History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

07 March 2016

The Little Mermaid, Once Upon a Time, Downton Abbey, & Happy Endings

I confess that as a child I always shied away from The Little Mermaid because I knew it had a sad ending. I remember thinking how odd it was Disney had made it into a film until I learned they had changed the ending. Which rather horrified me. I was in my twenties by then, the wrong age for cartoon movies and not yet a mom, so I didn't see the movie until my daughter Mélanie discovered it, first through a lovely video someone gave us that’s a sort of novella about Ariel and a baby killer whale named Spot, then through the movie itself. She loves it. Ariel, I think, is her favorite Disney princess, alongside Anna and Elsa. We have several Ariel dolls, including two who sing “Part of Your World” (a couple of nights ago we had them singing a duet). I’ve come to love it myself and find myself very grateful for the changed ending. But then I've always been fond of happy endings.

This weekend Mélanie and I saw a wonderful children’s theatre production of the story at the fabulous Marin Theatre Company (photo above). The play was based on the Hans Christian Andersen original. I was afraid the differences from the movie she loves, and in particular the sad ending,  would bother Mélanie, but she was entranced. As was I. The ending is haunting and so sad - not just the mermaid dissolving into foam, but the fact that the prince never knows of her sacrifice, never knows she is the girl who saved him. It's rich with metaphor and I found myself thinking of thematic echoes in my own writing. At the same time part me really missed Ariel and Eric's happily ever after.

Last night I was thinking more about happy endings watching two favorite tv shows. First, in Once Upon a Time, the heroine went into the underworld with some of the other characters to rescue her true love Hook. Emma killed Hook to save their world in the winter finale. Watching that (very well done) scene with me, Mélanie said, "A fairy tale is supposed to have a happy ending." (While I thought "Oh, my goodness it's Buffy and Angel.")  Once Upon the Time turns the idea of fairy tales having happy endings on it's head as it melds together characters from different fairy tales and takes their stories beyond the traditional endings. At the same time, happiness remains a possibility for most of the characters (including some who are considered villains in the original stories, like Captain Hook and Snow White's Wicked Queen stepmother). Much as I love the twists and turns, I find myself still intensely rooting for ultimate happy endings.

From Once Upon a Time, I went on to the Downton Abbey series finale. It's always bittersweet and a bit nerve-wracking to say goodbye to favorite characters. This finale brought tears to me eyes, but mostly because it was lovely to see everyone so happy. I hadn't thought everything would be wrapped up in such a neat and happy bow. At various points I'd envisioned different characters dying or the family having to sell the estate. Which could have fit with what had gone before. But overall I'm so glad Julian Fellowes went that way. After spending so long with these characters it's nice to imagine them going on having happy lives.

Did you watch Downton Abbey? What did you think of the ending? What are some of your favorite series finales? What do you think of the different versions of The Little Mermaid?

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