#28 The Little Mermaid

#28 The Little Mermaid

Not quite sure why Ariel wants to be part of this world, but you do you girl!

We made it! We’re out of the dark ages and sailing right into The Renaissance. For those unfamiliar with the Disney “era” distinctions, “The Renaissance” refers to the time period of 1989-1999, where Disney was a bona fide hit factory, creating some of the best animated films of not only their history, but of all time, with great songs, beautiful art, and Iconic characters. And, of course, we kick things off with The Little Mermaid, an adaption of the Hans Christian Anderson story about a young mermaid who wants to walk on land with humans.

The idea to make a film based on Anderson’s tale (tail?) was first proposed as early as the late 30’s, but never came to fruition. Then, in 1985, Ron Clements came across the story in a bookstore, and believed it to be the “ideal basis” for the studio’s next film project. Clements presented the idea during the studio’s “gong show” pitch meeting and while Jeffrey Katzenberg passed at first, dismissing the idea due to the similarities between TLM and Splash, the live-action mermaid film that had come out a few years prior, he changed his mind and wound up approving the idea the next day. And so, production began on Disney’s first fairytale movie since Sleeping Beauty in 1959.

For the music, Disney brought back lyricist Howard Ashman, and this time he was joined by Alan Menken. The two had previously worked together to create the songs for the hit Broadway musical, Little Shop of Horrors. Ashman was an integral part in making Little Mermaid as iconic as it is. It was his idea to make the character Sebastian Jamaican, leading to the Oscar winning “Under the Sea”. He also fought to include “Part of Your World” in the film. Believe it or not, test audiences weren’t responding well to the scene, and the production team was on the verge of cutting it altogether. But Ashman hammered into them that a classic, Broadway “I Want” song was needed for the heroine in order for the audience to really root for her. He, along with Glen Keane, who, after hearing the song, knew he had to be the one to animate Ariel, pushed back against Katzenberg’s dismissal of the scene. And today, “Part of Your World” is one of the most beloved Disney songs of all time. Ashman helped the writers set up the movie as more of a Broadway style musical in general, instructing them that the songs had to be used to push the plot forward. There’s a clear distinction between pre and post Mermaid Disney animated musicals. While many movies had fun, catchy, and well-written songs, said songs rarely had an impact on the actual story. But during the Renaissance, and even to the present, the songs of Disney movies provide glimpses into the characters, move the story forward, and are true musical numbers, not just quick, fun scenes.

Disney put more money into Little Mermaid than they had into the films of the last few decades. They even opened up another animation campus in the (at that time) MGM park in Disney World! To get the “under water” look, they had to use the most special effects they had used since all the way back to Fantasia! Animators also returned to the old technique of using live actors/models as a reference for their drawings. In terms of character inspiration, Ariel was based on actress Alyssa Milano, while Ursula was based on drag queen Divine. The Little Mermaid was the last Disney feature to utilize hand-painted cels in the animation process, a tradition spanning all the way back to Snow White and the beginning of Walt Disney Feature Animation; truly the end of one era and beginning of another.

Jodi Benson, who had previously worked with Howard Ashman, was cast as Ariel. Originally, the team wanted Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls to play Ursula, but she passed and the role ultimately went to Pat Carroll. Apparently Jim Carrey auditioned to play Eric, which is a fun, albeit strange, fact.

Katzenberg warned that because Mermaid was a “girls” film, it wouldn’t make as much money as the previous film, Oliver, had. Lol. The Little Mermaid was an absolute hit, earning 64% more than Oliver and becoming the animated film with the highest grossing initial run. Famous movie critic Roger Ebert called the movie “a jolly and inventive animated fantasy” and “so much fun it deserves comparison with the best Disney work of the past.” He also praised Ariel’s characterization, saying that she was “fully realized” and that she “thinks and acts independently…instead of hanging around passively.” Many publications praised the animation and music, as well. The film was seen as a revitalization of the animation genre, and put Disney back on top. The Little Mermaid won two Academy Awards: Best Original Song (“Under the Sea” won and “Kiss the Girl” was nominated, too) and Best Score. It one the same awards at the Golden Globes, where it had also been nominated for Best Picture-Comedy or Musical.

