Splashing into theaters in 1989, The Little Mermaid kicked off a stream of Disney’s greatest films. Featuring award-winning songs, colorful sea creatures, and a spunky female lead, this animated musical was commercially successful and quickly became a classic. Although it’s been 30 years since its release, Ariel remains one of the most popular Disney Princesses. She has a load of merchandise themed to her film and she can be found in Disney parks across the world. She’s even one of the several princesses who will make an appearance in the upcoming Wreck-It Ralph movie. After all, who wouldn’t find a mermaid cool?
While The Little Mermaid strays from the Hans Christian Andersen tale, it is jam-packed with fresh characters and fun. That being said, there’s a lot of stuff you probably missed the first time you watched it through. Did you spot Mickey Mouse in Ariel’s under-the-sea world? Could Hercules be Ariel’s cousin? Was Ariel not always a redhead?
The Little Mermaid franchise is filled with secrets, and they’re worth looking into. After all, the live-action remake of the film still doesn’t have a release date. Although Lin Manuel Miranda, creator of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, and Alan Menken, the original film’s composer, are already signed on, we don’t know a lot about it. So while we wait for the next great live-action Disney remake, why don’t we dive a little deeper into the first film? There’s an ocean of mysteries to explore. After all, Ariel has quite the “tale.”
With that being said, here are 25 secrets about The Little Mermaid that make us want to live under the sea:
Back when technology was way less advanced, Disney animators frequently recycled scenes from past movies in order to make their jobs a little easier. Additionally, it saved time and money, and who wouldn’t want to save that?.
The Little Mermaid was no exception to this. While it didn’t borrow many scenes as, say, The Jungle Book did, its animators still took use of what they could. “Kiss the Girl” specifically featured many backgrounds that were used in the earlier film The Rescuers. Why reanimate an entire lake scene when you don’t have to?
2017’s Wonder Woman did more than break box office records – it paid tribute to Disney’s most iconic mermaid.
There’s a scene in Wonder Woman in which the titular heroine rescues Chris Pine’s character on the beach. Everything about this portion of the film down to the way Gal Gadot’s character touches Pine’s face mirrors the scene in which Ariel rescues Eric in The Little Mermaid. The beaches look the same and the camera angles closely match each other.
This was no mistake. Creators of the movie actually saw Wonder Woman’s story as being similar to Ariel’s because they are both curious about the worlds outside of the ones they’ve been trapped in.
Believe it or not, Ariel didn’t always have the classic red hair we’re used to.
A few years before The Little Mermaid released, a different mermaid story – the 1984 film Splash – hit theaters. Featuring a blonde leading mermaid, the creators of Disney’s hit realized they wanted to differentiate Ariel. Therefore, she became a redhead.
Furthermore, red is complementary to green, which is the color of Ariel’s tail. Pairing the two colors together helped her appear vibrant. Ariel’s lips match her hair, so her face was also highlighted by this color choice.
As it turns out, Jodi Benson recorded “Part of Your World” in the dark so that she got the same ocean feel Ariel had during the film. The director and producer also sat inside the recording booth with Benson to ensure that Ariel was being portrayed as they wanted.
The song was almost cut by the film’s executive producer because he thought it was boring and that it would go over kids’ heads. It later gained a better audience response once the animation was completed. It’s a good thing it was kept because it remains one of the greatest Broadway-style songs in the film.
In the movie, Prince Eric is supposed to be eighteen, but his voice actor was actually younger. Christopher Daniel Barnes was just a 16-year-old when he recorded the voice of Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid making him much younger than the female lead. In fact, he was about 11 years younger than Ariel’s voice actress, Jodi Benson. Today Barnes is 45 while Benson is 56.
They say you should read things before you sign them, but it doesn’t seem one of our favorite princesses took this advice. As it turns out, the contract that Ursula gives Ariel to sign, which asks for her voice in exchange for legs, is actually just a bunch of gibberish.
The contract begins by spelling out, “I hereby grant unto Ursula, Witch of the Sea... one voice in exchanged for” but then it trails off into a mix of letters that don’t make any sense. It ends with “for all eternity signed,” right above the place Ariel is supposed to sign her name.
