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The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid

Directed By:

Ron Clements
John Musker

Produced By:

Howard Ashman
John Musker
Maureen Donley

Written By:

Hans Christian Andersen (Short Story)
Roger Allers (Story)
Howard Ashman (Musical)
Ron Clements
John Musker

Music By:

Alan Menken (Music)
Howard Ashman (Lyrics)

Studio:

Walt Disney Animation Studios

Distributed By:

Walt Disney Pictures

Release Date:

November 14, 1989

Followed By:

The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea

The Little Mermaid is an animated film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and first released on November 14, 1989 by Walt Disney Pictures. The twenty-eighth animated feature in the Disney animated feature canon, the film is based upon the Hans Christian Andersen short story "The Little Mermaid." The film grossed over $111 million in the US and an additional $99 million worldwide, and is given credit for breathing life back into the animated feature film genre after a string of critical and commercial failures beginning in the early 1980s.

Plot

The film begins on a foggy morning out on open sea. A ship then comes from the fog, filled with sailors singing stories of the legendary merfolk, ("Fathoms Below"). Aboard that ship is a young prince, named Eric, his dog Max and his advisor Grimsby. Grimsby denounces the merfolk as, "nautical nonsense", but one sailor insists them to be real. While distracted by Grimsby, a fish the sailor was holding, slips from him, and falls into the ocean.

The fish breathes a sigh of relief before swimming away from the ship. The opening credits play as the fish crosses the deep ocean, until at last, we see merfolk. The merfolk then make their way through the ocean towards a shining underwater castle. The castle is the domain of King Triton, and is where he was holding a concert in his name, performed by his seven daughters and the crab court composer, Sebastian, ("Daughters of King Triton").

The concert goes as planned until it is discovered that Triton's youngest, Princess Ariel, is not there, much to his chagrin. In truth, Ariel was out excavating a ship graveyard with her best fish friend, Flounder. Inside one wreck, she finds a pipe and a fork, which fascinates her curiosity, all the while unaware of a shark watching her and Flounder from outside. The shark bursts into the room Ariel and Flounder are in and gives chase to them, all across the graveyard, until the two manage to get the shark ensnared in an anchor ring. They then make their way to the surface, where their friend, a seagull named Scuttle, lives. Ariel asks Scuttle to tell her what the items she collected are. He describes the fork as a dinglehopper, an item humans use to style hair; and the pipe as a snarfblatt, an object for making music.

Upon hearing the word, "music", Ariel is quickly reminded of the concert she missed and makes haste back home. However, Ariel fails to realise she is being watched by two suspicious eels by the names, Flotsam and Jetsam. The two were spies under the employ of Ursula the Sea Witch, a former member of King Triton's court before being banished. Ursula hates Triton with a passion for his atrocities towards her, and constantly schemes of ways to exact revenge. The moment Ariel caught her eye, Ursula commands her cronies to watch her, hoping to use her to get to the King.

The film then moves to the royal palace, where Triton and Sebastian are scorning Ariel for missing the concert. But Flounder moves in to defend her, accidentally letting slip the encounter with Scuttle, which quickly angers Triton. The law of his kingdom forbids going to the surface world, for fears of merfolk being caught by humans. But Ariel believes humans not to be all that bad, which angers Triton to the point of sending Ariel away crying, with Flounder following after.

When they've left, Triton asks Sebastian if he was too hard on Ariel, to which Sebastian replies, "definitely not". Sebastian suggests that Ariel needs constant supervision, which gives Triton the idea to send Sebastian to keep an eye on her. Sebastian complies with the king's demands but feels dissatisfied with the idea of, "tagging along some headstrong teenager." However, Sebastian's thoughts are interrupted when he sees Ariel and Flounder swimming off elsewhere, prompting him to follow her. He is led to a hidden grotto where he discovers a variety of human objects gathered together.

