Will We Ever See a Movie Version of Hans Christian Anderson’s “Little Mermaid?”

Discussion Post

Most adult audience goers are savvy enough to know that Disney’s versions of fairy tales tends to clean things up.  Happy ending are tacked on to originally tragic tales and excessive violence is often made comedic.  If the villains do die or receive punishment, it is often by accident (witness the Evil Queen falling in Snow White, Gaston falling in Beauty and the Beast, or Frollo falling to his death in Hunchback (admittedly not a fairy tale–but the principle holds)) rather than by the hands of the protagonist.  You won’t see Disney princesses dishing out sweet revenge to their former abusers.

However, the inspiration behind Disney’s Little Mermaid–Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid”–may be surprising even to viewers who know that adaptations change things.  Anderson’s tale is not really a romance–though the titular character does fall in love with a dashing young prince–as much as it is the story of an individual seeking immortality.  But not the kind Voldemort seeks.  “Immortality” might rather be read as “spiritual redemption” or “a place in heaven after death.”  It’s the story of the search for a soul.

In Anderson’s version, the little mermaid’s dilemma is that supernatural creatures do not possess souls and so cannot rise to a new, blissful realm after death.  Rather, after a long life of 300 years, mermaids turn to foam on the sea.  But the little mermaid yearns for more and so she seeks the aid of the sea witch.  She learns that if she can convince the land prince to fall in love with her and marry her, his soul will enter into her and somehow give her a soul, as well.  But if she fails to gain his love, she will die the morning after he marries someone else.  To gain her chance at redemption, the little mermaid allows the witch to cut out her tongue and she accepts a bargain.  She will have legs, but each step she takes will feel like a knife cutting through her.  Indeed, when she walks on land she sometimes trails blood.

This narrative presents an obvious problem.  Why does the mermaid’s soul and her state after death depend on someone else?  Shouldn’t her eternal state be a product of her own attitudes and efforts?  The ending of the story tries to solve this dilemma by allowing the mermaid a second chance to earn redemption through her own activity.   If she works for 300 years doing some good, she can have a soul.  The mermaid earns this opportunity by her initial willingness to endure agony for a chance to receive a soul through marrying the prince.

This is not the type of the story that I can easily imagine Hollywood wanting to film.  A mermaid who wants to get to heaven?  A character who finds redemption through suffering? It’s not the type of thing people in Hollywood usually imagine will sell.   Generally they seem to think that the general public would prefer a nice romance.  Anderson’s story is provocative, moving, and, yes, disturbing.  It’s a powerful tale.  But somehow I doubt it will turned into a mainstream film anytime soon.

What do you think?  Is Anderson’s story still worth telling?  Can we expect a faithful film adaptation sometime soon?

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39 thoughts on “Will We Ever See a Movie Version of Hans Christian Anderson’s “Little Mermaid?”

  1. The Hermit Librarian says:

    There is meant to be a film coming. Originally Chloe Grace Moretz was the star, but dropped out. I hope that the film will continue, considering there are two others “Little Mermaid” movies coming out: one Disney and one that uses the name very, very loosely.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alexandria says:

    I LOVED The Little Mermaid as a kid (the real version, I was never into Disney). However, I suspect Disney might have claimed the rights to it to prevent other film companies from adapting it (even though it should be in the public domain). I WOULD love a live-action version of the original fairy tale, though. Mermaids rock.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I don’t think Disney can claim the rights to Hans Christian Anderson’s tale. They probably have some rights to their version of it, but there is another Little Mermaid coming out soon and there was, as one of the comments points out, one with Chloe Moretz that was supposed to come out (though now the future of that film seems doubtful).

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  3. Lisa says:

    Much as I would love to, I can’t see anyone making a Little Mermaid movie based on the original. Think of all the traumatized kids taken by parents who thought it would be all singing and happy fish! 🙂 I do love the original story, but it’s so awful. The painful legs, the prince loving someone else, the mermaid needing to kill him to save herself… it’s really quite a sad story. Maybe other mediums are better suited? The SF Ballet did a production of The Little Mermaid a few years ago which was true to the original story, and I heard it was beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      That sounds like a lovely ballet! But you may be right in that such a film wouldn’t be marketed to children. Though it would potentially face the problem that people hear “fairy tale” and immediately assume it’s supposed to be for children. So they’d have to find a way to convince adult audiences that such a film was not meant to be for their families necessarily.

      Glancing at Wikipedia I do see that there seem to be some versions in languages other than English that are closer to the original, but, of course, I haven’t seen them!

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  4. Huriyah says:

    Oh wow, I didn’t know anything about this. It doesn’t sound like something they’d make an exact adaptation of but I can imagine the storyline being twisted around a bit for a darker Little Mermaid (if that makes sense).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I imagine that if someone did a version closer to the original they’d keep the bloody feet and the need for her to marry the prince or die. However, I’d be really surprised if the little mermaid got a chance at earning a soul at the end of the film. I think it would probably be made into a romance with a happy ending or end with her death (with maybe a gesture at her continuing onto an afterlife but nothing really overt like Anderson’s ending).

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  5. Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    I would love to a true film adaptation of this. Not a family film necessarily, because realistically most fairy tales would be hard pressed to be considered “family” if told in original form. But I love them none the less and it would be great to see the original stories receive more attention without being doctored or toned down. Adults can enjoy them as well 😉 I certainly do!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Emily | Rose Read says:

    Oooh what a great question! I feel like a movie of the original tale would have to be Tim-Burton (a la Sweeney Todd) -esque, or like Game of Thrones-esque. It’s so dark and has such misogynistic undertones, I feel like this could be adapted into a really gritty, thought-provoking film.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Emily | Rose Read says:

        That makes sense. I guess I’m mot sure that Andersen himself had an issue with women, but that the story has bits that touch on the misogyny of society. The witch tells her her body is all she needs to get a man, the prince treats her like a dog and makes her sleep on a pillow outside his door, she needs to marry a man to gain a soul/personhood.

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        • Krysta says:

          I remember thinking that the witch’s advice was awful and that the prince was awful, but I guess I figured that of course a sea witch will give bad advice. And that the prince is just an oblivious human being who probably isn’t good enough for the mermaid. Interestingly, his treatment of her seems to be because she can’t speak–as if it’s the lack of language that makes the prince see her as an animal rather than as a human. So maybe there’s something for disability studies there?

          I think Anderson saw the problem himself with the marriage plot. Hence the alternate ending. Surprise! You don’t need a man after all! Too bad someone didn’t tell you this before!

          Liked by 1 person

  7. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    Yeah, I agree with you- as much as I love the original and wish they’d make a faithful adaptation, I don’t imagine Hollywood making it any time soon. But if they did, it would be a very bold mood and I would definitely go see it!!

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  8. The Book-Filled Day says:

    I remember being shocked when I first found out the true story of the little mermaid. Of course, now I know lots of the fairy tales are dark. Still, I think it’s worth telling for sure! But, it’s hard to see Hollywood ever doing it though.

    Liked by 1 person

        • Krysta says:

          I still think it would be cool, though. It’s definitely a dramatic story with the threat of turning to sea foam and has emotional punch since you see the mermaid realizing that the prince may never reciprocate her love. I’d like to see something like this onscreen in some form, even though the Disney version is great.

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  9. vendija723 says:

    I kind of hated Andersen’s fairy tales as a kid–they are all pretty depressing and/or preachy. The Little Matchgirl? Seriously? But I loved The Snow Queen, especially the robber girl and the reindeer, and his stories certainly have a flair for the unusual.

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