The Little Mermaid (1989 film)

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The Little Mermaid
Movie poster the little mermaid.jpg
Original theatrical release poster by John Alvin
Directed by
Produced by
Written by
  • Ron Clements
  • John Musker
Based on The Little Mermaid
by Hans Christian Andersen
Music by Alan Menken
Edited byMark Hester
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release date
  • November 17, 1989 (1989-11-17)
Running time
83 minutes [1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$40 million [2]
Box office$233 million [3]

The Little Mermaid is a 1989 American animated musical romantic fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and Walt Disney Pictures. The 28th Disney animated feature film and first film in The Little Mermaid franchise, the film is loosely based on the Danish fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. The film tells the story of a mermaid princess named Ariel who dreams of becoming human, after falling in love with a human prince named Eric. Written and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, with music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (who also served as co-producer alongside John Musker), and art direction by Michael Peraza Jr. and Donald A. Towns, the film features the voices of Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Pat Carroll, Samuel E. Wright, Jason Marin, Kenneth Mars, Buddy Hackett, and René Auberjonois.

Animation Method of creating moving pictures

Animation is a method in which pictures are manipulated to appear as moving images. In traditional animation, images are drawn or painted by hand on transparent celluloid sheets to be photographed and exhibited on film. Today, most animations are made with computer-generated imagery (CGI). Computer animation can be very detailed 3D animation, while 2D computer animation can be used for stylistic reasons, low bandwidth or faster real-time renderings. Other common animation methods apply a stop motion technique to two and three-dimensional objects like paper cutouts, puppets or clay figures.

Musical film Film genre

Musical film is a film genre in which songs sung by the characters are interwoven into the narrative, sometimes accompanied by dancing.

Walt Disney Animation Studios Walt Disney Company animation studio

Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS), sometimes shortened to Disney Animation, is an American animation studio that creates animated feature and short films for The Walt Disney Company. Founded on October 16, 1923 by brothers Walt Disney and Roy O. Disney, it is one of the oldest-running animation studios in the world and currently acts as a division of Walt Disney Studios, being headquartered at the Roy E. Disney Animation Building at the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, California. Since its foundation, the studio has produced 57 feature films, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018), and hundreds of short films.


The Little Mermaid was released to theaters on November 17, 1989 to critical acclaim, garnering $84 million at the domestic box office during its initial release, [4] and $233 million in total lifetime gross worldwide. [3] 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. [5] The film won two Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (“Under the Sea”).

Walt Disney Pictures American film studio and a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios

Walt Disney Pictures is an American film studio and a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Studios, which is ultimately owned by The Walt Disney Company. The subsidiary is the main producer of live-action feature films within the Walt Disney Studios unit, and is based at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. It took on its current name in 1983. Today, in conjunction with the other units of Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Pictures is regarded as one of Hollywood's "Big Five" film studios. Films produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios are also released under this brand.

Amblin Entertainment American film and television production company

Amblin Entertainment is an American film production company founded by director and producer Steven Spielberg, and film producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall in 1981. The company's headquarters are located on the backlot of Universal Studios in Universal City, California. The company distributes all of the films from Amblin Partners under the Amblin Entertainment name.

<i>Who Framed Roger Rabbit</i> 1988 live-action/animated comedy film directed by Robert Zemeckis

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a 1988 American live-action/animated comedy film directed by Robert Zemeckis, produced by Frank Marshall and Robert Watts and written by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman. Loosely based on Gary K. Wolf's 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, it stars Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Charles Fleischer, Stubby Kaye, and Joanna Cassidy. Set in 1947 in a version of Hollywood where cartoon characters and people co-exist, it follows Eddie Valiant, a private detective who must exonerate "Toon" Roger Rabbit, who is accused of murdering a wealthy businessman.

A stage adaptation of the film with a book by Doug Wright [6] 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 [7] [8] starring Sierra Boggess. [9] [10] [11]

<i>The Little Mermaid</i> (musical) Musical based on the 1989 film of the same name

The Little Mermaid is a stage musical produced by Disney Theatrical, based on the animated 1989 Disney film of the same name and the classic story of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen about a mermaid who dreams of the world above the sea and gives up her voice to find love. Its book is by Doug Wright, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, with additional lyrics by Glenn Slater. Its underwater setting and story about aquatic characters requires unusual technical designs and strategies to create gliding movements for the actors.

Doug Wright is an American playwright, librettist, and screenwriter. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2004 for his play, I Am My Own Wife.

Alan Menken American composer

Alan Irwin Menken is an American composer, songwriter, music conductor, director and record producer. Menken is best known for his scores for films produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. His scores for The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and Pocahontas (1995) have each won him two Academy Awards. He also composed the scores for Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Newsies (1992), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Home on the Range (2004), Enchanted (2007), Tangled (2010), and Sausage Party (2016), among others.

In May 2016, Disney announced that a live-action adaptation, directed by Rob Marshall, is currently in development. A live musical presentation of the film will also air in November 2019 on ABC as part of The Wonderful World of Disney .

