Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre was a children's television show back in the eighties that showcased various fairytales. Each episode would have a different story, with a different cast (usually supporting some surprisingly big names), and most of the time was delightfully tongue-in-cheek. I grew up on the show, which is why I have an incredible soft spot for it (in particular their take on Cinderella, but that's another story).
Their version of The Little Mermaid has Pam Dawber of Mork and Mindy fame in the title role, Treat Williams as The Prince, and Helen Mirren as the Other Princess. It wasn't as carefree as many of the show's other renditions, which I suppose is because of the melancholy nature of the tale, which they attempted to keep as accurate as they could.
The little mermaid in this version has been given the name Pearl. It is her 21st birthday (!!!) which marks the day she can finally go up and visit the surface. Her sisters Coral and Anemone (who, by the way, have terrific facial expressions) attempt to explain to their younger sister concepts like "dry" and "human legs", which only serves to fuel her curiosity. She's a sweet young thing, even if a little too trusting than is healthy for her. Her father recognises this so he warns her against the dangers of human beings. She hears, but doesn't listen.
Anyone who watches this episode today would probably laugh at the dodgy special effects, but it was an eighties television production, which aren't really known for their prowess in making the fantasic realistic. Anyway, Pearl finally surfaces and she sees Prince Andrew aboard the ship HMS Rollicking Dolphin (*snicker*). She sings to him, he is enchanted, she falls in love. Thing is, he looks directly at her as she sings to him, but later he doesn't recognise her. He might've brushed this event off as a dream, enhanced further by Pearl's mythical singing voice. That explanation will have to do, really.
And then, the saddest excuse for the Prince to drown ever. The captain of the ship arranges fireworks. The sailors accidentally drop gun powder on the deck. A spark catches, ka-boom, and though that's a plausible reason for the ship to sink, but then Prince Andrew falls overboard when struck by a mast, and he can't swim. What? O_o Either way, Pearl saves his life, drapes him on shore the next morning, and tries to revive him. Delirious, he kisses Pearl, which cements her love for him though she doesn't realise he wasn't aware of what he was doing.
Lovely little Pearl knows she has to return to her undersea home, so she reluctantly leaves Prince Andrew. There she tells her daddy dearest and sisters about him, and they are shocked to realise that Pearl has fallen in love. Her father quickly tells her to forget about him, because human love will destroy her.
Back on shore, Princess Amelia arrives. She spots Prince Andrew, runs to him, and magically revives him with a touch of her hand.
Pearl knows that there is no way she'd be able to forget about her prince. So she seeks out the Sea Witch, who warns her against pursuing this love. Pearl, however, is persistent. So the Sea Witch explains the terms. For the price of her voice, Pearl will gain legs, though the process will feel as though she is being cut in half with a double-edged sword, and every step she takes will feel like she's walking on razor-sharp knives. And ultimately, if she is unable to win the prince's love, Pearl will turn into sea foam the morning after his wedding to another. Pearl, though scared, accepts.
It is interesting to note how this particular Sea Witch resembles Ursula. She's purple, she's got a funky hairdo, she apparently is able to 'walk', and has a pretty cool singing voice. Considering Disney's version came out at least three years (?) after this episode aired, Faerie Tale Theatre can't be considered as paying tribute to the more famous animated version, so this is sheer coincidence.
Pearl beaches herself and drinks the potion. After her transformation, who should come walking up that particular stretch of sand but Prince Andrew and Princess Amelia, discussing idly the fact that their parents wish to match them together and they figure that that's such a silly notion indeed. Just then Andrew spots Pearl, unconscious on the sand, and rushes to her side. Andrew says that he feels that he's met her somewhere before, but he can't place where. Being the kind people they are, they bring her back to the palace.
Pearl wakes up in the palace, with Andrew and Amelia by her side. They learn that she's mute but not deaf, and are utterly enchanted by her childlike ways. Then Andrew and Pearl bond over breakfast as Amelia seeks out a wardrobe for their new guest.
Then it is the beginning of the end. Amelia feels a pang of jealousy at the affection Andrew displays towards the lovely Pearl, and starts moving in on the prince. When Andrew dances with Pearl, Amelia (instructed to the play the piano for them) watches with ill-concealed irritation, and quickly ups the tempo of the piece so they don't dance a slow, meaningful waltz. (Side note: Pearl's dress has one-too-many frills. I think Amelia gave her that poofy thing on purpose.)
One night, Pearl is standing on the balcony of her room, listening wistfully to her sisters who are singing for her to come back to them. Just as the tears fall, enters Prince Andrew. He understands that she misses her family, and tries to comfort her. A friendly kiss on the cheek turns to something deeper, which shocks the prince, and he quickly backs off.
Amelia, now totally thrown out of her comfort zone thanks to Pearl, approaches Andrew directly, basically going: "You are going to propose to me, right? Well, I'm going to accept." And that's that. Andrew is delighted (maybe he likes direct women?) and plants a big one on her right in front of Pearl. Bad form! Amelia, pulling away from the kiss, looks smugly at Pearl, knowing that she has marked her ownership over Andrew. Pearl, however, does not see the kiss for what it is, and just smiles innocently.
Plans for the wedding underway, Amelia decides that it's time to tackle the matter of Pearl. Andrew wants to keep her (which feels to me like he thinks of Pearl as a kind of pet), which rests uneasy on Amelia. So the princess tells Andrew that Pearl is in fact, in love with him. Andrew laughs it off but goes to see Pearl, who simply confirms that yes, she is in love with him. Andrew is shocked (again), and tells Pearl that he's in love with Amelia, and they are to be married. Pearl is heartbroken.
The wedding is aboard their ship. After the ceremonies are through, Pearl is paid a visit by her two sisters. They tell her that they have given the Sea Witch their hair in exchange for a magic knife. Pearl is to kill the prince, and when his blood sprinkles upon her legs, she will turn back into a mermaid.
But Pearl, of course, cannot kill the love of her life and lets her body dissolve to sea foam. But miraculously, Pearl does not die. Because her love was true and pure, she is promoted to a spirit of the air, where she is able to watch over the pair, as well as other lovers in the world.
What struck me most about this version, was the in-your-face role of Amelia. She was Pearl's enemy in every way possible, right from the beginning. She manipulated Andrew to her own gain, because it seemed to me that she wasn't all that interested in the prince until she realised that he may fall in love with someone else. And because Amelia had such an active role in the story, the price to pay was lack of attention on Pearl. The story wasn't as centered on her as it should have been. And Andrew himself, while charming, was rather clueless, and I felt that on some level he was equally capable of falling in love with either woman, but once Amelia entered his heart, he was hers and only hers.
Like other versions of the story that utilise the original sorrowful ending, this Faerie Tale Theatre rendition is heart-wrenching, though for reasons different. For me, it was the fact that Pearl sacrificed everything for a love that was never hers to begin with. *sniffle*