|The Little Mermaid|
1997 re-release poster
|Directed by||Ron Clements
|Produced by||Ron Clements
|Written by||Ron Clements
Hans Christian Andersen
Christopher Daniel Barnes
Samuel E. Wright
|Music by||Alan Menken
|Studio||Walt Disney Feature Animation
Silver Screen Partners IV
|Distributed by||Walt Disney Pictures
Buena Vista Distribution
|Release date(s)||November 17, 1989|
|Running time||85 minutes|
|Followed by||The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea|
The Little Mermaid is a 1989 American animated film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name. Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, the film was originally released to theaters on November 17, 1989 and is the twenty-eighth film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. During its initial release, The Little Mermaid grossed over $84 million in the United States and an additional $99 million internationally.
After the success of the 1988 Disney/Amblin film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid is given credit for breathing life back into the animated feature film genre after a string of critical 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 very inaccurate and comical knowledge of human culture. Ignoring the warnings of her father (King Triton) and court musician (Sebastian the crab) that contact between merpeople and humans is forbidden (the sea's primary contact with humans involve fishermen, so King Triton considers humans as nothing more than mere predators), 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. ("Part of Your World") Sebastian, who is assigned to watch over Ariel and be sure she does not visit the surface again, tries to convince her that its better to live under the sea than in the human world ("Under the Sea").
One night, Ariel, Flounder and an unwilling Sebastian travel to the ocean surface to watch a celebration for the birthday of Prince Eric, with whom Ariel falls in love. A sudden storm hits, during which everyone manages to escape in a lifeboat--except for Eric who goes back to rescue his dog Max. He almost drowns saving Max but is saved by Ariel, who drags him to the beach. She sings to him but dives underwater when Max returns to Eric. Upon waking, 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. ("Part of Your World (reprise)")
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 Ariel in her grotto, using his trident to destroy her collection of human treasures. After Triton leaves, a pair of eels, Flotsam and Jetsam, convince a crying Ariel that she must visit Ursula the sea witch, if she wants all of her dreams to come true.
Ursula makes a deal with Ariel to transform her into a human for three days ("Poor, Unfortunate Souls"). 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 takes by magically removing the energy from Ariel's vocal chords and storing it in a nautilus shell. Ariel's tail is transformed into legs and Sebastian and Flounder drag her to the surface. Meanwhile, Triton discovers Ariel and Sebastian's disappearance and, wracked with guilt over his behaviour, orders a search for them.
Eric and Max find Ariel on the beach. He initially suspects that she is the one who saved his life, but when he learns that she cannot speak, he discards that notion, to the frustration of both Ariel and Max (who knows the truth). He helps her to the palace, where the servants think she is a survivor of a shipwreck. Ariel spends time with Eric, and at the end of the second day, they almost kiss ("Kiss the Girl") but are thwarted by Flotsam and Jetsam. Angered at their narrow escape, Ursula takes the disguise of a beautiful young woman named "Vanessa" and appears onshore singing with Ariel's voice. Eric recognizes the song and, in her disguise, Vanessa/Ursula casts a hypnotic enchantment on Eric to make him forget about Ariel.
The next day, Ariel finds out that Eric will be married to the disguised Ursula on a ship. She cries and is left behind when the wedding barge departs. Scuttle discovers that Vanessa is Ursula in disguise, and informs Ariel. As Ariel and Flounder chase the wedding barge, Sebastian informs Triton, and Scuttle is assigned to literally "stall the wedding." With the help of various animals, the nautilus shell around Ursula's neck is broken, restoring Ariel's voice 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 to her true form and kidnaps Ariel.
Triton appears and confronts Ursula, but cannot destroy Ursula's contract with Ariel. Triton chooses to sacrifice himself for his daughter, and is transformed into a polyp. Ursula takes Triton's crown and trident, which was her plan from the beginning. Ursula uses her new power to gloat, transforming into a giant, and forming a whirlpool that disturbs several shipwrecks to the surface, one of which Eric commandeers. Just as Ursula is set to use the trident to destroy Ariel, Eric turns the wheel hard to port and runs Ursula through the abdomen with the ship's splintered bowsprit, mortally wounding her. With her last breaths, Ursula pulls the ship down with her, but Eric escapes to shore in time.