Rob Marshall American film director and choreographer

Robert Doyle Marshall Jr. is an American film and theater director, producer, and choreographer. His most notable work is the Academy Award-winning film Chicago (2002), for which he won the Directors Guild of America Award, in addition to receiving nominations for the Academy Award, the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA Award for Best Director. A five-time Tony Award nominee, he also won a Primetime Emmy Award for his choreography in the television film Annie (1999).

<i>The Little Mermaid Live!</i>

The Wonderful World of Disney Presents The Little Mermaid Live!, or simply The Little Mermaid Live! is an upcoming musical television special created for ABC, based on the 1989 film The Little Mermaid. It is produced by Done and Dusted and directed by Hamish Hamilton, who is also executive producing alongside Katy Mullan, David Jammy, Raj Kapoor, Ian Stewart, and Richard Kraft, with Amber Riley hosting the special.

American Broadcasting Company American broadcast television network

The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) is an American commercial broadcast radio and television networks that is a flagship property of Walt Disney Television, a subsidiary of the Disney Media Networks division of The Walt Disney Company. The network is headquartered in Burbank, California on Riverside Drive, directly across the street from Walt Disney Studios and adjacent to the Roy E. Disney Animation Building. The network's secondary offices, and headquarters of its news division, is in New York City, New York, at their broadcast center at 77 West 66th Street in the Upper West Side of Manhattan.


Ariel is a 16-year-old mermaid princess in the kingdom of Atlantica, a fantasy kingdom in the Atlantic Ocean. She is fascinated by the human world above. With her best friend Flounder, Ariel collects human artifacts in her grotto and often goes to the surface of the ocean to visit Scuttle, a seagull who offers very inaccurate knowledge of human culture. She ignores the warnings of her father King Triton, the ruler of Atlantica, and Sebastian, a crab who serves as Triton's adviser and court composer, that contact between merpeople and humans is forbidden.

Ariel (<i>The Little Mermaid</i>) title character of animated 1989 film The Little Mermaid

Ariel is a fictional character and the title character of Walt Disney Pictures' 28th animated film The Little Mermaid (1989). She subsequently appears in the film's prequel television series (1992—1994), direct-to-video sequel The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000), and direct-to-video prequel The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning (2008). Ariel is voiced by Jodi Benson in all official animated appearances and merchandise. She is fourth in the Disney Princess lineup, the first nonhuman princess, and the only princess to become a mother to her own child.

A grotto is a natural or artificial cave used by humans in both modern times and antiquity, and historically or prehistorically. Naturally occurring grottoes are often small caves near water that are usually flooded or liable to flood at high tide. Sometimes, artificial grottoes are used as garden features. The Grotta Azzurra at Capri and the grotto at the villa of Tiberius in the Bay of Naples are examples of popular natural seashore grottoes.

One night, Ariel, Flounder, and an unwilling Sebastian travel to the ocean surface to watch a celebration for Prince Eric's birthday on a ship. Ariel instantly falls in love with Eric. Shortly afterward, a violent storm arrives, which wrecks the ship and tosses Eric overboard. Ariel rescues him and brings him to shore. She sings to him, but immediately leaves just as he regains consciousness to avoid being discovered. Fascinated by the memory of her voice, Eric vows to find the girl who saved and sang to him, and Ariel vows to find a way to join him in his world. Noticing a change in Ariel's behavior, Triton questions Sebastian about her behavior and learns of her love for Eric. Triton confronts Ariel in her grotto, and destroys the artifacts she collected with his trident. After Triton leaves, two eels named Flotsam and Jetsam convince Ariel to visit Ursula the sea witch.

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. If Ariel gets Eric to kiss her, she will remain a human permanently. Otherwise, she will transform back into a mermaid and belong to Ursula. Ariel accepts and 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 is the one who had rescued him earlier. 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 Ariel's close success, 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 discovers that Eric will be married to Vanessa. Scuttle discovers Vanessa's true identity and informs Ariel, who immediately pursues the wedding barge. Sebastian informs Triton, and Scuttle disrupts the wedding with the help of various sea animals. In the chaos, the nautilus shell around Ursula's neck is destroyed, restoring Ariel's voice and breaking Ursula's enchantment over Eric. Realizing that Ariel is the girl who saved his life, Eric rushes to kiss her, but the sun sets and Ariel transforms back into a mermaid. Ursula then kidnaps Ariel. Triton confronts Ursula and demands Ariel's release, but the deal is inviolable. At Ursula's urging, Triton agrees to take Ariel's place as Ursula's prisoner, giving up his trident. Ariel is released as Triton transforms into a polyp and loses his authority over Atlantica. Ursula declares herself the new ruler, but before she can use the trident, Eric intervenes with a harpoon. Ursula attempts to kill Eric, but Ariel intervenes, causing Ursula to inadvertently kill Flotsam and Jetsam. Enraged, Ursula uses the trident to grow to a monstrous size.

Ariel and Eric reunite on the surface just before Ursula grows past and towers over them. She then gains full control of the entire ocean, creating a storm and bringing sunken ships to the surface. Just as Ursula is about to destroy Ariel with the trident, Eric steers a wrecked ship towards Ursula, impaling her with its splintered bowsprit killing her. With Ursula dead, Triton and the other polyps in Ursula's garden revert to their original forms. Realizing that Ariel truly loves Eric, Triton willingly changes her from a mermaid into a human permanently and approves her marriage to Eric. Ariel and Eric marry on a ship and depart.

