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Not to be confused with The Little Mermaid (2023 film)

The Little Mermaid is a full length animated feature film released in 1989. It is based on the original fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. It is the fourth film to feature an Official Disney Princess.


Ariel, a mermaid, wants desperately to be human so she can meet Prince Eric. After a sea witch helps her, she is human- but without a voice! And if Eric doesn't kiss her in three days, she will belong to evil Ursula- forever.


The film starts with several sailors singing "Fathoms Below" while sailing the ocean. Some of them tell about the merpeople's ruler, King Triton, to a young prince named Prince Eric. His guardian, Grimsby, denies the myth although a sailor insists that it is true. He holds a fish to Grimsby which loses his grip and falls back to the ocean, relieved. It swims along with other sea creatures and multiple merpeople in the kingdom of Atlantica swimming to Triton's palace for a concert being held by the court composer, Sebastian the crab. The concert starts as Triton looks at Sebastian approvingly, happy to see his daughters singing. As each of his six daughters comes out and introduces themselves, they open the stage for Ariel, the seventh and youngest, to make her stage debut, though to their shock she is not in the shell ("Daughters of Triton"). Sebastian looks on in horror as Triton angrily calls out his youngest daughter's name, to which the scene switches to a shipwreck in a dark part of the ocean and the young Ariel commenting to her best friend, the cowardly atlantic tropical fish Flounder, asking, "Isn't it fantastic?". Flounder tries to worm his way out of going into the ship, but when Ariel agrees that he can stay out and watch for sharks, the young fish immediately follows the curious and brave mermaid into the ship. As they explore she finds a pipe and a fork, of which she examines with excitement. As she does Flounder gets a bad feeling only to see a shark waiting outside. As he screams the shark crashes in and chases both, Ariel maneuvering around slickly to avoid the hungry beast. Nearly escaping, Flounder runs into the ship's mast and becomes dizzy, almost eaten until Ariel saves him and the shark becomes stuck in an anchor. Flounder sticks his tongue out at the shark, remarking him a "big bully", though the shark comes close again to almost eating the small fish whom rushes to Ariel's side. Ariel joking exclaims Flounder to be "such a guppy", though he denies it and says, "am not".

Swimming to the surface she meets a seagull, Scuttle, who has inaccurate knowledge of the human world and their objects. Ariel shows him the fork first, to which he incorrectly identifies it as a "dinglehopper", of which humans used to comb their hair. She then shows him the pipe, or the "banded bulbous snarfblatt" as he calls it, a musical device. As he blows into it for a tune only to get seaweed and fish, Ariel suddenly remembers about the concert and begins to panic, stuffing her treasures back into her bag and rushing off.

Unknown to anyone, all of this is being observed by Ursula, an evil half-octopus, half-woman, sea-witch, who for many years has been seeking a way to exact her revenge upon King Triton for banishing her from the kingdom. She gets an idea from seeing Ariel and sees her as the perfect pawn in her quest to rule the seas and orders her two lackey eels, Flotsam and Jetsam, to keep an eye on the girl, as she may have what it takes to have Triton lose his power and for Ursula herself to claim it.

Ariel is at the palace now, being scolded by her father (and Sebastian, too, as it made him a laughing-stock) about missing the concert until Flounder tries to help. He explains about the sunken ship, the shark chase (of which both Triton and Sebastian give each other annoyed looks, not beliving the small fish) and finally how Scuttle would not stop talking, to which Triton becomes angry and asks Ariel if she really did visit the surface. As Flounder hides behind Ariel, she tries to soften it with "nothing happened", though this does not ease Triton's worry and disappointment at all. He begins to scold her once more, though Ariel defends herself this time, claiming that she's sixteen years old, though Triton tells her as long she lives under his ocean she'll abide by his rules. Unable anymore, Ariel swims off crying, hurt by her father's inability to understand.

