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Friday, 23 June 2017

Frozen on Broadway – 10 Important Questions

Since it was released at the end of 2013, Frozen has become one of Disney’s most iconic and popular films. Though the memorable supporting characters and creative twists on the traditional Disney formula played a key role in this, the main reason for Frozen’s popularity was the relationship between the two protagonists: Princess Anna and her troubled older sister Queen Elsa, who has the ability to control ice and snow. Millions of fans want to see more of Anna, Elsa and their friends and enemies, so it is no surprise that Frozen is about to be adapted into the stage musical Frozen: The Musical, making it the seventh animated musical from Disney to be turned into a play. The full cast and crew have been unveiled over the past couple of months and rehearsals have just begun. The list of those working behind the scenes features three of the people most responsible for bringing the original film to life. Jennifer Lee, who wrote the script for the original film, will write the book for this version.  Kristen-Anderson Lopez and her husband Robert will also return to write additional songs. The other major members of the creative team will include director Michael Grandage and choreographer Rob Ashford.

The cast is as follows:
  • ·         Anna and Elsa will be played by Patti Murrin and Caissie Levy. There will also be alternates for both characters (Aisha Jackson and Alyssa Fox), and child actresses to play them when they’re children during the prologue (Audrey Bennett and Mattea Conforti will play Young Anna, whilst Brooklyn Nelson and Alya Schwartz will play Young Elsa).
  • ·         The male lead, Kristoff, will be played by Jelani Alladin, and his loyal reindeer Sven will be played by Andrew Pirozzi. Greg Hildreth will play snowman sidekick Olaf.
  • ·         The two villains, Hans and the Duke of Weselton, will be played by John Riddle and Robert Creighton respectively.

Frozen: The Musical will premiere at in Denver on August 17th, and it will be performed at the Buell Theatre (the largest theatre in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts) until October 1st. After a few (hopefully minor) changes, it will finally arrive at the St. James’ Theatre on Broadway during March 2018 (the exact date has yet to be confirmed). If it proves to be a success, expect versions of it to premiere all over the world in the next few years. Time will tell whether it becomes a long-runner like the stage versions of The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast, or leaves Broadway as quickly as the stage versions of Tarzan and The Little Mermaid.

In order for Frozen: The Musical to be a hit, it has to build on the best features of the film whilst rectifying its flaws, and follow the template set by that movie whilst doing enough to stand out on its own terms. The project faces numerous issues, with some stemming from the film, and others being related to the challenges posed by translating an animated film to the medium of theatre. Here are ten important questions which need to be asked about Frozen: The Musical. If the stage version answers these effectively, it could become almost as significant and enduring as the original film…

(Note: This post contains spoilers, as it is assumed that most of us are familiar with the story of Frozen by now. If you aren't, be careful...)

How Will Anna and Elsa’s Relationship be Developed?

The most popular aspect of Frozen is the relationship between Anna and Elsa. Viewers who love these two characters want to learn more about their relationship. They want to see more of Anna and Elsa’s time together before their parents decided Elsa’s powers were going out of control. They want to learn about the 13 years they spent isolated from one another, and how it affects them in the present. However, it’s possible that they want too much of a good thing. In the film, Jennifer Lee made the deliberate decision to keep Anna and Elsa apart for as long as possible, because making them too close would make the big reveal at the end (that sisterly love will save Anna and allow Elsa to control her powers) feel too predictable. A lot of the issues faced with providing a new version of Frozen revolve around the difficulties of retelling a story which stood out due to the numerous surprises it offered. This makes it necessary for Frozen: The Musical to provide a balance between pleasing the fans and retaining the sense of freshness which made Frozen stand out in the first place. Thus, the bond between Anna and Elsa needs to be emphasised enough to cement its status as the heart of the story, but overexposure could cause their reconciliation to lose the power which it possessed in the film.

