|The Little Mermaid|
The Little Mermaid 1997 re-release poster
|Directed by||Ron Clements |
|Produced by||Ron Clements |
|Written by||Fairy Tale |
Hans Christian Anderson
|Starring||Jodi Benson |
Samuel E. Wright
Christopher Daniel Barnes
|Music by||Alan Menken|
|Distributed by||Walt Disney Pictures |
Buena Vista Distribution
|Release date(s)||Original Release |
November 17, 1989
November 14, 1997
|Running time||85 minutes|
|Gross revenue||Domestic |
The Little Mermaid is a 1989 animated feature produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation with a pencil test beginning on September 23, 1988 and its first release on November 17, 1989 distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. This was the twenty-eighth animated feature in the Disney animated features canon. The film is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid." During its initial release, it grossed over $84 million in the United States and an additional $99 million internationally. 
The film is given credit for breathing life back into the animated feature film genre after a string of critical and/or commercial failures that dated back to the early 1980s. It also marked the start of the era known as the Disney Renaissance.
Ariel, a sixteen-year-old mermaid princess, is dissatisfied with life under the sea and curious about the human world. With her best fish friend Flounder, Ariel collects human artifacts and goes to the surface of the ocean to visit Scuttle the seagull, who offers inaccurate and comical knowledge of human cultures. Ignoring the warnings of her father (King Triton) and the court musician (Sebastian the crab) that contact between merpeople and humans is forbidden, Ariel still longs to be part of the human world; to this end she has filled a secret grotto with all the human artifacts she has found.
Ariel and Flounder travel to the surface to watch a celebration for the birthday of Prince Eric, with whom Ariel falls in love. The birthday celebration is cut short by a massive storm, during which the ship is struck by lightning. Everyone manages to escape in a lifeboat, except for Eric who boards the burning ship to save his dog, Max. Eric almost drowns but is saved by Ariel, who drags him to the beach. She sings to him, but when he stirs awake, she dives underwater. Eric has a vague impression that he was rescued by a girl with a beautiful voice; he vows to find her, and Ariel vows to find a way to join Eric.
Triton and his daughters notice a change in Ariel, who is openly lovesick. Triton questions Sebastian about Ariel's behavior, during which Sebastian accidentally reveals the incident with Eric. Triton furiously confronts and punishes Ariel in her grotto, using his trident to destroy her collection of human treasures, including her prized statue of Prince Eric. After Triton leaves, a pair of eels, Flotsam and Jetsam, convince a crying Ariel that she must visit Ursula the sea witch, who can supposedly make all her dreams come true.
Ursula makes a deal with Ariel to transform her into a human for three days. Within these three days, Ariel must receive the "kiss of true love" from Eric; otherwise she will transform back into a mermaid on the third day and belong to Ursula. As payment for legs, Ariel has to give up her voice, which Ursula magically traps in a shell she wears as a locket. Ariel's tail is transformed into legs and she is dragged to the surface by Sebastian and Flounder.
On the beach, Scuttle helps dress Ariel in the remains of sail. She is found by Eric, but when he learns that she cannot speak, he discards the notion that she is the one who saved his life. He helps her to the palace, where the servants think of her as a survivor of a shipwreck. Ariel spends time with Eric, and at the end of the second day, they almost kiss but are thwarted by Flotsam and Jetsam. Angered at the close call, Ursula takes the disguise of a beautiful young woman named "Vanessa" and appears onshore singing with Ariel's voice. Eric recognizes the song, and Vanessa casts a hypnotic spell of enchantment on Eric to make him forget about Ariel.
The next day, Ariel finds out that Eric will be married to Vanessa on a ship. She cries and is left behind when the wedding barge departs. Scuttle discovers Vanessa's true identity and informs Ariel. Ariel and Flounder chase the wedding barge, Sebastian informs Triton, and Scuttle is assigned to "stall the wedding." With the help of various animals, the nautilus shell around Ursula's neck is broken, restoring Ariel's voice back to Ariel and breaking Ursula's enchantment over Eric. Realizing that Ariel was the girl who saved his life, Eric rushes to kiss her, but the sun sets and Ariel transforms back into a mermaid. Ursula reverts back to her true form and she kidnaps Ariel.
Triton appears and confronts Ursula, but cannot destroy the contract Ursula made with Ariel. Triton chooses to sacrifice himself for his daughter and signs the contract. Ursula transforms Triton into a polyp. Ursula takes Triton's crown and trident and declares herself queen of the oceans, which was her plan from the beginning. Eric dives into the sea and throws a harpoon at Ursula. In her rage, she attempts to destroy him by using the trident, but Ariel attacks her, and Ursula accidentally kills Flotsam and Jetsam. Angered, Ursula subsequently transforms into gigantic proportions and stirs up a storm using the magical trident. A whirlpool is also formed, which disturbs several shipwrecks, one of which Eric later commandeers. Just as Ursula is set to use the trident to destroy Ariel, Eric turns the wheel hard to port, in effect ramming the ship's splintered bowsprit through Ursula's abdomen, distracting her long enough for the trident's power to backfire and destroy her in a huge explosion.