Voice cast

  • Benson also voices Vanessa, Ursula's human alter ego


Story development

Georges de La Tour's painting Magdalene with the Smoking Flame (1640) is shown in the film. Georges de La Tour - Magdalen of Night Light - WGA12337.jpg
Georges de La Tour's painting Magdalene with the Smoking Flame (1640) is shown in the film.

The Little Mermaid was originally planned as part of one of Walt Disney's earliest feature films, a proposed package film featuring vignettes of Hans Christian Andersen tales. [14] Development started soon after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in the late 1930s, but was delayed due to various circumstances. [15]

In 1985, Ron Clements became interested in a film adaptation of The Little Mermaid while he was serving as a director on The Great Mouse Detective (1986) alongside John Musker. [16] Clements discovered the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale while browsing through a bookstore. [17] Believing the story provided an "ideal basis" for an animated feature film and keen on creating a film that took place underwater, [16] Clements wrote and presented a two-page treatment of The Little Mermaid Walt Disney Studios chief Jeffrey Katzenberg at a "gong show" idea suggestion meeting. Katzenberg passed the project over, because at that time the studio was in development on a sequel to their live-action mermaid comedy Splash (1984) and felt The Little Mermaid would be too similar a project. [17] The next day, however, Katzenberg approved of the idea for possible development, along with Oliver & Company . While in production in the 1980s, the staff found, by chance, original story and visual development work done by Kay Nielsen for Disney's proposed 1930s Andersen feature. [14] Many of the changes made by the staff in the 1930s to Hans Christian Andersen's original story were coincidentally the same as the changes made by Disney writers in the 1980s. [17]

That year Clements and Musker expanded the two-page idea into a 20-page rough script, eliminating the role of the mermaid's grandmother and expanding the roles of the Merman King and the sea witch. However, the film's plans were momentarily shelved as Disney focused its attention on Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Oliver & Company as more immediate releases. [17] In 1987, songwriter Howard Ashman became involved with the writing and development of The Little Mermaid after he was asked to contribute a song to Oliver & Company. He proposed changing the minor character Clarence, the English-butler crab, to a Jamaican crab and shifting the music style throughout the film to reflect this. At the same time, Katzenberg, Clements, Musker, and Ashman revised the story format to make The Little Mermaid a musical with a Broadway-style story structure, with the song sequences serving as the tentpoles of the film. [14] Ashman and composer Alan Menken, both noted for their work as the writers of the successful Off-Broadway stage musical Little Shop of Horrors , teamed up to compose the entire song score. In 1988, with Oliver & Company out of the way, The Little Mermaid was slated as the next major Disney release. [18]


More money and resources were dedicated to The Little Mermaid than any other Disney animated film in decades. [14] Aside from its main animation facility in Glendale, California, Disney opened a satellite feature animation facility during the production of The Little Mermaid in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (near Orlando, Florida), within Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park at Walt Disney World. [19] Opening in 1989, the Disney-MGM facility's first projects were to produce an entire Roger Rabbit cartoon short, Roller Coaster Rabbit , and to contribute ink and paint support to The Little Mermaid. [19] Another first for recent years was the filming of live actors and actresses for motion reference material for the animators, a practice used frequently for many of the Disney animated features produced under Walt Disney's supervision. Sherri Lynn Stoner, a former member of Los Angeles' Groundlings improvisation comedy group, and Joshua Finkel, a Broadway actor, performed key scenes as Ariel and Eric respectively. [17] [20] Jodi Benson had already been cast as Ariel's voice actor by this time, and her recorded dialogue was used as playback to guide these live-action references. [20] Before Benson was cast, Melissa Fahn was considered for the part. [21]

The Little Mermaid's supervising animators included Glen Keane and Mark Henn on Ariel, Duncan Marjoribanks on Sebastian, Andreas Deja on King Triton, and Ruben Aquino on Ursula. [14] Originally, Keane had been asked to work on Ursula, as he had established a reputation for drawing large, powerful figures, such as the bear in The Fox and the Hound (1981) and Professor Ratigan in The Great Mouse Detective (1986). Keane, however, was assigned as one of the two lead artists on the petite Ariel and oversaw the "Part of Your World" musical number. He jokingly stated that his wife looks exactly like Ariel "without the fins." [22] The character's body type 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 both footage of Sally Ride when she was in space, [14] and scenes of Stoner in a pool for guidance in animating Ariel's swimming. [23]

The design of the villainous Ursula was based upon drag performer Divine. [14] An additional early inspiration before Divine was Joan Collins in her role as Alexis Carrington in the television show Dynasty , due to a suggestion from Howard Ashman, who was a fan of the series. [24] Pat Carroll was not Clements and Musker's first choice to voice Ursula; the original script had been written with Bea Arthur of the Disney-owned TV series The Golden Girls in mind. After Arthur turned the part down, actresses such as Nancy Marchand, Nancy Wilson, Roseanne, Charlotte Rae, and Elaine Stritch were considered for the part. [25] Stritch was eventually cast as Ursula, but clashed with Howard Ashman's style of music production and was replaced by Carroll. [25] Various actors auditioned for additional roles in the film, including Jim Carrey for the role of Prince Eric, and comedians Bill Maher and Michael Richards for the role of Scuttle. [24]

