You might, like me, have wondered why an inordinate number of Disney characters are shown with only one or no parents. The simple answer is that Disney movies are often based off of fairy tales from long ago, where illness meant it was far more common for a family to have only one surviving parent. [[In this day and age, there are certainly a lot of single-parent homes, too, but a lot more of those are due to divorces and other less Disney-approved reasons.]] Another reason is that an addition parent means more work for the writers. How does the character interact with each of their parents? Is it the same? Is there more tension with one than the other? Do they even like each other?
Writers have a lot of workarounds. In Tangled, the king and queen don’t even talk! They have absolutely no personalities because all you need to know is that they’re alive, they’re the king and queen, and they miss their daughter. In Sleeping Beauty, Aurora has both of her parents, but her mother is basically a non-entity. Therefore, you get to know the king, who is actually really funny in his interactions with his fellow royals, but not really the mother, which is unfortunate but saves some screen time. In Lion King, there’s two parents, but you only really get interaction with Sarabi after Mufasa’s already dead (I think she gets maybe one line before that). In Lilo & Stitch, they kill off both parents at the same time, no doubt so they didn’t have to find two separate reasons for neither one of them being there. That way, we actually get to see the affect of parental loss as opposed to simply never talking about it, and it gets to tie into the story and characters.
The most common solution, however, is to have one parent missing, never even to be referred to onscreen (Ariel’s mom, Belle’s mom, etc.). But sometimes I wonder what they would be like, how they related to their children, and what happened to them. Here’s my thoughts on Ariel’s mother, starting with how I envision her visually:
[[Side note: You’re probably wondering about the color scheme. Well, if you take a look at the rest of the family, every single person (Triton included) has different fin colors and, for the ladies, a matching shell bra. Add to that the fact that out of Triton’s seven daughters, two have black hair, two blonde, two brunette and one redhead. If that doesn’t throw genetics out the window then I don’t know what does. Maybe merpeople aren’t monogamous, and each daughter has a different mother. Maybe merpeople lay their young in batches of eggs like fish, and maybe those eggs are highly diversified as puppy litters sometimes are. Either way, I’m going with typical human genetics and saying old gray-haired Triton and Ariel’s mother are brunettes, resulting in a recessively redheaded child. There. Done.]]
King Triton was near the shoals hunting sharks when he first swam across Audra, the woman he would eventually marry. The shoals were treacherous for human ships and there was a veritable graveyard of them rife with sharks. The king had taken it upon himself to rid his waters of the infestation before the shark’s food sources would dry up due to overpopulation and the hungry predators would turn toward his glorious underwater city for their next meal. With one blast from his trident, he obliterated an entire sunken galleon and the den of sharks within. Like a jet stream, Audra shot from the neighboring wreck where she had been searching for strange human artifacts. She swam over to the young king, demanding, “Did you do that?” He puffed out his chest, certain that he was about to receive accolades for his grand display of power. “Yes, I did.” She grabbed the trident from his hand and bonked him on the head with it. “You nearly killed me!” Concussion aside, Triton was in love.
Audra was not a typical queen in any sense. Nonetheless, Triton was enamored with her, worshipping the water she swam through and adoring her indomitable spirit. He had tried to name their first daughter after her, but Audra had refused. Instead, Triton had compromised and gave each of them a name beginning with ‘A’ in honor of his one, true love. Still, no matter how Triton tried, he could not seem to curb his wife’s wild adventures–searching galleons for human treasure, taking risky trips to the surface–hobbies she had tried (without success) to share with her daughters. She did, however, find common ground in music, and all of her daughters became accomplished singers with her help.
Audra, likewise, tried to convince her husband of the magic and wonder of the human world without much luck. Once–only once–did she convince Triton to come with her to the surface on a moonlit night. She had always loved the stars, but the moon even more so, watching them reflect in the rippling waves. It was the most magical night of each of their lives–yes, even Triton, but not because of the surface, but because of the love between them then that had led to their seventh daughter, Ariel.
Audra adored Ariel, not only because she was the youngest but because she reminded Audra of herself. Ariel was strong-willed, adventurous and curious without limit. Audra and Ariel spent many days exploring nearby caves and exchanging secrets, or pouring over Audra’s collection of human things. Ariel begged her to let her come along on one of her trips to the sunken shipyard. “It’s too dangerous,” Triton would say when he overheard such a conversation. “When you’re older,” Audra would whisper to Ariel once the king was gone.
But there would be no mother-daughter journeys to sunken human ships in their future. Audra had grown too curious as a human ship passed above one day and had been caught with nets and hooks by overeager fishermen who had thought they had spotted a marlin. A passing seahorse witnessed the horror and swam back to warn King Triton. The king and his trident soon made quick work of the ship, adding another wreck to the ocean floor, one that his wife would never live to explore. As he held Audra in his arms one last time, tangled and mangled by those wretched human things, he swore that the human world would never again merge into his own undersea one. He kept those trinkets he had given Audra over the years of their marriage, but everything made by human hands he destroyed at once with his trident until there was nothing left. The wrecks of human ships were made out-of-bounds for all merfolk from then on.
Ariel hated to see her mother’s treasured possessions destroyed. She had wanted to keep one or two of them for sentimental reasons–the thingamabobs and whatzits were her favorite, always reminding Ariel of those stolen moments with her mother in moonlit grottos, where they would take turns guessing what the humans used each item for. As she grew older, Ariel decided to make her own collection in honor of her mother. First, it was trips to the nearest sunken galleon. Then, it was up to the surface. As she grew more bold and more defiant at her father’s edict, she even began spying on humans on their passing ships, trying to see them use those precious treasures she sought. She made friends with a seagull, Scuttle, whose knowledge of the human world helped Ariel understand the humans a little better.
All this was done in secret, but Ariel still wanted to make some sort of tribute to her mother. In an act that would make her fashion-focused sisters gasp in horror, Ariel broke with tradition and abandoned the green-colored shells she had always worn to match her tail in favor of the purple color her mother favored. She didn’t match, but since she could not change her tail color to that of her mother’s, she would make do.
Five years after his wife’s death, King Triton decided to give a concert in his late wife’s honor, with music written by devoted friend and advisor Sebastian and performed by all seven of his daughters. He still missed his wife, but the thought of hearing their daughters’ beautiful voices raised in Audra’s honor…that would make the pain worthwhile.
Unfortunately, the concert didn’t turn out quite as Triton or Sebastian had planned and… Well, you know the rest.
UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that Ariel’s mom’s was actually seen in the Little Mermaid sequel. Obviously, I hadn’t seen that before I posted this, and I will probably one day get around to seeing it, but you know Disney and their dumb “vault” system…it’s hard to get a hold of their movies. Anyway, this is simply my take based solely on the original Little Mermaid film.
More Disney What-Ifs:
The Frozen Heart
Obligatory copyright notice: All characters and the original image are owned by Disney. The story and photoshopping were done by me as a work of fan art. No copyright infringement is intended.