With Ursula gone, her power breaks and the polyps in Ursula's garden (including Triton) turn back into the old merpeople. Later, after seeing that Ariel really loves Eric and that Eric also saved him in the process, Triton willingly changes her from a mermaid into a human using his trident. She runs into Eric's arms, and the two finally kiss.
In the final scene, an unspecified amount of time later, Ariel marries Eric in a wedding where both humans and merpeople attend.
The film was originally planned as one of Disney's earliest feature films. Development started soon after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in the late 1930s, but was put on hold due to various circumstances.
In 1985, The Great Mouse Detective co-director Ron Clements discovered a collection of Hans C. Andersen's fairy tales while browsing a bookstore. He presented a two-page draft of a movie based on "The Little Mermaid" to CEO Michael Eisner, who passed it over, because at that time the studio was in development on a sequel to Splash. But the next day, Walt Disney Pictures boss Jeffrey Katzenberg, green-lighted the idea for possible development, along with "Oliver & Company." Unknown to the production team at the time, the idea for the movie had actually been one of Walt Disney's favorites. While in production in the 1980s, the staff found the original 1930s Disney Mermaid story and art development work by chance. Many of the changes made by the staff in the 1930s to Hans Christian Andersen's original story were coincidentally the same as the changes made by Disney writers in the 1980s.
That year, Clements and Great Mouse Detective co-director John Musker expanded the two-page idea into a 20-page rough script, eliminating the role of the mermaid's grandmother and expanding the roles of the Merman King and the sea witch. However, the film's plans were momentarily shelved as Disney focused its attention on Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Oliver & Company as more immediate releases.
In 1987, songwriter Howard Ashman became involved with Mermaid after he was asked to contribute to Oliver & Company. He proposed changing the minor character Clarence, the English-butler crab, to a Jamaican Rastafarian crab and shifting the music style throughout the film to reflect this. At the same time, Katzenberg, Clements, Musker, and Ashman changed the story format to make Mermaid like an animated Broadway musical. Ashman and Alan Menken (composer) teamed up to compose the entire soundtrack. In 1988, with Oliver out of the way, Mermaid was slated as the next major Disney release.
More money and resources were dedicated to Mermaid than any other Disney animated film in decades. The artistic manpower needed for Mermaid required Disney to farm out most of the underwater bubble effects animation in the film to Pacific Rim Productions, a China-based firm with production facilities in Beijing.
Mermaid's supervising animators included Glen Keane and Mark Henn on Ariel, Duncan Marjoribanks on Sebastian, Andreas Deja on King Triton, and Ruben Aquino on Ursula. Originally, Keane had been asked to work on Ursula, as he had established a reputation for drawing large, powerful figures (the bear in The Fox and the Hound, Professor Ratigan in The Great Mouse Detective). Keane, however, was assigned as one of the two lead artists on the petite Ariel and oversaw the "Part of Your World" musical number. He jokingly stated that his wife looks exactly like Ariel "without the fins." The character's body shape and personality were based upon that of Alyssa Milano, then starring on TV's Who's the Boss? and the effect of her hair underwater was based on footage of Sally Ride, when she was in space.
Another first for recent years was that live actors and actresses were filmed for reference material for the animators, a practice used frequently for many of the Disney animated features produced under Walt Disney's supervision. Broadway actress Jodi Benson was chosen to play Ariel, and Sherri Lynn Stoner, a former member of Los Angeles' Groundlings improvisation comedy group, acted out Ariel's key scenes. Not all of Disney's animators approved of the use of live-action reference; one artist quit the project over the issue. An attempt to use Disney's famed multiplane camera for the first time in years for quality "depth" shots failed because the machine was reputedly in dilapidated condition. The multiplane shots were instead photographed at an outside animation camera facility.
Aside from its main animation facility in Glendale, California, Disney opened a satellite feature animation facility during the production of Mermaid near Orlando, Florida, within the still-unfinished Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park at Walt Disney World. Though the park opened to the public a year later, work at the animation studio began in May 1988, and the Disney-MGM facility's first projects were to produce an entire "Roger Rabbit" cartoon short, and contribute ink and paint support to Mermaid.
The Little Mermaid is the last Disney feature film to use the traditional hand-painted cel method of animation. Disney's next film, The Rescuers Down Under, used a digital method of coloring and combining scanned drawings – CAPS (Computer Animation Production System), which eliminated the need for cels. A CAPS prototype was used experimentally on a few scenes in Mermaid, including the final wedding scene. Computer-generated imagery was used to create some of the wrecked ships in the final battle, a staircase behind a shot of Ariel in Eric's castle, and the carriage Eric and Ariel are riding in when she bounces it over a ravine. These objects were animated using 3D wireframe models, which were printed as line art to cels and painted traditionally.
