Disney's version lacks
positive female role models. In Andersen's version the
Sea King is a widower, but the palace is maintained by his
mother. Andersen describes her as an exceptionally clever
and powerful merwoman who deserves praise and recognition.
Additionally, it is she who has knowledge of the world
above the water, of humans, and it is she who grants
access to this world. Each of the princesses is granted
access to the world of humans on their 15th birthday.
In the Disney version the world is dominated by men.
The family is motherless, but instead of a grandmother
Ariel's father is in charge. Whereas the grandmother
represents a strong female role model in the Andersen
version, there are no good mother images in Disney's
version. In fact, the only adult women portrayed in
Disney's version are Ursula, the Sea Witch, and Prince
Eric's maid. Furthermore, Andersen's version presents
Ariel's sisters as highly intelligent and competent, and
it is her sisters in whom Ariel confides. The Disney
version presents Ariel's sisters as young, impressionable,
subservient imps. Instead of confiding in her sisters,
Ariel confides in their male counterparts: Flounder,
Sebastian and Skuttle.
King Triton is the typical patriarch, domineering,
demanding, and relatively unskilled in dealing with
pubescent young girls. In fact, when Triton doesnt
understand Ariel's behavior, her sisters must explain to
him that Ariel is in love. However, Triton doesn't trust
his daughters' intuition, and seeks confirmation from
Sebastian. Triton's lack of guidance and interactive
parenting is evident in his telling Sebastian to keep
Ariel under constant supervision. Instead of teaching
Ariel to take care of herself in the world, Triton creates
an environment in which Ariel must defy her father's rules
in order to seek out her place in the world, to grow,
learn and investigate. Rather than support Ariel's desire
for independence, her father creates dependence upon men.
While it is true that Ariel seeks independence from her
father, she does so by transferring her dependence to
The absence of a good mother image presents the
opportunity for discussion about the only undersea adult
female portrayed in the movie. Ursula was banished from
Triton's palace for being too ambitious, too strong-
willed. She constantly plots to steal Triton's power and
is ultimately willing to destroy anyone who stands in her
way. She offers hope to unsuspecting merpeople, offering
contracts they can never hope to satisfy. When they fail
she transforms them into underwater versions of the
walking dead. The algae-like creatures have faces similar
to the face of death, and their bodies appear to be
lifeless skeletons. They become plant-like and create
what Ursula refers to as her "garden."
Ariel's near success in fulfilling the terms of her
contract is narrowly thwarted by Ursula's conspirators.
Ursula becomes enraged and plots to destroy Ariel's
chances of succeeding by transforming herself into Eric's
object of desire. Ursula is corrupted by her desire for
power and when, in the end, she acquires Triton's power
the first challenge to her authority drives her mad with
rage and she is destroyed.
Worthy of note here is the fact that in this movie
the concept of love actually represents sex. The terms of
the contract set by Ursula require that Ariel must receive
the "kiss of love" before the sun sets on the third day.
As a result, Ariel must seduce her man into a sexual
encounter that requires no intimate bond, no process of
discovering the emotional nature of a relationship.
Throughout the movie Ariel is shown "making eyes" at Eric,
puckering her lips, and flirting with the sexual prowess
of a trained seductress. This movie presents the idea
that sex equals love, and reinforces the notion that sex
is desirable a notion which too many of today's teens
are internalizing (noting the increase in teenage
pregnancy). In fact, the movie presents the idea that
through sex a woman can get her man.
Finally, women are portrayed in this movie as being
exquisitely beautiful (with the exception of Ursula and
Eric's maid). Those women (mermaids) who are beautiful
are waifs, driven only to find a man with whom they can
live forever. While Eric is Ariel's object of desire she,
too, is his object of desire. And it is not necessarily
Ariel herself who is the object of desire, but the idea of
her. The idea of Ariel becomes objectified, and Eric is
consumed with the task of locating this idea. When
Grimsey points out that Eric has not found his "mystery
girl," he adds that there is a beautiful girl right in
front of him (Ariel) who would make a suitable wife.
Women are portrayed as suitable only for marrying. Women
have no redeeming qualities save for their beauty.
Whereas Andersen's young mermaid is in search of an
immortal soul, and is willing to endure great physical
pain in order to learn about the love that will grant it
to her, Disney's young mermaid is in search of a husband.
Intelligence is not important, dreams are not important
unless those dreams are to find a man and marry.
Independence is devalued. Intelligence is dismissed.
Desire is bad. Ambition is punishable.
Ariel is the headstrong young heroine of the Disney
movie. She is 16 years old (as opposed to 15 in the
Andersen version). Her name means ethereal (Leadbeater
467). Ariel has long, flowing red hair and is exquisitely
beautiful. Her tail is green while her shell bra is
purple. Purple appears to represent royalty in this
movie, although it has also commonly been used to
represent honor. Green is often used to represent envy
and greed. Both can be applied to Ariel although they are
not necessarily negative. Ariel envies those who live on
land. More than anything she wants to be part of the
human world. She is also greedy in that she wants to
collect and admire her collection of human treasures. Her
fiery red hair represents her anger at being forbidden
contact with the human world, as well as her lust for
Eric. This lust is evident when she is singing and
flirting with the bust of Eric that Flounder recovered
from the shipwreck. While she is singing she kisses,
caresses and flirts with her "lover" exhibiting a sexual
awareness far beyond that of the typical 16 year old girl.
No other character in the movie has red hair, nor does any
other character have a green tail.
Ariel is special. She is the best and the brightest,
however it is these virtues that get her into trouble with
her father. She also possesses the best singing voice of
all the princesses. For this reason the concert was
scheduled Ariel was to make her singing debut. Her
desire to gain more human treasures and rebel against her
father's rules distracted her from her commitments. Ariel
is preoccupied with her desire to contact the human world,
her desire to become human, and herself. She doesn't
think of others, rather she thinks only of herself and her
self-pity. And she is obsessed with Eric. Her obsession
ultimately drives this movie and is the catalyst for all
King Triton is the patriarch, the ruler of the sea.
Instead of guiding, teaching and enlightening his
children, he makes rules that create an environment of
repression. Beyond that, contact with his children is
limited. His tail is a bluish-purple and his crown is
gold. His hair and long beard are bright white. Purple
and gold obviously represent royalty. Because of his
remorse for destroying Ariel's possessions (and possibly
her spirit), his honor is illustrated in giving his life
for his daughter's, and becoming Ursula's slave. The
bluish tint of his tale represents truth and hope. The
white of Triton's hair and beard represent purity which
could explain the absence of a mother figure in the palace
(insofar as it may illustrate his love for, and commitment
to his wife). Additionally, the white of his hair
represent age and wisdom.
