Like most queer kids growing up in the 80s, I was obsessed with The Little Mermaid. Just ask my mom. So I jumped with glee when I read the recent news that Disney is following in the much-hyped contemporary re-imaginings of their animated classics with a forthcoming live action film focusing on a 16-year-old mermaid who falls in love with a prince. And the fact that Sofia Coppola is set to direct, I couldn’t have asked for a better pairing.
Sofia Coppola’s films focus almost exclusively on adolescent females struggling to find their identity in a world that confines them (or pre-defines them). They rebel, and they suffer for it. Coppola’s female protagonists tend to end up voiceless (or dead).
Coppola is also noted for working with a certain type of prestige young actress: Kirsten Dunst, Scarlett Johansson and Emma Watson. The latter would make the finest Ariel, independent but also a bit caught up in her own delusions.
The director’s signature dream-like fantasy vibe will do wonders in bringing to life the 1989 Disney animated version of The Little Mermaid. But it’s also safe to expect that the Coppola version will draw from the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and its darker themes.
The original 1836 fairy tale has the protagonist making a deal with a sea witch in order to become a real woman and win the prince’s love. After all, mermaids need legs to engage in sexual intercourse with a human male. The prince turns out to be a dick, however, and marries another woman. The mermaid is so distraught that she went through such painful physical transformation to impress the prince that she ends up killing herself. She is, in a sense, the ultimate virgin suicide.
Will Disney give Coppola enough creative freedom to off one of their most popular heroines? Probably not, but I hope that Coppola sticks to her narrative preferences and doesn’t give us just another happy ending.
Now for another burning question…