Another issue is the fact that Elsa is absent for long stretches of the second act, as the story focuses on Anna and Kristoff. This is due to the fact that Elsa doesn’t have an active goal when living in seclusion in her ice palace – she just wants to stay away from everyone else. However, Elsa is too popular and significant to be left out of Frozen: The Musical for too long. This means that she will probably gain a number of extra scenes, which could be used to discuss her insecurities and her motivations. Elsa undergoes the most significant transformation out of any of the characters in Frozen, as she goes from being an isolated outcast to being a woman able to put her incredible powers to good use. In order to allow these changes to fully register, we need more information on how she feels about others, especially Anna. Giving her an extra musical number or two, possibly in the ice palace, would develop Elsa’s character arc and allow her to become even more interesting.

Will there be any New Twists on the Story?

Frozen is currently the highest-grossing animated film of all time, and has become a part of mainstream culture in a way which no Disney film has since The Lion King. Therefore, most of the people who see the play will be familiar with the story. They know that Anna and Elsa will be reunited, they know that Anna and Kristoff will become a couple, they know that Hans is not to be trusted. However, as beloved as the movie is, providing the exact same story in a different medium will not be sufficient. In order to justify the time and money which people will spend on seeing Frozen: The Musical, it has to provide a few new selling points. Like most stage musicals, Frozen: The Musical is expected to last about two and a half hours. It’s hard to tell whether this includes the interval or not, but it still will be at least half an hour longer than the film. The extra length will need to be filled with more songs and more scenes of character development. The need to replace the three-act structure of the film with a two-act structure means that the scenes which occur around the halfway point assume a greater level of importance in this version. The changes to the story will probably be relatively minor, but some aspects of Frozen will probably be emphasised over others, as certain characters and themes receive more development…

In addition to providing something new, the stage version will have to use a great deal of its extra length to sort out some of the questions left unanswered by the original film. In a 100-minute animated film focused on appealing to the heart rather than the head, there are several instances where important details are left unexplained. However, in a longer production where the story and characters have to be more developed, the plot holes created by this “fairy tale logic” become more conspicuous and need to be addressed. There is a risk that (like the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast) Frozen: The Musical will spend too much time on questions which don’t need to be answered, thus undermining the magic and mystery of the source material. In order to prevent this from happening, Jennifer Lee needs to be careful when expanding the material, and focus on answering the questions that increase our understanding of the characters and their motivations. Lee doesn’t have to explain where Elsa’s ice powers come from, but she should try and explain some of the inconsistencies related to her actions…

How Will the Film be Translated From the Screen to the Stage?

In the world of film, directors and cinematographers are able to use the camera to tell the story and fully convey the expressions and gestures of the actors. However, you are unable to do this in theatre, which is a problem when trying to depict smaller, more dramatic scenes. Several important scenes from Frozen, such as the argument which causes Elsa to lose control of her powers and the scene where Hans betrays Anna, are dialogue-based and occur in confined settings. In theory, these moments should be perfect for stage, but they rely on close-ups for a lot of their power, and the characters have the big expressive eyes you can only find in animation. It is impossible for the majority of audience members to read the eyes of an actor standing in the middle of a stage, so Frozen: The Musical has to find new ways of capturing the emotions of these shocking moments. The music, acting and direction will be absolutely pivotal, as they need to capture the heightened emotions of these scenes, whilst also maintaining enough subtlety to stop it from being too melodramatic.

The other issue with bringing Frozen to stage is the need to fit the vast world of the film onto a single stage. This is going to be especially difficult during the quest-based second act, as Anna and Kristoff team up to find Elsa. As the two cross the snowy expanses, they encounter wolves and plenty of pretty scenery. All Disney films feature spectacular locations, but the quest narrative in Frozen means that there are more of these, and they play a larger role in the story. If the scenery is not impressive enough, it could undermine the epic feel of Frozen: The Musical and make Anna and Kristoff’s journey feel less authentic. In addition, numerous scenery changes occur during songs such as “For the First Time in Forever”, giving them a level of energy which is hard to capture on stage. Although the songs should dominate these sequences, poor staging could undermine the goal of providing a memorable and immersive experience.

Will the Extra Songs Meet the Standards Set by the Old Ones?