With Ursula gone, her power breaks and the polyps in Ursula's garden (including Triton) turn back into merpeople. Later, after seeing that Ariel really loves Eric, Triton willingly changes her from a mermaid into a human using his trident. She runs into Eric's arms, and the two finally kiss. Ariel marries Eric in a wedding where both humans and merpeople attend.
Cast and characters
- Princess Ariel, voiced by Jodi Benson, is a 16-year old mermaid entranced with the human world.
- Ursula, voiced by Pat Carroll, is the villainess, a witch caecilian banished by Triton long before the film's events. After getting Ariel's voice, she tries to marry Eric under the identity of Vanessa (Jodi Benson).
- Sebastian, voiced by Samuel E. Wright, is a crab that leads the Atlantica orchestra. During development, he was turned from British to Jamaican.
- Flounder, voiced by Jason Marin, is Ariel's fish sidekick.
- Prince Eric, voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes, is a prince that likes to sail, and with whom Ariel falls in love after she saves him from a shipwreck.
- King Triton, voiced by Kenneth Mars, is the ruler of Atlantica and Ariel's widowed father.
- Scuttle, voiced by Buddy Hackett, is a seagull which Ariel considers an expert in the human world.
- Flotsam and Jetsam, voiced by Paddi Edwards, are Ursula's eel pets/henchmen.
- Grimsby, voiced by Ben Wright, is Eric's majordomo. This was Wright's final acting role before his death in 1989.
- Chef Louis, voiced by Rene Auberjonois, is the chef of Eric's house, whose favorite dish is fish and seafood in general. He tries to cook up Sebastian into a stuffed crab.
- Carlotta the Maid, voiced by Edie McClurg, is one of Eric's maids. She has a habit of calling Ariel honey.
- Ariel's sisters, voiced by Kimmy Robertson and Caroline Vasicek, Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Attina, Adella, and Alana are Ariel's six older sisters.
- Herald the Seahorse, voiced by Will Ryan, is the court announcer to King Triton's palace.
- Max the Sheepdog, vocal effects by Frank Welker, is an Old English Sheepdog and Prince Eric's pet, who first appears in the film.
Comparison with the source material
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This film is based on the original story (by Hans Christian Andersen) but diverges from the source material in a far more radical way than previous Disney productions such as Cinderella and Snow White, since the original story does not feature a romantic happy ending: rather than winning over the prince, the mermaid dies after throwing herself back into the ocean, dissolving into foam on the water; but she happily learns that she has received an immortal soul and that after a kind of Purgatory where she will spend her time as a wandering Spirit of the Air, she will then be in heaven with God. Changing the tale to conclude with a "they lived happily ever after" involved changing the basic philosophy underlying the Disney film from that of the Andersen original. The religious elements of the plot are entirely removed: there is no desire of the film's mermaid to gain an immortal soul, there is no related desire to attend religious ceremonies (unlike Andersen's mermaid), and much of the plot has been removed involving a rival temple girl (later revealed to be a princess) that the mermaid desires to emulate, contrasting the mermaid, who is souless/unnaturally human. Andersen had strong Christian religious elements in many of his stories, including "The Snow Queen" and "The Little Match Girl", but these were removed from Disney's version.
The original story is essentially a tale without a dominant villain. The Little Mermaid is faced with an inherently unjust world, where her love for the Prince and her wish to gain an immortal soul have a chance only through terrible sacrifices, privations and risks. And the Mermaid ultimately fails, though Andersen presents her as amply deserving of the Prince's love and of gaining a soul (or, rather, demonstrating over and over again, by her courage, compassion and noble sacrifice, that she has a soul already). Unlike the film, the Sea Witch in the original tale is not a dominant villain, but rather a "technician" implementing the harsh rules of this universe. In the original story, an attack on the Witch - such as forms the climax of the film - would have been pointless, since the Witch as depicted by Andersen did not cause the Mermaid's dire predicament and had no power to resolve it. In the end the Sea Witch is revealed to be a misguided villain as the Mermaid already had a soul to begin with, and the story is really about how great trials in life and striving for a soul can lead to eternal reward in the afterlife. Following the release of this film, many other adaptations of "The Little Mermaid" have also opted for a happy ending that differs from the original fairytale.
A lesser, though significant, difference is that Andersen chose to give none of his characters a name - they are "The Little Mermaid", "The Little Mermaid's Sisters", "The Sea Witch", "The Prince", "The Temple Girl", etc. Disney, on the contrary, bestowed on all characters a specific given name. The story also has strong similarities to the opera Rusalka by Antonin Dvorak, possibly even more so than to the original Andersen tale, although this opera, like the Andersen tale, has a tragic ending.
The Disney sequel, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, centering on the daughter of Ariel and Eric, obviously could not have been a sequel to the original Andersen story.