The underwater setting required the most special effects animation for a Disney animated feature since Fantasia in 1940. Effects animation supervisor Mark Dindal estimated that over a million bubbles were drawn for this film, in addition to the use of other processes such as airbrushing, backlighting, superimposition, and some computer animation. The artistic manpower needed for The Little Mermaid required Disney to farm out most of the underwater bubble effects animation in the film to Pacific Rim Productions, a China-based firm with production facilities in Beijing. [14] An attempt to use Disney's famed multiplane camera for the first time in years for quality "depth" shots failed because the machine was reputedly in dilapidated condition. The multiplane shots were instead photographed at an outside animation camera facility. [14]

The Little Mermaid was the last Disney feature film to use the traditional hand-painted cel method of animation. Disney's next film, The Rescuers Down Under , used a digital method of coloring and combining scanned drawings developed for Disney by Pixar called CAPS/ink & paint (Computer Animation Production System), which would eliminate the need for cels, the multiplane camera, and many of the optical effects used for the last time in The Little Mermaid. A CAPS/ink & paint prototype was used experimentally on a few scenes in The Little Mermaid, and one shot produced using CAPS/ink & paint—the penultimate shot in the film, of Ariel and Eric's wedding ship sailing away under a rainbow—appears in the finished film. Computer-generated imagery was used to create some of the wrecked ships in the final battle, a staircase behind a shot of Ariel in Eric's castle, and the carriage Eric and Ariel are riding in when she bounces it over a ravine. These objects were animated using 3D wireframe models, which were plotted as line art to cels and painted traditionally. [14]


The Little Mermaid was considered by some as "the film that brought Broadway into cartoons". [26] Alan Menken wrote the Academy Award winning score, and collaborated with Howard Ashman on the songs. One of the film's most prominent songs, "Part of Your World", was nearly cut from the film when it seemingly tested poorly with an audience of school children, who became rowdy during the scene. This caused Jeffrey Katzenberg to feel that the song needed to be cut, an idea that was resisted by Musker, Clements, and Keane. Both Musker and Clements cited the similar situation of the popular song "Over the Rainbow" nearly being cut from 1939's The Wizard of Oz when appealing to Katzenberg. Keane pushed for the song to remain until the film was in a more finalized state. During a second test screening, the scene, now colorized and further developed, tested well with a separate child audience, and the musical number was kept. [24]


The film was originally released on November 17, 1989, followed by re-release on November 14, 1997. After the success of the 3D re-release of The Lion King , Disney announced a 3D re-release of The Little Mermaid scheduled for September 13, 2013, [27] but this was cancelled on January 14, 2013, due to the under-performances of other Disney 3D re-releases until further notice. [28] The 3D version was released on Blu-ray instead, [29] [30] but it did play a limited engagement at the El Capitan Theatre from September to October 2013. [31] On September 20, 2013, The Little Mermaid began playing in select theaters where audiences could bring iPads and use an app called Second Screen Live. [32] AMC Theatres screened the movie from September 6-12, 2019. [33] The film was also screened out of competition at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival. [34]

Home media

In a then-atypical and controversial move for a new Disney animated film, The Little Mermaid was released as part of the Walt Disney Classics line of VHS, Laserdisc, Betamax, and Video 8 home video releases in May 1990, six months after the release of the film. [18] [35] Before The Little Mermaid, only a select number of Disney's catalog animated films had been released to home video, as the company was afraid of upsetting its profitable practice of theatrically reissuing each film every seven years. [18] The Little Mermaid became that year's top-selling title on home video, with over 10 million units sold (including 7 million in its first month). [36] The home video release, along with box office and merchandise sales, contributed to The Little Mermaid generating a total revenue of $1 billion. [37] This success led to future Disney films being released on home video soon after the end of their theatrical runs, rather than delayed for several years. [18]

Following The Little Mermaid's 1997 re-release in theaters, a new VHS version was released in March 1998 as part of the Masterpiece Collection and included a bonus music video of Jodi Benson singing "Part of Your World" during the end credits, replacing "Under the Sea" as the end credits song. [38] The VHS sold 13 million units and ranked as the third best-selling video of the year. [39] [40]

The Little Mermaid was released in a "bare-bones" limited issue DVD in 1999, with a standard video transfer. [41] The film was re-released on DVD on October 3, 2006, as part of the Walt Disney Platinum Editions line of classic Walt Disney animated features, including the song "Kiss the Girl" performed by Ashley Tisdale. [42] Deleted scenes and several in-depth documentaries were included, as well as an Academy Award-nominated short film intended for the shelved Fantasia 2006, The Little Matchgirl . [43] The DVD sold 1.6 million units on its first day of release, [44] and over 4 million units during its first week, making it the biggest animated DVD debut for October. By year's end, the DVD had sold about 7 million units and was one of the year's top 10 selling DVDs. [45] The Platinum Edition DVD was released as part of a "Little Mermaid Trilogy" boxed set on December 16, 2008. [46] The Platinum Edition of the film, along with its sequels, went on moratorium in January 2009. The film was re-released on a 3-disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo, a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo and 3D Blu-ray on October 1, 2013, as part of the Walt Disney Diamond Editions line. [29] [47] The Little Mermaid was re-released on HD and 4K digital download on February 12, 2019, with a physical media re-release on Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray on February 26, 2019, as part of the Walt Disney Signature Collection in honor of the film's 30th anniversary.

