Keira Knightley is still talking about how ‘The Little Mermaid’ has a terrible message

Harper's Bazaar Women of the Year Awards

Several weeks back, Keira Knightley appeared on The Ellen Show to promote her Disney film, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Keira’s got a long-standing relationship with Disney, and obviously, she’s starring in one of their big holiday films. But that didn’t stop her from dissing several of Disney’s most classic animated films, like The Little Mermaid, Cinderella and any film she deemed too un-feminist to show her daughter. Keira even went so far as to say that she had banned those films outright from her house, so Edie will never see The Little Mermaid (until she goes to a friend’s house, probably).

Anyway, Keira’s pronouncement led to some debates, on this blog and beyond. Is it better to ban kids’ films with problematic messages, or is it better to allow kids to enjoy classic animated films and explain to your kid why certain films have certain issues? I grew up watching Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, and I turned an okay feminist (ish?). Why can’t Edie be the same? Well, Keira had more thoughts about all of it – she spoke to the Press Association at the London premiere of The Nutcracker:

Keira told Press Association: ‘Moana is big in our house, Inside Out is big in our house, I just wonder what Elsa (from Frozen) would say to Ariel (from The Little Mermaid) and Cinderella because Elsa has some serious opinions about Anna (her sister in Frozen) going off with a guy that she’s only just met and saying she would marry him.

‘She’s like “absolutely that is not okay” and in fact everyone in Frozen is not okay with that. What would Elsa say to Ariel, who gives up her voice for a man? A man, by the way, she has only seen dance round a ship and then drown!… And it’s 100 percent amazing of Ariel to save the guy, I’m totally up for that, but what would Elsa make of that? I think Elsa would be like: “Babe, you’ve got to get to know him better, don’t give up your voice just yet.”‘

[From Metro]

I appreciate that Keira feels so strongly about this, and I think it’s flat-out hilarious that she’s disrespecting half of Disney’s most classic animated films WHILE SHE’S PROMOTING A DISNEY MOVIE. But, again, why not wait a few years – Edie is only 3 years old – and then watch The Little Mermaid WITH her and bring up all these points? I mean, Keira isn’t ruling that out, and I think she’ll probably soften the “bans” at some point, so maybe she’s just trying to start the dialogue. Maybe her point is that little girls shouldn’t be brainwashed with problematic messaging when they’re too little to think critically? I don’t know, f–k it. I was watching Beverly Hills Cop when I was a little kid, so I’m probably not the person to ask.

'The Nutcracker and the Four Realms' Screening - Arrivals

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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39 Responses to “Keira Knightley is still talking about how ‘The Little Mermaid’ has a terrible message”

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  1. Michel says:

    Speak on, Keira, but ‘ware the backlash..

  2. me says:

    But isn’t it a woman’s right to choose how she wants to live her life? If she wants to marry a man she just met then that’s up to her…as long as she’s not being forced to do it. I believe in freedom of choice for everyone.

  3. Case says:

    It’s kinda not getting the full scope of Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid to say she simply “gave up her voice for a man.” She longed, specifically, for legs and a human life. The prince was part of it, but it’s laid out pretty clearly in “Part of Your World” that she wants to experience the other way of life as a whole, not just because of a man. And as I’ve seen many places before, Cinderella didn’t ask for a prince. She asked for a night off and a dress.

    I TOTALLY agree with her that Frozen has great messages and Elsa is a badass character. For sure. But she’s also skipping over the nuances of other stories that she could use to teach her daughter certain lessons.

    My mom was always anti Sleeping Beauty and Snow White because “Some Day My Prince Will Come” and, you know, all the sleeping. But I still watched them, and she used that as a bouncing off point to teach me how heroines like Belle were so special because she was proactive, kind, intelligent, and brave.

    • Valerie says:

      “You know, all the sleeping” — lol

    • DS9 says:

      Yes to The Little Mermaid…

      Old girl was hooked on life above water long before she caught a glimpse at a prince.

      Up where they walk and all that.