Actresses from all over the globe were considered for the role of the film's villain, Ursula the Sea Witch. These included American actresses such as Bea Arthur, Nancy Marchand, Charlotte Rae, Elaine Stritch, English actresses such as Joan Collins, Jennifer Saunders (who auditioned for it) and Dawn French (who also auditioned for it), and Australian actress Rowena Wallace, who claims she was asked to audition for the role by Michael Eisner.
On November 15, 1989, The Little Mermaid began critics' screenings in Los Angeles and New York City. On November 17, 1989, the world premiere of The Little Mermaid took place near Orlando, Florida on all ten AMC Pleasure Island screens at Walt Disney World's newly-built Pleasure Island nightclub.
The compilation Classic Disney: 60 Years of Musical Magic includes "Kiss the Girl", "Under the Sea", and "Poor Unfortunate Souls" on the red disc, "Part of Your World" on the blue disc, and "Les Poissons" on the green disc. The compilation Disney's Greatest Hits includes "Kiss the Girl" on the blue disc, "Under the Sea" on the green disc, and "Poor Unfortunate Souls" and "Part of Your World" on the red disc.
Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, was enthusiastic for the film and wrote that, "The Little Mermaid is a jolly and inventive animated fantasy - a movie that's so creative and so much fun it deserves comparison with the best Disney work of the past." Ebert also commented positively on the character of Ariel, stating, "... Ariel is a fully realized female character who thinks and acts independently, even rebelliously, instead of hanging around passively while the fates decide her destiny." The staff of TV Guide wrote a positive review, praising the film's return to the traditional Disney musical as well as the film's animation. Yet they also wrote that the film is detracted by the juvenile humor and the human characters' eyes. While still giving a positive review, they stated that the film "can't compare to the real Disney classics (which appealed equally to both kids and adults)." The staff of Variety praised the film for its cast of characters, Ursula in particular, as well as its animation. Stating that the animation "proves lush and fluid, augmented by the use of shadow and light as elements like fire, sun and water illuminate the characters." Also praised was the musical collaboration between Howard Ashman and Alan Menken "whose songs frequently begin slowly but build in cleverness and intensity." Todd Gilchrist of IGN wrote a positive review of the film, stating that the film is "an almost perfect achievement." Gilchrist also praised how the film revived interest in animation as it was released at a time when interest in animation was at a lull. Hal Hinson of The Washington Post wrote a mixed review of the film, referring to it as a "likably unspectacular adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen classic." Hinson went on to write that the film is average even at its highest points. He wrote that while there is nothing wrong with the film, it would be difficult for children to identify with Ariel and that the characters seemed bland. Hinson concluded his review saying that the film is "accomplished but uninspiring, The Little Mermaid has enough to please any kid. All that's missing is the magic." 
In April 2008 – almost 20 years after the film's initial release in 1989 – Yahoo! users voted "The Little Mermaid" as #14 on the top 30 animated films of all time. Later, when Yahoo! updated the list in June of the same year, the film remained on the list but dropped six slots to end at #20. (Only three other 2D Disney animated films- "Aladdin", "Beauty and the Beast", & "The Lion King", respectively- scored above it in the poll even after the update.)
In the film, King Triton lives in a castle of gold, along with his daughters. The castle is displayed in the artwork for the cover for the Classics VHS cassette when the film was first released on video. Close examination of the artwork, as well as the film, shows an oddly shaped structure on the castle, closely resembling a penis. Disney and the cover designer insist it was an accident, resulting from a late night rush job to finish the cover artwork. The questionable object does not appear on the cover of the second releasing of the movie.
The second allegation is that a clergyman is seen with an erection during a scene late in the film. The clergyman is a short man, dressed in Bishop's clothing, and a small bulge is slightly noticeable in a few of the frames that are actually later shown to be the stubby-legged man's knees, but the image is small and is very difficult to distinguish. The combined incidents led an Arkansas woman to file suit against The Walt Disney Company in 1995, though she dropped the suit two months later. Allegations of sexual innuendo existed for several other Disney movies, including The Lion King, Aladdin, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Disney's 1999 original releases of The Rescuers, which were recalled due to the discovery of two photographs of a nude woman in the background of two frames of the movie. Those sexual innuendo had been removed in later editions.
