The Little Mermaid is a 1989 American animated musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released by Walt Disney Pictures. Based on the Danish fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid tells the story of a beautiful mermaid who dreams of becoming human. Written, directed, and produced by Ron Clements and John Musker, with music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (who also served as a co-producer), the film features the voices of Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Pat Carroll, Samuel E. Wright, Jason Marin, Kenneth Mars, Buddy Hackett, and Rene Auberjonois.
The 28th film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, The Little Mermaid was released to theaters on November 14, 1989 to largely positive reviews, garnering $84 million at the box office during its initial release, and $211 million in total lifetime gross.
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 art of Disney animated feature films after a string of critical or commercial failures produced by Disney that dated back to the early 1970s. It also marked the start of the era known as the Disney Renaissance.
A stage adaptation of the film with a book by Doug Wright and additional songs by Alan Menken and new lyricist Glenn Slater opened in Denver in July 2007 and began performances on Broadway January 10, 2008.
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 knowledge of human culture. She ignores the warnings of her father King Triton and his adviser Sebastian that contact between merpeople and humans is forbidden, longing to join the human world and become a human herself.
One night, Ariel, Flounder and an unwilling Sebastian travel to the ocean surface to watch a celebration for the birthday of Prince Eric on a ship, with whom Ariel falls in love. In the ensuing storm the ship is destroyed and Ariel saves the unconscious Eric from drowning. Ariel sings to him, but quickly leaves as soon as he regains consciousness to avoid being discovered. Fascinated by the memory of her voice, Eric vows to find who saved and sung to him, and Ariel vows to find a way to join him and his world. Noticing a change in Ariel's behavior, Triton questions Sebastian about her behavior and learns of her love for Eric. In frustration, Triton confronts Ariel in her grotto, where she and Flounder store human artifacts, and destroys most of the objects with his trident and ends up hurting her feelings. After Triton leaves, a pair of eels, Flotsam and Jetsam, convince Ariel to visit Ursula the sea witch in order to be with Eric.
Ursula makes a deal with Ariel to transform her into a human for three days in exchange for Ariel's voice, which Ursula puts in a nautilus shell. Within these three days, Ariel must receive the "kiss of true love" from Eric; otherwise, she will transform back into a mermaid and belong to Ursula. Despite her claims that she's doing this out of the kindness of her heart, Ursula is plotting to use Ariel as a bargaining chip to challenge Triton's right to rule. Ariel is then given human legs and taken to the surface by Flounder and Sebastian. Eric finds Ariel on the beach and takes her to his castle, unaware that she had saved his life earlier, assuming her to be a mute shipwreck survivor. Ariel spends time with Eric, and at the end of the second day, they almost kiss but are thwarted by Flotsam and Jetsam. Angered at their narrow escape, Ursula disguises herself as a beautiful young woman named Vanessa and appears onshore singing with Ariel's voice. Eric recognizes the song and, in her disguise, 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. Scuttle discovers that Vanessa is actually Ursula in disguise, and informs Ariel who immediately goes after the wedding barge. Sebastian informs Triton, and Scuttle disrupts the wedding with the help of various animals. In the chaos, the nautilus shell around Ursula's neck is broken, restoring Ariel's voice and breaking Ursula's enchantment over Eric. Realizing that Ariel had saved his life, Eric rushes to kiss her, but the sun sets and Ariel transforms back into a mermaid. Ursula reveals herself and kidnaps Ariel. Furious, Triton confronts Ursula and demands her to release Ariel, but the deal is inviolable. At Ursula's urging, the king agrees to take Ariel's place as Ursula's prisoner. Ariel is released as Triton transforms into a polyp and loses his authority over Atlantica, and Ursula declares herself the new ruler. In frustration, Ariel confronts Ursula and lunges at her, but Ursula is about to use the trident destroy her, but Eric throws a harpoon at her and saves Ariel. Just as Ursula attempts to destroy Eric, Ariel attacks Ursula, who accidentally destroys Flotsam and Jetsam. In her rage, Ursula uses the trident to grow into monstrous proportions.
Ariel and Eric reunite on the surface just before Ursula grows past and towers over the two. She then gains full control of the entire ocean, creating a storm with a maelstrom that causes shipwrecks, one of which Eric commandeers. Just as Ursula attempts to destroy Ariel who is trapped in the maelstrom, Eric kills Ursula by running her through the abdomen with the ship's splintered bowsprit. Ursula's power breaks, causing Triton and all the other polyps in Ursula's garden to revert into their original forms. Realizing that Ariel truly loves Eric, Triton willingly changes her from a mermaid into a human. Ariel and Eric marry on a ship and depart.
- Princess Ariel, voiced by Jodi Benson:
- Prince Eric, voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes
- Ursula, voiced by Pat Carroll
- Sebastian, voiced by Samuel E. Wright
- Flounder, voiced by Jason Marin
- King Triton, voiced by Kenneth Mars
- Scuttle, voiced by Buddy Hackett
- Grimsby, voiced by Ben Wright
- Flotsam and Jetsam, voiced by Paddi Edwards
- Carlotta the maid, voiced by Edie McClurg
- Ariel's Sisters, voiced by Kimmy Robertson and Caroline Vasicek
- Harold the Seahorse, voiced by Will Ryan
- Max the Sheepdog, vocal effects by Frank Welker
- Chef Louis, voiced by Rene Auberjonois