Any kid born in the modern era didn’t need to live near the beach to spend huge chunks of childhood under the sea. We danced as Ariel waggled her fishtail to marimba clams in The Little Mermaid; we cried when Willy got free and soaked that one kid; we laughed at Aquaman’s impotent attempts to do something, anything to help the Justice League (attack, seahorses, attack!). But we’ve all grown up since then, and the state of our oceans has worsened. Which got us thinking: Where are the once-great finned and flippered stars now? How have they coped with our acidification and plastification of their watery homes? It’s time to find out. (All celebrity dramatizations illustrated by Amelia Bates.)
The Little Mermaid
We’ve already given up on Ariel, who left the sea to live a life of conspicuous consumption as a kept woman on shore. But what about her splashy sidekicks? Flounder: On her plate. Depending on his species, Sebastian is poised to survive a warmer ocean. But he’s probably gained weight, and he’s definitely moving north.
After all the hubbub, Nemo and his neurotic pop return to their reef only to discover they’re now homeless. Dejected, they begin another cross-ocean adventure to apply for climate refugee status and get back into the aquarium they just escaped. (Try New Zealand, Nemo.)
Predatory fish are in decline, but Jaws still finds time to prowl the waters off Massachusetts on occasion. But with our taste for iconic fins and no real-life “da-NUH” to warn us, you might not see him coming.
The squeaky hero had his moment in the spotlight, but later years were not as good to Flipper. He moved into the wrong sort of neighborhood, where underwater sonar blasting for oil and gas exploration (not to mention iffy methane hydrates) permanently damaged his hearing. He has taken up painting as a therapeutic release.
Willy ends up back in an unrepentant SeaWorld facility. But after killing his trainer one-too-many times, he is sentenced to solitary in Newport, OR. After being paroled, he takes his musically influential whale song on the road with a hefty roster of all-star supporters like Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick, Martina McBride, Barenaked Ladies, Heart, Trisha Yearwood, Trace Adkins, and .38 Special.
OK, we concede that just including soggy punching bag Arthur Curry in a list of “heroes” and “stars” is stretching it a bit. But his self-esteem is about to take an even bigger blow: Whereas before he could summon whales, sharks, porpoises, octopi, and seahorses to the ineffective rescue, before long he’ll only have jellyfish to throw at the problem. Poor Arthur.
Back in Bikini Bottom, we finally come across some good news: Our favorite undersea burger-flipper could start franchising to replace crashing coral reefs. Though things are less bubbly for homely Patrick, who is literally melting into goo on the ocean floor.
Not all mermaids are sellouts: Daryl Hannah gave up her fins, but she’s still fighting the good fight on land.