It goes without saying that the eight full songs from the movie (such as “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”, “For the First Time in Forever” and the inescapable “Let it Go”) will appear in this version. However, these will only represent the tip of the iceberg in the stage version as the Lopez’s have promised to provide a total of 23 songs. It’s likely that many of these will be reprises of existing songs, but a substantial amount will be entirely new. Unlike most of Disney’s other stage musicals, such as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, songs which were written for the film but cut during production (Such as “Life’s Too Short”, “More Than Just a Spare” and "You’re You”) will not be used in the stage version, as the radical changes which occurred during the movie’s development mean that they can no longer be integrated into the story. The 15 new songs have to fit in with the style and tone of the originals, but also need to be unique and interesting enough to stand out on their own terms.

The decision to increase the amount of songs could solve one of the biggest problems with the movie. In Frozen, the songs are disproportionately loaded into the early section of the movie. Four of the movie’s eight full songs are sung during the first act, and Elsa sings “Let It Go” at the start of the second. However, once Anna meets Kristoff, the songs dry up. This is because the film is too focused on telling the story, and dialogue and action sequences were seen as more effective means of doing this. However, in stage musicals, audiences expect a song for most of the major scenes and twists. As a result, Frozen: The Musical will need to spread the songs out, and divide them far more evenly between the two halves of the story. The songs at the start of Frozen are so popular because they advance the narrative and provide insights into our characters, and hopefully the stage version will maintain this winning approach throughout the story…

How Will the Non-Human Characters Get Brought to Life?

Given that Disney’s most successful and beloved stage musical is their adaptation of The Lion King, depicting the two non-human characters central to Frozen should not be a challenge for Disney, but it still requires plenty of work. The most iconic of these non-human characters is the loveable snowman Olaf, who is the primary source of comic relief. As popular as he is, Olaf will have to be changed a bit for Frozen: The Musical. During the movie, a lot of humour is generated from Olaf’s status as a snowman invulnerable to everything except heat. However, jokes about his head getting knocked off and his ability to withstand impalement only really work in the world of animation, as it is hard to capture their cartoonish nature on stage. Instead of using Olaf for slapstick, Frozen: The Musical will have to emphasise his optimism and naivety in order to make the audience laugh. However, the need to focus on characterisation means that Olaf’s role as the symbol of Anna and Elsa’s lost bond should also be highlighted a bit more. This would allow him to become a truly pivotal part of the story, and justify his role for those who prefer the more serious aspects of Frozen.

The other major non-human character in Frozen is Sven, an expressive reindeer who has been Kristoff’s best friend since childhood. In this stage version, Sven will be played by an actor dressed as a reindeer. This is probably a sensible decision, as it is impossible to use real animals on stage, and lifelike puppets similar to the ones used in War Horse would not suit Frozen’s more comedic tone. However, this raises a number of questions. Will Kristoff be able to ride him? How will he pull a sled? Will he be able to talk for real, or will Kristoff continue to hold one-person conversations with him as if he were a ventriloquist’s dummy? Sven is one of the central characters in the movie and all animated projects set in the Frozen universe, but if his shtick fails to translate to the medium of theatre, the carrot-loving reindeer could lose a lot of his appeal.

How Will Hans Be Portrayed?

A seemingly perfect prince secretly plotting to steal Elsa’s throne, Hans is one of the hardest Disney villains to portray properly, and this isn’t just because of his constantly shifting personality. The idea of a fake “Prince Charming” using his image to advance his own selfish interests is brilliant (The original Disney Princes were always too perfect), but Hans feels more like a plot device than a fully-formed character. The decision to hide his true nature until the start of the third act ensures that less time is spent exploring the threat he poses, and his main motive for his misdeeds (being bullied by his older brothers) is not integrated into the story smoothly enough. In short, Hans is a villain who could really benefit from a few major changes.

Almost everyone who goes to see Frozen on Broadway will have already seen the film, so they will be fully aware that Hans is up to no good. However, the late reveal of his true nature is too iconic and memorable for him to be exposed as a villain too early. This leads to a dilemma. Should Jennifer Lee and the Lopez’s try and make viewers trust Hans for the first three-quarters of the story in order to shock them a second time, or should they focus on examining the motivations and flaws which fuel his villainy? It seems that they will be aiming to do both. The Lopez’s have teased a new song for Hans designed to mislead audiences into believing that “this is the hero”, but have also promised they have “got deeper” into a character “waiting for his moment to pounce”. This is a difficult balancing act to pull off, but successfully highlighting Hans’ ability at deceiving others whilst developing his underlying motivations would allow the scheming prince to become a more complex and threatening character.