Today, The Little Mermaid is one of the most well regarded and remembered animated films of all time. There have been two direct-to-video spin-off movies: one was a sequel following Ariel and Eric’s daughter, and the other was a prequel depicting Ariel’s childhood. There was also a prequel TV series that aired in the early 90’s on CBS. A Broadway adaption premiered in 2007, and there have been two Hollywood Bowl concert presentations of the film. The Little Mermaid Live aired on ABC in 2019 to honor the 30th anniversary; the event consisted of an airing of the film along with Broadway-style musical performances. A live-action adaption is currently in the works and set to start production soon. It will star Halle Bailey as Ariel, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, Awkwafina as Scuttle, and Jacob Trembley as Flounder, and will feature new songs written by Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

In the parks, it’s not hard to find anything related to The Little Mermaid. Ariel, Eric, Ursula, and Sebastian are not only frequently seen in parades and shows, but even have their own attractions. The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is a ride that takes guests through scenes from the movie, and is located in both Disney California Adventure in Anaheim and Magic Kingdom in Orlando. The Orlando version of the ride is housed in a show-building that looks like Prince Eric’s castle. In Hollywood Studios in Orlando, there is a live-show called Voyage of the Little Mermaid, in which the musical numbers of the movie are performed. In Tokyo DisneySea, there is an area of the park inspired by the film called Mermaid Lagoon and a show called King Triton’s Concert. Ariel even has her own meeting spot in many parks, aptly named Ariel’s Grotto.

I’m really excited for this one – The Little Mermaid was one of my favorites as a kid and I still love it today. “Part of Your World” was probably the first song I ever learned the words to. As always, watch-along and/or read-along, and let’s take a dive under the sea! (yeah, yeah, not my most segway, but was I NOT gonna use under the sea? I don’t think so!)

My thoughts on The Little Mermaid:

  • Here we goooo
  • Eric has everything – blue eyes, a dog, a castle, a personality, the first great Disney prince tbh
  • Sorry Phillip, you had your moments, but Eric IS the moment
  • LOVE seeing ASHMAN AND MENKEN in the credits!!!
  • Honestly, Sherman Bros. don’t have a smidge of anything on my boys Howard and Alan
  • Wow Sebastian comes in after the king?
  • King Triton has a clear favorite and I wanna know what the other sisters think about it
  • Makes me happy to be an only child. – all the attention is for moi
  • ahaHAHA “it’s our sister Arie-oh crap where she at?”
  • Did no one check the shell beforehand?
  • *angry voice* Ariel!!! – that’s it that’s the movie
  • THERE SHE IS!
  • Flounder!!
  • Wait, this is the first time a princess has an animal sidekick that talks to her?!! (like actual words not like how the mice just were squeaking in cinderella)
  • This movie is so groundbreaking
  • “Don’t be such a guppy” awwww hahaha
  • I love how amazed she is at a fork
  • Ariel forget the bag it’s a SHARK
  • Ooh they got lucky
  • Triton hates humans cause they’re dangerous but what’s their plan against sharks?
  • Do sharks just plow through the kingdom every now and then like a tornado?
  • A dinglehopper!!
  • Scuttle has such a chaotic energy I love him
  • How long were flotsam and jetsam keeping an eye on Ariel?
  • Did Ursula ever try to bargain/trick one of Ariel’s sisters?
  • I really wish they mentioned why Ursula was banished in this movie, I guess it doesn’t really matter, but I always wanted to know!
  • Oh, I guess F+J weren’t officially watching her. But it is strange when you think about it that Ursula just sees Ariel swimming and is like “hmmm I can probably trick her into doing something dumb”
  • Then again, Ariel is a teenager, so wasn’t that big of a leap

Ariel whenever Scuttle gives her a vocab lesson:

