Ursula, or ‘The Sea Witch’ is 50% human, 50% octopus and 100% villainous, but that doesn't stop us from being fascinated with this obese, lavender colored sea goddess who has been captivating audiences for 25 years.
Ursula had her beginnings in the original Hans Christian Andersen tale which saw her as a kind of neutral enabler. This role was perceived to be too mild for Disney, who adapted the character into a fully-fledged villain who has gone onto to contribute to the story, and the Disney tradition in such a significant way.
Ursula’s debut in The Little Mermaid is where we learn that Ursula has a preoccupation with King Triton and the royal court and that she has set her moray eel ‘henchmen’ to keep an eye on Triton’s daughter Ariel.
When opportunity strikes, the eels lure Ariel into Ursula’s lair and it is there that Ursula delivers her musical number, proposing a bargain with Ariel. Her actions which she claims help ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ are met with motive to achieve her own ends, and in Ariel’s case this is the means to all ends – her claim to the throne. When Ariel agrees to the deal, Ursula turns her into a human. Ariel then goes to the surface where she sets out to meet Prince Eric, her love interest.
When Ariel looks set to get everything she ever wanted, Ursula is angered, and decides to sabotage their agreement by taking on the form of an attractive woman named Vanessa (one can’t help but wonder why Ursula stays looking like she does when she has the power to transform herself into Vanessa). Vanessa becomes engaged to Eric but her plans are soon interrupted when Vanessa is exposed for who she truly is.
Unfortunately for Ursula, the unfolding events that follow don’t bear any good news for her. Although she momentarily gains control of Triton’s crown and trident and becomes the ruler of the sea, her glory is not lasting, and Prince Eric impales her with a ship where she meets her end.
Vanessa is Ursula’s beautiful alter ego who brainwashes Eric into marrying her in an attempt to thwart Ariel’s happiness and regain control of the sea.
Her most prominent feature is her ability to take on Ariel’s voice in order to manipulate people.
Vanessa’s character also appears in the Hans Christian Andersen tale, but is a separate character to the sea witch. In taking on the persona of Vanessa herself, Ursula expands her villainous role and exposes her true capacity for evil-doing.
Vanessa’s character and personality is very similar to that of Ursula. She comes across as quietly sadistic, manipulative and extremely egotistical.
Deleted scenes found on the 2006 release of the DVD show early concept ideas that reveal Ursula to be Triton’s sister. Rumour has it, the film’s original concept included this relationship but it was eventually dropped. Of course, seeds of it still remain – Ursula’s first dialogue reveals that she used to live in the palace.
In the Broadway version of The Little Mermaid, Ursula and Triton are siblings who inherited joint leadership of the ocean. Because of Ursula’s dark nature, Triton banished her, leaving Ursula enraged and full of vengeance. It is this background to which the story opens.
- Ursula is mentioned in The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea and is shown in a family portrait
- Ursula appears as the antagonist in The Little Mermaid television series which served as a prequel to the film
- Ursula can be found in the Disney parks in parades and firework displays
- In the Kingdom Hearts video game, she appears as one of Malificent’s co-conspirators
- Ursula was a guest at Mickey’s night club in animated television show Disney’s House of Mouse
- Ursula is featured in the live Broadway production of The Little Mermaid
- Ursula is portrayed by two versions in the ABC television series Once Upon a Time. The first character is depicted as true to the character presented in the film, with the second character providing a large amount of backstory not seen in the film. In the second depiction, viewers are shown flashbacks to Ursula’s youth where she was a mermaid. A disagreement with her father, Poseidon caused Ursula to transform her mermaid tail into tentacles.
Since the film’s release, Ursula’s character has been praised by critics for her unapologetic obesity and for being one of the only Disney characters whose body size was able to keep up with her larger than life character.
“…and now look at me — wasted away to practically nothing…"
However, recently this overweight character has come under much scrutiny for having apparently been crash dieting over the last two decades.
In 2012, Disney released a new line of villain dolls which showed Ursula thin to the point that she was not recognisable - out was the back fat and double chin that characterised her, and in was a re-imagination of the villains which made them look like they were competing for ‘who wore it best’.
The collection was marketed as fashion-forward and part of a designer new look but the shrunken sea witch’s look was not met with positive criticism. Critics of the dolls felt that the collection was absent of a range of different body types, rather conforming Ursula to be released with other petite body shape characters such as Cruella De Ville. Psychology Today even spoke up on the issue, stating that “ultra-skinny Disney characters are a bad role model". One writer argues that "To turn Ursula into a more aesthetically pleasing cosmetics model is to completely ignore the savvy, entrepreneurial sea witch we all know and love and fear."
Of course, it’s not just dolls that have come under the spotlight. It has not gone unnoticed that Ursula’s sister in The Little Mermaid II was thin, and both of her Once Upon a Time appearances showed a trim version of the vamp, raising questions about Disney’s motives in slimming down the character whose weight has always served her so well.
- Ursula’s design was modelled after drag performer Divine, who passed away while the film was still in production
- Vanessa’s name is not revealed in the film until the wedding
- Ursula is the first major antagonist to have her own villain song
- The name Ursula means ‘little female bear’ in Latin
- Ursula was created with Bea Arthur in mind, but she turned it down due to commitments on The Golden Girls.
- Vanessa speaks only twice
- Ursula is the first villainess to have a beauty mark
- The spell Ursula casts on Ariel contain Latin words for ‘voice,’ ‘fish,’ and ‘throat.’
- Ursula’s alter ego Vanessa is named after the Latin word ‘Vanitas’ which is associated with vanity and emptiness.
- Ursula is only the third Disney villain to have a sibling
- When Scuttle is attacking Vanessa she yells ‘Oh why you little!’, a phrase borrowed from television show The Simpsons
- Ursula’s blood is dark blue
- The 2015 season of Dancing with the Stars saw Rumer Willis dressed up as Ursula for a samba set to ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’.
- Ursula is one of the few Disney characters to have her death shown graphically
- Vanessa is one of only four Disney characters to have purple eyes
- Dedicated fans of the Pixar theory have speculated that the King and Queen of Arendelle were lost at sea due to the storm that Ursula summons in The Little Mermaid
- At her death, Ursula is seen to have a skeleton, even though Octopi don’t have them
- The film depicts the last female villain-female protagonist relationship until Tangled in 2010
- Ursula is the only villainess to attempt a romantic involvement with the male protagonist
- Ursula is only the second ever Disney villain who uses disguise in order to trick the protagonist. The first was the Evil Queen in Snow White.
- Lady Gaga wore an Ursula inspired dress in the Artpop Ball tour
To browse our beautiful range of figures from this amazing film, go here
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