The Real Little Mermaid

Part of what made me weird as a kid was the Hans Christian Andersen‘s Fairy Tales tome I kept bedside, right next to Roadside Picnic and The History of Metals [don’t ask]. My favorite was Rusalochka [The Little Mermaid] – a heartbreaking tale of impossible inter-species love between a human fish and a prince. Failure despite the best of efforts is the concept that makes The Little Mermaid the powerful, unforgettable piece that it is. While most children’s books pollute young brains with happy endings and ever afters, this is a love story made more beautiful by its futility.

Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid is a perfect tragedy – a concept mercilessly extinguished by the bubbly Disney animated film of the same name. Where is the star-crossed romance? Where are the spooky supernatural themes? Sure, here is Ursula the octo-witch, but the mysticism ends there. Instead of heartbreak and doom we get talking lobsters, horny priests and penis castles. Fortunately, there is also Rusalochka, the haunting 1968 Soyuzmultfilm animation. It follows Andersen’s story without too much sugar coating and puts melancholy back in its rightful place. The colors are muted, the characters are elegantly drawn and the music, composed by Aleksandr Lokshin, ranges between ethereal and somber. Watch all three parts below [with subtitles!].

Parts 2 and 3 await under the cut!

16 Responses to “The Real Little Mermaid”

  1. Unwoman Says:

    I wrote a song about The Little Mermaid, it is here and free:

  2. Fifa Says:

    I hate Disney for what they did to that story. Does this version also include how, after she gets the legs, it’ll always feel like she’s walking on knifes?

    I had the story by my bedside too when I was young, I can’t remember where it was published, but it had these watercolour illustrations that were both creepy and delightful – for instance, when she meets up with the witch, the witch’s lair is laden with long, flowing seaweed – among which are floating the bloated corpses of mermaids that had made the mistake of dealing with the witch in the past. Talk about scarred for life.

  3. Princess Poochie Says:

    The walking on knives element has always stuck with me. That is actually how I trained myself to walk in heels as floaty and elegantly like a bubble but in reality you are balancing on a knife’s edge.

  4. Alice Says:

    “Silly humans! They think love exists and mermaids don’t!”

    I’ve always been fond of the original story, so I’m very happy to have this wonderful example of how it SHOULD be animated! Although I also recall a detail about the mermaid longing for a soul, which humans have and mermaids do not. There was also something at the end about her being sort of saved and given a soul by air-spirits. Or something. But that’s a bit convoluted for even the neatest of animations…

    Also, watching this, especially the first scene in which we see the human princess, I can’t help but think of the movie The Thief and The Cobbler and feel almost certain that that movie was paying homage to little masterpieces like this.

  5. Beth Says:

    @Alice- yes, well, it had to have a proper Christian (PUN) ending, yes?

    I, too, enjoyed his tales (ANOTHER) as a child… but then again, part of what made me weird was my mother’s consistent desire to read to me myths from practically every culture ever.

    Although, have any of you seen/herd picture/clips/music from the new Little Mermaid musical? Sure it wasn’t great, and it was mostly a oh-my-God-Disney-has-more-money-than-they-know-what-to-do-with fiasco, but it appealed to my inner flaming homosexual. Plus it only cost me $20 to see it.
    Oh… and my friend is the blowfish. So I’m not completely unbiased.

  6. Io Says:

    Fifa: From your description, I believe we had (still have in my case) the same book: In case the link doesn’t work, in mine, she had black hair and very pale skin, and the watercolor illustrations were quite realistic — almost like classic paintings. It’s a beautiful book, even with its skulls and dead mermaids, and I still enjoy looking at it to this day.

    And on a different note, this is among some of the most gorgeously rendered animation I’ve ever seen — ditto for the score. I’d love to have this on DVD, but I’m doubtful it exists.

  7. Erin Says:

    The Little Mermaid was also my favorite Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale growing up. I remember having a coloring book of the orignial tale as well when I was young, and it’s always stuck with me.

    I tend to reference the story in a lot of poems and stories that I write because of the memories and feelings that it evokes. The dagger and the foam is just such powerful imagery.