  • Sebastian is so obsessed with his Craft, a true artist
  • Oh, Flounder
  • So, I know Ariel’s mom was killed by a boat or something and before that (I’m assuming) it was okay to swim to the surface, so was a mermaid ever caught? Like, Triton brings it up as if that’s something that happens on the reg, so do Eric and the humans know mermaids exist??
  • I get the danger and I’m not a parent, but ships are pretty big, right? And they don’t have motors yet so they don’t move super fast. You would see one coming from far away? As long as Ariel gets out of dodge as soon as she spots the ship, she should be okay, right?
  • I feel like a compromise would work best here – she can go up to get some air and talk to her seagull friend with her dad’s supervision, or something like that.
  • Sebastian’s a bit of a prude, let the girl have a little fun
  • Although, she IS a princess, you don’t have ANYTHING else to keep ya occupied or interested?
  • Why would you send a composer to babysit her instead of like the royal guards?
  • Oh HERE WE GO
  • 1989 audiences were. not. Ready
  • You want thingamabobs? I got 20
  • I want mooooooreeeeee
  • I love the “whats that word?” moments 
  • Ugh I wanted her flowy hair
  • “Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters” ugh they do unfortunately
  • “Bright young women” hell yeah!
  • Ready to STAAAAAANNNND
  • There are so many ruined books in her cavern 😦
  • “What’s the word BUUURN”
  • The look out the hole – so iconic
  • Soo beautiful
  • The fact that they wanted to cut this song is one of The Walt Disney company’s BIGGEST mistakes and I’m not using hyperbole
  • “Kids are bored” my ass, I (and every other girl I know) was obsessed with this song as a child the kids were not bored thank you
  • Why is it bad having human objects that have sunk to the bottom of the ocean?? 
  • Let the girl have her collection, we all collect questionable things in our youth! The objects themselves aren’t dangerous
  • Wow what kinda party are Eric and the crew having with fireworks??
  • This is the first time she’s been close to humans? Then she hasn’t been doing anything that risky and she definitely didn’t get the objects doing anything dangerous….
  • Idk guys i’m team Ariel pre-selling her voice
  • But scuttle said the pipe was the snarfblatt, not a flute
  • Let’s add musical and humble (he hates the obnoxious statue) to the list of eric’s great qualities
  • Wow that lightning has amazing theatrical timing
  • I love that Eric jumps in to help the crew, not like hide down below cuz he’s the prince
  • It’s a miracle everyone else survives
  • Risking his life for his dog, does Eric have any faults?? Survey says NO
  • Let’s take a moment to appreciate Menken’s score 
  • Grimsby gets to Eric like two seconds after Ariel dives down he didn’t see her?
  • Here it comes part 2
  • Her hair in the wind is fabulous
  • The SPLASH!!!
  • The waves have just as good timing as the lightning, nature is on Ariel’s side
  • Also, note that the reprise is the first time Ariel says “your world”, before it was “that world” meaning she always was willing to risk it all for the human world
  • Honestly, if Ursula had approached her yesterday with non-Eric-related terms, she probably would have still given up her voice
  • Disney does throw the word “love” around loosey goosey – she’s infatuated with a human at best, not every crush is LOVE
  • Who HASN’T done the picking-the-flower “they love me/they love me not” thing??
  • Though i definitely was done doing that by like 12
  • Under the Sea time!
  • A bop from the start
  • The human world IS a mess, listen to Sebastian!
  • I always loved the way the fish twirled her hair!!
  • How long do you think Sebastian and the other fish rehearsed this???
  • He was def like “okay THIS is how we get her to forget the land, everyone is gonna play their instruments, we’re gonna make it look like random musical numbers are something we do everyday…”
  • “Nobody beat us, fry us, and eat us” okay….bit dark mate
  • You can’t not be happy listening to his song
  • We got the spirit you got to hear it!
  • The fluke is the duke of soul YEAH
  • Sebastian is a true musician cuz he forgets the kid just jams
  • We got a hot crustacean band!
  • That’s why it’s hotter under the water!!!
  • Honestly surprised Triton isn’t the “stay away from my daughter” type and is actually excited his daughter is involved in romance
  • I guess he’s hoping it’ll keep her mind occupied on something other than humans
  • Man Ariel got the WORST sidekicks tbh flounder and sebastian both spilled the beans and got her in trouble
  • Snitches get stitches and end up in ditches guys
  • People who say “ariel was a silly teen” I think forget triton’s rant about how Eric should have died because he’s not exactly a reasonable parent
  • “Daddy I love him!” ohh no you don’t you barely know him!
  • Triton’s “ *gasp* No “ gets me every time idk why it’s so funny to me 
  • Aww I do feel bad for her that all her hoarder items got destroyed
  • Triton should have just had Marie Kondo swim down in a scuba suit to sort through the mess in a reasonable way
  • “Does this dinglehopper spark joy?” “What’s a spark?”
  • Flotsam and Jetsam have kept a better eye on her than sebastian
  • An amendment: Maybe Ariel wouldn’t have taken Ursula’s deal before, but it’s not Eric himself that drives her, it’s her dad destroying all her treasures and the realization that the only way to see the surface is to do something drastic and also who doesn’t want to do something dangerous to get back at a parent at 16
  • (I say this as someone whose biggest act of rebellion was a belly button piercing at *19* )
  • Ursuala’s shriveled victims will never not be creepy
  • Every song in this move slaps so hard
  • I know that’s not a hot take and pretty much goes for the whole renaissance, but guys it’s been so long since I’ve heard good music (I’m sorry Billy Joel, you know O&C was not your best work tho…)
  • Ariel doesn’t hear Ursula’s asides? Or wonder what she’s mumbling?
  • Here’s where Ariel is just plain dumb, boy or not, you don’t make shady deals with shady people!!!