Triton tells Sebastian his concern and asks if he's being too hard, though Sebastian disagrees and tells Triton that Ariel needs constant discipline. Triton suddenly smiles while listening, tells Sebastian that he's absolutely right, then sets the responsibility on Sebastian to watch Ariel, much to the crab's dismay. As he leaves the palace, beating himself up for opening his mouth, he sees Ariel sneaking away with her bag and follows her, only to find her go into her secret grotto. After a small struggle to get in, his jaw drops in awe, seeing the human treasures that Ariel has collected from cutlery to chests of jewels. He hides as Ariel asks Flounder why her father hates the world above, a place full of so many wonderful things. Ariel then expresses her desire to be free from the ocean, out in the world of humans, though at the end of her song she becomes sad again, reality showing that she may never have the dream she wishes ("Part Of Your World"). Sebastian falls down from a shelf, covered in human stuff like hooks and jewelry. He begins to go off on Ariel about her collection, though she makes the crab promise not to tell her father, as that he will never understand. Sebastian then calms himself and suggests going back to the palace, as Ariel is under a lot of pressure and needs something to drink. As he starts to take her back a looming shadow covers the grotto, causing the curious girl to go the surface, the reluctant Flounder and nerve-wrecked crab following. Ariel finds the ship and sailor's dancing, celebrating the young prince Eric's birthday. Ariel watches on before being found by Max, Eric's sheepdog, who licks her face before being called over by his master, whom Ariel sees and immediately falls in love with.

Scuttle flies in and almost ruins Ariel's cover, though she hushes him quickly as Grimsby, Eric's valet, presents Eric with his gift; a large statue of Eric himself. Eric thanks Grimsby as Max growls at it. Grimsby only comments on how he "had hoped it would be a wedding present". Eric then asks Grimsby not to start again, wondering if the old man is angry because Eric keeps turning down princesses. He then says he wants the woman and love to hit him out of nowhere, "bam, like lightning". Ironically as he says it a storm comes, a strong one (making him wish he had chosen better words), and throws the ship around, smashing it into rocks. The ships sinks and the crew tries to escape, though Eric becomes stuck while saving his dog. The ship explodes because of a fire started by the mass and lightning, hitting the fireworks. Ariel searches for Eric who is unconscious. She saves him from drowning and takes him safely to shore where the sun clears up.

Sebastian gazes on in disbelief as Ariel sings to Eric, and she wants to be in his world now even more so. Max and Grimsby come, though and Ariel flees into the ocean before they do. As she says good-bye Eric slightly wakes up to her voice, her image blinded by the sun. Grimsby comes, delighted to find Eric and takes him back to the castle, thinking Eric's talk of Ariel has "taken in too much salt water". Max tries to get their attention to the young girl on the rocks, though they ignore him and go on. As they leave Ariel vows to fulfill her dream, no matter what different she is ("Part Of Your World (reprise)"). Ursula looks into her crystal ball and sees Ariel falling in love with the prince, so she will have her in the polyp garden.

Sebastian, fearful of the consequences for both Ariel and himself, decides to conceal these events from the King as well, including the fact that Ariel has fallen in love with Eric. However, that afternoon as Ariel returns from the shore, she daydreams of going back up to the shore to see him but, Sebastian tries to dissuade her that the Ocean is her real home and she should forget about the Human World ("Under the Sea") but to no avail.

Ariel's lovesick behavior the next morning causes her father to become suspicious, and Triton attempts to extract from Sebastian the name of the man (or rather, mer-man) she is in love with. Paranoid that Triton already knows the truth, Sebastian reveals Ariel's secrets in a panic. When King Triton learns that his daughter has had any association with a human, he becomes furious and proceed to go to Ariel's grotto. From there, Flounder has a surprise for Ariel which is the statue of Eric that was intended to be his birthday present. She is delighted of the gift by Flounder and uses it as a replica when interacting with Eric. Triton subsequently enters, angered about the human artifacts of the grotto and Ariel saving a human from drowning as these had resulted in her disobedience to her father. He confronts a shocked Ariel about his rules forbidding contact to the human world. He is further angered when she confesses her love to Eric and is not concerned that they are not the same species as Triton has responded in disbelief. Triton then punishes Ariel by destroying the artifacts and the statue and hurting her feelings, much to her sadness at the now destroyed grotto with a regretted Triton, Sebastian and Flounder.

