How The Little Mermaid differs from the Disney animation
The Little Mermaid spoilers follow.
The Little Mermaid is now in cinemas, with Halle Bailey starring as mermaid Ariel, alongside Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula and Javier Bardem as King Triton.
Based on the 1989 animated classic – which itself was based on the Hans Christian Andersen fable – it is Disney’s latest live-action adaptation of one of their animated films, following on from movies like Aladdin, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.
The story – as in the original movie – is about Ariel, a young mermaid who is fascinated with the world beyond the sea. After saving human prince Eric from a shipwreck, she is determined to leave the water against her father’s wishes and explore dry land, but to do this she has to make a deal with the evil sea witch Ursula, who takes Ariel’s voice in exchange for making her human.
Of course, changes have been made in the new movie to make Ariel’s story more up to date, and director Rob Marshall has also added new scenes and songs (co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alan Menken, the latter of whom wrote the classic Little Mermaid songs everyone remembers).
So what are the differences between the new The Little Mermaid and the 1989 animated version? Read on for all the details.
Don’t worry, your favourite songs from the animated movie – like ‘Kiss the Girl’, ‘Under The Sea’ and ‘Part Of Your World’ – are all in the new film, though there have been a few minor tweaks to some of the lyrics.
Alan Menken spoke to Vanity Fair about the changes he made to two of the songs, ‘Kiss the Girl’, in which crab Sebastian encourages Prince Eric to romance Ariel, and Ursula’s barn-storming number about granting wishes, ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls.’
“There are some lyric changes in ‘Kiss the Girl’ because people have gotten very sensitive about the idea that [Eric] would, in any way, force himself on [Ariel],” he explained. “We have some revisions to ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’, regarding lines that might make young girls somehow feel they shouldn’t speak out of turn, even though Ursula is clearly manipulating Ariel to give up her voice.”
Two songs from the original movie have been dropped – ‘Daughters of Triton’ and the comedy number ‘Les Poissons’ – and three new songs have been added. They are ‘Wild Uncharted Waters,” sung by Eric about his love for Ariel, ‘For the First Time,’ a song from Ariel that shows she is drawn to life on land, not just to Eric, and the immensely fun ‘The Scuttlebutt,’ sung by Sebastian (voiced by Daveed Diggs) and gannet Scuttle (Awkwafina).
(There is also a fourth song, ‘Impossible Child’, sung by Javier Bardem’s King Triton, that didn’t make the final cut but we’re hoping to see as an extra when the movie is released on Disney+ later this year).
There’s one other musical change fans may notice, too – in the iconic ‘Under the Sea’ musical number, it’s not just Sebastian who sings, but Ariel as well, as Daveed Diggs explained exclusively to Digital Spy.
It turns out that Halle Bailey was in the studio when Diggs was recording the song, and Alan Menken asked her to go into the recording booth and improvise.
“Alan was like, 'Why don't you just, you know, just go in and improvise'. And I was like, 'You traitor, don't make me sing with her!”
“Then immediately she came in and did like two little trills and I was like, 'Well, I'm done, we can stop now, there's no reason for me to record any more'.”
The biggest character change is perhaps that in the new The Little Mermaid Prince Eric is finally given a personality – as well as a history, and even a new song (the aforementioned ‘Wild Uncharted Waters’).
While in the animated version he was a stereotypical, old-fashioned Disney prince who just showed up, said little, and saved the day and the girl (see also Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, etc), here he actually has feelings and expresses them – he wants to bring the island kingdom where he lives up to date, trading with other places nearby. And he has gained a mum this time around, too (don’t worry, he still has Max the adorable sheepdog as well).
Director Rob Marshall explained to Digital Spy that the changes were made after he watched the 1989 movie and realised Eric wasn’t a “fully dimensional” character.
“I thought this is an opportunity to bring that story to life. I like to understand why Ariel is interested in him. Does he have substance? Is there something that can connect them?”
“The great thing is we were able to find these two kindred spirits that have similar journeys,” he explained. “They both feel displaced, they both feel they want something more and they’re not afraid of someone who’s different from them, or a culture that’s different from them.”
There are other character changes in the movie, too.
Ursula, as played by Melissa McCarthy, is now revealed to be King Triton’s sister, which adds a new dimension to her story and explains how, as McCarthy describes her, she is “so damaged and broken,” having been exiled from her underwater family. (And she has also gained a couple of tentacles in the new movie – while the animated version modelled her on an octopus, she only had six tentacles, and now she has the correct eight).
Scuttle, meanwhile, has been changed from the male seagull of the first movie into a female gannet (a diving seabird that can go underwater), and there is a good reason for this, as Rob Marshall explained (via Indiewire).
“I wanted to make it that Ariel had never ever been to the surface. Ever,” he said. “That was the goal for me. She’s never broken that rule, [so that helps] raise the stakes for that moment when she finally does it. If she’s up and down, up and down, it’s not a big deal.”
“The fact that she breaks the rule, her father has shut down the surface of the ocean. No one’s ever allowed to go. The mother, his wife, died at the hands of humans. At that moment, he shut down the surface.”
Sebastian and Flounder
Remember cute and cuddly Sebastian the crab and Flounder the fish? Well, they’re not quite as sweet-looking in the live action The Little Mermaid, with Flounder appearing decidedly more washed-out and grey (he was bright blue and yellow in the animated film) and Sebastian looking, well, more like a real crab.
That makes sense, of course, but not everyone is happy about the changes, with Newsweek reporting in April that there was a fan backlash to how the two beloved characters look.
They reported that one fan on Twitter declared that “this is starting to be on par with the Cats movie,” while another warned “children are going to have nightmares,” and one fan added (about Flounder), “WHY DOES HE LOOK LIKE THAT? Does Disney know they could’ve kept Sebastian and Flounder animated?”
Fans of the original The Little Mermaid will notice that Ariel’s character in the new movie is different, too, and that’s illustrated in scenes throughout the film.
She is a girl who is fascinated with the human world (as she was in the animated movie), but it is made very clear in the new film that it is that world – not just seeing Eric – that draws her to make the fateful deal with Ursula. Her feelings are shown off best with the new song, ‘For The First Time’, which is about Ariel’s love affair with the land as she arrives there from the sea.
“I’m really excited for my version of the film because we’ve definitely changed that perspective of just wanting her to leave the ocean for a boy,” Halle Bailey said in an interview with Edition.
“It’s way bigger than that. It’s about herself, her purpose, her freedom, her life and what she wants.”
There is also another key scene that shows this Ariel is stronger, and more independent than in the 1989 movie, and that brings us to…
In the original 1989 animated movie, the big climax has Ursula, using King Triton’s trident, growing to monstrous size and creating a wild storm in the oceans. As she is about to kill Ariel, Eric jumps aboard a wrecked ship and kills Ursula by impaling her on a jagged piece of wood jutting from the boat.
While Ursula does indeed grow into mega-Ursula at the end of the new movie, it’s not Eric that kills her – it is Ariel who jumps onto the boat and impales her aunt.
It makes much more sense – Ariel doesn’t need a man to come to her rescue, and it is she who saves everyone (including her father) from the evil Ursula, before she and Eric sail off towards new adventures.
The Little Mermaid is in cinemas now. The 1989 animated The Little Mermaid is available to watch on Disney+.
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