INFO: Deep Dive into Ariel By Bill Iadonisi

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INFO: Deep Dive into Ariel By Bill Iadonisi


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Ariel is the main character in the 1989 Disney Movie “The Little Mermaid”. She is the sixteen year old daughter of the Sea King Triton. King Triton is very protective of her and her six older sisters. Ariel has become unhappy with her life under the sea and is very curious about the human world above the waves. Her Father and the court musician Sebastian the crab continually warn her that contact with humans and merpeople is forbidden. But despite the stern warnings of her father the King, Ariel with the help of a seagull named Scuttle; collects all kinds of human artifacts and stores them in a grotto. King Triton assigns Sebastian to keep watch on Ariel and ensure she does not visit the surface and to convince her that life under the sea is preferable.

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The story is taken from one penned by Hans Christian Anderson, the Danish author who is well known for writing fairy tales. There are marked differences in the Anderson story and the Disney tale. Both stories are about love and sacrifice and the quest for the impossible dream. In the original story, the little mermaid and her sisters, upon attaining the age of 15 are allowed to view the surface and visit the surface once a year and tell all the others about it. The little mermaid is told by her grandmother that humans do not live 300 years like merpeople, but when they die; their eternal soul goes to heaven while merpeople turn into sea foam and cease to exist.

After the little mermaid sees a prince on a ship and saves him from drowning, she longs for a human soul and to love the prince. She then bargains with a sea Witch who sells her a potion for her beautiful voice in exchange for legs. The Witch tells her that she will only get a soul if the prince marries her, if not, she will turn into sea foam. The Anderson tale has much reference to religion and this is where Disney movie is very different.

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One day, Ariel and her friend Flounder visit the surface; she sees Prince Eric and immediately falls in love with him. A storm hits and Eric, trying to rescue his dog almost drowns. Ariel saves him and brings him to shore, where she sings to him, but dives into the water when his dog Max approaches. Prince Eric remembers a girl with a beautiful voice and he vows to find her. After the incident, Triton sees a change in Ariel’s demeanor and asks Sebastian about it; he slips and tells Triton about the encounter. Her father becomes enraged and destroys all of Ariel’s artifacts in her grotto. Here is where another difference in stories can be found. In Anderson’s tale, the sea Witch in not an antagonist, but a means for the Little Mermaid to achieve her dreams.

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But here in the Disney version, the Sea Witch Ursula once lived in the Royal Palace but was banned by Triton and she seeks revenge. She helps merpeople with their dreams through spells. Her minions, Moray eels Flotsam and Jetsam convince Ariel to seek out Ursula for help. In exchange for becoming human with legs, Ariel has three days for the Prince to marry her and get the “Kiss of Love” or she will be Ursula’s forever. The price for the bargain is Ariel’s voice which Ursula keeps in her shell necklace. Seeing that Ariel is getting to close to her goal, Ursula appears to the Prince as a beautiful woman and puts a spell on him to marry her instead. But the plot is foiled when the shell necklace with Ariel’s voice breaks, halting the spell and Ariel regains her voice. And again unlike the Anderson story, the Disney tale ends up with the Prince ultimately destroying Ursula and freeing all the doomed merfolk from her spell. After seeing that his daughter Ariel really loves the Prince, Triton turns her into a human with his trident. They are married in a ceremony that merfolk and humans can attend.


This production was actually conceived in the early 1930’s soon after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In fact the movie idea was one of Walt Disney’s favorites. When the little Mermaid was in production, the staff had found parts of the 1930’s story and art. This film is also noted as the last Disney film produced by traditional hand-painted cell animation. Other highlights… The first fairy tale film since Sleeping Beauty; the final use of Disney’s “Multiplane Camera”; the most use of special effects since “Fantasia” and it won the 1990 Academy award for Original Music score. It also heralded in the decade of the “Disney Renaissance” in animation, when the Disney Company began making successful movies again based on fairy tales, renewing the public’s interest in Disney films again.


The Little Mermaid had several sequels; the animated series appearing in 1992 on CBS TV entitled “The Little Mermaid” with 31 episodes, a direct-to-video; “The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea in 2000, and in 2008, the direct-to-video “The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s beginning” A Broadway musical of the Little Mermaid had it’s opening day on January 10th, 2008.