Ursula decides that now is the time to make her move, and she assigns her minions, the moray eels named Flotsam and Jetsam to bring Ariel to her underwater cave. There, Ursula makes a deal with the princess to transform Ariel into a human for three days. Within these three days, if she plans to remain a human, she must get from Eric the "kiss of true love"; otherwise she will transform back into a mermaid at sunset on the third day. If this happens, Ursula will own her very soul and wither her down into a polyp to join her garden of other lost merfolk. Sebastian tries to stop her, aware of the sea witch's trickery, but Ariel is upset and blames him for telling her father about her love for Eric ("Poor Unfortunate Souls").

As agreed, Ursula make a potion to change the little mermaid. As "payment", she takes Ariel's voice and makes her unable to speak, knowing that Eric remembers Ariel only by her voice. Ursula's spell traps Ariel in a bubble and splits Ariel's tail into two legs. As a result of the transformation, Ariel is naked from the waist down (with the exception of her breasts). After the bubble pops, Ariel struggles for breath and starts to drown, though Sebastian and Flounder rush to her rescue. Sebastian and Flounder brings Ariel to the surface in the iconic scene where she breaks into the sky and takes her first breath of air as a human. Her friends then take her toward the beach. Meanwhile, we discover that Prince Eric has been searching far and wide for the girl who saved him, and sang to him with her beautiful voice. Ariel then wakes up and sees her new legs and wiggles her toes. She then is extremely happy that she is human.

Sebastian tries to convince Ariel to go back to Ursula and get her to give Ariel back her voice so she can go home with every other fish in the sea. Ariel gives him a sad look, to which Sebastian realizes she will be more miserable and felt awfully guilty for exposes her secrets. Reluctant, he gives in and agrees to help Ariel find Eric, commenting on "what a soft shell he's turned out to be". Scuttle then decides to help Ariel by dressing her up so she can look nice ("If you want to be a human, the first thing you got to do is dress like one"). He puts her in an old sail, unknowing it isn't really clothing. Eric who is out on a walk asks his dog, Max where the girl could be, though Max smells Ariel and her companions and rushes off. He comes and chases Sebastian and Ariel joyfully. Ariel climbs on a rock to get away from Max, who only jumps up and licks her face. In a matter of minutes, Eric comes along and sees her sitting on a rock, wearing the ship's mast sheet tied on with ropes. His initial hopes that this familiar-looking girl is the one he is looking for are shattered when he learns that she can't speak. He has no idea who Ariel is and what she has done for him, and she is unable to tell him. He takes her back to the castle, thinking her to be from a shipwreck and greatly traumatized.

When they arrive at the castle, the maids are happy with Ariel as they wash the sail cloth and Ariel bathes in the private bath. Sebastian, whom was hiding in the sail (though it's not known how it got a pocket), somehow winds up in the kitchen where the crazy French chef, Louis, tries to cook him ("Les Poissons"). Sebastian escapes after the chef ruins the kitchen, which makes Carlotta angry at him for causing a ruckus. Ariel tries to impress Eric at the dinner table but fails, as the information Scuttle gave her was wrong; she tries to comb her hair with the fork, though Eric looks on her with an odd glance (though she believes it's because she's doing it at the table, as later she still brushes her hair with it in her bedroom), and blowing into Grimsby's pipe, thinking it is still musical, though only ash comes out and onto Grimsby's face. Eric laughs to Carlotta's delight, who says that "that's the first time" she's seen Eric "smile in weeks". Ariel is pleased about this while Grimsby tries to change the conversation by asking if Eric would like to take Ariel on a tour of his kingdom. He lifts his plate to where Ariel sees Sebastian. Grimsby, who is still telling Eric for not getting out, does not notice Sebastian who rushes to Ariel's plate where he hides. As he finishes with Eric, he remarks that they'd best eat before the crab runs off his plate, though his fork comes down on an empty plate, leaving Grimsby confused.

