The second wave of princes starts off with Prince Eric. Like Charming before him, Eric is supposed to get married. Unlike Charming, he is actually committed to the process. He is actively out and about in the world trying to find his bride. However, he is not going to settle for just any princess with a great pair of shoes. He is looking for love and someone to share his life with; not just a convenient treaty partner. For the first time we get a prince with relationship goals! He, of course, is then immediately rescued by Ariel and falls in love with her. Cue the antagonist.
One of things I like about Eric is that even without her voice, he begins to recognize Ariel. He knows that the young woman he found on the beach is the person he can spend his life with. In fact, it takes a magic spell to distract him from his growing feelings for Ariel. It is a far cry from just randomly finding a girl in the woods and deciding to marry her. Eric actually takes his silent princess on a date! Actually getting to know one another before proposing? What a concept! They even know each other’s names. It’s quite a leap forward.
Prince Eric is once again a heroic character. He takes on the villain in epic battle in order to save his true love (and incidentally everyone else she cursed). He has an understanding that without his action, Ariel will be lost. He is committed to doing whatever he must to to save her even risking his own life.
Eric continues the shift that we saw with Phillip. He is an active participant in the action. As well as saving the princess, he himself is rescued by Ariel. Twice! There are the very beginnings of a shift in the kind of relationships we will see. Eric and Ariel are closer to equal partners than any other couple so far. They work together to problem solve and ultimately are rewarded for their persistence.