Will We See More of Elsa Running the Kingdom?

The main thing which makes Elsa stand out from Disney’s other female protagonists is the fact that she’s a queen rather than a princess. This means that she has a degree of power and responsibility not generally associated with women her age (Frozen is set in an age when female rulers were not as common as they are today), but it also puts her under increased pressure. Given Elsa’s anxiety and her struggle to control her ice powers, looking after an entire kingdom is going to be a daunting challenge. The film doesn’t really explore this in detail, but the play could use its extra length to show that being queen means more than just attending ceremonies and meeting foreign diplomats. No one wants to see a story in the Frozen universe get bogged down in tedious political detail, but giving us some idea of what it truly means to run a kingdom will make it easier to connect to Elsa and understand the problems she faces trying to look after her country whilst managing her ice powers.

In addition to providing insight into the pressures of being a ruler, the stage production will have to focus on how Elsa reacts to those who are suspicious of her and frightened of her powers. The main hint that the stage version will explore prejudice against Elsa in greater detail is the listing of Frozen’s fatuous secondary antagonist, the Duke of Weselton, as a lead character in this version. The Duke’s main role in the film is to be Elsa’s primary detractor, so giving him more to do here indicates that his prejudice against the new queen will be a central aspect of this version. However, it would be unwise to link the fear and distrust which Elsa faces too closely to a single person, so we need to learn more about the way in which the ordinary citizens of Arendelle view her and her powers.

How Will the “Sensation Scenes” be Pulled Off?

Many of the biggest plays on Broadway feature plenty of memorable moments used to showcase spectacular special effects. In the 19th century, these were known as “sensation scenes”, and the term can still be applied to the extravagant sequences featured in blockbuster plays today. The stage version of Frozen will feature plenty of "sensation scenes", as the try to replicate the most epic moments from the film on stage. Key scenes like Elsa creating her Ice Palace, accidentally freezing all of Arendelle, and ending the eternal winter, will have to be performed using physical effects- there will be no CGI animation in this version of the story. Illusions and puppetry can be used for many of the scenes where Elsa displays her powers, but if these look unconvincing, they can take the viewer out of the story. Furthermore, whenever Elsa is directly manipulating her surroundings (For example, when she uses her powers to build a flight of stairs during “Let it Go”) the effects need to be completely in sync with Caissie Levy’s performance. Although “sensation scenes” don’t have to be totally lifelike (In the world of theatre, it is easier to accept a certain degree of artifice) they need to be spectacular, unique and authentic enough to convey the impression that Elsa can actually control ice and snow.

The trickiest of all the special effects to portray will be the curse which Elsa accidentally inflicts on Anna in the second half of the film – a condition which slowly freezes her heart and can only be undone by “an act of true love”. In animation, it is easy to depict someone slowly turning into ice, as animators have full control over a wide range of special effects not available in any other medium. However, it’s a lot harder to depict this gradual transformation on stage, and the primary indicator that Elsa’s curse is affecting Anna (her hair steadily turning white) may not be noticed by those seated in the back row. Patti Murin will need to convey Anna’s deterioration through physical gestures and increasingly limited movement, which is not an easy task...

Will the Climax be Spectacular?

Disney films are often known for featuring action-packed conclusions. The climax to Frozen is no exception, as Anna finds herself torn between finding Kristoff (who she believes is the only person who can break her curse) and saving Elsa from Hans. The sequence switches between three different perspectives (Kristoff racing to find Anna, Anna searching for Kristoff, and Hans preparing to kill Elsa), adding tension as Anna chooses between self-preservation and protecting her sister. For all the spectacle, this conclusion is effective because it is focused on our protagonist and the decisions she makes, and it powerfully reinforces the primary message about the importance of family. A key reason for the success of the original film was its ability at providing something new and subversive whilst also retaining a pleasing degree of warmth and comfort, and the ending embodies this. However, the resolution has its share of problems (Anna and Elsa’s problems are resolved a little too quickly after Elsa brings her sister back to life), so the team behind Frozen: The Musical need to clear these up whilst preserving everything which makes the final scenes so memorable.