That night, Ariel watches on as Eric plays with Max, then goes to bed, content with being in the palace. Sebastian tries to give Ariel advice as well as complain, though the young mermaid falls asleep, leaving him to come to the conclusion that she is "truely hopeless". The day progresses as Eric takes Ariel on a tour with many laughable moments as Ariel sees everything with wonder. They try to end the day by taking a boat ride in a lagoon, with Sebastian revealing Ariel's name and trying to get the young couple to kiss ("Kiss the Girl"). However, Ursula intervenes and has Flotsam and Jetsam overturn the boat, ruining the kiss, while Eric wants to carry Ariel with him. Thinking it was too close, Ursula decides to "take matters into her own tentacles" and creates a potion that transforms her into a human, calling herself 'Vanessa'. The scene switches to Eric playing his flute and watching Ariel, Grimsby coming out to advise Eric; "better then any dream girl is one of flesh and blood", showing the kingdom's liking for Ariel, then leaves. Eric, unsure, throws his flute into the ocean and decides to go inside to meet with her. Before he can though, a mysterious woman is singing on the beach, Eric looking down, the voice being familiar. As the mist vanishes he sees Vanessa, who is using Ariel's voice from her shell necklace. Eric stares on and becomes hypnotized, falling under the spell.

The next morning, Ariel awakens as Scuttle comes in to tell them the news of Eric becoming hitched in the afternoon. Ariel, thinking it is her, rushes down stairs half way until she sees Vanessa clinging to Eric's arm. Eric unwillingly plans to marry her immediately much to Ariel's horror and heartbreak. Even Grimsby is a little shocked and suggests for it to not happen, Eric demands the ceremony be ready as soon as sunset. Ariel flees, crying as Vanessa looks up, and then chuckles while looking down at her shell necklace.

The wedding ship takes off at sunset, which is when Ariel's deal with Ursula ends. Unknowingly to Vanessa, Scuttle spots her while staring in one of the boat's portholes and sees the reflection of Ursula in the mirror. He rushes towards Ariel and explains the situation. Sebastian swims off to inform Triton, Ariel and Flounder try to reach the galley, while Scuttle is assigned to distract the wedding party. Ariel jumps into the water and struggles to swim until Sebastian cuts loose some barrels, of which she grabs hold on. Flounder takes hold of the barrel and they both rush off to the boat. With the help of various sea animals and birds, Scuttle brings the ceremony crashing down in a spectacular fashion, and Eric's sheepdog, Max bites Vanessa's bottom while she is fighting Scuttle. The nautilus shell around her neck snaps off and shatters on the deck; as Ariel climbs onboard, her voice is restored. Ursula's spell over Eric is broken and Eric rushes to Ariel. Realizing that Ariel was the girl who saved his life, Eric rushes to kiss her, but he is too late; the sun sets and Ariel transforms back into a mermaid, tail fin and all. Eric looks on, stunned as Ariel reaches up for help. Before he can, though, Vanessa transforms back into Ursula and charges at Ariel, taking her back into the ocean and leaving Eric. Eric now tries to help Ariel but fails.

Ursula explains to Ariel as they head off that she won't need to worry, she's after a much bigger fish to which Triton catches up with Ursula and attempts to destroy the contract she made with Ariel, but is unable to do so, Ursula laughing as she says, "The contract's legal, binding, and completely unbreakable, even for you!". Ursula then tries to persuade Triton into exchanging places with Ariel as the contract forms around her and begins to make her wither into a polyp. Triton looks on sad, and finally agrees, using his trident to sign it over Ariel's name. Before he can re-think his decision, the contract now forms over him and makes him wither, though much faster than Ariel so he can not undo it. He becomes a polyp and Ursula laughs on.

