Before the Beauty tamed the Beast...
Before Aladdin freed the Genie...
Before the lion cub became a mighty King...
Before the lost Princess took a leap of faith...
And before a Frozen Queen unleashed the supreme power of true love...
There was a Little Mermaid who dreamed of something more...
It's been 26 years since Walt Disney Pictures released its iconic and literal fish-out-of-water tale of the undersea Princess who, above anything else, dreamed of becoming human to earn the love of her human prince. The classic animated family film has spanned its legacy over two-and-a-half decades, familial generations of viewers, and limitless, infectious, unstoppable sing-a-long marathons. The sadness of it all being that the film has rarely been taken seriously enough to ask why that is so. In this article, we will explore the undying love that millions and millions of Americans still experience to this very day for the film that not only saved a studio, but captured mass attention without facing any racial, gender, or age limitations.
In 1837, author Hans Christian Anderson (yeah, this guy...)
...introduced the world to a new kind of fairy tale, he called it The Little Mermaid. Anderson delightfully told the story of the young princess willing to give up her life in the sea, and her identity as a mermaid to gain a human soul and the love of a young, mortal prince.
If Only It Were That Easy, Right Ladies?
Anderson's story differs from the Disney animated film with a few minor alterations and some less than child-friendly, haunting scenes that were quickly cut from the film, but that will stay with you for hours after you read them. And may take a significant portion of your life to forget.
1. The Mermaid's Grandmother
The grandmother, a dowager, was cut from the film with a few other minor characters to save on running time. In the fairy tale, she advised the girl in place of her presumably deceased mother.
2. The Sea Witch - Ursula
Disney would go on to expand the sea witch's role in the film and give her a much more villainous twist and zest of flamboyant personality. In the story, the sea witch does trade the little mermaid the ability to walk on land for her voice, but with a slight change from what Disney was able to show: whenever the mermaid walked, it would feel to her as though she were walking upon sharp blades, and her feet would bleed intensely. Disgusting and nightmarish, if you ask me. Thanks Disney for not including that.
3. Her Garden
Unlike in the movie, the book's mermaid was allowed to showcase her treasures from the human world and she did so, instead of tucking them away in a secret grotto, in her lovely undersea garden.
4. Her Sisters
The fairy tale only described the little mermaid as having five sisters, in the film she had six. Near the end of the story, the Mermaid's sisters would end up sacrificing their own hair to the Sea Witch for a knife, that when used on her prince, would return their younger sister to her aquatic form.
5. Flounder, Scuttle, and Sebastian
Not surprisingly, these three comic relief characters were not included in any form in Anderson's original masterpiece.
6. The Little Mermaid's Fate
In Greek tragedy-like fashion, at the conclusion to the story, the little mermaid is forced to make the decision to kill the man she so desperately fell in love with or wait till the sun sets and die. Because she is unable to take his life, she tosses herself overboard as the day ends and dissipates into sea foam. What a terrible, terrible, depressing, tear-jerking, cruel ending...
But wait! There's More!
Because of her selflessness, she is transformed into an ethereal earthbound spirit called 'daughter of the air.' She is given the chance to earn a soul by doing good deeds for mankind for 300 years. Not so bad, after all.
Coming off the success of their hit Broadway show turned musical film, Little Shop of Horrors, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, were contracted by Disney to develop the score and songs for their newest addition to the Disney Princess Series, The Little Mermaid.
1. Fathoms Below
"I'll tell you a tale of the bottomless blue and it's hey to the starboard, heave ho. Look out, lad, a mermaid be waiting for you in mysterious fathoms below.."
Admit it, you sang it, too. The introductory tune of the movie is more than enough to get even the most stubborn of people nodding their heads from side to side and tapping their toes on the floor while we all pretend not to watch.
2. Daughters of Triton
"Ah, we are the daughters of Triton, great father who loves us and named us well. Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Atina, Adella, Alanna. And then there is the youngest in her musical debut. Our seventh little sister, we're presenting her to you. To sing a song Sebastian wrote, her voice is like a bell. She's our sister, Arie-"
Ariel! Sorry, I couldn't help it. I love that catchy little tune. And Sebastian clearly put so much work into it. But because of Ariel's inability to keep track of anything, we'll never know if there were any more verses.
3. Part of Your World
"Look at this stuff, isn't it neat? Wouldn't you think my collection's complete? Wouldn't you think I'm a girl, a girl who has everything..Look at these troves, treasures untold, how many wonders can one cavern hold?"
"I've got gadgets and gizmos aplenty. I've got whosits and whatsits galore. You want thingamabobs? I've got twenty. But who cares, no big deal, I want more."
This song would go on to be the most rewound, watched again, rewound, watched again moments, until the VHS finally burnt out, in the entire film. It showcased Ariel's powerful voice and her deep emotional struggle to come to terms with the fact that she wants something she can never have. It's significant because it showed Ariel's desire to be human before she met and fell in love with Prince Eric.