Triton's rage is exhibited with tyrannical power when
he learns of her contact with the human world through his
destruction of everything Ariel holds precious. His style
of parenting is exhibited this one time, and he relegates
all other supervision to Sebastian.
Sebastian is a Jamaican crab, musician and guardian.
He is Ariel's conscience. Sebastian means "majestic"
(Lansky 128). He is Triton's ally, and it is he who
Triton charges with the responsibility of supervising
Ariel. Certainly Triton trusts Sebastian and his
judgment. He regularly attempts to thwart Ariel's
advances toward human contact.
Being a crab, Sebastian is red. While red does not
necessarily represent his nature, it is reflective of his
role in helping Ariel to seduce Prince Eric. While they
are floating in the rowboat Sebastian gathers land and sea
creatures alike to create "the mood," and does so by
launching into a seductive song in which he regularly
whispers "you gotta kiss the girl." Ultimately it is
Sebastian who convinces Triton to grant Ariel her wish to
Prince Eric is the object of Ariel's desire, or
rather, her obsession. Eric is a Scandinavian name
meaning "ever-ruler, ever powerful" (Lansky 99).
Historically, Eric.was a Viking hero, and it may be this
association Andersen was initially attempting to create.
When first the audience sees Eric he is dressed in a
white shirt, red cummerbund, black pants and boots. In-
fact, with the exception of the marriage scene, this is
what Eric wears throughout the movie. The white shirt
represents purity. Eric obviously has had no previous
sexual experience, exhibited in his comment to Grimsey in
which he states, "I haven't found her yet." Grimsey
replies, "perhaps you haven't been looking hard enough,"
to which Eric answers, "believe me, I'll know her when I
The red cummerbund represents the encounter to come,
the fact that Eric is the object of Ariel's desire, and
forecasts the notion that love equals sex. His cummerbund
is relatively insignificant, however, because his role in
the seduction is passive (whereas Ariel's role is active).
The black pants and boots contrast with the white shirt,
and forecast the battle between good and evil which he
will encounter in his battle for Ariel.
Flounder is Ariel's fish friend, and is bright yellow
with royal blue stripes. Yellow is traditionally the
color of friendship, and Flounder appears to be Ariel's
best friend. Blue is typically representative of goodness
and although Ariel repeatedly jeopardizes Flounder's very
existence, he is loyal to his friend and never turns his
back. The blue may also be representative of the
melancholy and sadness which Flounder will necessarily
experience when he loses his best friend to the human
world of which he can never be a part. Flounder wants
nothing more than to help Ariel achieve her dreams and
never questions her judgment. By definition, to flounder
is to proceed clumsily or to struggle. Perhaps Flounder's
name is representative of his struggle to help Ariel
achieve her dreams, however clumsily that may be.
Finally, Ursula is the Sea Witch. Ursula means
"little bear" (Lansky 79). While Ursula is not little,
she is a "surly, uncouth person" as defined by the Merriam
Webster Dictionary (75). She is a tentacled, octopus-like
woman with gray-purple skin and a black body. She wears
bright red lipstick. The black of her body blatantly
represents evil, and she epitomizes evil in this movie.
Ursula wants nothing more than to usurp Triton's power so
she can rule the sea. In so doing, she regularly enters
into contracts with unsuspecting merpeople, creating hope
where there is only despair. When the merpeople fail to
fulfill the terms of their contracts, she transforms them
into plant-like visions of death and they become new
additions to her "garden." Black is also the color of
death, enhancing the notion that her victims succumb to a
The gray-purple color of Ursula's skin does not
represent royalty as purple does with both Triton and
Ariel. Rather, it may represent the fact that she was
once an inhabitant of the palace who has been exiled. The
gray may represent the ambiguity of her previous
existence. And the red of her lipstick certainly
forecasts the seduction with which she charges Ariel in
their contract. However, when Ariel nearly succeeds in
fulfilling the terms of the contract Ursula becomes
outraged and transforms herself into Vanessa (which has no
meaning according to Lansky).
When first the audience sees Vanessa she is clothed
in a gray/black dress and has long black hair. Black,
again, represents evil. Vanessa enchants Eric with her
"voice" (stolen from Ariel) and convinces him she is the
woman who saved him from drowning. When Ariel learns of
the upcoming nuptials, Eric is wearing his royal uniform
which consists of a royal blue coat decorated with gold.
The gold obviously represents royalty while the blue of
his coat represent loyalty, as well as truth. His implied
loyalty to evil forecasts the inevitable battle between
good and evil. The truth prevails ultimately uniting the
There is no initial narrator in this movie. The
story is portrayed through the characters with commentary
and analysis offered primarily through Sebastian.
Periodically Ursula offers commentary as she watches
events through the use of her magic. However, because
Sebastian is Ariel's conscience, it is he who most often
judges the actions of the characters and the events.
Because Sebastian is male, his perspective is masculine
and he often ridicules Ariel for her determination.
Comments such as, "teenagers. They think they know
everything. I'd keep her under tight control" exhibit the
typical male perspective with respect to the role of
women, and especially young women. From this perspective
the movie is presented to an audience of predominantly
The language in The Little Mermaid not only oppresses
and marginalizes women, it devalues them. Whereas Hans
Christian Andersen created a world filled with
intelligent, competent, powerful women (in an era during
which women were not typically highly regarded), Disney
has created a world dominated by men. As a result, the
language used in the movie represents a patriarchal view
not only of the world, but also of women. Women are to
obey men and their rules, and a woman's ultimate goal is
to find a man with whom to spend the rest of her life.
The first indication of male domination is.revealed
during Ariel's argument with her father regarding her
absence at the concert. Triton states, "as long as you
live under my ocean you will obey my rules!" As Ariel
swims away, Sebastian says to Triton, "Teenagers. They
think they know everything. I'd keep her under tight
control," to which Triton replies, "She needs constant
supervision." This solidifies the relationship between
men and women in this film. Men supervise the actions of
the women, and women must obey men.
When the audience is introduced to Ariel's cavern
filled with human gizmos and gadgets, she attempts to set
herself apart, to create some semblance of independence
from her father when she says, "I just don't see things
the way he does." She launches into a song in which she
Betcha on land, they understand
That they don't reprimand their daughters.