      And when she got on land, she wanted to learn everything.

    • VirgiliaCoriolanus says:

      Yeaaa, I would say honestly the only Disney film I would theoretically ban would be Sleeping Beauty–because she IS literally just a placeholder. But as a kid I was always bored with Sleeping Beauty, and I LOVED Maleficent turning into a dragon… it’s not really that big a deal to me.

      And I literally have 2 generations of little cousins and nieces/nephews who still LOVE Frozen/Anna and Elsa. My niece is 3 and she wants to dress like Elsa 24/7.

    • Hikaru says:

      Little Mermaid took advantage of the prince to get the land visa via marriage.

    • Sadie says:

      Merida from Brave. Best feminist princess.

      • Justjj says:

        I’m so here for Merida, Elsa and Moana.

        Disney movie breakdown:
        Snow White-take care of people, including an army of tiny men, until your coveted beauty costs you your consciousness and you can only be saved by the non consensual kiss of a rich, handsome, white man
        Cinderella-Snow White with cattier sisters, encourages competition for the scarce attentions of rich and or handsome white men, again, beauty will save you
        Sleeping Beauty-Snow White with more sleeping, beauty will save you
        The Little Mermaid-Follow a dude to the ends of the earth if curiosity moves you to do so and he will inevitably love you for your whiteness, prominent seashells and your seagull friend
        Aladdin-Be sexy and have a pet tiger, and you too might score a hot, magical, husband with secret Genie wealth
        Beauty and the Beast-If you love him enough, he’ll change


        Personally, I think Keira should talk about this all day long.

  4. Lolly says:

    I think honestly the most annoying part of The Little Mermaid is that Eric “fell in love” with Ariel without her having a voice. HOWEVER, it’s just a disney movie. I grew up with those 90′s disney movies on constant replay and I think I’m a pretty decent feminist. If you’re letting your child be raised by movies, you have a whole separate issue than just disney movies.

  5. Nancy says:

    This women has way too much time on her hands. If her biggest problem in life is worrying about Disney movies, she has a flipping easy life. Getting on my nerves.

    • Jegede says:

      LMAO. So true.

      The irony is that Ariel was mocked by her sisters for being different from them.
      She had a curiosity and awareness far beyond sea life. leading her to rebel against an over-protective parent.

      She’d been collecting earthling crap for years, before the Prince came along. A prince whom by the way she rescued.

      Ah well, Nutcracker is still a flop so anything to distract from that I guess.

  6. Cindy says:

    As I said on the last thread that popped up about this, this “problematic message” is only apparent to adults. To any kid watching the movie, this is just a cute love story with catchy songs about a girl whose wish came true.

    Honestly, look at all the girls who grew up during the Disney renaissance who are now out protesting and wearing “future is female” shirts. Whatever mysoginist undertone The Little Mermaid has, it clearly wasn’t effective at all in brainwashing that whole generation of girls.

    • Nancy says:

      I agree 100%. With her thinking, her kids would never hear the old time nursey rhymes, because we all know what happened to Jack and Jill when they went to fetch their bail of water….lol. If she is teaching life lessons to her kids through movies, she’s doing something wrong in my opinion. Nobody will ever make me believe there is a Prince Charming, but the memory of him as a child is sweet. Fantasy v reality……….

    • Swack says:

      My girls loved the music. I received 7 Brides for 7 Brothers for Christmas one year and my girls watched it constantly. It’s one of their favorite, not because of the message but because of the music and dancing that was involved. They are all feminists.

      • Laura says:

        7 Brides for 7 Brothers is my favorite movie. The barn raising scene displays the most difficult choreography ever recorded for a movie. I never tire of watching it.

    • Valerie says:

      Yup. I watched all of those movies and loooved Snow White, to the point where it was a weird kind of fixation with me for a while. I’m a feminist. I’m 30, so I grew up at a time when we were just beginning to push back against stereotypes while a lot of them were still being used. I understand the “protect impressionable minds” line of thinking, but it’s way more important to teach your kids to realize that what they see on the screen isn’t a guide for living your life.

