Under the Sea: The Little Mermaid Phenomenon




Ariel made her first appearance onto the world stage through the imagination of Hans Christian Andersen (Click HERE to read the original version of The Little Mermaid). The original story tells of a young mermaid who wishes to trade her life as a mermaid for a human soul.

Andersen’s story was first published in 1837 in Fairy Tales Told for Children. The story was so popular that it was republished several years later in a more general collection called Fairy Tales.

Since these early releases, The Little Mermaid has gone on to become a pop culture giant – spanning musicals, fan art, animated films and T.V. shows and merchandise. The Little Mermaid has become a global icon, with adaptations and spin-offs continuing to emerge all the time. 






Since its first appearance, The Little Mermaid has gone onto influence and inspire countless spin-offs, adaptations and revisions. Here are just a few of the places we can see The Little Mermaid’s spell cast in pop-culture;

  • Shirley Temple’s Songbook (T.V. Film)
  • Little Mermaid (Song), The Square
  • Faerie Tale Theatre (T.V. Episode)
  • The Little Mermaid (Animated Film), Walt Disney Animation
  • Pokemon (T.V. Episode), “Indigo League”, Episode 61
  • The Little Mermaid (Ballet), Royal Danish Ballet
  • The Little Mermaid (Stage Musical), Broadway
  • The Mermaid’s Madness (Novel), Jim C. Hines
  • Once Upon a Time (T.V. Series), Disney
  • The Little Mermaid (Statue), Cophenhagen





In 1989, Disney offered a fresh adaptation on Andersen’s fairytale which was an instant commercial, and critical success. The Disney Company turned The Little Mermaid into an overnight success, and into a multi-million dollar franchise that resulted in three feature films, a spin-off T.V. show as well as the threading of the story into other Disney shows such as Once Upon a Time. Disney has also capitalised on merchandise and gaming, creating a global phenomenon.

The Little Mermaid remains one of Disney’s most successful films in history, partly because it kicked off what is known as the ‘Disney Renaissance’. Following the death of Walt, Disney’s movies were made up of lacklustre live-action films such as Herbie and other animations such as Oliver & Company and The Black Cauldron, none of which held a candle to the beautiful crafting in films such as Cinderella. The Little Mermaid was a throwback to the animated features that hadn’t been made since Walt had been alive, and was the first fairy-tale adaptation since Sleeping Beauty. The release of The Little Mermaid not only revived the Walt Disney Co., but also prompted a decade of box-office smashing musical features such as Aladdin and The Lion King. Films in the renaissance also have many similar characteristics such as being set to Broadway style musical scores and being adapted from fairy-tales. This revival is known as the Disney Renaissance. Check out our article to learn more about The Disney Renaissance

The film was given more funding and resources than any other Disney film and is often credited as being the animated film that ‘brought Broadway into cartoons’. After earning over $200 million at the box office, the film was released on VHS and Laserdisc for home viewing. It soon became the top selling home video of the year. In 1997 and 1999, the home video was re-released and topped charts for its sales. The film also won multiple awards, including two Academy’s, two Grammy’s and two Golden Globes.

Naturally, after the astonishing success of the film, sequels were released, using most of the original voice cast.

The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea was released in 2000, following on in real-time from the storyline of the original movie. In the sequel, Ariel and Eric have a daughter, Melody, who they decide to shield from the truth about Ariel’s past as a mermaid. Melody is naturally curious, and gets in some trouble as she sets about uncovering the truth about her mer-family. The film received mixed reviews.

The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning was released in 2008 and functioned as a prequel to the first film, describing Ariel’s life before the events of The Little Mermaid. Originally titled The Little Mermaid III, the film tells the story of the kingdom at a time when music had been banned by King Triton, and depicts Ariel’s fight to bring it back.

In May 2016, it was announced that a live-action version of the film was set for production, and would contain music by Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda.





The success of the film has also resulted in a Broadway stage show of the same name. Historically, Disney theatrical productions have seen great success, with Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King making successful adaptations to stage. The show contains slight modifications from the film including the addition of extra details such as Ursula’s detailed backstory with King Triton, and also includes changes to the score, including the addition of a new song and extended versions of current songs.

The show has now opened in six countries. 





