Will Beaman and Scott Ferguson tease out the multiplicity of voices that shape The Little Mermaid (1989) in order to problematize racist outcries against Disney’s forthcoming 2023 live-action version of the film starring singer Halle Bailey. The co-hosts answer and invert an imperative promulgated by a reactionary meme circulated on social media: “Don’t take away my history." The meme falsely imagines Disney’s 2023 reboot displacing and replacing a past white heterosexual monoculture.
This episode, by contrast, explores the genuinely heterogeneous and contestable legibilities that inform The Little Mermaid’s historical production and reception. Developing Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of “dialogism,” Will and Scott trace the film’s significance across several registers: (1) gender representation in relation to Disney animation history and 1980’s Hollywood; (2) Disney’s imperialist expansions as a multinational conglomerate in the context of a zero-sum neoliberalism and expiring Cold War; (3) abstract animation aesthetics in light of an increasingly physics-oriented blockbuster cinema; and (4) queer culture’s fraught popular expressiveness in the midst of an HIV/AIDS crisis dismissed and repressed by U.S. authorities.
Note to Animation and Broadway Aficionados: In this episode, the co-hosts refer to “Someday My Prince Will Come” in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) as an original example of what has come to be called an “I want” or “I wish” number in musical films and plays. Here we add a small proviso: Snow White’s “I’m Wishing” song precedes “Someday My Prince Will Come” and thus represents the original “I want” or “I wish” number in the film in a very literal sense.
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Music: “Yum” from “This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me” EP by flirting.