The Little Mermaid is an important film in animation history for many reasons:
According to TheNumbers.com.
The Little Mermaid won two Academy Awards for Best Original Score as well as Best Song for Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's "Under the Sea", sung by Samuel E. Wright in a memorable scene. Another song from the film, "Kiss the Girl," was nominated but lost to "Under the Sea." The film also won two Golden Globes for Best Original Score as well Best Original Song for "Under the Sea." It was also nominated in two other categories, Best Motion Picture and another Best Original Song. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman also won a Grammy Award in 1991 for "Under the Sea."
|Best Music, Original Score||Alan Menken|
|Best Music, Original Song ("Under the Sea")||Alan Menken & Howard Ashman|
|Best Music, Original Song ("Kiss the Girl")||Alan Menken & Howard Ashman|
|Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy||Nominated|
|Best Original Score||Won|
|Best Original Song (For "Under the Sea")||Won|
|Best Original Song (For "Kiss the Girl")||Nominated|
|Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television (For "Under the Sea")||Won|
The film's home video debut was in May 1990 with a VHS and a Laserdisc release, part of the Walt Disney Classics line, that became that year's top-selling title on home video, with over 10 million units sold (including 7 million in its first month). It was one of the highest-selling home video titles ever at the time.
Following the re-release on theaters, a new VHS was released in March 1998 as part of the Masterpiece Collection. The VHS sold 13 million units and ranked as the 3rd best-selling video of the year.
The Little Mermaid was released in a Limited Issue "barebones" DVD in 1999, with a standard video transfer and no substantial features. The film was re-released on DVD on October 3, 2006, as part of the Walt Disney Platinum Editions line of classic Walt Disney animated features. Deleted scenes and several in-depth documentaries were included, as well as the Academy Award-nominated short film intended for the shelved Fantasia 2006, The Little Match Girl. On its opening day the DVD sold 1.6 million units, and in its first week, over 4 million units, making it the biggest animated DVD debut for October. By year's end, the DVD had sold about 7 million units and was one of the year's top ten selling DVDs. The Platinum Edition DVD was released as part of a "The Little Mermaid Trilogy" boxed set on December 16, 2008. The Platinum Edition of the movie along with its sequels went on moratorium on January 2009.
A pre-Broadway stage version premiered in September 2007 in Denver, Colorado, at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, with music by Alan Menken, new lyrics by Glenn Slater, and a book by Doug Wright. The musical began performances on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on November 3, 2007 and officially opened on January 10, 2008. The original cast featured Sierra Boggess as Ariel, Norm Lewis as King Triton, Sherie Rene Scott as Ursula, Eddie Korbich as Scuttle, Tituss Burgess as Sebastian, Sean Palmer as Prince Eric, Jonathan Freeman as Grimsby, Derrick Baskin as Jetsam, Tyler Maynard as Flotsam, Cody Hanford and J.J. Singleton as Flounder, and John Treacy Egan as Chef Louis.
The show closed on Broadway August 30, 2009, after 685 performances and 50 previews.
Four games were released based on the film: The Little Mermaid, by Capcom for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy, The Little Mermaid: Magic in Two Kingdoms, by Buena Vista Games, released for the GBA, Ariel the Little Mermaid by Sega for the Mega Drive/Genesis, Game Gear and Master System. This also includes the feature of playing as Triton. The most recent game released was Disney's The Little Mermaid Ariel's Undersea Adventure which was released on the Nintendo DS on October 2, 2006. The Little Mermaid was also featured on Kingdom Hearts, a game featuring heavy usage of scenes and characters from famous Disney movies, as well as many of the original voice actors. A Little Mermaid hand-held LCD game from Tiger Electronics was also released.
Ariel makes regular appearances in the Disney theme parks, having a special location called Ariel's Grotto at the Magic Kingdom and formerly in Disneyland Park has now become pixie hollow. At Disney's Hollywood Studios, the show "Voyage of The Little Mermaid" is performed daily. The show opened up on January 6, 1992. It is currently the second-longest running show at a Walt Disney World Theme Park.
"Let the River Run" from Working Girl
|Academy Award for Best Original Song ("Under the Sea")
"Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)" from Dick Tracy