Ariel is all of us not reading the Terms & Conditions before hitting accept

  • “It’s she who holds her tongue who gets her man” i’m glad we’re at the point where this is something the villain says because this was probably a cut lyric from the 40’s or 50’s 
  • Here’s to Faline and the other ladies that didn’t say anything
  • MAKE YA CHOICE
  • Ursula has bars at the end
  • The JUMP out of the water
  • I know we can’t see it, but the girl is completely nude besides the seashell bra, yikes 
  • She’s so happy, I know this is what she wanted for a long time but she has a lot of new equipment to work with she’s not freaking out a little?
  • Max is the true hero of this movie
  • Eric recognizes her, he’s so sure she’s the one who rescued her, why doesn’t he just assume she got hurt when she was shipwrecked or something? He just gives up
  • This bathroom is magnificent!
  • “Shows up in rags” she was SHIPWRECKED
  • These ladies are the elephants from Dumbo all over again
  • Eric is just as dumb-in-love as she is they both have like 2 braincells, they’re perfect for each other!
  • I love that Eric laughs and finds her amusing, even though all the people around him are stuffy jerks
  • Okay, Ariel, how do you feel about surf and turf…
  • No one talks about how similar Le Poissons sounds to Be Our Guest (it’s just slowed down a tad) but I guess that’s because no one knows/pays attention to Le Poissons
  • Fish are one food that never looks good in cartoons
  • She must love sleeping on a bed as opposed to like a rock? sand? what are underwater beds?
  • I LOVE her blue dress and bow
  • Again, Sebastian cannot resist the ~music~
  • Words
  • So, does Eric hear Sebastian singing? Can he hear the lyrics? Or is he just like “hmm, lots of animals on this lake tonight making noises”
  • Shalalalalalalala
  • Eric’s the heir right? He’s had no protection all day? No guards? What if Ariel was a secret serial killer and just stabbed him with a fork rn
  • Her hair is in a ponytail in the reflection
  • Sebastian is making up for his snitching by being a good claw man

Scuttle joining in on Kiss the Girl

  • Oohh flotsam and jetsam *shakes fist*
  • Eric playing his flute in the fog in a cape i love this Dramatic boy
  • Poor Ariel
  • Look, Ursula was pretty smart up until this point – didn’t tell anyone her plan, was like an hour away from winning, but WHY would you sing about being evil, what if someone on the ship heard?
  • Also i think it’s cool that Jodi Benson sings a bit different as Vanessa
  • Max is a Good Boy, dogs know how to judge people
  • Good job animals!
  • For like the 30th time in the Disney canon they save the day
  • DON’T LEAN IN SLOW GIRL YOU KNOW WHAT’S AT STAKE
  • I hate to take a villains side, I really do, but Ariel knew what she was getting into and she DID sign the contract, just cause she doesn’t like that she lost doesn’t mean she’s not responsible – terms and conditions girl, they apply to you, too
  • HOW did Eric know where to dive down?
  • “You pitiful insignificant fools” has got to be one of the best villain lines
  • Why does Ursula hesitate? She’s ready to strike and then pauses right as he’s getting to her. Just finish them!
  • Again, not taking the villains side…
  • Wow it’s nice that Ursula dying revives all her victims, a happy ending for ALL
  • What if Ariel and Eric finally had a conversation and it went nowhere haha
  • How do you think the royal guests felt about Eric having another wedding? Were they like “you sure this time? Or are we gonna get attacked by an Octopus again?”
  • So now humans definitely know about mermaids, right? 
  • Although, Eric never really reacted to her being a mermaid in the first place so… I guess this is a world where they are known as being real? V curious about the mermaid/human dynamic in this land
  • Such a good movie!

Wow! So, at the start of this post, I mentioned how Little Mermaid was one of my favorites as a kid, and still is, and it’s definitely a film I’ve watched in the generally recent past, but this viewing hit different. The music, the score, the animation, everything was more astounding to me? I guess because I’ve prefaced it with 27 movies that were not as good – and I’m not trying to trash on everything pre-Renaissance, because there have been good films, just not at the same level, you know? As a kid growing up in the 90’s, The Renaissance movies were what I was used to, they set the bar, but during this watch, I’ve gotten to see all of the Disney eras, the high points and the low, and it’s been cool to see how they worked to get to this point of excellence.

Ariel is such a fun protagonist. Sure, she doesn’t make the best decisions, but she’s still pretty young, AND I like that at least she’s making decisions, having agency, driving the plot. A perfect protagonist is a boring protagonist. Ursual is a great villain – fun yet creepy, dangerous, but still has that touch of whimsy, the perfect Disney baddie balance. All the main characters for the most part are fairly well-rounded, even Triton who isn’t the best parent and goes too far is just trying to keep his daughter safe. And that music, the score, the songs…it’s magnificent. I do listen to the score by itself every now and then, and used to listen to it to study or do homework. That was something else that I noticed for the first time during this watch – even the action scenes were even more exciting because of the great score, where as the action scenes in past movies tend to lose me. Just, an overall great film, the perfect kickstart to The Renaissance. And the best part? There’s even more greatness to come! Because we got 10 whole years!

Next up in this decade of superb cinema is…The Rescuers: Down Under…well…it’ll still be a fun watch!

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