Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel in the 1989 Disney classic, The Little Mermaid is defending the film after critics and celebrities including, Keira Knightly, 33, and Mindy Kaling, 39, claim its plot exudes sexism. If you’ve seen the animated fantasy, you’d know that in the film, 16-year-old Ariel is intrigued by life on land and ultimately gives up her voice to find love. Knightley and Kaling have both criticized the film for its representation of women, with Knightley admittedly banning her daughter, 3, from watching the film.
While Benson believes watching the film is an individual choice that everyone’s entitled to, she also thinks viewers need to take a deeper look into what they’re consuming on the big or small screen. “For some of these moms that have decided ‘I don’t want my child to see ‘The Little Mermaid’ because I don’t want them to chase after a man,’ but you have to take the whole relationship of these families,” Benson told HuffPost in an interview published on February 16. She explained: “What are they watching? Are they watching PG-13? Are they watching foul language? Are they watching maybe some questionable stuff that maybe 3-, 4-, 5-year-olds really shouldn’t be watching? Are they watching R-rated movies with their family? You can kind of look at it from both ways. What’s going to be worse? Do you want to watch ‘NCIS’ with your child or do you want to watch ‘The Little Mermaid’?”
Benson further explained: “The previous princess for me [was 1959′s ‘Sleeping Beauty’], so to jump from ‘Sleeping Beauty’ to Ariel, you have a very large jump … I think when you look back at 1989, [Ariel’s] tenacity, her motivation, her determination, her strength, her stubbornness ― she has a little bit of an edge to her — that’s quite a big jump coming from ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ But it’s not 2019 in 1989,” she said. “You kind of have to take every decade or every period of time in relation to where you are. When we’re talking about the Me Too movement, which is incredible, and I’m a huge supporter of that, it’s different than if we go back to 1989. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but it is different.”
Overall, Benson thinks parents have the right to do what they feel is best for their children, adding that she “totally” respects their opinion. “I’m all for where we are now, believe me. But when I get a lot of flak about that, I just say, ‘Hey, please don’t worry. You don’t need to watch the movie, It’s OK.'”, she said.
Knightley and Kaling are two of the many critics who’ve discussed sexism and The Little Mermaid throughout the years. The film has been a hot topic in terms of claims that it propagates chasing after a man to give one self-worth.
Knightley was one of the first celebrities to push the topic to the forefront when she admitted that she banned her daughter from watching the Disney classic during a past interview with Ellen DeGeneres. The actress revealed that she didn’t want her daughter to watch a princess who “waits around for a rich guy to rescue her.” She also associated another Disney classic, Cinderella with sexism.
“I just wonder what [Frozen‘s] Elsa would say to Ariel and Cinderella, because Elsa has some serious opinions about Anna going off with a guy that she’s only just met and saying she would marry him,” Knightley told Press Association. “What would Elsa say to Ariel, who gives up her voice for a man? A man, by the way, she has only seen dance round a ship and then drown!”
Knightley continued: “It’s 100 per cent amazing of Ariel to save the guy, I’m totally up for that, but what would Elsa make of that? I think Elsa would be like: ‘Babe, you’ve got to get to know him better, don’t give up your voice just yet.'”
Then, Mindy Kaling hashed up the topic during a speaking engagement in June 2018 — where she admitted that while she will let her daughter watch The Little Mermaid, she said she’ll have to step in and add commentary for certain parts.
“‘The Little Mermaid’ is a little problematic to me,” Kaling began when she took the stage at POPSUGAR Play/Ground last summer. “I love the songs, I love the crab, Ursula the Sea Witch is a great character, but it bums me out looking back on it because she gave up her voice and left her family and friends in pursuit of a man. And she’s 16 years old. When my daughter and I watch it together and she gets older, I’ll still let her watch it, but I’ll have to do the running commentary of like, ‘You don’t have to be mute to attract a man and get all your dreams to come true. It’s fine! The people in your life who are your enemies are not just an older woman who’s jealous of your beauty. The ultimate dream in life is not to become married to a white prince.'”