Bright young women, sick of swimmin'
Ready to stand,
And ready to know what the people know.
Ready to ask questions and get some answers.
Out of the sea,
Wish I could be
Part of that world.
Obviously Ariel realizes the predicament she is in. Her
world is dominated by men who don't allow women sufficient
information to make informed decisions. Ariel predicts
women on land have much greater freedom than do women of
the sea. Her search for this freedom is the catalyst for
the remainder of the story.
Ariel suddenly sees a shadow overhead and swims to
the surface to investigate. There she sees Prince Eric's
ship. She swims closer so she can truly see what it is
that she is missing. On board Prince Eric is presented*
with a grand birthday present a statue of himself
commissioned by his guardian Grimsey. Ariel is
immediately smitten with Eric and becomes obsessed with
spending the rest of her life with him. While she is at
once trying to gain independence from her father, she is
at the same time creating dependence upon Eric.
In his conversation with Grimsey about his inability
to marry Eric states, "I just havent found her yet," to
which Grimsey replies, "perhaps you haven't been looking
hard enough." This implies that the process of finding a
wife involves searching for a suitable mate. Emotion does
not seem to factor into the decision as it should. Eric
responds, "believe me, I'll know her when I find her."
This implies that the "finding" will solidify a
relationship, whereas reality demonstrates a commitment to
developing a relationship over time.
When the hurricane destroys Prince Eric's ship, Ariel
rescues him from drowning and transports him safely to
shore. On the beach Ariel gazes longingly at Eric,
singing about her desire to be with him. Eric awakens
just long enough to hear her voice, and to see her
silhouette before she disappears into the sea. This image
becomes Eric's dream, his focus. He believes that it is
this woman to whom he should be married. In essence he
wants to marry an idea, as there is no proof of her
Ursula realizes that Ariel is in love with Eric (or
more rightly, infatuated). As she watches Ariel swim back
to her father, she says to her eel companions:
I can't stand it, it's too easy. The child is
in love with a human. And not just any human, a
Prince! Her daddy'll love that. King Triton's
headstrong lovesick girl would make a charming
addition to my little garden.
Later Flounder takes Ariel to her cavern in which he
has placed the bust of Prince Eric's statue. He recovered
it from the shipwreck. Ariel immediately begins to swoon.
She flirts with the statue, kisses it, and pampers it as
if it were a real human. When King Triton enters,
enraged, he states, "I set certain rules and I expect
those rules to be obeyed." Ariel shouts, "daddy, I love
him!" Triton responds, "No! Have you lost your senses
completely? I'm going to get through to you, and if this
is the only way, so be it." With that Triton destroys her
cavern and all that is in it, demonstrating once again
that women must succumb to the rules of the patriarchy.
Flotsam and Jetsam enter the cavern and entice Ariel
to visit Ursula promising to make her dreams come true.
This scene is perhaps the most damaging to women's
independence, and destroys the notion that adult women
might be able to offer wisdom and guidance. Being the
only adult female under the sea with whom Ariel has
contact, the message is devastating.
Ursula promises to make Ariel human. The terms set
forth are that before the sun sets on the third day the
Prince must fall in love with Ariel and kiss her. "Not
just any kiss," exclaims Ursula, "the kiss of true love."
If Ariel succeeds she may remain human permanently. If
not, she will be transformed back into a mermaid and will
belong to Ursula. The payment for this opportunity is
Ariel's beautiful voice. Ursula says, "you can't get
something for nothing." She explains Ariel's role as a
You have your looks, your pretty face, and don't
underestimate the importance of body language.
The men above don't like all that blabber.
They're not all that impressed with
conversation. She who holds her tongue will get
This solidifies women's position in the patriarchy. The
old-fashioned idea of women holding their tongues is
reminiscent of the saying "don't speak unless you are
spoken to." That this belief would be presented in
today's society is disastrous and serves only to diminish
all that women have fought for. Furthermore, that this
would be the wisdom presented by an adult woman to a young
and impressionable teenager- serves only to destroy the
hopes and dreams of many of today's youth.
During the dinner scene in which Ariel's beauty is
finally realized by Eric, Grimsey states, "nice young
ladies just don't swim around rescuing people in the
ocean." This diminishes Ariel's efforts to save Eric,
while at the same time helping Ariel's chances of being
with Eric. The next day Grimsey tries to convince Eric to
marry Ariel, arguing that there is a beautiful girl right
in front of him and that he should stop wasting his time
chasing an idea. Perhaps this is the most poignant scene
in the movie, because it reinforces the notion that an
idea is unattainable, and that reality is worthwhile.
The remainder of the movie is filled with the action
of uncovering the truth about who really rescued Eric.
When finally Vanessa is revealed for who she really is,
she tries to destroy the hopes of the lovers and usurps
Triton's power. This serves to reinforce the idea that
women can't handle power. The power she gains from Triton
ultimately destroys her. Prince Eric and Ariel are united
in marriage, and Triton happily bids farewell to his
Another element of language that can be examined is
nonverbal behavior. While the words used by Ariel are
filled with innocence and naivete her nonverbal behavior
says she is not so naive. She exhibits a sexually
implicit behavior, most commonly through her eyes. She
does, however, know how to present herself innocently as
she does in the rowboat. Here she is filled with smiles,
and is mildly aloof, hoping to draw her Prince near.
Ariel is sultry and seductive, not typical for a 16 year
Conversely, Ursula also exhibits sexual behavior,
however she does so explicitly. When Ursula explains to
Ariel the means by which she can get her man, Ursula
prances, shimmies, and flaunts her body. Although her
body is not as physically sexually stimulating as Ariel's
is, she has an understanding of how to use her body to its
fullest potential which she acknowledges when she claims,
"don't forget the importance of body languag."
Both images perpetuate the idea that a woman's body
is to be used sexually. This, coupled with statements
such as, "the men above don't like all that blabber and
are not all that impressed with conversation," reinforce
the idea that a woman should be used solely for the
purpose of procreation. This diminishes the concept of
equality as well as the belief that women should pursue
their goals and dreams.
The language in this film reinforces women's inferior
position in society and has the power to destroy all that
women have worked for with regard to equality. The only
emotions portrayed in this film are lust, anger and
sadness, and the film fails to acknowledge the complexity
of the female. The language serves to diminish Ariel's
experience, and to reinforce the patriarchy. Ultimately,
the language portrays women as frail objects to be
Because this film is animated, animation is
necessarily the style to be analyzed. There are many
areas within the field of animation which could be
explored. However, the focus of this analysis will
consist of the use of color, the shapes of the characters,
and the use of the "camera."