One other Disney tidbit that can be spotted on the contract is a hidden Mickey. An outline of the mouse’s head can be found somewhere in the middle of all the gibberish.
Toward the beginning of the movie, King Triton’s daughters sing in a concert for him. As he rides into the venue packed with sea-people, you can catch a glimpse of Mickey Mouse and his friends. Mickey’s, Donald’s, and Goofy’s profiles can all be seen for less than a few seconds.
While we don’t know why they were chilling in the crowd (or how they were breathing underwater) it is unmistakably them.
Who can’t recognize Mickey’s giant ears or Donald’s classic blue suit?
Those sneaky animators should've figured out some explanation before they popped our favorite gang in the same world as Flounder and Sebastian. It’s a lot for us to handle.
One insane fan theory claims that Ariel’s mother actually made an appearance in Peter Pan.
In Peter Pan, there are three mermaids that make an appearance in Neverland at mermaid lagoon. One has dark hair, another is a blonde, and a final mermaid is a redhead – just like Ariel. Her tail is a blue-green color. While neither her hair or tail are as bright as Ariel’s, there is some resemblance. Furthermore, the 2008 prequel to The Little Mermaid introduced us to Ariel’s mother, Athena, and she does resemble both her daughter and the mermaid spotted in Peter Pan.
Looking even further into it, the ages of the characters make sense. The Little Mermaid came out in 1989, which means that Ariel was born around 1973. Assuming Ariel’s mother was the same age Ariel was in her film (16) she would have been 36 when Ariel was born, making it very possible.
The final and potentially most important evidence for Ariel’s mother and the one in Peter Pan being the same is that in the 2008 prequel to The Little Mermaid, it is explained that Ariel’s mother was ended by pirates. The only real threat in Neverland was Captain Hook and his crew, so it’s not a far stretch to assume that Ariel’s mom was indeed the mermaid we saw in Peter Pan.
The Little Mermaid was originally released on DVD in 1999, ten years after it was shown in theaters. In 2006, it was re-released as part of the Walt Disney Platinum Editions line of classic animated films. This DVD contained lots of bonus features including a few words that suggest Ursula could actually be Ariel’s aunt.
In related plays and books based on the story of The Little Mermaid, Triton and Ursula are siblings.
In some commentary on this DVD, it is stated that Ursula was implied to be Triton’s sister in early scenes. Further confirming this idea is what Ursula says in the film. She makes a reference to being in the palace in the past. A lot of her revengeful actions make more sense if she was indeed kicked out, right? And what better reason was there for her to be in the palace originally than to be related to the king himself?
Prince Eric’s sweet and loyal maid, Carlotta, wears an outfit that is strikingly similar to the one Cinderella wore as Lady Tremaine’s maid. Both their dresses contain light blue sleeves and white aprons as well as bodices and skirts that are in the same general brown-red color family. Both women also wear headscarves, although Cinderella’s matches her apron while Corletta’s more closely matches her dress.
Cinderella and Ariel’s stories actually have a lot in common.
While Cinderella longs to escape her life as a maid, Ariel wishes to escape her life as a mermaid. Both girls also fall for charming princes (Cinderella fell for a guy who was literally named Prince Charming) and end up overcoming some crafty villainesses by the end.
Prince Eric is a fan favorite by sporting a load of dark hair and those crystal blue eyes of his. Maybe he does have a few commitment issues (we’re talking about his quick turn from Ariel to Vanessa) but he has the looks. Prince Philip from Sleeping Beauty is also quite the charmer. So it’s not that surprising to find out that a picture of Prince Phillip and Aurora can be seen hanging in Eric’s dining room during the dinner scene. Not only is this photo hanging in the dining room – it’s the central giant photo with two smaller ones on its sides.
Looking at the location of the two movies, it is possible. It’s accepted that The Little Mermaid takes place in Denmark. While the location of Sleeping Beauty is debated, the most common countries chosen for Aurora are England, France, and Germany. That being said, Aurora can be met in France at Disney's Epcot, so it's probably her actual country. Regardless, all three countries are in close proximity to Denmark.