Ursula takes Triton's crown and trident and declares herself ruler of the ocean. Angered by this, Ariel confronts Ursula and lunges at her, beginning to throw her aside and prepares to destroy her, demanding authority as she is the new ruler. Eric, who has not given up on Ariel, however, dives into the sea and throws a harpoon at Ursula; it only hits the tip of her shoulder, but it distracts Ursula long enough for Ariel to be free. She orders Flotsam and Jetsam to drown Eric but are thrawted by Flounder and Sebastian. Ursula decides to destroy Eric herself, aiming the trident for a destructive blast. Ariel pulls Ursula's hair back to stop her and ruins Ursula's aim, making her destroy her minions by mistake. Ursula shortly mourns their death although is soon enraged by Ariel and Eric for not being happy with her and fooling her. Ursula then grows into a giant and monstrous version of herself as Flounder and Sebastian witness her growth with fear. Ariel warns Eric to leave the ocean by the danger of Ursula's tenure although insists that he would not leave her. The Sea Witch then grows beyond the surface and towers the young couple frightened of her new size.

She then has power of all the ocean, producing a storm whilst having Ariel and Eric pulled away in the process as a wave overwhelms Eric away and having Ariel trapped in a maelstorm created by Ursula with the trident, which also summons shipwrecks on it. Ursula gleefully monitors the changes while Ariel clings on a rock in the whirlpool and notices Eric below a shipwreck, worried about him. Eric manages to get on one of the shipwrecks. Ursula spots Ariel and blasts her off which she then falls down to the eye of the whirlpool. Ursula then tries to use the trident to destroy Ariel, narrowly avoiding every blast. Eric notices this and decides to stop Ursula by having her killed by the shipwreck as he has an idea from its splintered bowsprit to defeat her and to save Ariel. She prepares a blast that is presumed to be unavoidable for Ariel and slowly prepares it while Eric navigates the shipwreck to kill Ursula and pulls the wheel hard to port which as she then notices it, it impales her stomach, resulting in great pain for her. The bowsprit then conducts lightning which the electricity then affects Ursula and is electrocuted more and more along with the shipwreck until she explodes by the overloaded electricity. Under her last breaths, she drags the remains of the shipwreck with her melting tentacles as Sebastian and Flounder witness this. Eric has managed to escape to safety while she explodes and collapses to shore as he is exhausted as Ursula then fully dies.

Ursula's death then has her magic no longer in her control which the polyps in Ursula's garden, including Triton, are all changed back into merpeople. Noticing how sad his daughter is that she will not be in the world above, and realizing how much she is truly in love with Eric, Triton decides that if Ariel truly wants this to be happy, he'll allow it. Ariel watches in astonished delight as she is changed permanently into a human by her father. A bright light goes around her, her tail splits into two legs, and she emerges from the sea as Eric awakens and sees Ariel in a glittering blue dress. She runs into Eric's arms, and the two finally kiss, which changes directly to the final scene.

In the final scene, Ariel and Eric, who are married, are seen kissing on their wedding day. Both humans and merpeople turn out for the wedding, and Triton accepts Eric as a part of the family. Eric and Ariel sail away into the sunset, and Triton creates a rainbow. Then Ariel and Eric kiss again, as a chorus Reprise of "Part of Your World" plays and the movie fades to black, showing that they lived happily ever after (per the tradition of any traditional Disney film).