One major weakness with the stage versions of The Little Mermaid and Tarzan was their inability to translate the conclusions of the films to the world of theatre, with the new endings created for the stage seeming flat and boring. In comparison to the treetop fight in Tarzan and the big sea battle of The Little Mermaid, the conclusion of Frozen is much easier to stage, but there is a risk that it could seem less exciting, as it is much harder to cut between three perspectives at the same time on the same stage. Whether or not the ending works will depend on the writing and direction. If we care enough about the protagonists, and the music and staging is sufficiently rousing, then Anna’s eventual decision will be all the more powerful, and Elsa finally learning how to control her powers will be just as heart-warming as it is in the movie.

How Will it Set Up Frozen 2?

The third proper Disney sequel to a Disney animated film after The Rescuers Down Under and the forthcoming Wreck It Ralph 2: Ralph Wrecks the Internet (this ignores the infamously mediocre Direct-to-Video sequels churned out by the company during the 90s and 2000s), Frozen 2 will be released on November 2019, almost exactly 6 years after the original film. Jennifer Lee will return to write the script and the Lopez’s will provide new songs.

It is possible that some of the songs used in the Broadway musical could appear again in the sequel. Even if they don’t, the melodies and lyrics could be recycled in some fashion (“Making Today A Perfect Day”, the song from the 2015 short Frozen Fever, reused elements from “Life’s Too Short”). There is also a likelihood that more substantial aspects will be added to Frozen 2 as well. If the stage play succeeds in exploring the backstories and motivations of our characters in more detail, then many aspects may be made “canon” and incorporated into the animated universe. As Jennifer Lee is writing both the play and the sequel, at the same time, she will be know before anyone else which elements from the stage musical will be worth using in the sequel. If these are used effectively and carefully in Frozen 2, they will be popular with fans of the stage version, and seem new and exciting to casual fans who are unable to go to the theatre. Furthermore, if Frozen fans are particularly lucky, Frozen: The Musical may even set up some of the key elements and plot points which will be explored in further detail in Frozen 2… 

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Wonder Woman Vs. The Little Mermaid

At the moment, the most significant movie in cinemas is Wonder Woman, the first live-action movie to centre on the iconic DC Comics heroine (An animated movie was released direct-to-DVD in 2009) and the latest instalment in the DC Extended Universe, which has also included Man of Steel and Suicide Squad. The Wonder Woman comics always been heavily inspired by Greek mythology, as the eponymous heroine (real name Diana), the Princess of the Amazon island of Themyscira, is the daughter of Zeus, with her superpowers given to her by the Greek gods. However, the new Wonder Woman movie takes a lot of inspiration from a variety of more modern sources, with one film in particular providing a significant and unlikely influence. Allan Heinberg, who wrote the script for Wonder Woman, has admitted that it was heavily inspired by the Disney classic The Little Mermaid. Given the darker and edgier tone of the DCEU, it may seem odd to use this family-friendly film (which turned a tragic Hans Christian Andersen story into an upbeat musical) as inspiration. However, the risk has definitely paid off. Wonder Woman has become the first DCEU movie to gain critical acclaim (It currently has 93% Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, with over 285 reviews), and the first movie directed by a woman to earn over $100 million in America in its opening weekend.

The clearest link between Wonder Woman and The Little Mermaid is the similarity between their basic plots. Both centre on a strong and inquisitive female protagonist who saves a handsome male from drowning, and leaves her idyllic home to follow him to the human world. However, the similarities go much further than this, with both movies also featuring handsome and adventurous male leads, nasty female villains who specialise in creating deadly potions, and a big, spectacular climax. There are also several differences between the two movies. Wonder Woman places much more emphasis on the dark side of the human world, and is set during 1918, at the climax of World War One, whilst The Little Mermaid is set in an unspecified period in the past (presumably during the mid-19th century). This post will compare the two movies in greater detail, examining the parallels between them and the ways in which they utilise familiar tropes in order to create something unique and memorable.