Frozen is tied to a whole bunch of theories including ones that claim that Elsa and Anna are related to Tarzan and Rapunzel. One theory connected to the one relating the sisters to Rapunzel is that the ship Elsa and Anna’s parents sunk on is the same one that appears in The Little Mermaid.
Elsa and Anna’s parents left their country (which is assumed to be Sweden) on a boat to attend a wedding. The wedding is assumed to be Rapunzel’s, being that she got married in the short Tangled Ever After and Rapunzel and Flynn make a cameo in Frozen. Rapunzel’s country is likely Germany, and the sea in between these two countries is just outside of Denmark, which is the assumed location of The Little Mermaid.
More accurately, Ariel is a combination of a few people.
Ariel was modeled after the Who’s the Boss star Alyssa Milano. Milano was around Ariel’s age of 16 when the TV show was first being worked on. With large eyes and soft features, she was the perfect person to base a Disney Princess off of.
Ariel’s classic red hair got its own model – astronaut Sally Ride. While Ride’s a brunette rather than a redhead, the movement of her hair in space is particularly what animators studied. The footage of Ride’s hair flowing up and around her face is similar to how Ariel’s flows under the sea, so it was a perfect choice.
Finally, Ariel’s movements were modeled after Sherri Stoner. She served as an animation reference model for Ariel, which means she’d act out the movements in a scene as if she were Ariel before it was animated. Her lower-lip-biting mannerism was particularly adapted for Ariel. Stoner also served as an animation reference model for Belle in Beauty and the Beast and is the reason Belle pushes her hair back from her face so often.
We already said that Frozen, The Little Mermaid, and Tangled could take place in the same world. As it turns out, Cinderella can also be thrown into this mix.
The Grand Duke and the King make their own appearance toward the end. They can be spotted amongst the guests on the ship at Eric and Vanessa’s wedding.
This isn’t a surprise as aforementioned, Elsa and Anna’s parents were on the way to a wedding in Frozen. It turns out that Disney royalty tends to visit the weddings of other Disney royalty.
Parents may not like to admit it, but they usually have a favorite child – right? Regardless, it’s not hard to figure out that King Triton played favorites. He tells Sebastian he’s most excited about seeing Ariel in the performance at the beginning of the film. She is the youngest after all.
Perhaps, because Ariel was the last child Triton and his queen had before her end, she was most important to him.
Although all of Ariel’s sisters have names that begin with A’s, you will notice that Ariel’s name sounds the most unique. Some of Ariel’s sisters include Andrina, Arista, Attina, and Adella – all names that end in “a”.
At the very end of The Little Mermaid, a rainbow forms over the ocean as the sea people wave goodbye to the newly wedded prince and princess. The colors of the rainbow are actually in the wrong order with the warmer colors on the inside rather than the outside.
While it was probably a mistake, Disney had used an inverted rainbow before in Fantasia.
Furthermore, it was the first time Disney used CAPS, which stands for the Computer Animation Production System. This program changed the way animators worked and was only used in the rainbow scene. CAPS was introduced by Pixar, making The Little Mermaid the first Disney movie to technically work with the studio.
Yes! The Disney Renaissance, that is.
The Disney Renaissance is what can be referred to as the golden era of Disney animation, in which the studio began making lots of musical animated films based on popular stories. Disney scored huge at the box office during this time and came up with some of its greatest classics including Mulan, Hercules, Tarzan, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. The Little Mermaid kicked all of this off upon its release in 1989.
The musical element of the newer films is what really made them memorable.
Prior to this great stream of films, Disney animated films included Oliver & Company, The Great Mouse Detective, and The Black Cauldron. While these movies weren’t bad, they certainly aren’t memorable like the many films that followed. Do you even remember seeing these movies?
Ariel and Hercules both share fiery red hair, but as it turns out, they could also share blood. In Greek mythology, Triton is the son of Poseidon. One of Poseidon’s brothers is Zeus, who happens to be the father of Hercules. This would make Triton and Hercules first cousins and Ariel and Hercules first cousins once removed.