  • The Crab “Tamatoa” from Disney’s 2016 film Moana, was inspired by Sebastian from The Little Mermaid
  • In 2014 director Sofia Coppola announced that a live-action version of the film was to take place. It was later revealed that actress Chloe Grace Moretz would be playing the role of Ariel
  • Some scholars consider Andersen’s original ending to be an unnatural addition to the story. In the tale, the mermaid is redeemed and is taken into the spiritual realm with the ‘daughters of the air’, where she is promised an immortal soul based on her good behaviour. One commentator writes that, "This final message is more frightening than any other presented in the tale. The story descends into the Victorian moral tales written for children to scare them into good behaviour”, and P.L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins noted that “this is blackmail.”
  • Jodi Benson auditioned for the role of Ariel by sending in a recording of her singing
  • The Little Mermaid was one of the first feature films to work with Pixar’s computer animation process. It was also the last to use traditional hand-painted cel animation
  • Alyssa Milano was the inspiration for the physical look of Ariel
  • The character of Ursula was directly inspired by drag queen Divine, made famous by John Water’s films including Ursula’s look appears to have been taken from Divine’s appearance in the 1972 film Pink Flamingos
  • Ursula was originally set to be voiced by Bea Arthur who had to drop out due to commitments filming Golden Girls
  • Walt originally planned to adapt Hans Christian Andersen’s story in the 1930s, following the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Animator’s even discovered some original character sketches decades later which were credited in the final film
  • Sebastian was originally to be British, but it was suggested by lyricist Howard Ashman that he be Jamaican. He then wrote the Afro-Caribbean style song “Under the Sea” which changed the direction of the film into a full Broadway-style production
  • The hair of astronaut Sally Ride traveling in zero gravity was the prototype for Ariel’s hair
  • Jodie Benson was invited to audition for the role of Ariel by Howard Ashman, who cast her in his off-Broadway musical
  • Christopher Daniel Barnes, who played Greg in The Brady Bunch remake voiced the character of Prince Eric when he was just 16 years old
  • Patrick Stewart was offered the role of Titon but was unable to take it due to scheduling conflicts with Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • The effects needed to create the underwater scenes were the most complex since the creation of Fantasia
  • “Part of Your World” was almost cut from the final film after a rough-screening showed children could not identify with the song
  • Jodi Benson recorded her underwater songs in the dark, in order to bring about the feeling of being underwater
  • The Little Mermaid is the most successful home video release of all time
  • The Menkin-Ashman musical partnership for the film continued for the Beauty and the Beast. However, Ashman died during the production of The songs were completed by Tim Rice who also wrote Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar. Alan Menken still writes for Disney films, composing the scores for features such as Pocahontas and Tangled
  • The film was planned for a 3D release but was scrapped after it was found that 3D films were not proving very profitable
  • The internet is full of rumours that The Little Mermaid contains inappropriate content such as a phallic symbol on the original theatrical poster and an erection on the bishop who presides over Vanessa and Prince Eric’s wedding. Though these have been proven to be misconceptions and have been removed from recent Blu-ray releases of the film, rumours continue to circulate
  • Every Disney film contains ‘easter eggs’ and The Little Mermaid is no exception. If you look closely during the opening scenes, you will see that Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck are present at the concert. Kermit the Frog and dwarves from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are also visible during King Triton’s entrance. Lastly, the King and Duke from Cinderella can be spotted during Eric and Vanessa’s wedding
  • Ariel’s mother’s name is Queen Athena, named after the Greek goddess of wisdom, mathematics and strategy.
  • Deleted scenes from the film suggests that Ursula is King Triton’s sister. This is also implied in Ursula’s dialogue when she states that she “used to live in the palace”. In the Broadway adaptation, the family connection is included in the storyline.
  • The scenes where Ariel is on the rock is a nod to the famous statue that resides in Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • Film creators deliberately chose to color Ariel’s hair red in order to move away from Daryl Hannah’s character in Splash
  • When Ariel is underwater, she has no fingernails, but has them when she is on land. The absence of fingernails is a strange phenomenon. You can read more about it HERE
  • Flounder is not actually a flounder- he is a juvenile Atlantic blue tang, like Dory
  • A puppet version of The Little Mermaid was pitched after the release of the film but was dropped when it was decided to create a fully animated series. Have a look at the proposed pilot episode HERE
  • The witch and mermaid in the original Hans Christian Andersen story are never named
  • When Flounder is talking about Scuttle, he morphs into him for a few frames
  • Several elements from the original story were retained for the film including Ariel being the youngest of her sisters, Ariel’s secret statue and the little creatures that inhabit the entrance to the Sea Witch’s cave
  • Ben Wright, who played the butler, also played Roger in 101 Dalmatians. The Little Mermaid was his last film.
  • Scuttle’s romantic music in the ‘Kiss the Girl’ scene is actually Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet”
  • The text of the scroll that Ariel signs reads: “I hereby grant unto Ursula, the witch of the sea… , one voice, in exchange for byon once high, Dinu*gihn thon Mueo serr on Puur-qurr I rehd moisn petn r m uenre urpti m srerp monk guaki ,Ch rich noy ri imm ro mund for all eternity. signed.” All other instances clearly say: “I hereby grand unto Ursula, the witch of the sea… , one voice, for all eternity. signed.”
  • The painting in Ariel’s collection is “Magdalene with the Smoking Flame” by Georges de La Tour
  • Over a million bubbles were hand drawn for the film
  • The Little Mermaid was the first Disney film to receive an Academy Award since Bedknobs and Broomsticks
  • “Part of Your World” was a trendsetter for the Disney animated musicals that followed – Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Pocahontas all feature musical numbers early in the film, where the protagonist reveals their desires.
  • A painting which hangs in Eric’s castle looks uncannily like Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip, prompting internet theories that Prince Eric is somehow related to the royal couple
  • The color in the opening scene of the film was deliberately dulled down, so that the ocean scenes would appear more vibrant
  • Animator’s took inspiration from Monstro in Pinocchio to animate the shipwreck in The Little Mermaid
  • The name of the shark who chases Ariel and Flounder is named ‘Glut’, though he is never referenced in the film. His original storyline had Glut returning for another fight but it was cut
  • Ariel’s sister Atina was named after one of Alan Menken’s musical ‘Atina: Evil Queen of the Galaxy”. Two other sisters also had inspired names - Alana was named after Alan Menken himself and Andrina was the director’s aerobic instructors.
  • Concept art for Ursula depicted her as a spinefish, covered in spikes
  • Several backgrounds from the “Kiss the Girl” scene were recycled from The Rescuers
  • The rainbow over the wedding at the end of the film, has the colors in the reverse order






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