As discussed in the analysis of character, color is
used to portray the characters in a certain way. However,
color is also used to create certain atmospheres in the
landscape and to enhance perceptions. For instance/ at
the beginning of the movie the land above the water is
shown with brown and gray hues. The land is drab and
appears relatively lifeless. The atmosphere is ambiguous
and nondescript. As the "camera" moves undersea, the
color become vivid and bright. The water is portrayed
with bright blue and green hues, and the plants and
creatures are shown in bright, vivid colors as well. The
world under the sea appears to be full of life. However,
as the movie progresses and Ariel enters the realm of
humans, the land above the see becomes brighter and more
colorful as if Ariel is brightening the land.
Color plays an important role in defining the
characters. Triton has a bluish-purple tail, and is
decorated with a gold crown. These colors clearly
represent royalty and honor. Additionally, Triton's white
beard and hair represent not only purity, but age and
wisdom. Ariel has a green tail and is clothed with a
purple shell bra. The green tail represents envy and
greed, while the purple bra represents royalty. Her fiery
red hair represents the lust she has for Prince Eric, and
her mission to win the kiss of love. Prince Eric is
clothed in a white shirt representing purity and honesty,
a red cummerbund representing the seduction to come, and
black pants and boots which, when contrasted with the
white shirt, represent the conflict between good and evil
which will ultimately ensue.
Sebastian is a red crab, and while the red doesn't
represent his nature, it is representative of his role in
the seduction of Prince Eric. Flounder is a yellow fish
with blue stripes. The yellow is representative of his
friendship with Ariel, and the blue represents his loyalty
to her, although it may also represent the melancholy and
sadness he will feel as she leaves him for life on land.
Ursula is a purplish-gray woman with a black
tentacled body and bright red lips. The purple-gray color
of her skin may represent her former place in the palace
of King Triton which has become discolored as a result of
her exile. The black of her body represents the evil
embodied in her character, while the red lips represent
the seduction of Prince Eric with which she charges Ariel.
Additionally, when Ursula transforms herself into Vanessa
she is seen in a gray and black dress, still representing
the evil embodied in her character.
Also worthy of note is the change in costuming Ariel
and Eric go through as the movie progresses. Initially,
when Ariel becomes human and emerges from the water she
does so without clothing. Her friends drape her in a
dirty white piece of material, presumably the remainder of
one of the sails washed up from the shipwreck. Upon
arriving at the castle this impromptu clothing is quickly
removed, and she is dressed in a pink dress. Being a pale
color, pink may represent innocence. However, pink is a
lighter shade of red which signifies the seduction that
will soon take place.
The next day, as Eric gives Ariel a tour of the
kingdom, she is dressed in a pale blue dress with a navy
bustier, underneath which she has on a white blouse. In
her hair is a pale blue bow. This day her motives seem
much more virtuous, and blue is also believed to be
associated with virginity, hope and truth (Ingham 79).
Certainly Ariel is hopeful that her Prince will fall in
love so she can be human forever. However, there is a
hint of melancholy as Eric has not kissed her yet. This
leads to the seduction that takes place upon the rowboat.
Finally, at their wedding, both Ariel and Eric are dressed
in white representing honesty, purity and virtue. In this
moment, as the sea joins with the land, the Earth seems
much brighter, much more vivid, and much more full of
life. This is truly symbolized with Triton's creation of
the rainbow under which the wedding ship sails into the
Animation offers the opportunity to portray
characters by means of their shape as well as color.
While shape is not so blatant, there are some distinct
differences worth noting. All of the "good" characters
are drawn beautifully. That is, they are all beautiful.
Ariel is exquisitely beautiful. Eric is intensely
handsome. Triton, despite his age, is mature and handsome
as well. Sebastian, although he is a crab, is slender,
tantalizing, and pleasant-looking. Flounder, the fish, is
boyish with slightly chubby cheeks. All of the "good"
characters have smooth yet strong features.
Ursula, on the other hand, is large, grotesquely fat,
and has sharp features. She certainly is not beautiful,
yet when she is transformed into Vanessa she appears much
prettier. Even as Vanessa her features, although slender,
are still very sharp. The perception is thereby created
that fat is bad whereas thin is good; fat is ugly whereas
this is beautiful. Certainly this portrayal was
intentional by the very nature of the fact that the
characters are drawn specifically.
The use of "camera" in this film is also intentional,
as there exists no actual camera in animation. However,
the movie is drawn as if a camera were filming the action.
The movie is predominantly filmed with medium shots, which
signify a personal relationship, but not an intimate
relationship. When used to illustrate the relationship
between Triton and Ariel the use of the camera consists of
the camera looking upward at Triton signifying Ariel's
smallness and inferiority, whereas the camera looks down
at Ariel signifying Triton's power and authority over her.
The camera illustrates the relationships between
Ariel, Sebastian, and Flounder through the use of close
shots, those shots involving just the shoulders and head
of the characters. This signifies a close personal
relationship, yet not an intimate relationship. Close-ups
are used in the film only in the interaction between Ariel
and Eric, signifying an intimate relationship (or the hope
thereof). Close-ups are especially noticeable during the
rowboat scene in which Ariel is fully participating in the
seduction of Eric, batting her eyes, puckering her lips,
enticing Eric to kiss her. The significance of this would
be lost without the use of the close-up.
Finally, the camera illustrates the grotesqueness of
Ursula by regularly using full shots which show the full
body of a person. By showing Ursula's full body, the
audience sees her as a big, grotesquely fat woman with
long black tentacles. She is not the typical merwoman,
rather she is a hybrid mix of a merwoman and an octopus.
Full shots are signify social relationships, and Ursula is
clearly someone with whom nobody should form a personal
The use of color, shape and camera help define the
characters and their relationships, as well as the
environment in which they exist. As a style animation
allows for a great deal of involvement in the creation of
mood, perception and story. Women are shown as
insignificant, sexual, or grotesque, largely through the
use of color, shape and camera.
In examining narrative substance, it becomes obvious
that the movie embodies few, if any, values that are good,
worthwhile or useful. Rather, the movie perpetuates the
sexual role of women and devalues women's intelligence and
pursuit of independence. Additionally, the movie devalues
the role of mother by portraying a world dominated by men
to whom women are subservient. Ariel leaves her father
for another man. She never stands on her own two feet.
