This is it, folks. The moment we’ve all been waiting for… well, most of us, anyway. The first Disney princess movie in thirty years (since Sleeping Beauty). The first movie of the Disney Renaissance, heralding the utopian years of the 1990s when every film was a musical, every film was made of gold, and the very fabric of our childhoods was wrought with exquisite hand-drawn art painstakingly and carefully integrated brand new CGI techniques. The movie that made a generation of little girls long for perfect flowing hair, tiny waists, beautiful voices and powerful fish tails.
It’s time for The Little Mermaid.
The Film: The Little Mermaid (1989)
- Once upon a time… the story for this movie was drawn from the utterly disappointing and depressing fairy tale of the same name written by Hans Christian Anderson in 1837. In that version, the prince falls in love with another girl, and the mermaid vows to kill them both – but she cannot, and, brokenhearted, she dissolves into seafoam. Then she is transformed into a spirit of the air, bound to do good deeds for three hundred years in order to ascend into heaven. So there’s that.
- It made $211.3 million at the box office.
- Ariel is the first redheaded princess, and she is also the first princess to bare her midriff. She was made to be a redhead in order to differentiate her from Daryl Hannah’s character in the movie “Splash” which came out a few years before this. Ariel is the first princess to have siblings, as well, and all of her sisters’ names also begin with the letter A. Ariel’s physicality was based on actress Alyssa Milano, and she was voiced by the incomparable Jodi Benson. Jodi was so into the role that she recorded “Part of Your World” in the dark – to get that underwater, isolated feeling. Ariel was fully animated by Disney legend Glen Keane, who demanded the right to animate her himself after seeing Jodi Benson recording the song.
- The role of Ursula almost went to Bea Arthur, Roseanne Barr, Jennifer Saunders, and Elaine Stritch, among others who auditioned for the role. Stritch was cast but left the project after she and Howard Ashman did not mesh well. Ultimately the role was filled by Pat Carroll, who based most of her performance off of Ashman’s renditions (and ad-libs!) of the song in rehearsal.
- Did you know that all of the bubbles in this film are hand-drawn? None of the bubbles were Xeroxed. They even had to outsource some of the bubble-drawing to China, but this was interrupted by the student riots in Beijing. Watch this movie again and try not to think about the poor animators painstakingly drawing each and every single bubble… it’s madness!
- Prior to this movie, songs for the animated features were written beforehand and then integrated into the story later. This marked the first time they changed that process: the songs were written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman alongside the storyboard creation for the film, to make the songs more organically integrated.
- There are plenty of nods to other Disney films and characters in this movie, although they may be more subtle than in some of the other movies.
- In the concert crowd, Mickey, Goofy, and Donald can be spotted if you look fast.
- At Prince Eric’s palace, a portrait on the wall in the dining room looks a bit like Aurora and Philip…
- Ariel’s pink dress is a combination of Cinderella, Snow White, and Aurora’s gowns in their respective movies.
- the housekeeper in the palace is wearing the same clothes as Cinderella wears when doing chores, just in different colors
- Scuttle’s ‘romantic’ vocals before “Kiss The Girl” are actually the melody from Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo & Juliet.”
Keep reading for the movie commentary…
- All sailors in Eric’s navy wear VESTS! Also striped shirts. It’s regulation.
- This sea shanty is Drew’s favorite song. I wonder why.
- When the overture music hits the melody of ‘Part of Your World’ I get goosebumps. EVERY. TIME.
- Drew: “As an actor, I wonder who didn’t check the big shell to make sure Ariel was at places.” Aly: “Yeah, WHO is their stage manager?!” Drew: “…probably a seal.” Aly: “…ugh. Seals.”
- The water effects, the hand-drawn bubbles, and Ariel’s hair are absolutely stunning in this movie.
- Scuttle: “It’s a SNARFBLAT.” Aly: “….oh my gosh, he’s Dottore. He just makes stuff up for HOURS and nobody calls him out on it!”
- Triton is built like The Rock, seriously… those muscles! Also his mustache game is strong.
- Drew: “She’s got so much beautiful hair!” Aly: “Yeah, it’s really unwieldy… and super unrealistic for her to swim effectively with all of it flowing around her like that.”
- Ariel, not unlike guests at the Disney parks, will stop whatever she’s doing to watch fireworks.
- Max is the BEST DOG.
- Okay but HOW did Grimsby get a giant stone statue of Eric onto the deck without him noticing???
- People are always going on about how stupid it is that Ariel sees Eric once and then falls for him and changes everything about her life that she possibly can to be with him. But what people don’t realize or neglect to include in their criticism is that Ariel has always wanted to be on the surface, on the land, exploring and discovering what life is like up there for non-mermaids. Eric is simply the factor that makes her finally take action to pursue that dream, and through Ursula’s magic she’s finally able to take those steps and explore the upper world. These were always her goals. Eric is just the catalyst. …also he’s hot.
- I wish that the relationships between Ariel and her sisters was more developed… I know there’s more in the tv show they aired in the 1990s, but still…
- However, the main cast is particularly well developed. All of the main characters have distinct goals and personalities, which is really satisfying.
- As far as animal song-and-dance numbers, “Under The Sea” is the precursor to “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” even down to the stuffy in-charge animal (in this case, Sebastian, in the other, Zazu) being crestfallen at the end of the song.
- “LOOK AT ALL OF THOSE BUBBLES.” Now that we know the truth about the bubbles’ animation, we can’t un-see all of those hours of labor. Oy….
- Drew: “Okay, okay, but how did Flounder get that giant statue down there?!” Aly: “He paid the shark!” Drew: “With what?” Aly: “With… dinglehoppers.”
- Ursula is just so elegant. For how corpulent she is, and how brassy and gross she can be – she’s got style and flair in spades. And she’s definitely smarter than the average…er…fish.
- I have such a hard time with the “Kiss The Girl” scene – like, just ASK her if you can kiss her, so she can nod yes, and then boom. Problem solved. What is so difficult about that?
- Guys, Buddy Hackett is priceless as Scuttle. Seriously. What a national freakin’ treasure.
- So Ursula transforms into Vanessa – and one of the magical ingredients she uses is some kind of spectral butterfly – and ‘vanessa’ is also a genus of butterfly.
- I had totally forgotten that the thing that triggers Ursula into going all Godzilla on everyone is the accidental death of Flotsam and Jetsam. OUCH. Sudden feelings.
- The last words in the movie are “I love you, Daddy.” – which leads to the conclusion that the true love that breaks Ursula’s spell is not Ariel’s love for Eric, but Triton’s love for his daughter. D’awwww!
Well, I’ll be honest: I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like “The Little Mermaid.” This is a great movie with great songs, great characters, a fantastic color palette, and hand-drawn bubbles, for cryin’ out loud. Also, popular vote among little girls is that Ariel is the best princess. So there’s that.
Catch you next time for one of my faaaavorite films of all time…. The Rescuers Down Under!