No, the director of the original 1980s Little Mermaid Disney film isn’t ‘anti-woke’

Co-director of The Little Mermaid John Musker has said Disney films possibly need a “course correction” to make sure they continue to put the story at the heart of every movie.

Musker, 70, who has directed some of the most universally loved animated films, including Aladdin, Moana, and Hercules, as well as the original 1989 The Little Mermaid, has suggested that Disney films could be improved by focusing on the story rather than “agendas”.

His comments have been delightedly pounced on by many right-wing commentators who regularly complain that “Disney is woke now”, or that the “queer agenda” is ruining Disney films in some way.

However, John Musker’s actual wording was much less critical and inflammatory than some headlines have suggested. In fact, he’s previously said that he’d be open to seeing a lesbian Disney princess in the future.

According to Variety, he told Spanish publication El País: “They need to do a course correction a bit in terms of putting the message secondary, behind entertainment and compelling story and engaging characters.

“The classic Disney films didn’t start out trying to have a message. They wanted you to get involved in the characters and the story and the world, and I think that’s still the heart of it.”

‘You don’t have to exclude agendas’

“You don’t have to exclude agendas, but you have to first create characters who you sympathise with and who are compelling,” Musker said.

Speaking of “agendas”, it’s probably worth noting that Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale was inspired by his own queer heart-break. When he wrote the story in the 1800s, he’d been trying, and failing, to win the attentions of one Edvard Collin, the son of Andersen’s patron, Jonas Collin. The frustration he felt led to the frustration you see embodied in Ariel, as she yearns for someone (initially) unavailable.

Johun Musker (R) and John Clements worked together on The Princess and the Frog. (JIMI CELESTE/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

The casting of Halle Bailey, a Black singer and actor, years later, in the updated version of The Little Mermaid, caused a similar backlash with the hashtag #NotMyAriel taking hold of X/Twitter trends. 

Bailey opened up about the racist backlash she received and revealed that her mentor and friend Beyoncé helped her through the difficult time.

John Musker, who also worked with Ron Clements on The Princess and the Frog also made it clear that the introduction of Disney’s first Black princess in the 2009 film wasn’t them trying to be “woke”, despite it causing controversy.

Furthermore, Clements has previously said he and Musker would be open to the idea of a lesbian or bisexual princess, which may trouble the “anti-woke” media outlets who are currently celebrating Musker’s recent comments.

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