The movie perpetuates the notion that women need men to
take care of them. Additionally, the movie presents love
as sex. Ursula gives Ariel three days to win the "love"
of Prince Eric. Three days does not make a relationship,
nor does it create a bond strong enough for marriage. Sex
seems to be the driving force behind this movie, and is
portrayed through language, both verbal and nonverbal, as
well as the terms of the terms of the contract offered by
Ursula. These values are neither good, worthwhile nor
Reinforcing these values offers contradicting
messages to young girls growing up in a society in which
they are told that independence is essential.
Additionally, the portrayal of a world in which mother
images are absent sends the message that mother is
unessential, that fathers and lovers are ultimately
responsible for the well-being of women. Those children
living with their single mothers may question their
mothers' authority simply because they are being shown
that strong, ambitious women are bad (as portrayed by
Ursula). The effects of such beliefs can be detrimental
to the security of today's youth.
The fact that the movie does portray the triumph of
good over evil is noteworthy. However, it is the
destruction of Ursula by Prince Eric (man triumphs over
woman), that demonstrates this value. Good is certainly
preferable to evil, however, woman should not be the
embodiment of evil. Rather, woman should triumph over
man. Woman should successfully venture out on her own and
succeed in a world that is still dominated by man. This
would be a truly worthwhile representation of the triumph
of good over evil. This does not argue that man should be
the embodiment of evil, and this does not argue for the
destruction of man. Rather, the argument is for women to
succeed in a mans world. This would benefit society in
that women might finally be treated as equals to their
male counterparts, and that it might give women the
confidence to believe in themselves as well as their
Ariel's transference of dependence from her father to
Eric perpetuates the idea that women cannot succeed on
their own and that they must depend on men. Many women in
today's society would argue that this representation is
Women in today's society have succeeded both with
career as well as family. Many single mothers exhibit an
ethic of determination and compassion not often found in
men. However, women are portrayed as emotional and often
hysterical. This is typified in Ursula's inability to
handle the power she usurps from Triton. Ariel, on the
other hand, exhibits both determination and compassion,
but only insofar as it allows her to get her man. Her
desire goes no further than to marry a human.
In examining narrative fidelity it is necessary to
determine whether this movie accurately represents or
corresponds with the society in which it is presented.
Obviously it does not. The portrayal of a motherless
world directly contradicts what is known about today's
society, that over 16 million U.S. children under the age
of 18 live with their single mothers. Not only does this
movie not accurately represent this society, it devalues
the lives of those children living with their single
The movie accurately represents one aspect of today's
society. It presents the notion that love equals sex.
The movie presents a heroine who appears to be fully aware
of her sexuality. Given the increase in single mothers,
as well as teenage pregnancies in this society, an
argument can be made for the accuracy of some elements of
this movie. However, the author believes that if a
positive mother image were presented, the values inherent
in that role model might help to reduce the incidence of
teenage pregnancy and single motherhood. The author also
acknowledges, however, statistics which confirm the belief
that many women choose single motherhood for reasons
beyond the scope of this thesis.
The Hans Christian Andersen version of the story
presents a woman (the grandmother) who is not only
knowledgeable, but also compassionate. This role model
allows the little mermaid to learn about the world of
which she desires to be a part long before being granted
the opportunity to become human. The grandmother also
teaches the little mermaid about emotions, love, and human
compassion. The story is one of good deeds and self-
sacrifice rather than selfish desire. It is a story of
the young mermaid's desire to have an immortal soul,
whereas the Disney version is the story of a young
mermaid's desire to have a man. Had the movie stayed true
to the original story it would have been much more well-
suited to today's society. The Americanization of the
story, the imposition of American values and selfish
desires, has helped to remove the essence of the story's
original morals. The Hans Christian Andersen version is
more applicable to today's society than is the Disney
version, due in large part to the portrayal of a mother
figure as essential. Perhaps the writers and directors
were afraid to perpetuate the idea that women are worthy
of power, success, love and happiness. If it is true that
this movie reinforces the patriarchy as this thesis
demonstrates, it does so by eliminating all that made the
original story so beautiful; it eliminates the role models
who helped to make the little mermaid's life meaningful -
her grandmother and her sisters.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Disney's Beauty and the Beast is based on the classic
French fairy tale and opens-with the narrator's telling of
the events leading up to the beginning of the movie. An
enchantress, posing as a beggar, turns a cruel prince into
a hideous'beast for refusing to help the poor woman. The
Prince's stubborn pride compels him to remain in his
bewitched castle which is inhabited by enchanted furniture
and fixtures. The Beast's only allies are Lumiere the
lovestruck candelabra, Cogsworth the pompous clock, the
kindly teapot Mrs. Potts and her son, the inquisitive
little teacup named Chip. In order to break the spell,
the Beast must love another and win her love before the
last petal falls from an enchanted rose.
Belle's father is an inventor and is perceived as
being crazy by the townspeople. In fact, they call him a
loon. Belle is beautiful, intelligent and desires more
"than this provincial life." She loves books. The
townspeople, however, believe "it's not right for a woman
to read. Pretty soon she starts getting ideas." Belle
regularly defends her father, calling him a genius.
As the story begins, Belle's father is off to a fair
to display his newest invention. On his way he gets lost
trying a "shortcut." The forest is dark and misty, and he
believes he sees movement in the branches. The horse is
spooked by bats, panics, bucks and throws Belle's father
as it runs away. Searching for help, Belle's father
approaches the castle. After knocking on the door without
a reply, he enters the castle only to be captured by the
Beast and thrown into a cell-like room.
In the meantime Gaston, an arrogant, self-absorbed
man (the object of women's desire) has decided he will
marry Belle, and has planned the wedding. Belle, however,
has no knowledge of this and, in fact, is disgusted by
Gaston. He knocks on Belle's door and tells her, "this is
the day your dreams come true." Bell questions what
Gaston could possibly know about her dreams. When Gaston
informs her that she will become his wife, she tells him
she doesn't deserve him and pushes him out the door making
him fall into a pig sty. He vows to have Belle for his
Shortly after, the horse returns. Belle, realizing
that her father is missing, readies herself to find him.
She ventures into the forest and comes upon the castle.
She enters the castle in search of her father. The
castle's inhabitants become very excited because there is
a girl in the castle. The Beast finds Belle, and after
much discussion she convinces him to let her father go and
to take her instead. The castle's inhabitants believe
this might be their-one hope for breaking the spell. When
Belle's father returns home he begs the help of the
townspeople who, in turn, laugh at him and humiliate him,
insisting he is crazy.
