Last modified on October 17, 2022, at 19:43

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid (1989)
Directed by John Musker
Ron Clements
Produced by John Musker
Howard Ashman
Written by John Musker
Ron Clements
Starring Jodi Benson
Christopher Daniel Barnes
Pat Carrol
Samuel E. Wright
Ben Wright
Kenneth Mars
Paddi Edwards
Buddy Hacket
Jason Marin
René Auberjonois
Music by Alan Menken
Howard Ashman
Editing by Mark Hester
Distributed by Buena Vistas Pictures Distribution
Release date(s) November 17, 1989
Running time 83 min
Country USA
Language English
Budget $40 million
Gross revenue $235 million
Preceded by The Little Mermaid (TV Series)
Followed by The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea

The Little Mermaid was a 1989 Disney animated film based off the 1837 Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name. It received much praise from critics and audiences, and its success launched Disney into what fans call the “Disney Renaissance.”


The 16-year-old mermaid Ariel is very interested in the human world, and she spends a lot of her free time exploring ship wrecks, and collecting human objects, and placing them in her grotto of treasures. Her father Triton however, hates humans, and forbids Ariel from going to the surface to see them. After Ariel sings “Part of Your World,” she sees a ship, so she surfaces, and sees fireworks. Exited, she swims to the ship despite Sebastian telling her not to do so. She climbs upward to see what the humans are doing, and she sees them dancing, and she then encounters a dog named Max. Max likes her, and licks her to show affection, but his owner calls for him, and it’s a Prince named Eric. Ariel thinks he’s handsome, and smiles at him. Later, Eric’s advisor and steward Sir Grimsby shows him a statue of Eric, which he and Max don’t like that much. Grimsby tells Eric that he planned to show it to him when he got married, to which Eric says he hasn’t found the right girl yet saying she’s out there somewhere which gets Ariel’s face to light up. Then, a storm hits. The ship’s crew evacuate, but Max is still aboard. Eric risks his life to go save him, which he does, but his foot gets stuck in the wood, and the gunpowder gets set on fire, and the whole ship explodes knocking him out. Ariel then finds him, and swims him to shore saving his life. She then sings to him, which wakes him up, but she leaves almost right away due to Max and Grimsby finding Eric alive and well. Eric says a girl saved his life, but Grimsby says that’s nonsense.

Ariel then happily sings to herself which her sisters point out to her father that Ariel is in love which gets Triton to smile. Ariel then plans to see Eric again, but Sebastian sings “Under the Sea” to convince her that her life is good down here, and it would be a mistake to leave it. Flounder then tells Ariel there’s a surprise for her in the grotto, which she happily leaves Sebastian singing by himself. After the song, he’s informed that he needs to speak with Triton, and he thinks he knows what happened that night. He spills the beans, which makes Triton furious. Ariel sees the surprise, and it’s the Eric statue which she loves very much. However, Triton is there and tells Ariel that she should have let Eric die. After Ariel shouts out that she loves him, Triton destroys the grotto in a rage. It devastates Ariel, and even Triton has some regret. This is the opportunity Ursula needs to manipulate Ariel into giving her what she wants. Ariel then goes to Ursula’s lair, and tells off Sebastian due to him telling her father what happened. Ariel meets Ursula, and she tells her that she can turn her human, but she’ll have to get Eric to give her true loves kiss by sunset on the third day, or else she’s Ursula’s slave. Ursula also brings up that Ariel will have to give her her voice. Despite the lopsided deal, Ariel reluctantly signed the contract, and she gets a pair of legs.

