Exploring Spirituality with The Little Mermaid

Children have long loved Ariel, the star of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, because of her determination to live her dreams. She exhibits wonder and amazement as she explores a new world, collecting items peculiar to humans and learning to dance with feet. The new live-action version brings her story even closer to home and invites children to imagine that they, too, can dream and explore. Use one or more of these ideas to help them reflect on Ariel’s adventures and their own life choices.

Collecting knowledge. Ariel loves collecting things from the nearby shipwrecks. She takes care of the items in her secret cave and learns more about them. Ask children: What are some things that you collect? Why are these things important to you? What have you learned about them? Share some of your collectibles (or photos of them) and their stories with one another.

Being heard. Ariel tried to explain her desire to experience life as a human, but King Triton did not listen and destroyed her collection of human things. She then decides to give up her voice so that she can experience life on land. Pretend to be Ariel and King Triton. Act out their clash over Ariel’s collection. Then ask: What might Ariel have done differently to be heard? How might King Triton have acted differently to hear Ariel? Act out these alternative possibilities and see what happens. 

Taking care of the ocean. After Prince Eric’s ship crashes, the mermaids clean up the wreckage. They note that shipwrecks destroy the sea habitat, especially the coral reefs, which take years to recover. Research ocean conservation with children. Identify some ways that you can help protect the ocean and reefs. Make posters to share what you have learned.

Belonging somewhere. Ariel spends much of the movie trying to figure out where she belongs. She loves her friends and life in the sea but, in the end, she decides she belongs on the land. Invite children to draw a picture of Ariel living happily on land. Then invite them to draw a picture of themselves living well in a place where they belong.

Making music. Sebastian tries to show Ariel how exciting and wonderful the ocean is through a musical symphony created by sea creatures and plants. Listen with children to the world around you and imitate the sounds you hear. Whistle like the wind, knock on wood like a woodpecker, whiz like traffic, bark like a dog, rustle like leaves. Make music with the sounds, using household objects or instruments as well as your mouths and bodies.

Resisting racism. In previous versions of the story, Ariel was portrayed as a white mermaid with straight red hair. Some people are upset that a black actress is playing the part of Ariel now. Ask children: When you imagine a mermaid, what do you see? Do you think that mermaids can be different races or ethnicities? Why or why not? What would you say to someone who is unhappy that Ariel is black?



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