(Note: This article contains several minor spoilers for Wonder Woman throughout. It contains more substantial ones later on. There will be another warning before these major spoilers are revealed, but if you haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet, be careful)

The Heroine

Both films feature protagonists defined their willingness to learn and discover more about the world. Wonder Woman’s inquisitive nature is established very early on in her film. We see her as a child, asking her mother, Queen Hippolyta, about the history of the Greek gods, and seeking information about the weaponry which her fellow Amazonians use. Wonder Woman wants to be a warrior, but recognises that in order to fulfil this destiny, she has to learn more about the worlds which she is going to fight for. Meanwhile, in The Little Mermaid, the curiously of the titular mermaid, Ariel, is made clear in her “I Want” song, “Part of that World”, as she sings about wanting to experience life in the human world and expresses her desire to “know what the people know”. In spite of this enthusiasm for learning, both characters are fish out of water in the human world, making them unfamiliar with various human items and customs. Whilst in Prince Eric’s palace, Ariel combs her hair with a fork and mistakes a pipe for a musical instrument. Even though Wonder Woman is a much more serious movie, the titular heroine’s discoveries about the human world are often played for comedy, as she learns about marriage, struggles with a revolving door, and even finds time to eat an ice cream on the way to the Western front. In both cases, the way in which our protagonists react to even the most mundane aspects of the human world highlights their innocence and likeability, making it easier to root for them.

However, both Wonder Woman and Ariel both have the same major flaw – naivety. When Ursula gives her a contract to make her human for three days in exchange for her voice, Ariel impulsively accepts, not aware that her inability to speak is going to make it much harder to gain Eric’s love within the time limit. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman literally believes that she can end “the war to end all wars “merely by vanquishing Ares. One major advantage of setting Wonder Woman in World War One is the fact that it places the idealistic heroine in a conflict primarily remembered for being “futile”. The First World War was the result of a complex series of diplomatic disputes, and this reality directly challenges Wonder Woman’s perception that a problem like war has a simple cause and a simple solution. The coming-of-age narrative in both movies ties in with a loss of innocence, but this is especially apparent in Wonder Woman, and the contrast between her beliefs and the reality of the conflict adds to the drama.

Atlantica vs. Themyscira

Both Wonder Woman and Ariel come from a paradise which is deliberately cut off from the human world. Ariel’s homeland, Atlantica, is populated by mermaids and a wide array of sea creatures. Themyscira is depicted with green grass and blue skies, with the bright colours contrasting with the grey and chaotic human world. As beautiful as Atlantica is, it doesn’t really get explored in much detail in The Little Mermaid, as it plays no part in the story and relationships involved – focusing too much on depicting life underwater would take attention away from Ariel and her dream of exploring the human world which fascinates her so much. However, in Wonder Woman, we see more of Themyscira, as we learn how Wonder Woman and her fellow Amazons train to be warriors. Their mythology is explained in detail, introducing viewers to the origins of the Amazon race and their conflict with Ares, the fearsome god of war. As most viewers of Wonder Woman are not familiar with the comics, the film has to make an extra effort in order to gain their attention and make Wonder Woman and her world as appealing as possible. Spending more time exploring Themyscira at the start of the movie makes this much easier to do.

The Love Interest

The Little Mermaid is a romance first and foremost, meaning that Ariel’s relationship with Prince Eric is the most important aspect of the film. It is also one of the most problematic, as Ariel and Eric have not properly interacted with each other before Ariel decides to risk everything in order to gain true love’s kiss from him. That said, Ariel spends enough time spying on Eric before the storm starts to learn that he’s kind, modest, and adventurous and looking for the perfect wife. In short, it’s obvious that he’s not the barbarian which her father, King Triton, accuses all humans of being. Compared to the princes from earlier Disney films such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty (who were mere plot devices), Eric has a bit more depth, as he finds himself torn between the “dream girl” with the beautiful singing voice who saved his life and the lively mute staying in his castle, not knowing that they are actually one and the same. However, this dilemma is relatively underdeveloped, ensuring that Prince Eric still seems too perfect, leading to the common complaint that he’s a bland love interest.

Whilst Ariel is often accused of becoming human just to win the heart of a guy, Wonder Woman’s reasons for seeking out the human world are not related to romance. However, her relationship with Steve Trevor provides Wonder Woman with a lot of its heart. He specialises in working as a spy, going undercover in German territory, and has a good reason to describe himself as an “above average” male. Although his experiences have made him all too aware that humans are capable of great evil, he is still committed to protecting as many people as possible, claiming that “my father once told me that when you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do something or do nothing, and I’ve already tried nothing.” Steve’s willingness to fight for peace in spite of his understanding of how violent and cruel humanity can be, proves to be a major inspiration for Wonder Woman, and ensures that he’s just as compelling a character as she is.