Live presentations

In June 2016, Disney held special presentations of the film at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, titled The Little Mermaid in Concert. The performances combined a screening of The Little Mermaid with live accompaniment by guest musicians and celebrities, including Sara Bareilles (who performed as Ariel), Tituss Burgess (who performed as Sebastian as a reprisal of his role in the stage adaptation), Darren Criss (who performed as Prince Eric), Rebel Wilson (who performed as Ursula), Joshua Colley (who performed as Flounder), John Stamos (who performed as Chef Louis) and Norm Lewis (who performed as King Triton as a reprisal of his role in the stage adaptation). The four additional songs written for the stage adaptation were also incorporated into the presentation, accompanied by scenes of the film's original concept art. During the third and final performance, Jodi Benson replaced Bareilles to reprise her original role as Ariel, while Brad Kane (the singing voice of the title character of Aladdin ) and Susan Egan (who played Belle in the stage adaptation of Beauty and the Beast ) also made special appearances, singing songs from their respective films, and a duet of "A Whole New World". [48] [49]

From May 17–18, 2019, the Hollywood Bowl hosted another live presentation, titled The Little Mermaid: An Immersive Live-to Film Concert Experience. These performances once again combined a screening of the film with live renditions of the film's songs, this time starring Lea Michele as Ariel, Harvey Fierstein as Ursula, Cheech Marin as Chef Louis, Ken Page as Sebastian, Peter Gallagher as King Triton and Leo Gallo as Prince Eric. This presentation utilized only one of the songs written for the stage adaptation ("If Only"). [50]


Box office

Early in the production of The Little Mermaid, Jeffrey Katzenberg cautioned Clements, Musker, and their staff, telling them that since The Little Mermaid was a "girl's film", it would make less money at the box office than Oliver & Company, which had been Disney's biggest animated box office success in a decade. [17] [18] However, by the time the film was closer to completion, Katzenberg was convinced The Little Mermaid would be a hit and the first animated feature to earn more than $100 million in its initial run and become a "blockbuster" film. [17] [18]

During its original 1989 theatrical release, The Little Mermaid earned $84.4 million at the North American box office, [51] falling short of Katzenberg's expectations but earning 64% more than Oliver & Company [18] and becoming the animated film with the highest gross from its initial run. [52] The film was theatrically reissued on November 14, 1997, on the same day as Anastasia , a Don Bluth animated feature for Fox Animation Studios. The reissue brought $27.2 million in additional gross. [51] The film also drew $123 million in box office earnings outside the United States and Canada between both releases, resulting in a total international box office figure of $233 million. [3]

Critical reception

Review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes reported that the film has a 93% approval score based on 69 reviews and an average rating of 8.2/10. The site's consensus reads "The Little Mermaid ushered in a new golden era for Disney animation with warm and charming hand-drawn characters and catchy musical sequences". [53] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 88 out of 100 based on 24 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".

Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times , was enthusiastic about the film and wrote that, "The Little Mermaid is a jolly and inventive animated fantasy—a movie that's so creative and so much fun it deserves comparison with the best Disney work of the past." Ebert also commented positively on the character of Ariel, stating, "... Ariel is a fully realized female character who thinks and acts independently, even rebelliously, instead of hanging around passively while the fates decide her destiny." [54] The staff of TV Guide wrote a positive review, praising the film's return to the traditional Disney musical as well as the film's animation. Yet they also wrote that the film is detracted from by the juvenile humor and the human characters' eyes. While still giving a positive review, they stated that the film "can't compare to the real Disney classics (which appealed equally to both kids and adults)." [55] The staff of Variety praised the film for its cast of characters, Ursula in particular, as well as its animation, stating that the animation "proves lush and fluid, augmented by the use of shadow and light as elements like fire, sun and water illuminate the characters." They also praised the musical collaboration between Howard Ashman and Alan Menken "whose songs frequently begin slowly but build in cleverness and intensity." [56]

Todd Gilchrist of IGN wrote a positive review of the film, stating that the film is "an almost perfect achievement." Gilchrist also praised how the film revived interest in animation as it was released at a time when interest in animation was at a lull. [57] Hal Hinson of The Washington Post wrote a mixed review of the film, referring to it as a "likably unspectacular adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen classic." Hinson went on to write that the film is average even at its highest points. He wrote that while there is nothing wrong with the film, it would be difficult for children to identify with Ariel and that the characters seemed bland. Hinson concluded his review saying that the film is "accomplished but uninspiring, The Little Mermaid has enough to please any kid. All that's missing is the magic." [58] Empire gave a positive review of the film, stating that "[The Little Mermaid is] a charmer of a movie, boasting all the ingredients that make a Disney experience something to treasure yet free of all the politically correct, formulaic elements that have bogged down the more recent productions." [59]