At the surface, Eric is still looking for the girl who saved him, and seems that he won’t rest until he does so. As for Ariel, she is very happy to have legs, and she meets Eric almost right away. Despite not being convinced she’s the girl who saved him, Eric takes Ariel into his home, cleans her up, and gets her a change of clothes. Grimsby seeing an opportunity for Eric to find love, advises Eric to give Ariel a tour of the Kingdom, and Ariel gladly accepts the offer. She has a great time, and all is left to do is get Eric to kiss her to fulfill her end of the bargain she made with Ursula. It fails due to Ursula’s pet eels knocking the canoe over. Eric is still trying to find the girl who saved him, but he’s not as enthusiastic about it. Grimsby walks up to him, and says that a warm and sweet girl of flesh and blood is better than a dream girl. Eric looks at Ariel from her tower, and smiles at her. He looks back at the flute he used on the ship to find the girl, and he throws it into the sea. He’s about to go tell Ariel how he feels, but Ursula in a disguise and using Ariel’s voice hypnotizes Eric into marrying her.

The next morning, Ariel is heartbroken. She knows she’ll be Ursula’s slave for the rest of her life, but after Scuttle informs her that Ursula is in disguise, she and her friends crash the wedding, while Sebastian goes and informs Triton. Ursula’s magic necklace breaks, and not only is Ariel’s voice restored, the hypnosis on Eric breaks. The couple is about to kiss, but it’s too late. Ariel goes back to being a mermaid, and Ursula kidnaps her to use her as a bargaining chip. Triton then confronts Ursula, but not even the King of the Sea can break the contract. So he agrees to take Ariel’s place, but now, Ursula is Queen of the Sea, and is about to kill Ariel, but Eric risks his life to find Ariel and rescue her. It ends with sunken ships resurfacing, and Eric gets on one of them, and impales Ursula killing her. It restores Triton and all the other merpeople who fell victim to her deception. Triton recognizes that he was wrong about humans as not only did a human risk his life to save his daughter, but himself, and dozens of other merpeople. So he turns Ariel human, she then goes to Eric, the two kiss for real, they marry, and live happily ever after.


Jodi Benson as Ariel

Christopher Daniel Barnes as Eric

Pat Carrol as Ursula

Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian

Ben Wright as Grimsby

Kenneth Mars as Triton

Paddi Edwards as Flotsam and Jetsam

Buddy Hacket as Scuttle

Jason Marin as Flounder

René Auberjonois as Louis


Walt Disney had plans to adapt The Little Mermaid as a short for MGM for a biopic on the original story’s author Hans Christian Andersen, but it never came to fruition. In the story, it would have been a lot closer to the Andersen version than the 1989 classic, but Walt himself came up with some changes. Most notable being how the mermaid saves the Prince. Instead of fleeing almost right away, she sings to him, and then leaves right when he starts to regain consciousness, and the Prince is now haunted by her beautiful vocals. Other changes include the desire for an immortal soul no longer being a concern, the arranged marriage being removed, and her genuinely not knowing she’d sacrifice her voice to be human. Directors and Screenwriters John Musker and Ron Clements even brought this up when making their version in a featurette comparing the three versions of the story. “So it was as if Walt was looking over our shoulders when we were developing this because it seemed like a lot of the things he was thinking we were thinking too.”

Clements brought this up with Studio Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, but he rejected it due to being too similar to the 1984 hit Splash, which had talks of a sequel at the time. After a repitch, Katzenberg gave the film the green light. He also planned to cut “Part of Your World,” despite John Musker, Ron Clements, Alan Menken, and Howard Ashman telling him it’s a bad idea. Katzenberg didn’t listen, and was ready to make the move, but Ariel animator Glen Keane convinced him otherwise, and it stayed in the film. Now, the song is recognized as one of the best Disney songs ever.

Originally, Ursula was not supposed to grow to giant size at the end, and Ariel doesn’t get her voice back until after Ursula is killed. Ursula was going to be more physical after she dropped the trident after Ariel attacked her, and Eric was supposed to get it from Sebastian, and throw it into Ursula’s chest. Katzenberg ordered for the ending to be changed because he wanted it to be like Die Hard.