Regardless of the few flaws in this theory, it stands up pretty well on its own. After all, early Greek myths date almost a few thousand years back. The Hercules TV show dates back only twenty. Why should it determine who the real Triton is?
Ariel said she wanted to be where the people were, but as it turns out, she’s not just with the movie-world people – she’s with people from our world.
While she’s singing “Part of Your World” several objects can be recognized including a bust of Abraham Lincoln and the painting Magdalen With the Smoking Flame by George de La Tour. The woman in the painting wears a white dress with a red tie similar to the one Ariel puts together when she first gets out of the ocean. Furthermore, because a candle is lit in the painting, it makes sense why Ariel would have wondered about fire.
These historical references aren’t surprising being that animated Disney movies are usually based on certain countries and time periods. While we never for sure find out if Eric and the other humans are Danish, it certainly appears that they are.
One popular fan theory claims that Moana is actually the reverse of The Little Mermaid. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel, who is the daughter of a sea king, wants to go onto land. In Moana, the leading lady, who is the daughter of a village chief, wants to go out on the sea. The villain in The Little Mermaid has a magical necklace with special powers and the heroine in Moana has a necklace with special powers. Sebastian is a small, friendly sidekick crab whereas Tamatoa from Moana is a giant, greedy, villainous crab. Getting even more specific, a human sings about eating crab in The Little Mermaid and a crab sings about eating humans in Moana.
The hero song is the musical number in a Disney movie in which a hero or heroine sings about his or her desires to be somewhere else or do something great. Really, it’s the main character singing about their biggest hopes, dreams, and desires.
Later Disney movies continue to feature hero songs. Tangled features “I've Got a Dream” in which Rapunzel talks – well, sings – about her desire to see the floating lanterns on her birthday. Frozen has “For the First Time in Forever” in which Anna sings about wishing to meet her true love at her sister’s coronation.
While these songs are all fun to sing to, they serve an important purpose in the storytelling process. It allows us to see our favorite characters in their natural world before it comes crashing down by whatever inciting incident awaits them.
Sebastian is one of the most iconic characters in The Little Mermaid. Red like Ariel and with a Jamaican accent, he’s known for being a loyal sidekick and singing some great tunes. Some might find it hard to believe that he went through a lot of changes to become the crab he is today.
Sebastian was originally an English butler crab, and his name was going to be Clarence.
Can you imagine? Howard Ashman who served on The Little Mermaid's musical team helped give the score a tropical reggae feel, which made Sebastian morph into the character seen in the movie.
Before his name and personality changed, he was supposed to be a minor character. He wasn’t even in the Hans Christian Andersen version of The Little Mermaid, so we’re all happy he became part of the film.
Disney is notorious for cutting their leads’ sidekicks. As aforementioned, Sebastian was almost an English crab named Clarence. It turns out that Flounder was almost a dolphin named Breaker.
Breaker was supposed to be voiced by Robin Williams, who ended up voicing the Genie in Aladdin instead. Although Flounder was Breaker’s replacement, most of his lines actually ended up going to Ariel.
Despite being cut as a lead, Breaker still makes a cameo during Sebastian’s “Under the Sea.” The dolphin can be briefly spotted when Sebastian sings, “as off through the waves they roll.”
While the Disney theme parks feature a slew of characters and film franchises, some appear far more than others. The Little Mermaid has actually made a giant splash in all the Disney parks.
Disney World in Florida specifically features a ride based off of the film that opened in 2012. While California’s Disneyland features a similar ride, Disney World’s version of it features part of Eric’s castle making it one of three princess castles to appear in some form at the Magic Kingdom park. The ride goes through all the most notable scenes in the movie ending with Ariel and Eric’s wedding.
The last fairytale Disney produced before The Little Mermaid was Sleeping Beauty. It came out in 1959, which is actually 30 years before The Little Mermaid. There was much doubt that the Little Mermaid would perform like it did, but it ended up topping many of Disney’s previous films at the box office.
Sleeping Beauty was great, but it didn’t have nearly the same amount of commercial success that The Little Mermaid did. The Little Mermaid actually doubled the amount Sleeping Beauty scored domestically at the box office. While thirty years and a wider release helped, the stellar music and animation played a part as well.