View on Humanity

Aside from the characters and storyline, a key aspect of both movies is their depiction of the human world which both Wonder Woman and Ariel find themselves exploring. The Little Mermaid portrays the human world in an extremely positive fashion. Although Sebastian the crab has a run-in with a deranged French chef (played entirely for cartoonish comedy), Ariel generally sees the best side of humanity during her three days on land. Eric and his staff treat her very well, and she gets to spend time in a luxurious castle and a bright sunny town, seeing puppet shows and experiencing carriage rides. The film is primarily focused on validating Ariel’s belief that the human world is not as bad as King Triton fears, reinforcing the message that it’s worth taking risks and challenging prejudices. This means that the problems with the human world are heavily downplayed.  In contrast, Wonder Woman learns far more about the negative aspects of the human world. Heading to fight, she sees numerous crippled soldiers, and is disgusted by the conduct of the British government, which is willing to let countless men die on the battlefields. However, in spite of all the death and destruction she sees during her time in the human world, Wonder Woman eventually realises that “only love will truly save the world” as there will always be people like Steve Trevor willing to do heroic deeds in the name of securing peace. Both movies ultimately believe that the human race is worth fighting for, but Wonder Woman highlights the brutality and complexity of our world, making it much more balanced than the overly idealised portrayal of humanity in The Little Mermaid.

Side Characters

Wonder Woman and Ariel are aided in their missions by a small band of memorable sidekicks. In order to gain True Love’s Kiss from Eric, Ariel relies on the support of her friends Sebastian the crab, Flounder the fish and Scuttle the seagull. Flounder is a cute and expressive sidekick, whilst the feather-brained Scuttle provides Ariel with some wonderfully inaccurate information about the human world. However, Sebastian is easily the best of the comic relief sidekicks. His anxious, panicky personality generates a lot of humour, but when he starts singing songs like “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl”, he changes into a confident, smooth and energetic showman. In addition, Sebastian’s willingness to aid Ariel in spite of his opposition to her rebellious ways gives him a greater level of depth. Sebastian is one of the most developed characters in The Little Mermaid, and children and adults love him as much as (if not more than) Ariel and Eric.

In contrast, the side characters in Wonder Woman are much less important. Steve’s secretary, Etta Candy is a lively and likeable individual, but she only really appears in the relatively short sequence set in London. Whist fighting in France, Wonder Woman and Steve are assisted by three soldiers: Sameer, a master of disguise from Africa, Charlie, a Scottish marksman and Chief, a Native American mercenary. These characters have some amusing quirks which allow them to stand out, and the brief mentions of their backstories (Charlie has nightmares about his experiences in combat, Sameer became a soldier after being rejected as an actor due to his race) subtly highlight the unpleasant aspects of the human world. They provide Wonder Woman with invaluable help in her mission, but they primarily function as part of the scenery without trying to steal the show.

(WARNING: The next two sections contain major spoilers, revealing major twists in the third act. If you haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet, you should skip to the conclusion)


In order to make life even harder for them, an innocent in an unfamiliar world needs to come up against an extremely dangerous villain. In its conniving baddie Ursula, The Little Mermaid features one of the greatest ever Disney villains. A tentacled troublemaker plotting to take over Atlantica, Ursula revels in her grotesque nature, eating live shrimp and turning merfolk into wretched worm-like creatures for her own amusement.  She is skilled at exploiting Ariel’s vulnerability, claiming that her spells can solve the mermaid’s problems and allow her to pursue her dreams. However, Ursula will do anything to ensure that she can usurp King Triton’s throne, so she has no intention of allowing Ariel to gain her happily ever after. Wonder Woman also features a wicked witch of its own in Doctor Maru, nicknamed Doctor Poison by Steve. Doctor Maru is a chemist working for General Ludendorff, the head of the German army. She creates a number of deadly weapons, including pellets which can increase Ludendorff’s strength, and a type of poison gas which can be used to wipe out entire villages. With her deformed face (she has several facial disfigurements hidden by a porcelain mask), sinister eyes which highlight her sadistic nature, and her willingness to test her bioweapons on various unlucky people, Doctor Maru is a memorably nasty character. Although she’s relatively underused and pretty flat, Doctor Maru is a prominent example of the archetypal “baroness” (Wonder Woman’s first archenemy in the comics, Baroness Von Gunther, also epitomises this character type). Sadistic, powerful and lacking inhibition, Doctor Maru essentially represents a 20th century version of the wicked witch, creating chaos and devastation using science and technology instead of the magical spells and potions which Ursula specialises in.