Ariel, still hurt by her father's words, sings of her collection of human objects, and how she desires to visit the world of humans, despite what her father has to say of them, ("Part of Your World"). The mood is quickly broken by Sebastian crashing in, and threatening to reveal Ariel's grotto to the king. Ariel attempts to reason with him, but before anything could be resolved in the conflict, a large objects is seen floating overheard blocking moonlight from the grotto roof. Ariel, being ever curious, swam to the surface to figure out what this massive object was. The object proves to be a human ship, shooting fireworks into the night sky. Ariel swims towards the vessel, in spite of Sebastian's protests, and climbs aboard to behold dancing seamen. Ariel learns that the humans aboard are celebrating the birthday of their prince; one creature that catches her eye is Max, the sheepdog who takes a liking to Ariel. But Ariel is left enamoured when she sees the dog's master, Prince Eric.

Eric is given a large statue of himself as a birthday present, by Grimsby, who sourly proclaims that he hoped it would be a wedding present. Eric protests that he just hasn't found the right girl yet, but insists that when he does it will hit him, like lightning. It was then, that the sounds of thunder echoed in the distance, followed by an ever growing gust of wind.

Without warning, a hurricane blew in, sweeping up both ship and crew violently in a volley of wind and water. Ariel is thrown off the vessel but managed to catch sight of the ship being struck by lightning. When the ship crashes into a gaggle of rocks, the crew is sent overboard, along with the statue of Eric. Though they all made it to the lifeboats, Eric discovers that Max is still on the burning vessel, and goes off to rescue him. While Eric managed to get Max to safety, he is unable to save himself when a massive explosion blows him away. Ariel sees this and rushes towards his aid; barely managing to rescue him and take him back to shore.

Once at the shore, Ariel sings of her desire to join Eric's world ("Part of Your World"), before fleeing at the sounds of Grimsby and Max approaching. While Ariel sung, Eric only managed to catch a glimpse of her before she left; but as Grimsby raises him up, Eric vividly remembers a girl who had saved him, and is determined to find her. As Ariel watches them from a nearby rock, Sebastian tells her that the situation must be kept secret from her father, but Ariel doesn't pay attention. With vigour and determination, Ariel makes a bold proclamation that she will be a part of Eric's world.

What Ariel doesn't realise however, is that she's being watched by Ursula's eels. Ursula is gleeful of the situation, and eerily looks to a gaggle of polyps in her lair; all of them, former dreamers who came under her power. She then mutters about Ariel becoming a charming addition to the group.

A few days later, Ariel spends her time day dreaming of Eric, which piques the curiosity of her father, who believes Ariel to be in love with another merman. All the while, Sebastian is a nervous wreck trying to keep the secret from being found out. Ariel then decides that she wants to visit Eric, but Sebastian is having none of that. He attempts to bring her down to earth with a musical number about how the sea is better than the land. ("Under the Sea").

Sebastian manages to bring a bunch of fish together to sing along, but as this party is happening, Flounder shows up and manages to slip Ariel away unnoticed. The song ends with Ariel nowhere to be seen, and Sebastian left alone to grumble about her. Suddenly, the royal herald calls for Sebastian to reports to the King about Ariel. Sebastian, afraid that Triton figured out what had happened, accidentally slips the truth during the interrogation, and is forced to tell the King everything. Back at Ariel's grotto, Flounder reveals that he had saved the statue of Eric from the wreck, much to Ariel's delight. However, the pleasantries are interrupted by Triton being led to the grotto by Sebastian. After a short argument, Ariel lets slip that she loves Eric and Triton, in his anger, reduces Ariel's grotto of treasure to a junk pile, leaving Ariel in tears. She shoos Sebastian and Flounder away and is left alone to grieve.

However, unbeknownst to her, Flotsam and Jetsam enter the grotto and sweet talk Ariel into going to Ursula to achieve her dreams of being with Eric. As they leave, Sebastian and Flounder follow after Ariel all the way to Ursula's lair. Ursula explains that she can grant Ariel's wish to be human for three days, but she must give Eric the kiss of true love before the sunset on the third day, or she belongs to Ursula. ("Poor Unfortunate Souls"). In exchange for legs though, she must give away her voice. Ariel agrees to these terms and signs the contract, trapping her voice in a necklace Ursula wore, and giving her human legs.