Belle is granted access to all areas of the castle
except for the west wing which is forbidden. When she
questions this, the Beast insists that the west-., wing is
forbidden. One night Belle climbs the stairs to the west
wing. There she sees many pictures that have been torn
and shredded, furniture that has been shredded, tattered
curtains hanging all around, and a room with a reddish
glow emanating from it. She enters and sees the enchanted
rose. Unfortunately, Beast finds her there and explodes
in a rage of violence. Afraid for her life, Belle
retreats and refuses to have any further contact with
The story progresses with Belle living in the castle
and the inhabitants helping the Beast to become gentler
and less self-absorbed. One day Beast shows Belle his
library which contains bookshelves filled with books from
floor to ceiling. As books are her passion, Belle is
As time passes, the two begin to care for each other.
Belle's presence has an effect on the Beast unlike
anything before. The Beast begins to appreciate Belle,
and wants only for her to be happy. Their relationship
changes one night when, after the Beast has become more
pleasant, he and Belle dance in the grand ballroom. As
they gaze into each others' eyes they realize that their
relationship has progressed from cohabitants into
something even deeper than a friendship. For the first
time, both appear to be truly happy.
One day, when Belle is missing her father, the Beast
shows her his magic mirror through which she can see her
father. Her father is ill. The Beast releases Belle from
her commitment to live in the castle forever so she can go
to him, asking only that she take the mirror in order to
remember the Beast. His heart breaks as she leaves, and
he realizes he has finally learned to love another.
Belle finds her father just as the asylum arrives to
take him away. Desperate to convince the townspeople that
her father is not crazy, Belle pulls out the mirror and
summons the image of the Beast. Although she describes
the Beast as warm and gentle, Gaston uses the image to
frighten the townspeople and forms a posse to invade the
castle and to kill the Beast. Before they leave, the
posse locks Belle and her father in the cellar. However,
Chip snuck into Belle's bag before she left the castle,
and uses her father's wood-cutting machine to free them
from the cellar.
The posse arrives at the castle. They try to ram
their way into the castle, but the front doors have been
barricaded by the inhabitants. Finally the inhabitants
allow the posse to enter, catching them by surprise and
defeating them. Gaston is the only member of the posse to
sneak through and he searches for the Beast. Finding the
Beast in the west wing, Gaston approaches. He threatens
the Beast without response. He attacks the Beast and a
fight ensues in which the Beast refuses to defend himself.
Although the Beast has the opportunity, he chooses not to
kill Gaston. Belle returns and the Beast climbs to her,
only to be stabbed by Gaston. In his celebration Gaston
loses his footing and falls to his death, while Belle
helps the Beast. He is truly surprised that Belle
returned and as he passes out Belle professes her love for
the Beast while begging him not to die. All this happens
just before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose.
Suddenly the spell releases and the Beast is turned
back into a handsome Prince. At the same time, the
inhabitants are returned to their original selves. Belle
is frightened, but the Prince convinces her to look into
his eyes and there she sees the eyes of her Beast. They
kiss, and the narrator tells of the wedding informing the
audience that they lived happily ever after.
The following analysis will consist of an examination
of theme, characters, narrator, language and style.
Following will be an examination of narrative substance
and narrative fidelity.
The overall theme, or moral, of the story is the idea
that beauty is within. Worthy of note, however, is the
fact that Belle is stunning. In fact, her name literally
translated (from French) means Beauty. The Beast is truly
a handsome Prince, although it is his nature that is
beastly. Gaston is representative of the ideal male. He
is muscular, strong, handsome, and in his own words is,
"covered with hair." Even though the Beast is supposed to
be horrific, he is actually relatively pleasant-looking.
He has gentle eyes and his hair is well-groomed.
Another theme presented in this telling of the story
is the idea that women belong in the home, cooking,
cleaning and bearing children. Belle loves to read, but
the townspeople believe a woman shouldn't read. Belle is
intelligent and assertive, and is looked down upon by the
townspeople who claim, "the girl is strange." Although
Belle asserts her independence and her desire for
adventure, she is deeply devoted to her father. In the
end, she abandons her dreams for independence and
adventure, and marries the Prince. Instead of venturing
out on her own, she leaves the home of one man (her
father) and enters the home of another (the Beast/Prince).
The story perpetuates the idea that women need to be taken
care of by men, and that women need men in order to be
Another, more worthwhile theme presented in this
movie is the notion that violence does not solve all
problems and that good will always prevail. This is
illustrated most clearly during the fight between Gaston
and the Beast. Gaston attacks the Beast, yet he neither
defends himself, nor fights back. Rather, believing he
has lost Belle forever, the Beast decides his life is not
worth defending. In the end, when Gaston believes he has
defeated the Beast, he falls to his death by losing his
footing during his celebration. His arrogance ultimately
defeated him. Conversely, Belle returned for her Beast
and, although he did not fight, he is restored to his
original self and good ultimately prevails over evil.
Finally, this author believes those themes which are
omitted speak just as loudly as those themes which are
presented. That omission that speaks loudest is the
existence of mother. Belle has no mother. She has only
her father, to whom she is deeply devoted. Her father
gives her love, supports her desire to read and learn, and
provides her security. There is no mention of mother, nor
of Belle ever having one. Additionally, the Beast appears
to have neither mother nor father, only servants. While
Mrs. Potts is Chip's mother, her role in the movie (aside
from being an animated teapot) is primarily to provide
meals and to run interference between Belle and the Beast.
Mrs. Potts continually reminds the Beast that he must
learn to be kind and gentle. Although she is the maternal
representative in the movie she is a teapot, and she has
no real ties to either of the main characters.
The characters in this story are Belle (the heroine),
Beast (the hero), Maurice (Belle's father), Gaston (the
villain), Lumiere (the candelabra, a servant), Cogsworth
(a clock, the butler), Mrs. Potts (a teapot, the maid),
and Chip (a teacup and inquisitive child).