For all the devastation which Doctor Poison is planning to unleash, there are even greater threats. Wonder Woman is the latest in a long line of recent blockbusters to feature a “Surprise Villain”. Sir Patrick Morgan, a diplomat who initially seems to be working to end World War One, is eventually revealed to be Ares himself. He has secretly been using his powers to influence belligerents such as Ludendorff and Doctor Poison, and aims to make the war continue until mankind has completely destroyed itself. Although he’s able to teleport from place to place in the blink of an eye, resist Wonder Woman’s special weapons and send trees flying through the air with a flick of his wrist, Ares prefers to work in the shadows, manipulating humans into acting on their own selfish and destructive desires. His ability at exploiting the worst traits of mankind contrasts with Wonder Woman’s belief that humans are inherently good. The “Surprise Villain” is rapidly becoming an incredibly annoying trope, but Ares ability at hiding his true nature demonstrates that some of the deadliest villains in the human world are those able to prey on the flaws and prejudices of others.

The Final Battle

Even avid fans of Disney’s The Little Mermaid will admit that the third act is one of the weakest aspects of the film. Although the final battle, in which Ursula essentially turns into Cthulhu and tries to finish off Ariel and Eric, is wonderfully spectacular and over-the-top, Ariel is reduced to a damsel-in-distress, doing little to defeat Ursula. As Ariel is the one who caused this situation in the first place, she should be taking charge and defeating Ursula, thus demonstrating how much she’s grown as a character since she initially accepted Ursula’s deal. The climax of Wonder Woman also relies heavily on spectacle, with Wonder Woman facing off against Ares whilst Steve and his friends race to destroy Ludendorff’s poison gas before it can be used in combat. However, unlike the final battle in The Little Mermaid, this conclusion provides a substantial test of Wonder Woman’s character, as the all-powerful Ares tries to convince her to abandon mankind. It’s a little bit disappointing that the men are ultimately the ones who ultimately stop the Germans, but their actions are necessary to convince Wonder Woman that mankind is ultimately worth saving from Ares. In both films, the big heroic gestures are ultimately done by men (Eric saving Ariel and destroying Ursula, Steve sacrificing himself to blow up the last supplies of the bioweapon) but at least the ending of Wonder Woman manages to centre on the decisions of the female lead and complete her character arc in a powerful and satisfying fashion.


Both The Little Mermaid and Wonder Woman are good movies, but they have different strengths and weaknesses. Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor are a more interesting central couple than Ariel and Eric, but the side characters and villains of The Little Mermaid are far superior to the merely functional ones used in Wonder Woman. The Little Mermaid is an optimistic and enjoyable film, but Wonder Woman centres on a more realistic and better-developed world, with more complex and thought-provoking themes and subject matter.

In some respects, it can be reductive to compare the two films when they belong to different genres (Wonder Woman is an action-adventure, The Little Mermaid is a primarily a romantic comedy), with different tones. Wonder Woman probably has greater depth, with WWI setting and its themes about sacrifice and the loss of innocence. It helps that the movie is around 50 minutes longer than The Little Mermaid, and a lot of this extra time is used to explore the complexities of the human world. However, The Little Mermaid is probably better as entertainment, due to its memorable characters, colourful animation and those legendary songs which have made it one of Disney's best-loved musicals. Ultimately, the success of both Wonder Woman and The Little Mermaid highlights the timeless appeal of a coming-of-age tale. Both films turn classic source material into engaging and unique entertainment, with strong and hopeful messages, memorable characters, and most importantly, a simple but compelling storyline which can be engage and inspire viewers of both genders all over the world.