You’d think living in a beautiful underwater utopia would be relatively stress-free (they sing a whole song about it, actually), but it’s clear the residents of King Triton’s kingdom are not okay.
Ariel, Flounder, Scuttle, and the other characters in Disney’s OG 1989 The Little Mermaid are all wracked with varying degrees of baggage that influence their every move, and I’m here to air it all out. Just because they aren’t real doesn’t mean you can’t ask “Why are they like this?”
So which of these seafaring sweeties was raised in a healthy, loving home, and which could probably benefit from a waterproof copy of The Body Keeps the Score? Ranking imaginary characters by their likelihood of childhood trauma is important work, but someone (read: me) has to do it.
6. Scuttle and Sebastian
One of these guys is way too stressed (Sebastian), and one of them isn’t stressed enough (Scuttle), but I don’t think childhood trauma is to blame. Sebastian obviously has the world’s shittiest work-life balance (he’s conducting a band full-time and stalking his boss’ daughter), but he’s generally got a good head on his shoulders. Scuttle is probably on every drug available in the sea, so I don’t think he even remembers his childhood.
Why is this guy so fucking nervous? For a creature that lives under the sea, he seems pretty terrified of sea creatures, and this level of paranoia and anxiety is neither healthy nor normal.
That said, it can be argued that Flounder is still a young fish, and he does enjoy consistent support and protection from his good friends Ariel and Scuttle. He has no parents as far as we know, but he’s literally a fish, so I’m not that worried. He’s probably got like 80 brothers and sisters.
Ultimately, Flounder’s problem is less residual trauma and more garden-variety anxiety. I think 100mg of Zoloft will fix him right up.
4. Prince Eric
Eric is a top 10 historic himbo and I love him for that. He’s great with dogs, even better with old guys (shout out to Grimsby), and generally seems like the kind of guy who would have a meditation routine. However, he’s also 18 years old, and canonically, his dad is already dead, so he’s definitely got some trauma points there.
Dead Dad Eric is quick to fall in love with two different women (Ariel and Vanessa, or fake Ursula) within the span of, like, a week, which seems like an unhealthy attachment style and a tendency toward codependency. Probably because of his dead dad.
So despite his gorgeous, empty head, Eric isn’t at the very top of this list.
3. King Triton
Hurt people hurt people, and King Triton is literally addicted to being a bad dad. Sure, he’s probably sad that his wife isn’t around, but for a girl dad, he is seriously shitting the bed at letting his daughters run their own lives.
Maybe someone emasculated and controlled him during his youth? Perhaps someone like his own father, literal Poseidon? It can’t be easy being the son of the God of the Sea, and this much is evident in Triton’s micromanagement of the kingdom. Toxic masculinity abounds — are we going to talk about how he stores all his power in his… big rod?
I think I speak for all of us when I say Ursula is kind of serving, even at her worst. She’s a body-positive queen, a savvy contract negotiator, and all around kind of girlboss. She’s also conniving, jealous, and can hold a grudge like nobody’s business.
Ursula is a classic misanthrope, and hatred that powerful has to be rooted in some deep-seated trauma from her past. Perhaps the daughter of neglectful or narcissistic parents, Ursula believes she can only get what she wants when she barters, cheats, and steals. She’s reclusive, suffers from delusions of grandeur, and sees everything as transactional — maybe the real poor unfortunate soul here is her inner child. No amount of mood stabilizers can make you stop wanting to turn everyone into seaweed. It’s time for Ursula to work this one out in therapy.
Ariel has an unfortunate advantage in that we spend the entire movie watching her childhood trauma in action. That’s right — Ariel is only 16 for the duration of the film, so her trauma is playing out before our very eyes.
Where do I even start? Her mom is dead, that’s not great. She has six older sisters who are all arguably more well-adjusted than she is. She’s being raised by a stressed-out single dad whose response to his own grief is to control his daughter’s every move and literally destroy all her stuff when he finds her secret grotto of spatulas and forks and shit. The threat of violence is still violence, Triton! No wonder Ariel is so willing to give up her voice to win Eric’s heart — she’s already given up her metaphorical voice (read: her autonomy) to please another man (read: her father).
There’s also the fact that her only friends are a huge loser and a barred-out bird, but she’s been through enough. Ariel will need serious therapy to undo all this childhood trauma, but the good news is she can definitely afford it now that she’s a princess.
All images courtesy of Disney.