In April 2008 – almost 20 years after the film's initial release in 1989 – Yahoo! users voted "The Little Mermaid" as No. 14 on the top 30 animated films of all time. Later, when Yahoo! updated the list in June of the same year, the film remained on the list but dropped six slots to end at #20. (Only three other traditionally animated Disney animated films - Aladdin , Beauty and the Beast , and The Lion King , respectively - scored above it in the poll even after the update.) [60] In 2011, Richard Corliss of TIME Magazine named it one of "The 25 All-TIME Best Animated Films". [61]

The Little Mermaid, Disney's first animated fairy tale since Sleeping Beauty (1959), [17] is an important film in animation history for many reasons. Chief among these are its re-establishment of animation as a profitable venture for The Walt Disney Company, as the company's theme parks, television productions, and live-action features had overshadowed the animated output since the 1950s. [18] The Little Mermaid was the second film, following Oliver & Company, produced after Disney began expanding its animated output following its successful live action/animated film Who Framed Roger Rabbit , and became Disney's first animated major box office and critical hit since The Rescuers in 1977. [18] Walt Disney Feature Animation was further expanded as a result of The Little Mermaid and increasingly successful follow-ups — Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994). The staff increased from 300 members in 1988 to 2,200 in 1999 spread across three studios in Burbank, California, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and Montreuil, Seine-Saint-Denis, France. [19]

In addition, The Little Mermaid signaled the re-establishment of the musical film format as a standard for Disney animated films. The majority of Disney's most popular animated films from the 1930s on had been musicals, though by the 1970s and 1980s the role of music had been de-emphasized in the films. [17] 1988's Oliver & Company had served as a test of sorts to the success of the musical format before Disney committed to the Broadway-style structure of The Little Mermaid. [17]


In January 1990, The Little Mermaid earned three Academy Award nominations, making it the first Disney animated film to earn an Academy Award nomination since The Rescuers in 1977. The film won two of the awards, for Best Original Score and Best Original Song ("Under the Sea"). The film also earned four Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture—Comedy or Musical, and won the awards for Best Song ("Under the Sea") and Best Score. [62]

In addition to the box office and critical success of the film itself, the film's soundtrack album earned two awards at the 33rd Grammy Awards in 1991: the Grammy Award for Best Album for Children and the Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television ("Under the Sea"). [63] Bolstered by the film's success and the soundtrack's Oscars, Golden Globes and Grammy Awards, was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in September 1990 for shipments of two million copies of the soundtrack album, an unheard of feat for an animated film at the time. [64] To date, the soundtrack has been certified six times platinum. [64]

The Little Mermaid won two Academy Awards for Best Original Score as well as Best Song for Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's "Under the Sea", sung by Samuel E. Wright in a memorable scene. [65] Another song from the film, "Kiss the Girl", was nominated but lost to "Under the Sea". [65] The film also won two Golden Globes for Best Original Score as well Best Original Song for "Under the Sea". It was also nominated in two other categories, Best Motion Picture and another Best Original Song. Menken and Ashman also won a Grammy Award in 1991 for "Under the Sea." [66]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


Controversy arose regarding the artwork for the film's original VHS release when consumers noticed an oddly shaped structure on the castle, closely resembling a human penis. [72] [73] Disney and the cover designer insist it was an accident, resulting from a late night rush job to finish the cover artwork. The object does not appear on the cover of the second release of the movie. [72]

Another allegation is that the clergyman presiding over the wedding between Eric and Ursula (the latter disguised as Vanessa) is seen to have an erection. [74] [75] The object in question is actually the short, stubby-legged man's knee. [76]

The combined incidents led an Arkansas woman to file suit against The Walt Disney Company in 1995, though she dropped the suit two months later. [75] [76] [77] [78] [79]

Sequels and spin-offs


Live-action film

In May 2016, Deadline Hollywood reported that Disney was in early development for a live-action adaptation of the film. [80]

Three months later, it was announced that Alan Menken would return as the film's composer and write new songs alongside Lin-Manuel Miranda, who will also co-produce the movie with Marc Platt. [81]

Studio veterans Lindsay Lohan and Chris Evans expressed interest in starring in the adaptation. [82] [83] [84]

In December 2017, Rob Marshall was being courted by the Walt Disney Company to direct the film, while Jane Goldman would serve as screenwriter. [85] One year later, Marshall said that he, along with John DeLuca and Marc Platt were hired to begin developing the project for film adaptation. [86] In December 2018, Marshall was officially hired as director for the film. [87] [88]

In May 2019, Menken stated that The Little Mermaid would be his next project, following the release of the live-action adaptation of Aladdin . [89] In the following month, Melissa McCarthy, Jacob Tremblay, and Nora "Awkwafina" Lum entered early negotiations to portray Ursula, Flounder, and a gender-swapped Scuttle, respectively. [90] [91]

By July, Halle Bailey was cast in the starring role as Ariel. [92] It was also announced that same month that Harry Styles and Javier Bardem were in talks to play Prince Eric and King Triton, respectively. [93] [94] However, by August, it was revealed that Styles had turned down the role due to focusing on his music career. [95] [96]

Later, in September, it was reported that Cameron Cuffe and Jonah Hauer-King were two of the finalists to play Prince Eric. [97] Daveed Diggs was also revealed to be in talks to voice Sebastian in October. [98]

The Little Mermaid is scheduled to begin production in early 2020. [99]

The Little Mermaid Live!