For our younger generation, a VHS is like a big, rectangular DVD that you had to grow a strong sense of patience while waiting for it to rewind
4. Under The Sea
"Under the sea! Under the sea! Darling, it's better down where it's wetter, take it from me! Up on the shore, they work all day, out in the sun they slave away. While we devotin' full time to floatin', Under the sea!"
Elementary school summer concerts have never been the same since the 1989 release of The Little Mermaid. This catchy calypso tune, sung by King Triton's advisor and nanny to his wandering youngest, Sebastian, describes in vibrant detail why the sea is so much better than land. After watching this scene, practically pressing our eyes against the television, we all made a wish to trade places with Ariel, even if only to participate in that ensemble number. "Under The Sea" would go on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1989.
5. Part of Your World (Reprise)
"I don't when, I don't know how, but I know something's starting right now. Watch and you'll see, someday I'll be, Part of Your World!"
This has to be my favorite moment of the entire film. If you thought Ariel had power in her (gills?) lungs before, watch out! She blows the audience away with her commanding reprisal of her saddening, naive ballad.
6. Poor Unfortunate Souls
"This one longing to be thinner, that one wants to get the girl, and do I help them? (sassy snap) Yes, indeed. Those poor, unfortunate souls. So sad, so true. They come flocking to my cauldron, crying 'Spells, Ursula, please' and I help them, yes I do."
Bewitching, spooky, and all together, kooky...Whoops, wrong place, wrong time. But you get the point. Disney has always had a way of giving their villains the ultimate in bad guy songs. Ursula's flashy number is no less than that. She delivers it with sass, sexiness, and devilish intentions. And Ursula isn't afraid to point out in the song that she does not run a charity. They all pay, one way or another. Oops, I did it again. And again. Time to move on....
7. Les Poissons
"Les poisson, les poisson, how I love les poisson. Love to chop and to serve little fish. First I CUT OFF their heads, then I PULL OUT their bones. Ah mai oui, ca c'est toujours delice."
How truly terrifying. This was supposed to be a children's song? In a movie where the majority of the main characters are fish? That's sick, Disney. Not cool. However, we did get that awesome chase and mental breakdown scene between Chef Louis and Sebastian so, not all was a loss with this French-inspired solo number.
8. Kiss The Girl
"There you see her, sitting there across the way. She don't got a lot to say, but there's something about her. And you don't know why but you're dying to try, you wanna kiss the girl."
Yep, here come the warm fuzzy feelings and stomach butterflies going nuts. It's Kiss The Girl. Another song delivered in perfection to a mute Ariel and her clueless, Prince Eric. Sebastian attempts to set the mood and persuade dear Eric to throw his inhibitions to the water, take the plunge, and give Ariel the kiss of true love. They nearly succeed before Ursula's minions ruin the whole thing, that easily must have Sebastian months and months to organize and prepare for. Nice going, witch.
The premature conclusion had us all wanting to leap from our seats and storm out of the room, cursing violently at the screen.
There are always faces behind the characters that we, as dedicated viewers, rarely acknowledge and give full appreciation to. I'm about to change all that as I take a close look at those amazing people who brought these characters to life.
1. Alyssa Milano - Ariel
Milano, best known for her roles in Who's The Boss, Mistresses, and Charmed, would become the basis when artists started sketching our sweet Ariel's facial structure, body type, and personality. Alyssa Milano has been 100 percent supportive of Disney's decision, even going as far as filming a behind-the-scenes look into the world of The Little Mermaid, for one of the films many home-video releases.
2. Sherri Stoner - Ariel
American actress, writer, and producer Sherri Stoner served as an animation reference model for Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Later on, she would continue her improvisational work for Disney with Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Many of Ariel's mannerisms including biting her lower lip and blowing frustratingly at her hair, originally came from Stoner's portrayal. You could say she invented much about the character that many of us find so unequivocally charming and relatable.
3. Jodi Benson - Ariel
At last we come to the woman who gave Ariel her prominent, delicate voice. The incomparable, Jodi Benson. Benson was brought it at the personal request of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken to audition for the role of Ariel, which she nailed, as they knew she would. Benson has been voicing the character in every form she's taken for the last 26 years, including TV shows, direct-to-video sequels, and video games. She's also taken on other high priority projects for Disney such as her hilarious role as Barbie in the previous two films of the Toy Story franchise. She would also go on to make one of many Disney Princess cameos in 2007's live-action Disney film, Enchanted.
4. Pat Carroll - Ursula
The woman who gave Ursula her raspy, bone-chilling voice, Pat Carroll, is an Emmy Award-winning comedian and actress. Like Benson, Pat Carroll would continue to breath life into Ursula in every form from 1989 forward. She would also return to the franchise in The Little Mermaid 2: Return to The Sea, this time voicing Ursula's sister, Morgana. Pat Carroll, having considered Ursula as one of the best roles of her entire career, frequently makes stops at fan conventions and Disney expos.
5. Divine - Ursula
It is rumored that artists used the infamous actor, singer, and drag queen comedian, for their later sketches and corpulent personality of Ursula. I'm not saying that this rumor is true, but basing my opinion off of the picture above, I'm not saying it's not true either.