  7. Natalie S says:

    All my thoughts flew out of my head when I saw that blue dress. Wtf is that?

  8. Kerfuffle says:

    Is she not familiar with the HC Andersen tales these are based on?

  9. Talie says:

    She just sounds dopey doing this while she’s on a press tour for a Disney movie, the company that made her a major international star. The foolishness is amazing.

  10. KA says:

    I mean… my family finds some Disney films extremely problematic. We avoid Peter Pan precisely because it is problematic. Could we use it as a teaching moment, sure, but it is just easier to avoid and find other ways to teach. As they get older, we may use it as a tool. The difference I see between us and Kiera is that my family doesn’t use our power (we don’t have any, haha) to try to influence the way others approach potentially problematic films.

    I don’t judge Kiera for making that choice with her kid. The problems she raises are true. And if avoiding them is easier in her book- great. But other families may choose a different approach and that is ok too.

    • ladie says:

      Yeah, people get outraged because she’s parenting her child differently than they were parented/are parenting – but really, she’s not really wrong about anything she’s saying (in my opinion) and she’s not obligated to show her kid decades-old movies and then have a critical conversation about them with a toddler, especially when there are movies made recently that they can just enjoy together without the lesson on critical thinking.

      I don’t think she’s saying that other parents are wrong because they let their kids watch The Little Mermaid, she’s just a famous person explaining how she’s choosing to raise her child, and people take that as an attack on them personally.

  11. Helen says:

    i wanted to be eddie murphy in beverly hills cop lol best movie

  12. Valerie says:

    I sort of see her point, however, what approaches like this do is completely miss the opportunity to teach kids the difference between fantasy and reality. Watching The Little Mermaid didn’t make me think that I should want to change myself or get married to a prince because I knew it wasn’t real.

    I know that before a certain age, little kids have a difficult time separating fact from fiction, but I think we underestimate their intelligence if we believe cartoons are going to influence them this much.

    • VirgiliaCoriolanus says:

      It’s that they need OTHER influences. And need to learn how to filter out the media they see and analyze it.

      But IDK–I don’t see what she’s saying as a big deal or judgemental—I’m just laughing that she’s saying all of this while promoing a Disney film.

  13. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Arguing about cartoons. I’m sorry, but her going on like this, about this subject, is no different when I was growing up hearing pearl-clutchers freak out about devil music and those ‘awful’ video games or even my boys and their friends fighting over which superheoes, in battles against each other, would win. Superfluous drivel. With current events as they are, dissing The Little Mermaid should be embarrassing lol.

  14. perplexed says:

    I like Keira a lot and I don’t think she should have to be quiet about her opinions. But at the same time….er, this is Hollywood. They’re all about the money, and when the price is right, so are you. It is what it is. Why is she in a Disney film?

  15. SpillDatT says:

    *yawn* No one forced Ariel to do anything, she did everything of her own free will. Can KK now STFU?

    • me says:

      Exactly !

    • Natalie S says:

      But her actions were celebrated in a movie for little girls. Drastically change your physical appearance and give up your voice in the hopes of getting a man to fall in love with you. Ariel didn’t do all that to travel or get an education, she did it to get a man to fall in love with her.

      • me says:

        But she didn’t want to travel or get an education. She wanted HIM. No one forced her to do anything…she did it of her own free will. Not every girl wants the same things in life. If this is the life she wanted, then who are we to judge her? We should be teaching girls to make their own choices…to do what makes them happy…and to realize that not every girl needs to take the same path in life. If one girl wants to be a doctor, good for her. If one wants to be a housewife, then good for her too…and if a girls wants to be alone then good for her too !

      • Natalie S says:

        It’s not emotionally healthy to want another person to that degree, especially when you’re making drastic changes to yourself, hiding who you are, dealing with untrustworthy people, and effectively lying to the person you want because they don’t really know you.