On May 16, 2017, ABC announced that it planned to air The Wonderful World of Disney: The Little Mermaid Live, on October 3, 2017, which would have featured a broadcast of the film with a similar format to the aforementioned Hollywood Bowl concerts. The special aimed to appeal to the recent trend of live made-for-TV productions of Broadway musicals on network television, such as those of NBC. [100] However, on August 3, 2017, it was announced that the special had been dropped due to budget issues. [101]

On August 5, 2019, it was announced that the project had been revived to mark the 30th anniversary of the film's original release, and would be aired on November 5, 2019. Auli'i Cravalho, Queen Latifah and Shaggy will star as Ariel, Ursula and Sebastian, respectively. [102] Other cast members will include John Stamos as Chef Louis and Graham Phillips as Prince Eric. [103] The special will feature performances of songs from the film and its Broadway adaptations in a themed "dive-in theater" setting at the Disney lot, accompanied by the film itself. [102] [104] The special will be produced by Done and Dusted, with director-executive producer Hamish Hamilton and executive producer Richard Kraft (who had also worked on the aforementioned concerts). [105] Amber Riley will host the special. [106]

In addition to marking the film's anniversary, the special will also be used as a pre-launch promotional push for the new Disney+ streaming service, which will launch the following week. [107] [108]

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Aladdin</i> (1992 Disney film) 1992 American animated musical fantasy film by Walt Disney Feature Animation

Aladdin is a 1992 American animated musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released by Walt Disney Pictures. The film is the 31st Disney animated feature film, and was the fourth produced during the Disney film era known as the Disney Renaissance. It was produced and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, and is based on the Arabic folktale of the same name from the One Thousand and One Nights. The voice cast features Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman, Frank Welker, Gilbert Gottfried and Douglas Seale. The film follows Aladdin, an Arabian street urchin, who finds a magic lamp containing a genie. In order to hide the lamp from the Grand vizier, he disguises himself as a wealthy prince, and tries to impress the Sultan and his daughter.

<i>The Little Mermaid</i> (TV series) animated television series

Disney's The Little Mermaid is an American animated television series produced by Walt Disney Television Animation based on the 1989 Disney film of the same name. It features the adventures of Ariel as a mermaid prior to the events of the film. This series is the first Disney television series to be spun off from a major animated film. Some of the voice actors of the film reprise their roles in the series, among them Jodi Benson as Ariel, Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian, Kenneth Mars as King Triton and Pat Carroll as Ursula. Other voice actors include Edan Gross and Bradley Pierce as Flounder, and Jeff Bennett as Prince Eric.

<i>The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea</i> 2000 animated Disney film directed by Jim Kammerud

The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea is a 2000 American animated direct-to-video musical adventure film produced by Walt Disney Television Animation, and the sequel to the 1989 Disney animated film The Little Mermaid. Directed by Jim Kammerud and Brian Smith, the story of the film takes place 12 years after the original, and focuses on Ariel and Eric's daughter Melody, a human princess who longs to swim in the ocean despite her parents' law that the sea is forbidden to her. The film features the voices of Jodi Benson as Ariel, Tara Charendoff as Melody, and Pat Carroll as Morgana, the film's new villain. In 2008, Disney released a third film in the Little Mermaid series, The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning, which is a prequel to the original film. This was Buddy Hackett's final film role before his death in June 2003. The film received largely negative reviews with criticism directed at the plot, which many considered to be a generic rehash of the original film.

Howard Ashman American playwright and lyricist

Howard Elliott Ashman was an American playwright and lyricist. He collaborated with Alan Menken on several works and is most widely known for several animated feature films for Disney, for which Ashman wrote the lyrics and Menken composed the music. Ashman and Menken began their collaboration with the musical God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1979), for which Ashman directed and wrote both book and lyrics. Their next musical, Little Shop of Horrors (1982) for which Ashman again directed and wrote both book and lyrics, became a long-running success and led to a 1986 feature film. The partnership's first Disney film was The Little Mermaid (1989), followed by Beauty and the Beast (1991). After his death, some of Ashman's songs were included in another Disney film, Aladdin (1992).

Ursula (<i>The Little Mermaid</i>) Disney character

Ursula is a fictional character who appears in Walt Disney Pictures' 28th animated feature film The Little Mermaid (1989). Voiced by American actress Pat Carroll, Ursula is a villainous sea witch who offers a mermaid princess named Ariel in exchange to trade her voice for a pair of human legs, at first appearing to be providing the character with an opportunity to become human by temporarily transforming her into one so that she may earn the love of Prince Eric within three days. However, Ursula is, in fact, determined to sabotage Ariel's chances so that she can ultimately replace King Triton as ruler over Atlantica.

Ron Clements American animation director

Ronald Francis Clements is an American animation director, screenwriter, and producer. He often collaborates with fellow director John Musker.