    I should also add however, that I grew up with Disney films and I can’t fault Disney for their vision of the story either. I think there’s something to be said for formula and familiarity as well..(though perhaps not horny priests..)

  8. Zoetica Says:

    Unwoman, it really is an inspiring story, innit!

    Fifa – Yes! The walking on knives bit is in there. One of the most memorable depictions of suffering in literature for me.

    Princess Poochie – wow. That’s amazing – I did exactly that, too. I wonder how many others!

    Alice – They do end up becoming air spirits in this film. Interesting hypothesis: the daughters of air part wasn’t in Andersen’s original ending and he added it in later. And I’ll have to check out the Thief and the Cobbler now.

    Beth! If I ever make it to Burningman I MUST have one of those seahorse outfits.

    Io, I’m glad you like, this one’s pretty close to my heart. Those illustrations you linked to are gorgeous! Mine was a Russian translation and had watercolor illustrations, as well! Not like those though – softer, less defined. I’m still looking for the DVD myself and will let you know if i find it.

    Erin – I actually liked Disney’s Little Mermaid as a kid, too – but not until I was able to divorce it from the original story and treat it as its own thing. Much like you and most everyone that’s commented here, the original story’s intense imagery and concepts that have stayed with me since I first read it. The Disney version just made me want to dye my hair red!

  9. choklit Says:

    This animation is stunning! I definitely adored the haunting Hans Christian Andersen version of The Little Mermaid as a child, and had a guilty-pleasure kind of appreciation for the cheesy Disney version as a teen. Ursula may have started my obsession with someday having a tentacled corset.

    I do have to admit I’m conflicted about the message, though – the feminist in me balks at yet another story of a woman sacrificing everything for a man – first her voice, and then her life. But this certainly isn’t the only tale with that as a central theme – it’s obviously quite compelling.

  10. Mara Says:

    this is probably one of the most wonderful adaption of the little mermaid ever. the style of it all, so mysterious and at the same time full of bright details.
    the disney’s mermaid is nothing against this.
    i praise the russian animators!

  11. creativename Says:

    I had the Hans Christian Andersen stories too. A really old copy that belonged to one of my parents as a kid.

    Beautiful stories.

  12. rickie Says:

    i actually am a big fan of the hans christian anderson version as well as the disney version. the anderson version is just way more romantic.

    that’s just the masochist in me, i guess.

  13. Erica Stratton Says:

    I cannot tell all the ways I <3 this animation. To the way the prince looks manly and pretty and at the same time like a playing card, to the way the mermaids look more water-like than any of the more “realistic” portrayals of mermaids I’ve seen (maybe it’s the jellyfish-tendril hair), it’s all beautiful. Thank for taking the time to show us this wonderful thing!

  14. VanessaHudgens Says:

    The last time I saw the Little Mermaid was along time. I remember it like it was yesterday. I thought I was the best musical theater that I had ever been to even the tickets price was hard to get them. Before I used not to research enough to see if there were better pricing. But after finding this site, I’m so happy coz I ‘m saving some dollars via, you can find it here if I remember it:

  15. Sonia Ramos Velarde Says:

    Can anyone tell me where I can download the music made by Alexander Lokshin for this beautiful short?, please I really like this music

  16. Paula Says:

    Just like you, I saw this animated russian cartoon being just a child, and I was totally overwhelmed by the beauty of the characters and specially the story. Having parents that would tend to argue all the time, like many kids, I took this love discription as the ultimate love definiton and I kept it hidden in my heart for years. As an adult, I realized how in my loving ways I finally became into this sea princess, alraedy broken because I actually chose to do the right thing when all hopes were gone. Just like the story, I died; and just like the story, my prince never discovered how much I sacrified for him… and I kept silence, so as to preserve all beauty of what happened, but when you do that, your heart gets dark, and I wandered, what happenes to the Little Mermaid once she dies? Is it true that she will get a soul after all? Well I’m hopeful. Now I believe that child stories (the real ones) are more than just stories, ’cause you can make them happen…Good to know that somewhere, somehow, someone said that you can be borned twice, in love, and that life would never be taken away from you, no matter what. Lucky I believe that!