6. Samuel E. Wright - Sebastian
For the role of King Triton's advisor and Ariel's crustacean nanny, stage actor Samuel E. Wright was chosen. His physicality and enthusiasm impressed the co-director, Ron Clements, so much that he videotaped Wright's audition and played it for the film's animators to inspire their creation of Sebastian. Following Benson and Carroll, Wright would continue to voice Sebastian whenever he was able.
7. Christopher Daniel Barnes - Prince Eric
Barnes would only go on to voice Prince Eric for the original film. He was replaced in the sequel by Rob Paulsen and in the TV series by Jeff Bennett.
8. Jason Marin - Flounder
Child actor Jason Marin hasn't been seen or heard on the big and small screens since the early nineties. His role as Flounder in The Little Mermaid would be later taken on by Cam Clarke in the direct sequel, Parker Goris in the prequel, and Edan Gross and Bradley Pierce for the 1990's TV series.
9. Kenneth Mars - King Triton
Best known for his role in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, veteran film and television actor, Kenneth Mars, was selected to voice the role of Ariel's overprotective father, King Triton. Mars voiced the character for both the TV series and the sequel, but due to health issues, was replaced in the prequel film by legendary voice actor Jim Cummings.
10. Buddy Hackett - Scuttle
Las Vegas Comedian Buddy Hackett was the obvious choice to voice Ariel's severely confused and misleading seagull friend, Scuttle. His perfect comedic timing and cooky voice came through the screen at full power, inciting laughter from all. Buddy Hackett would reprise his role for the film's sequel, but take a pass when it came time for the Disney Channel original series.
11. Rene Auberjonois - Chef Louis
American actor and voice over artist, Rene Auberjonois, brought a certain unexpected life into the character of Chef Louis. His ability to provide Louis with the perfect amount of crazy and dedication, have left a lasting impression with audiences. And though he would only voice the character this one time, it is still Auberjonois that fans look to when they think about the one-sided, hysterical battle scene between Louis and Sebastian.
Animation Television: The Little Mermaid, House of Mouse and Sophia The First
Ariel would be given her own original series following the success of The Little Mermaid, in 1992. The show followed Ariel, before she sacrificed her voice for legs, in her never ending quests to do the right thing, explore uncharted areas, and bring tolerance and understanding to her father’s kingdom. The opening theme of the show is a mix of the film’s songs, "Part of Your World", "Under The Sea", and "Kiss The Girl."
Ariel would make several cameos on Disney’s House of Mouse, usually in the audience with several of her film’s co-stars.
Ariel would also make an appearance in the Disney Junior series, Sophia The First, as many other Disney Princesses did before her.
Video Games: The 'Kingdom Hearts' Franchise
Ariel, Sebastian, Ursula, Flounder, and King Triton would all feature prominently in Square Enix’s final fantasy inspired video game series, 'Kingdom Hearts.' The game follows the story of a young boy named Sora, as he travels from realm to realm, seeking a way to end the onslaught of the malicious Heartless. During his time in Atlantica, he is greeted warmly by Ariel and her friends, she even helps Sora later on when he engages in battle against the destructive Heartless and the wicked sea witch, Ursula.
Live Action: Once Upon A Time
Ariel was given new life in the third season of ABC’s fairy-tale drama, Once Upon A Time. This time, she was portrayed, in her first live-action display on Television and Film, by the lovely Joanna Garcia-Swisher. In the series, she aids the Charmings in their fight against the malicious Peter Pan to rescue young Henry, and later on, proves to be a more useful asset after saving the lives of Snow White, Captain Hook, Prince Eric, and Captain Blackbeard from the certain doom of the deep and unforgiving ocean. Ursula, voiced by Yvette Nicole Brown in Season 3, also had a recurring role in the Season 4 arc, ‘Queens of Darkness’ portrayed by 24 veteran, Merrin Dungey and a younger incarnation was portrayed by Tiffany Boone.
Now, the Question We Must all Ask Ourselves, Why is Ariel Still Such Prominent Mainstay in American Culture?
Ariel is without a doubt, one of the most easily recognizable characters in all of animated film history. Her bright red hair and distinctive green tail are what help her to stand out among all the rest. As a matter of fact, the color of Ariel’s tail was invented by the Disney artists specifically for her.
Ariel has always represented the need people have to find that bliss that completes, that side of the world where the grass is always greener, and where true love could be found, unmatched and unabated. For little girls and boys, Ariel was a sign that no matter what, things would undoubtedly get better. She proved to the world that girls can be the hero just as easily as the boys can. She always did her best to make amends for the wrongs she inflicted upon others, and she made the many of us who feel so out of place, believe in the possibility of a happy ending. Her unbreakable courage, unmatched intelligence, and spunk are what make Ariel the best of what Disney has to offer. When I was young, my safe place was always alongside this brave little mermaid. She made me feel strong, she made me feel loved, and she let me know that I would always have her as a friend when I needed one. And it is because of this, because she has touched so many lives including mine, that I believe The Little Mermaid will continue to inspire, spread love, and give hope to the hopeless, for many, many generations to come.