Under the Sea song from Disneys The Little Mermaid

"Under the Sea" is a popular song from Disney's 1989 animated film The Little Mermaid, composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and based on the song "The Beautiful Briny" from the 1971 film Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It is influenced by the Calypso style of the Caribbean which originated in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as Reggae, which originated in Jamaica. The song was performed in the film by Samuel E. Wright. The track won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1989, as well as the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media in 1991.

John Musker American animation director

John Edward Musker is an American animation director. Along with Ron Clements, he makes up the duo of one of the Disney animation studio's leading director teams.

"Poor Unfortunate Souls" is a song from the Walt Disney Pictures animated film The Little Mermaid. Written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken and performed by Pat Carroll, "Poor Unfortunate Souls" is sung to Princess Ariel by Ursula the Sea Witch. In a style that combines Broadway theatre with Burlesque, Ursula uses the song to seduce Ariel into trading her voice for the chance to temporarily become human.

"Part of Your World" is a song written by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken for Disney's animated feature film The Little Mermaid (1989). Performed by American actress and singer Jodi Benson in the titular role as Ariel, a mermaid princess, "Part of Your World" is a power ballad in which the main character expresses her strong desire to become human; its lyrics use placeholder names in lieu of several human-related terms that would be unfamiliar to a mermaid. The film's theme song, "Part of Your World" is reprised by Ariel after she rescues Eric, a human prince with whom she has fallen in love, from drowning.

<i>The Little Mermaid</i> (soundtrack) 1989 soundtrack album by Various Artists

The Little Mermaid: Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack is the soundtrack to the 1989 Disney animated feature film, The Little Mermaid. It contains the songs from the film written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, as well as the film's score composed by Alan Menken. The score was orchestrated by Thomas Pasatieri. The album has achieved multi-platinum sales and won the Grammy Award for Best Recording for Children. The album includes recordings of the music that won the Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television, the Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.

<i>Beauty and the Beast</i> (1991 soundtrack) 1991 soundtrack album by Various Artists

Beauty and the Beast: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the official soundtrack album to the 1991 Disney animated feature film, Beauty and the Beast. Originally released on October 24, 1991, by Walt Disney Records, the album's first half – tracks 2 to 9 – generally contains the film's musical numbers, all of which were written by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, while its latter half – tracks 10 to 14 – features its musical score, composed solely by Menken. While the majority of the album's content remains within the musical theatre genre, its songs have also been influenced by French, classical, pop and Broadway music. Credited to Various Artists, Beauty and the Beast: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack features performances by the film's main cast – Paige O'Hara, Richard White, Jesse Corti, Jerry Orbach, Angela Lansbury and Robby Benson – in order of appearance. Additionally, the album features recording artists Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson, who perform a pop rendition of the film's title and theme song, "Beauty and the Beast", which simultaneously serves as the soundtrack's only single.

<i>The Little Mermaid: Ariels Beginning</i> 2008 film directed by Peggy Holmes

The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning is a 2008 American animated direct-to-video fantasy film produced by DisneyToon Studios, and a prequel to Disney's 1989 animated film The Little Mermaid. Directed by Peggy Holmes, the film's story is set before the events of the original film, when Ariel is still young, and where all music has been banned from the underwater kingdom of Atlantica by King Triton after being heartbroken at his wife's death, and Ariel attempts to challenge this law. Jodie Benson and Samuel E. Wright reprise their roles as Ariel and Sebastian respectively, while Sally Field voices the film's new villain, Marina Del Rey, and Jim Cummings replaces Kenneth Mars as King Triton, as Mars had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was unable to reprise the role. The film was released by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment on August 26, 2008. The film received negative reviews with criticism aimed at the script and the music score, but the animation quality was praised.

<i>The Little Mermaid</i> (franchise) Disney media franchise spun off from the 1989 animated film based on the Danish fairy tale of the same name

The Little Mermaid is a Disney media franchise. The success of the 1989 American animated feature film The Little Mermaid led to a direct-to-video sequel, a prequel film, a spin-off television series, a musical, several video games, theme park attractions, and other merchandise. A live action remake of the film is in development. The Little Mermaid paved the way for what would become the Disney Renaissance, with the original film becoming the first film of that era.

<i>Waking Sleeping Beauty</i> 2009 American documentary film directed by Don Hahn

Waking Sleeping Beauty is a 2009 American documentary film directed by Disney film producer Don Hahn and produced by Hahn and former Disney executive Peter Schneider. The film documents the history of Walt Disney Feature Animation from 1984 to 1994, covering the rise of a period referred to as the Disney Renaissance.

"Fathoms Below" is the opening song from the 1989 animated Disney feature film The Little Mermaid. It is 1:41 minutes in length, while the version in the musical is about twice as long, with additional lyrics written by Glenn Slater. The song is written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, sung by the Ship's Chorus, and was featured on the album The Little Mermaid - An Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack.

The Little Mermaid Jr. is a stage musical produced by Disney Theatrical, based on the animated 1989 Disney film of the same name and the classic story of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen about a mermaid who dreams of the world above the sea and gives up her voice to find love. Its book is by Doug Wright, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, with additional lyrics by Glenn Slater. Its underwater setting and story about aquatic characters requires unusual technical designs and strategies to create gliding movements for the actors. The Little Mermaid Jr. first became available to license by the company Music Theater International and Disney Theatrical Productions


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