  • It has a sequel and a prequel.
  • The film was originally planned as one of Disney's earliest films. Production started soon after Snow White, but was put on hold due to various circumstances.
  • The idea for the movie was one of Walt Disney's favorites. In the 1980s, the Disney company did not know that Walt had intended to make a Little Mermaid film. The Disney Company thought of the idea independently. While in production in the 1980s, someone found Walt's Mermaid script by chance. Many of his changes to Hans Christian Andersen's original story were coincidentally the same as the changes made by Disney writers in the 1980s. (source: DVD making of)
  • Glen Keane, the supervising animator for Ariel, jokingly stated on the 100 Greatest Cartoons DVD that Ariel looks exactly like his wife "without the fins." The character's body shape and personality were based upon that of Alyssa Milano, then starring on TV's Who's the Boss? and the effect of her hair underwater was based on footage of Sally Ride, when she was in space.
  • In Ursula's spell to turn Ariel human, various references to the throat and voice are made, as well as references to fish.
  • When Scuttle is providing "vocal romantic stimulation" while Eric and Ariel are out at the lagoon, he is actually squawking his own version of Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet".
  • A number of backgrounds used during the "Kiss the Girl" number were recycled from Disney's earlier film The Rescuers.
  • Ariel's position as Triton's youngest daughter is similar to David being Jesse's youngest son in David and Goliath although while Jesse had 8 sons, Triton had 7 daughters.
  • The dress Carlotta wears is a larger version of the one used by Cinderella in Cinderella.
  • The Little Mermaid ranks as #51 of the 100 Greatest Cartoons as voted in Great Britain.
  • Near the start of the film when King Triton is seen riding a dolphin-pulled chariot over an audience of mermaids and mermen, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy can be seen in the audience. Also, one of the audience members in this scene resembles Kermit the Frog.
  • Divine was in part the inspiration for the design of Ursula the Sea Witch.
  • In the contract Ursula has Ariel sign, there is a crude drawing of Mickey Mouse's head amongst a jumble of letters.
  • During Scuttle's disruption of the wedding between Eric and Vanessa, The Grand Duke and King from Cinderella can be seen standing together in the background.
  • In the scene after Ursula is destroyed, Ariel's pose as she looks longingly at Eric bears resemblance to the famous statue of Andersen's little Mermaid in Copenhagen (sculpted by Edward Eriksen).
  • According to the DVD commentary, the shark that chases Ariel and Flounder at the beginning is named Glut, and he was planned to return for a rematch with Flounder later on.
  • The characters of The Little Mermaid, and the kingdom of Atlantica, are featured in all three installments of the popular Square Enix series of Kingdom Hearts games. In the first game, Ariel is featured as a character who joins the party in battle. In Kingdom Hearts II, Atlantica serves as a world of musical mini-games rather than a traditional searching and battle area like in the first two games. Among the songs in the mini-games, new versions of two of the songs from the film, Part of Your World and Under the Sea are featured. Ariel is also the only official Disney Princess featured in the game who is not one of the fabled Princesses of Heart. Strangely, Alice of Alice in Wonderland is featured as a Princess of Heart, while unlike Ariel, she in no way a princess.
  • The color that Disney Imagineers created for Ariel's tail was, in fact, created just for the movie and was aptly called "Ariel".
  • On the main menu (disc 1) of Finding Nemo, one of the things Dory says is: "I'm so excited! I've always wanted to see The Little Mermaid!"
  • When this film was re-released in theatres in 1997, some of the foreign translations were redubbed. The original dubbings were returned when the film was released on DVD.
  • The first-ever Russian dubbing of this film was made in 2006. Prior to this, only a male voice was used on top of the English version.
  • The original design for Ariel was showing her being completely covered in seaweed. Although this desing was dropped because nothing would keep the seaweed from falling off her body.
  • Ariel has been compared to Disney heroines before her. She is most physically similar to Alice from Alice in Wonderland, even though she is closer in size to Kim Possible, and has a similar hair color to Phineas Flynn.
  • In the scene where Ariel jumps into the water, Flotsam and Jetsam would each grab her legs and pull her down into the sea and keep her there until the sun had set.
  • In the digital story for the movie, a bubble does not go around Ariel. Instead, she is changed in the open. A yellow light starts to form around her tail. It begins to get brighter. Her tail then splits into her new legs. Ariel screams as she leans back. As she goes forward, her seashell bra rips from the back and falls off her breast. Ariel is then shown panicking. Sebastian and Flounder take her to the surface. Ariel is unconscious as the transformation is finished and as she is taken to the surface. A golden light covers both Ariel's breast and her vagina.
  • Ariel is changed to a human four times in the film. During each, her legs require a full day to be fully developed. During the first day, Ariel will continue to be in pain as she hits anything her legs or feet, while she tries to stand and walk, and while she sits down on her bottom.