        Ariel didn’t even know Eric so who did she even want? What was she doing all this for? Love isn’t behaving obsessively enough to make drastic changes for a stranger. Ariel was actually kind of a stalker.

        Not all choices are emotionally healthy ones and this is not a choice that should be presented to little girls when there are so many other stories they could have told that celebrates making emotionally healthy choices. Choosing this particular story is endorsing Ariel’s actions to children. We shouldn’t be teaching little girls to make drastic changes to their bodies and their lives for the attention of a stranger. In real life, that’s a sign of either low self-esteem and emotional dysfunction or spoiled and reckless behavior.

        All that being said, values should be modeled by the people around us rather than movies. I don’t think there’s a problem with letting children watch these movies as long as their daily lives don’t reflect these values. And it’s also a good thing that Disney changed their plotlines and moved away from these stories.

  16. Nina says:

    I agree with Keira Knightley 1000% and I say this as someone raised on Disney movies. The Little Mermaid is wildly problematic. Not only does she give up her voice, she alters her body to chase after a guy she had fallen in love with without even having met him. If she was solely chasing after a life on land, that would have been the deal she signed with the sea witch — but no, the deal she inked was to marry Eric.

    Can we also talk about what a horrible King her father is? He puts his entire kingdom in peril to save his daughter from her terrible, poorly thought-through choices instead of letting her take responsibility for her actions. Why should all the merpeople suffer for Ariel’s bad deal with Ursula? As a King, his responsibility to his subjects is more important than his responsibility as a father. I hope they overthrew him once Ursula was defeated because what the heck man?!

    The Hans Christian Andersen story was different. The Little Mermaid’s choice had consequences — having feet caused her pain. The prince liked her but in only an affectionate way — when he met the woman who found him on the beach after he had been saved, he married her. The consequence of this is that the Little Mermaid would die on the morning after, turning into foam on the sea. Her sisters gave their hair to the sea witch in exchange for a knife: if the Little Mermaid killed the prince and let his blood wash over her feet, she’d turn back into a mermaid and could live for another 300 years. But she didn’t. As dawn broke, she dove into the sea but instead of turning into sea foam, she was pulled up by the Daughters of the Air and told that good deeds would gain her a soul. It’s a messed up story, sure, and there is no way Disney could adapt that one-to-one. But the original tale was quite a bit about selflessness and redemption while the Disney version is just .. selfish.

    • PattyCakes says:

      Me, too. The Little Mermaid gives up her tail and her voice for legs and a man. It is so problematic. Such an anti-feminist message
      Americans love it, though. It reminds me of Meghan – she gave up so much, including her right to speak out freely anymore, for a man. She can never express her opinions outwardly as a member of this family. And I’m always amazed that so-called feminists here think that it terrific.
      I will bow out now!

  17. Susan says:

    But would we see anything differently if it was a man giving up his voice for a woman? Wouldn’t we say how romantic it was?

  18. Pupax says:

    Everyone, please consider reading the original story by H.C. Andersen. It is, as many of our Danish stories, quite dark and heart wrenching, but also really wonderful. I’ve loved it since I was a kid.

  19. Annabel says:

    I don’t know that I’d personally choose The Little Mermaid as the hill I’d want to die on, but as the mother of a 3-year-old girl, I kind of get where she’s coming from here. This stuff’s just really difficult to navigate.

    It’s like, you know intellectually that you’re living in a fundamentally sexist world, then you start introducing a tiny girl to that world, and the extent of it is just outright absurd. You go online to buy her a pair of pants, and end up shopping in the boys section because even toddler girls’ pants have no pockets. She loves a book about a brother and sister who are mice, but you notice on the second reading that the boy mouse has all of the ideas and almost all the dialogue. Actually, almost all of the talking animals in her books have male pronouns. When she’s two years old, she asks you if she’s pretty, because she’s somehow already absorbed the idea that being pretty is of the utmost importance. etc etc.
    It’s difficult to figure out where to draw the line in terms of what your kid sees and when.