I) Considering the narrative
In groups or as a whole class, read the abridged version up to the final section (not the end).
a) Ask pupils, in groups, to predict the ending of the story. Compare the endings, they have suggested, and discuss the appropriateness of different endings for different age-groups, audiences and so on.
b) Read the final sequence. Then, in groups, discuss
a. What elements the story shares with other fairy stories/myths pupils are familiar with
b. What they think its appeal might be for children and adolescents;
c. What changes they think might need to be made in adapting this story for the screen.
II) Working with the original text
As a whole class, select five or six key moments in the narrative which are essential to the story. Allocate one segment to each working group, and distribute the appropriate extracts from the original Hans Christian Andersen story in translation. Ask each group to discuss and prepare to report on:
- Any differences between the abridged and full versions of their part of the story, with reasons for the changes;
- Their ideas and draft storyboard for a film version of their extracts, which may be based on either of their two print versions, or on an amalgam of both;
- A rationale for the storyboard they have drafted.
III) Working with another medium, either: The Disney or Legend video
a) Screen the opening sequence of the Disney film. This involves an entirely original narrative sequence establishing the Mer King's patriarchy, the Little Mermaid's enquiring personality and sublime voice, and introducing a new range of archetypal Disney characters -Sebastian, the Jamaican crab music master, Ariel's confidante Flounder, and her mentor Scuttle the Seagull. Ask pupils to discuss the function of this opening sequence, the poetic licence it takes with the original text, and why such changes might have been considered necessary. The Legend version could be used in a similar way, although the characters differ.
b) Prepare pupils for a full screening by asking each group to look out for a particular element in the narrative, as well as the way the extract they themselves storyboarded has been adapted. These elements might include:
- new characters;
- narrative detail which did not appear in the print versions they read;
- the function of the songs and music;
- changes to the ending of the story.
c) Screen the Disney version in its entirety, asking each group to prepare to report back on its particular brief afterwards.
The report-back session should allow pupils to draw on evidence from the film to articulate what they already know about the requirements for a successful children's movie, the conventions of Disney animation, and the pre-requisites for family entertainment. It should also highlight the essential formal differences between the story as print and as audio-visual text.
d) As a means of reflecting on their conclusions and for evaluating in writing, pupils could be asked to complete one of the following written tasks.
a. In role as the original screenwriter of The Little Mermaid, write to the Script Executive at Walt Disney explaining the changes to the original storyline, justifying the inclusion of the new characters, and arguing for the appeal of the adapted film for young audiences.
b. In role as a member of the Hans Anderson Appreciation Society, write to Walt Disney protesting about the changes to the narrative and defending the importance of introducing young audiences to a more faithful rendering of the original story.
c. Restoryboard the closing moments of the film along the lines of the original story , and submit to Walt Disney with a detailed argument for preserving the spirit of the original.
IV) Working with the Disney audio-cassette package
a) Distribute photocopies of the front and back coyer of audio-cassette and booklet, and ask groups to glean as much information as they can about the production of the tape and its connections with the Disney Company.
b) Distribute photocopies of the first two pages of the booklet and read in groups as opening sequence of tape is played. Ask groups to consider:
- how effective the sequence is in establishing the background and context for the narrative;
- what new characters are introduced, and what is their function;
- how effectively the sequence sets up expectations and attracts the reader/listener.
c) Ask each group to prepare to report back on one of the following tasks:
- the changes in the narrative ard how coherently it has survived the processes of adaptation to film, and condensation from film to audio
- characterisation and how effectively the original characters; have been re-presented on audio-tape;
- different sources of sound (eg voice-over narration, extracts of dialogue from the film, music and song, etc) and where and how they are used to tell the story;
- the ending of the story and how well it holds together;
- the booklet, its layout, language, choice of illustrations and how far it can stand alone as a children's story.
d) Play the audio-cassette in its entirety, and ask each group to report back on its brief afterwards. The report-backs should highlight the increasingly fragmented nature of the narrative as it survives each different level of adaptation; pupils should also begin to ask questions about the reasons for this sort of re-packaging, and the economic interests it serves.
e) As a follow-up assignment they could do one of the following:
a. Return to the original text or its abridged version, and construct their Own edited or re-drafted reading for a read-along version of their own. This could be recorded onto audio-cassette, using a range of different voices, sound-effects and music; the cassette would require notes, credits and a cover logo and illustration, so that the tape could be produced as a complete package.
b. Work on a revised audio-tape could also be accompanied by a re-designed and illustrated booklet. This could obviously constitute a very extensive unit of work; however it could be further elaborated by some initial market research with young children into the narrative elements they find most satisfying, the best format for the booklet, appropriate forms of illustration and so on. The package could then be publicised, spin-off merchandising created or promotional material generated.
c. Alternatively, as a more containable option, pupils could be asked to write to Walt Disney in role as the producers of the audio package explaining why an audio-package would be a good investment in terms of:
- its promotion of the film;
- parental interest;
- developing children's interest in reading and film-going.
Other possible follow-up tasks might include:
- simple survey work, such as designing a questionnaire which pilots an alternative ending with young viewers, or which aims to gauge audience response to frightening bits in the movie;
- review-writing for the film and/or audio-cassette package for a range of different publications and audiences;
- devising a treatment for a contemporary version of the story which develops the narrative into a Twentieth Century context;
- producing a comic-strip version of part of the narrative for bi-lingual learners.