Once Ariel has been transformed into a human, Sebastian and Flounder take her to the surface, where the group meet up with Scuttle on a beach near Eric's castle. Sebastian threatens to tell King Triton about the deal between Ariel made with Ursula, but Ariel manages to convince him to help the group. Scuttle then tells Ariel about how to blend in with humans, and the first step was to dress like them. Scuttle takes a portion of a sail for Ariel to wear, just as Prince Eric arrives at their location. Though Eric doesn't know she's the girl who saved his life, he is willing to bring her to his castle to be taken care of, with Sebastian tagging along in a pocket in Ariel's cloth.

Later, inside the palace, while Ariel is taking a bath, Sebastian is sent, through a series of misfortunate events, to the castle kitchen. It's there that Sebastian encounters a fish cooking obsessed chef that attempts to murder him, ("Les Poissons"). As this conflict goes on in the kitchen, Ariel meets with Eric and Grimsby in the dining hall for dinner. There, Eric and Grimsby discuss giving Ariel a tour of the kingdom, to which she agrees to.

Later that night, Sebastian discusses plans to get Eric to kiss Ariel, though Ariel doesn't listen, being too enamoured in the human world's splendours. But down in King Triton's palace, the situation is grim. King Triton has sent several search parties everywhere looking for Ariel and Sebastian but hasn't found a trace of both of them. He is left depressed; blaming herself for their disappearance.

The next morning, Ariel and Eric begin their tour of the kingdom, starting with the nearby town. Ariel is enamoured by every single thing she sees, whether it is puppets, horses or dancing. The day passes into evening when Eric takes Ariel on a lagoon cruise. Sebastian, seeing this as the perfect moment, decides to take matters into his own claws, and plays a song to excite the two into kissing. ("Kiss the Girl"). However, the song is quickly interrupted by Flotsam and Jetsam overturning the boat, successively ruining the mood.

Ursula, frustrated with the progress Ariel's making, decides to take matters into her own tentacles, and transforms herself into a beautiful young maiden called Vanessa. She then uses Ariel's voice to hypnotise Eric just before he could announce his true feelings for her. And the next morning, Eric and Vanessa were announced to be wed by sunset, leaving poor Ariel heartbroken as the wedding ship departed from port, leaving her and her friends behind while Vanessa convincingly plays her role as a love-struck young woman, clinging constantly to Eric's side and raises no suspicion.

Little does anyone know, Scuttle happens to fly over the wedding ship when he hears Ariel's voice coming from the bridge's dressing room. ("Vanessa's Song"). He spies from a porthole, and once Vanessa takes a look at the dressing room's mirror, Ursula's reflection is shown. Scuttle flies off to inform Ariel and the group about Vanessa. The group then makes a plan, Ariel and Flounder go after the wedding ship on a barrel, Sebastian goes off to tell King Triton of what's happening, while Scuttle goes off to stall the wedding.

Scuttle gathers sea creatures of all sorts to converse on the wedding ship as the wedding is just under way. There is little warning for Vanessa when the attack begins, and the ship is sent into disarray, giving Ariel the time she needed to get aboard. Moreover, Vanessa is utterly flustered, disorientated and sidelined from being able to do anything. Thanks to the help of Max, Scuttle manages to snap the necklace off Vanessa's neck, shattering it across the deck; freeing Ariel's voice, and releasing Eric from the spell. But before the two could kiss, the sun sets and Vanessa transforms into Ursula again, taking Ariel back with her under the sea.

It isn't long before Ursula and Ariel run into Triton and Sebastian, and a conflict occurs. Triton attempts to destroy the contract Ariel signed, binding her to Ursula, but finds that he's unable to do so because it's magically enhanced by being legal. So, to save his daughter, Triton sacrifices his soul to Ursula, and becomes a polyp, thus losing his crown, trident and kingdom to Ursula. Meanwhile, Eric takes a rowboat from the wedding ship and speeds off towards the location where Ariel is. He goes underwater and attacks Ursula, who then commands Flotsam and Jetsam to go after him.