Belle is not only beautiful in appearance, she is
also beautiful in nature. She is brunette with long hair
which she usually pulls back. Her body is a perfect hour-
glass, although she is dressed to represent the era and
the provincial town in which she lives. That is, she is
dressed conservatively. Her costume consists of a white
blouse which represents purity, and a blue jumper which
reflects the skies and water. Blue often represents
loyalty, although it also represents truth and hope. As
the movie progresses her costumes change, reflecting the
change of seasons as well as the change in her
relationship with the Beast. Most notable is her costume
during the scene in which she and the Beast dance. The,
scene takes place in a grand ballroom. Her dress is
bright yellow, representing friendship as do yellow roses
Belle is kind, gentle, warm and caring, and generous.
She is also very intelligent, assertive and adventurous.
Belle is more concerned about the safety and welfare of
others than of her own well-being. This is illustrated.in
her willingness to take her father's place as prisoner in
the Beast's castle. Belle is well-mannered and strongly
protests the Beast's behavior leading, in the end, to a
reform in the Beast's attitude as well as his behavior.
The Beast is, as his name indicates, a beast. His
clothes are ragged and torn, and primarily dark which
reflects his constant mood. His cape is dark purple with
a deep red lining. Purple is representative of royalty
and reinforces the audience's knowledge that he is a
Prince. Red represents passion, and more than anything
the Prince wants to love and to be loved. In modern
society the colors purple and deep red represent power.
Also worthy of note is the historical use of purple to
signify honor (as in the Purple Heart medal of honor). In
addition to the purple cape, the Beast wears a white
shirt, representative of the purity of his heart. The
exception to his dress is, again, the night he and Belle
dance for the first time. He is dressed regally in a
vivid royal blue and yellow coat, decorated with gold. He
is, in this scene, clean and well-manicured.
At the beginning the Beast is filled with rage and
regularly explodes into a violent temper tantrum. He
believes, in the beginning, that the only means by which
he can influence the behavior of others is to threaten
them. With Belle, however, this tact does not work and he
is forced to change his approach. He learns, in time, to
care more about others than himself which is illustrated
in his willingness to release Belle so she can attend to
her sick father. He is truly amazed when Belle returns
and, for the first time, understands what it is to be
loved by another. While the Beast does not, in the
beginning, appear to understand the difference between
acceptable and unacceptable behavior, he learns from Belle
and becomes an admirable character by the end of the
Maurice, Belle's father, is a bit unusual. He is an
inventor and is clearly a genius as Belle contends.
However, he is a recluse and does not regularly associate
with the townspeople causing them to scorn him. He
appears ragged and unkempt, his hair is typically messy
and his clothes regularly soiled, although it appears as
though they would be bright if clean. He is the person
who provides for Belle, but also the person who is the
cause of her pain and her troubles. None of this is
intentional, it appears to be the nature of their
relationship. He. is unable to help his daughter even when
she needs him most.
Gaston is an arrogant, self-obsessed, very masculine
man. His clothes fit in such a way as to accentuate his
muscular physique. Gastons shirt is red, a color
representative of power. Certainly he is the most
powerful man in the town. Red is also representative of
such emotions as anger and lust, and is commonly
associated with passion. Certainly Gaston desires Belle
sexually, but he is also a sexual icon in the movie which
is illustrated by the repeated portrayal of young,
desirable women falling at his feet, swooning, sighing
heavily at the sight of him and following him around.
Gaston is also angry at Belle's rejection and seeks
revenge when he hunts the Beast. During their fight
Gaston sarcastically and vindictively asks the Beast, "do
you love her? Do you actually think she could love you?"
Gaston is also much larger taller and wider than
any other male in the movie with the exception of the
Beast. He cares nothing about others. Rather, he
believes the world revolves around him. He has set his
sights on Belle, much to the dismay of the other women in
town (represented as brainless, blonde bimbos). If Gaston
does not get his way (as illustrated in Belle's rejection
of his marriage proposal), he sets out to destroy whatever
stands in his way. He has no regard for right and wrong.
In his desire to destroy the Beast and claim Belle as his
own, he destroys himself and unites Belle and the Beast
The other characters, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts
and Chip, serve to provide a running commentary on the
events taking place. Each has its own interpretation.
Mrs. Potts is the eternal optimist, Cogsworth the eternal
cynic. Chip questions everything as do most children.
Lumiere believes love solves all problems. The commentary
is colored by the individual interpretations of the
characters who both participate in, and reflect upon the
story. The characters' names represent their appearance.
Cogsworth is a clock. Lumiere is a candelabra which
necessarily illuminates its surroundings. Mrs. Potts is a
teapot, and her son Chip is a chipped teacup. While these
items do not necessarily represent the essence of the
characters, one can easily understand how they became the
items when the spell was cast.
Worthy of note, here, is the fact that there exists
no mother character. In fact, besides Belle the only
other female character of any weight is Mrs. Potts. Yes,
Mrs. Potts is a mother, but she is a teapot. She plays
mother only to Chip. Other than that she is a maid and is
treated as such by both Belle and the Beast. She offers
motherly advice to the Beast which he usually discards.
Her relationship with Belle is more that of an adviser.
Mrs. Potts offers advice, direction and sympathy, but
there is no real bond. Even in her role as mother to
Chip, Mrs. Potts exhibits no motherly compassion, only
rules and discipline. While these are necessary elements
in parenting, it goes much deeper. Mrs. Potts seems more
concerned with achieving the end result of breaking the
spell than of parenting her child. And while she exhibits
motherly characteristics toward both Belle and the Beast,
she does so at the expense of her own son. The
characterization, therefore, implies that Mrs. Potts' role
as a servant is more important than her role as a mother.
The story opens with the narrator's telling of the
events leading up to the beginning of the movie. The
narrator sounds objective and unbiased (although the voice
is that of a man). As the movie begins the narrator's
presence fades away and is replaced by the commentary
given by the enchanted inhabitants of the castle. These
characters are necessarily biased both in their commentary
and their participation. Certainly the inhabitants of the
castle want the spell to be broken and so work toward that
end, criticizing if their plans fail in any way. The
commentary offered by these characters often adds to the
mood (usually tension) of the story. Additionally, their
participation in the story often acts as the catalyst
which keeps the story moving forward.
The language used in this portrayal of Beauty and the
Beast both oppresses and marginalizes women. In the
opening song the townspeople state, "the girl is
strange...loves books... she's nothing like the rest of
us." As the song continues the townspeople state, "it's
not right for a woman to read. Pretty soon she starts
getting ideas." Later Gaston informs Belle, "this is the
day your dreams come true." Gaston is implying that
marriage should fulfill all of a woman's dreams. Belle's
true dreams, of adventure and discovering the world, are
continually criticized and, in the end, she abandons her
dreams and marries.