In an original draft for the movie, Glut, the shark appeared at the beginning chasing Ariel and Flounder and ending up being stuck into an ancor, managed to survive and escape from his predicament and would have fought Ariel and Flounder again while they were chasing the wedding ship to stop Eric and "Vanessa"'s wedding. In this draft, Flounder musters up the strength and courage to trick Glut into getting Ariel close enough to the ship for her to get up onto it and then he manages to bite the barrel she was on (which is later revealed to be a gunpowder keg) as Flounder manages to escape from the results. It is implied that Glut was killed offscreen in the ensuing explosion. His death in this deleted scene may have been a reference to the climax of the original Jaws film. However, it would be quite weird for a barrel of gunpowder to esplode due to a bite and even in the water.[1]


Though traditional marriage is portrayed positively for a post Ron Miller Disney film, feminism is there however as the 16 year old Ariel thinks she knows better than her much older father, and Ariel goes to the surface again after her father forbids her to do so.

Homosexual co-producer and lyricist Howard Ashman tried to put his personal life into the songs of the movie most notably with “Part of Your World” as it’s often described as an LGBT anthem.

Sequels and Prequels

The Little Mermaid was the first Renaissance era Disney movie to receive a TV series which ran from 1992-1994. Many themes from the 1989 movie stayed with the show with many of the original voice actors/actresses returning. In 2000, The Little Mermaid received a straight to video sequel called The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea where Ariel and Eric are shown to have a daughter named Melody. In 2008, The Little Mermaid received a straight to video prequel with character traits regarding Ariel’s love for the human world missing, and it was the last straight to video Disney film. However, due to them being produced by the defunct DisneyToon Studios and for being just soulless and poorly made moneygrab straight-to-video films with nothing of the original spirit and heart of the original classic, the animated TV series and the sequel and prequel movies are not considered canon by The Walt Disney Animation Studios nor by fans.

Reboot controversy

A live action reboot of the movie has been set for release on May 26, 2023. Even though it has not been released yet, it is already drawing heavy criticism on the movie's YouTube trailer, with nearly 2.5 million dislikes against the trailer versus just over one million likes because of Disney's decision to create a "woke" reboot of the 1989 film with a black actress, Halle Bailey, portraying the title character Ariel;[2] the trailer is also drawing criticism because of YouTube engaging in censorship (by deleting negatively critical comments and even actively and intentionally blocking posters from posting negative reviews, indicated in the form of a "We weren't able to add your reply" error popping up), leading to critics of the movie trailer to instead creatively post sarcastic and mocking "positive" reviews as a way to get around the censorship. Disney supporters on Twitter have claimed, without proof, that Bailey's race was the reason for the trailer getting so many dislikes and negative criticism, leading a Twitter poster to counter that the reason the movie is so disliked is because of it being a "woke" live action remake, not because of alleged "racism", and that people are tiring of forced diversity,[3] a point agreed on by many respondents, including at least one black Twitter poster who stated that he resented race swaps being used for the sake of political correctness for existing fictional characters who were originally created as white, rather than create original black characters.

Broadway version

In 2008, The Little Mermaid got a Broadway musical, but the musical didn’t last long, and was canceled before their US tour. They had many new songs written by Glenn Slater in order to develop characters more such as giving Eric two solos “Her Voice” and “One Step Closer” where in the latter, he teaches Ariel how to dance, and that’s a way to speak without using her voice. In the quartet “If Only” Ariel (singing in her head), Eric, Sebastian, and Triton all sing about their feelings, with Ariel’s hopes going away, Eric being conflicted about leaving Ariel if he finds the girl that saved him, Sebastian wanting to do anything to help, and Triton wishing he didn’t go crazy on his daughter’s grotto.

In the story, notable changes include having Triton and Ursula being siblings,[4] Sebastian singing “Under the Sea” after Triton destroyed Ariel’s grotto, Grimsby putting on a singing contest for Eric to find the girl who saved him, but since none of them were it, he chose Ariel for her incredible dancing skills, Eric not being hypnotized, he just didn’t kiss Ariel in time after picking her, and Ariel defeat Ursula by smashing her shell which held her power, despite Ursula’s pleas by promising Ariel she’ll be human permanently, and getting her voice back.