Here is a bit of Disney Archaeology for animated film fans. As most Disney fans know, rarely does an animator haphazardly put something in a Disney film and the work they create is a very unique art form to be sure. So here is a bit of mystery found in The Little Mermaid. Actually it is a bit of art history mystery found in the film.The scene unfolds as Ariel sings, “Part of Your World.” It is the powerful moment when she is swimming and asking questions… especially as she floats past a portrait, places her finger on a flame in the portrait, and sings – “What’s a fire, and why does it – what’s the word? Burn?”
Ariel has found this painting somewhere in the ocean and added it to her collection. But is it based on a real painting? Now remember, most things don’t happen by accident in Disney animated features so the answer is yes! It’s a real painting!
Now, at this moment you are looking at the pictures connected to this post or planning on watching the sequence for yourself.
The painting by French artist Georges de la Tour and is titled Magdalen with the Smoking Flame. It was painted in 1640 and features Mary Magdalen, sitting by candlelight, staring into the flame. On her lap sits a skull. Kinda creepy-huh?
According to those who study such things, it is thought that the skull on the Magdalen’s lap is a reminder of mortality – in this era, a skull, candle, or flower is common in 17th-century traditions contrasting the fate that awaits all humans. Not really the stuff of a children’s movie – is it?
So why put a painting like this in a children’s movie?
Tough to know for sure, but the Magdalen looks like she’s meditating on the mystery of life as she stares at the smoking flame. If you think about it – in some ways Ariel is doing some serious thinking about what it would be like to be a human?
Now, they also could have just needed a painting that someone remembered that had some type of flame in it, so Ariel could reach out and touch it while she was singing the song at just the right moment. That is a less complicated answer. Either one could be true and either one works – but let’s ponder the first one since it is deeper and more riveting for just a moment.
We live in a world where people spend a great deal of mental and emotional effort in trying to figure out the complexity and meaning of life. There are big questions to be sure. While it is important to find answers it is also important not to squander your life away asking “why? Instead of asking “what?”
Let me give you an example – while we might want to know why something has happened…which can be helpful especially if you don’t want to repeat it – it is probably more important to ask what do I need to learn, discover, and grow from in this moment? By tackling it that way – it allows you to move forward, live forward, and your life doesn’t get so bogged down in the mystery. Don’t get so bothered by the mystery of life that you miss the magic of life.
Each day is a very special gift – one that you will never get again. Don’t squander it, don’t waste it, take the time to live each day to the fullest, become the best version of yourself, and bless others. As you do – you will change the world.
(Or maybe it really is just a portrait with a candle flame in it – it could have been the only one the animators could remember)