Throughout the movie Belle is portrayed as a victim.
This is reinforced by such statements as when her father
returns to town screaming "we must rescue her!" He pays
no attention to the fact that Belle willingly took his
place as the Beast's prisoner. She is given no credit for
exhibiting free will, freedom of choice, and courage.
Belle is the object of desire in this movie. Note
here that Belle is an object (as opposed to a person)
especially in the eyes of Gaston. This is evident in his
statement, "she's the one, the lucky girl I'm going to
marry. She's the best and don't I deserve the best?"
This objectification is reinforced later after Belle has
rejected Gaston's marriage proposal when he states, "I'll
have Belle for my wife, make no mistake about that!"
Belle is not given respect by any of the other
characters in the movie either. When she enters the
castle in search of her father the inhabitants claim,
"there's a girl in the castle." At first this seems
innocent enough, but Belle does not look like a girl.
Rather, she looks like a young, fully developed woman. As
such, the characters should have said, "there's a woman in
the castle," or perhaps, "there's a female in the castle."
This argument can also be applied to Gaston's treatment of
Belle, as well as the townspeople. Gaston claims, "she's
the one, the lucky girl I'm going to marry." The
townspeople, at the very beginning, argue "the girl is
strange." And yet, shortly afterward the argument is made
that "its not right for a woman to read." The term
woman, here, refers to the general population whereas
Belle is specifically referred to as a girl.
In contrast, the language used to describe and
address Gaston is incredibly empowering. When discussing
his upcoming nuptials, Gaston exclaims that Belle is lucky
for the chance to marry him. Even in her sarcasm, Belle
marginalizes herself while empowering Gaston as she
states, while rejecting his proposal, "I'm very sorry
Gaston, but I just don't deserve you." Later, in the
tavern, Gaston's servant explains to him that "everyone's
inspired by you and it's not very hard to see why."
Interestingly, the language used by Mrs. Potts is
very loving and affectionate toward Belle as well as the
Beast. However, the language directed at her son is
uninvolved, relatively uninterested, and usually
dismissive. Chip is very inquisitive, as most children
are. As such, he asks many questions in hopes of making
sense of his environment and the events taking place in
it. However, his mother's typical reply is "you wouldn't
understand dear," or "I'll explain it to you when you're
older." Rather than provide her child with necessary
information (a critical element in parenting), Mrs. Potts
dismisses her son's questions as insignificant. Again,
this serves only to devalue the importance of motherhood.
Nonverbal language is also important, because in
animation body language, gesture and eye movements are
drawn specifically. Belle's body language, the
physicality of her behavior, is very reserved. Her eyes
are often turned downward, especially when addressing men
(with the exception of her father). This is a sign of
respect. Her gestures are small and reserved. This can
be perceived as either a lack of confidence, or feelings
of inferiority or intimidation in relation to those around
her. The male characters, on the other hand, are grand,
almost larger than life. Whereas Belle is petite, both
Gaston and the Beast are very tall, broad, muscular and
powerful. They tower over Belle. They look down at her.
This illustrates the positions of power in their
relationships. Only Gaston and the Beast share equal
power. Again, the males are portrayed as superior while
the women are inferior.
Because Beauty and the Beast is an animated film,
animation is necessarily a style to be analyzed. Within
the field of animation many areas could be explored, and
would be a thesis in and of itself. For the purpose of
this analysis, however, the focus will be on the use of
color, the lines/shapes of characters and the use of the
As noted in the character analysis, costume color
helps to present the characters in certain ways. Belle is
dressed in blue and white, signifying purity, hope and
truth. The Beast wears a white shirt under a purple cape.
The white shirt signifies purity while the purple cape
represents a combination of royalty, power and honor.
In addition to the white worn in the costumes of
Belle and the Beast, each of the inhabitants of the
castle, with the exception of Cogsworth, contain white in
their character. Mrs. Potts is a white teapot with purple,
blue and pink trim. Chip is a white teacup with matching
trim. Lumiere is a candelabra, either gold or brass, with
white candles for his face and hands. Again, the white
represents purity and virtue. Cogsworth, being wood, is
brown. Brown often represents ambiguity or confusion and,
certainly, Cogsworth is the most confused of all
characters, especially in their participation with Belle
and the Beast. However, wood is also an element of the
Earth, and is natural and good. Earth tones often
represent the lower class while bright colors represent
the aristocracy (Russell 97). Because Cogsworth is the
butler, this association is a viable one. The only
character in the movie whose costume contains no white is
Gaston. He is dressed in a dark red shirt. As mentioned
in the character analysis, red represents power, as well
as anger, and lust or sexual desire. Gaston is the
villain, and a villain must necessarily not wear white.
Because of this, Gaston wears black pants accentuating his
villainous nature. Villains are neither good, nor pure,
nor are they virtuous. Instead, Gaston is angry, violent
and powerful, illustrated during his battle with the
Beast. Gaston is also full of sexual desire as expressed
in his desire to marry the best.
Another element in the use of color is the portrayal
of Belle in her "provincial town." While the people and
the landscape around her town are shown in warm, earthy
colors, Belle is dressed in blue and white. Even the
clothes worn by the townspeople are warm colors, browns,
oranges, and golds, which reflect the landscape and the
buildings. As noted by the townspeople, Belle is
perceived as strange, as different from the rest of the
townspeople. This is enhanced by her costume which, in a
cool blue, contrasts with the warm colors of her
surroundings. She obviously doesn't fit.
The castle, on the other hand, is dark but colorful.
Bright colors are representative of the aristocracy, and
certainly this castle is no different. Belle's costume
fits with the colors of the castle, and she seems more
appropriately placed in a castle than a provincial town.
As the movie progresses, Belle's costume changes with the
seasons; her clothes are muted and darker during the
winter, they become brighter and more colorful with the
onset of spring. Of course, as mentioned earlier, the
ballroom scene is full of color from the costumes to the
surroundings. The ballroom is grand, just as the colors
At the end of the movie, the brightness of the
colors, both costumes and surroundings of the castle
(which have been restored to their original greatness),
fade into an artist's rendering of a stained-glass window.
These windows have historically been filled with the
brightest colors. These colors may have helped develop
the color scheme of the castle and its surroundings.
The lines used to draw the characters also contain
important elements. Each of the characters, with the
exception of Gaston, are drawn with round, smooth lines.
Even the Beast is drawn gently, with flowing hair and
round, soft eyes. Each of the inhabitants of the castle