In the midst of the chaos, Ursula attempts to kill Eric with the trident, but Ariel pulls on her hair, causing her to miss and kill her eels. This enrages Ursula, provoking her to become a giant and leaving Eric and Ariel helpless to her power. But in the midst of her rampage, Ursula created a whirlpool, raising shipwrecks from the ocean floor.

And it is with these shipwrecks that Eric is able to finish off Ursula by ramming its splintered bow into her. As a result, Ursula blows up into a scattered mass of organs while Eric falls unconscious on the shore. Ursula's curse is removed from the merfolk in her garden, as well as King Triton, and peace is once again restored to the ocean.

Back on the surface, Triton decides that he has to let Ariel be free to lead her own life and tells Sebastian that he is going to miss her. He then transforms her once more into a human, this time permanently. Ariel goes to Eric, they finally kiss, and two are immediately wed shortly after. And at this ceremony, Ariel says goodbye to all her friends and family to live her new life in Eric's world.

Voice Cast

Actor Role(s)
Jodi Benson

Ariel & Vanessa

Christopher Daniel Barnes Prince Eric
Pat Carroll Ursula
Samuel E. Wright Sebastian
Jason Marin Flounder
Kenneth Mars King Triton
Buddy Hackett Scuttle
Ben Wright Grimsby
Rene Auberjonois Chef Louis
Paddi Edwards Flotsam and Jetsam
Edie McClurg Carlotta
Will Ryan Seahorse
Frank Welker Max the Sheepdog
Will Ryan

Herald the Seahorse

Songs and Soundtrack

The film contains 10 songs in total; including three reprises. With lyrics by Howard Ashman, and a score by Alan Menken.

Song Singer
Fathoms Below Ship's Chorus
Daughters of King Triton Kimmy Robertson and Caroline Vasicek
Part of Your World Jodi Benson
Part of Your World (Reprise) Jodi Benson
Under the Sea Samuel E. Wright
Poor Unfortunate Souls Pat Carroll
Les Poissons Rene Auberjonois
Kiss the Girl Samuel E. Wright
Vanessa's Song Jodi Benson
Part of Your World (Finale) Chorus

A soundtrack was released for the film on October 13, 1989 and was met with great praise and accolades. The soundtrack would be re-released in 2006 as well.

Reception

Box Office Revenue

According to TheNumbers.com:

1989 Original Run

Release Week Gross Rank Total
1 $6,031,914 3 $6,065,716
2 $8,384,862 3 $16,832,844
3 $4,030,274 5 $22,109,571
4 $2,764,119 7 $25,748,251
5 $2,522,362 4 $28,941,871
6 $3,319,664 6 $34,089,416
7 $9,235,512 3 $49,401,857
8 $4,585,047 5 $56,126,383
9 $3,851,208 6 $60,855,174
10 $2,823,840 8 $65,247,711
11 $2,174,414 9 $68,066,110
12 $1,774,352 9 $74,262,415

1997 Re-release Run

Release Week Gross Rank Total
1 $9,814,520 3 $9,814,520
2 $5,687,421 5 $17,950,386
3 $3,990,314 8 $23,947,879

Awards and Accolades

Academy Awards

  • Two Wins:
    • Best Original Score
    • Best Original Song- "Under the Sea"
  • One Nomination:
    • Best Original Song- "Kiss the Girl"

Golden Globe Award

  • Two Wins:
    • Best Original Score- Motion Picture
    • Best Original Song- Motion Picture- "Under the Sea"
  • Two Nominations:
    • Best Motion Picture- Comedy/Musical
    • Best Original Song- Motion Picture

Grammy Award

  • One Win:
    • Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture of for Television- "Under the Sea"
  • Two Nominations:
    • Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television
    • Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television

Other Awards

  • BMI Film & TV Awards
    • One Win: BMI Film Music Award
  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association
    • One Win: Best Animation
  • Golden Screen Awards
    • One Win: Golden Screen Award
  • Golden Reel Awards
    • One Win: Best Sound Editing- Animated Feature
  • Young Artist Award
    • One Win: Best Family Motion Picture- Adventure or Cartoon

TV Series and Sequels


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