Somewhere under the sea and beyond your imagination is an adventure in fantasy.
"I donít know when I donít know how But I know somethingís starting right now Watch and youíll see Someday Iíll be Part of your world!"
Entry #28 in the Disney Animated Canon, from 1989.This movie is widely considered to be the start of the animated feature film renaissance of the 1990s, particularly for Disney. A loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's Tear JerkerFairy Tale "The Little Mermaid", it features a mermaid named Ariel, one of the daughters of the Sea King, Triton. Apparently unique among her kind, she is fascinated by the human world, although Triton has a hatred for humans that makes pursuing her interest quite difficult. One night, a forbidden visit to the surface leads her to fall in Love at First Sight with human Prince Eric, and she ends up rescuing him when his ship is destroyed in a storm. Now desperate to become a human, she agrees to barter her voice to the sea witch Ursula to become a human for three days; if she can receive True Love's Kiss from him within that time, she'll be permanently human. Otherwise, she will be Ursula's slave. Indeed, Ursula is actually manipulating her to turn her into ransom for Triton's crown, and she knows that the only thing Eric remembers about Ariel is her beautiful, beautiful voice...The surprise hit of the 1989 holiday season, it won Best Song and Score Oscars, and placed Disney securely back on top of the animated film business.Spinoffs and sequels include:
The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning: a DTV prequel (2008).
The characters also figure in the Kingdom Hearts video game series, and other tie-in merchandise and media appearances are going strong with Ariel as an official Disney Princess. A stage musical adaptation was launched in 2007, and a Disney Theme Park dark ride debuted at Disney California Adventure in 2011.A Disney Digital 3-D re-release was slated for September 2013, however, it has been canceled.
Action Girl: Ariel was the first Disney Princess to take action and actually do her own rescuing. In the stage musical, SHE'S the one who kills Ursula, not Eric!
Adaptational Attractiveness: Ursula's character design in the stage musical is less "overweight drag queen", and in the original cast, she was played by Sherie Renee Scott.
Adaptation Dye-Job: All of Ariel's sisters had blue eyes in the original film. In the prequel, most of the girls' eye colors change.
Adaptation Personality Change: Literally, as in 2 mermaids change personalities — The most distinguishing traits of Andersen's heroine were that she was thoughtful, quiet, and pensive (quite unlike Ariel), and one of her sisters is actually said to be by far the most daring and boldest of the family (quite like Ariel).
Adaptational Villainy: In the original fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, the Sea Witch is a True Neutral character with no agenda and no animosity towards anyone; while she makes the same deal with the unnamed mermaid, she warns her of the consequences presented by the transformation and even offers her a way out at her sisters' request.
Adapted Out: The little mermaid's grandmother, who helped the sea king raise his daughters after their mother died in the original story.
King Triton had to deal with the aftermath of his youngest daughter Ariel running away after having a huge and violent argument with her. His words "What have I done?" certainly brings the trope home.
After the third movie of the series we're made aware that King Triton not only believes humans are a threat to mermaids and mermen, but he holds them responsible for the death of Ariel's mother: his own wife. And while he was just trying to keep his youngest daughter safe, he throws her in the hands of his worst enemy and the kind of people he despises most with a single stroke.
Animation Bump: Ariel in the hands of Glen Keane. During "Part of Your World" and its reprise, as well as the first meeting between Eric and Ariel after she's traded away her voice, the level of detail is noticeably higher, especially in her hair.
Art Evolution: This was the last Disney film to use traditional hand-painted animation cels. All subsequent Disney films were produced in digital ink-and-paint. Two scenes in Little Mermaid were done with digital ink-and-paint, however. They are Ariel running down the stairs before finding out about Vanessa (to accommodate the CGI stair background) and the wedding scene at the end.
Ax-Crazy: Ursula may have had some sanity to manipulate factors in her favor, but Vanessa, Ursula's disguise? Hoo boy, is she a complete nutcase. Just look at her actions during "Vanessa's song" as well as her reactions when the attack of the animals occurred, and you'll see how she's become completely insane.
Bittersweet Ending: Ariel goes off to be with Eric but leaves her father and sisters behind. However, they still apparently do keep in touch, and compared to the original story's ending, this is quite mild.
Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: King Triton's daughters are four dark-haired girls (Aquata, Attina, Adella, and Alana), two blondes (Arista and Andrina), and one redhead (Ariel).
Bowdlerise: This happens in the Scandinavian version.
Brainwashed: Ursula-as-"Vanessa" does this to Eric to torture Ariel.
Buffy Speak: Ariel is foreign enough to human life to call her collections "thingamabobs", "whatsits", "whosits" and "gizmos". It's implied that she learned them all from Scuttle, who is no scholar himself.
Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Scuttle, the supposed "expert" on human culture, has no actual clue about the intended purposes of the objects Ariel brings him to identify, and simply assigns them made-up names and makes his best guess as to their proper use, with the result that Ariel calls a dinner fork a "dinglehopper" and uses it as a comb, and believes a pipe is a musical instrument called a "snarfblatt". Though, oddly, she knows to put the fork together with the knife and spoon in her treasure trove.
Cave Mouth: The front door of Ursula's lair is the mouth of a sea-dragon.
Censor Shadow: After Ariel is transformed into a human, she's in the shadows before she leaves Ursula's lair. However, you can still see her butt, and in between her legs for a few frames clearly.
Chekhov's Skill: Eric piloting (or at least attempting to) his ship in the hurricane.
Clothing Damage: Eric loses his boots in the ocean twice in the film (when Ariel rescues him from drowning, and later after defeating Ursula), and his pant legs get torn. It's worth noting though that in real life, it is very difficult for boots to come off in water.
Arguably Ariel herself, especially compared to the other Disney Princesses and the other merfolk. Her family would have thought she was out there for having an interest in land, and what other Disney Princess is a Collector of the Strange?
Compelling Voice: How Ursula brainwashes Eric. Special mention must be made to the fact that it isn't even her voice that brainwashes him but his love interest's, Ariel.
Composite Character: In the original fairy tale, there's a sea witch who gives the mermaid her legs and a human princess whom the prince marries; Ursula combines them both, along with Adaptational Villainy.
Conspicuous CG: The staircase Ariel runs down to find Eric and Vanessa.
Crystal Ball: Ursula has a bubble that serves as this. It's also heavily implied that Flotsam and Jetsam's eyes act as this.
Curtain Clothing: Ariel attempts to make a dress from a sail on a wrecked ship. The result is more comical than anything.
Cut Song: Eric's "Her Voice", pieces of which can be heard throughout the score as sort of his theme. The musical puts it back in. "Silence is Golden" was an early song for Ursula, cut because the creators didn't like it. The musical has this trope in spades "Where I Belong" (Eric) and Ursula's reprise of "Her Voice" were cut after the tryout in Denver. 3 cut songs that still got to the public, via leaked demo tape are: "Wasting Away", "All Good Things Must End" and an alternate version of "Poor Unfortunate Souls (Reprise)". There are several the public has never heard, among them are: "The World Above", "That Oughta Show Her" and a reprise for it, and "Ursula's Incantation II."
Deal with the Devil: Ariel trades her voice to Ursula to be human. Ursula actually specializes in this kind of deal and has a "garden" full of merfolk who were turned into polyps when they weren't able to fulfill the terms of their contracts. Ironically, listen to the lines "This one longing to be thinner, that one wants to get the girl" - it seems the two examples Ursula gave already wanted each other; what they lacked was self-confidence. In the musical, Ursula's contracts had all the attributes of a literal Deal with the Devil:
Depth Deception: Scuttle sees Ariel through a spyglass from the wrong end, and shouts to her as if she were far away, even though she is actually a few inches in front of him. When she moves the spyglass away, Scuttle exclaims, "Whoa, what a swim!"
Didn't Think This Through: Ariel suffers from this twice. First, she lets Ursula turn her into a being that can't breathe water while she's at the bottom of the sea. Secondly, she doesn't consider how she's going to get Eric to fall in love with her if she can't, you know, speak.
Digital Destruction: On early pressings of the Diamond Edition Blu-Ray, the ending of the "Part of Your World" sequence plays differently than it originally did. Instead of cutting from Ariel reaching her hand out towards the surface, to her floating back down onto a rock, it cuts from Ariel reaching out, to Flounder looking sad. Also, the scene transition when Ariel and Flounder go to visit Scuttle has changed from a dissolve to a cut. (See the Digital Destruction entry for more.)
When Ariel is first transformed into a human, despite the scene being shadowy, much of Ariel's nude lower body could be seen if one lightened the colors on their monitor. However, on the Diamond Blu Ray print, they deliberately darkened the shadows so Ariel is more in silhouette after her transformation, rendering her butt and the area in between her legs impossible to see, no matter how bright the color on your monitor is.
Is that really such a bad thing? It is a kid's movie after all.
Disney Villain Death: Averted quite horrifically for a kid's film. To put it simply, Flotsam and Jetsam were electrocuted and disintegrated by a misfire from the Trident, and Ursula was impaled by a broken bow of the ship, electrocuted due to the Trident's blast backfiring on her, sinking, and then exploding. In both cases, the animators even went as far as to detail all of their pieces sinking down to the ocean floor. In fact, only one character, Ariel, actually ended up falling down a very huge height, and she survived.
Does Not Like Shoes: There are more shots of human Ariel with clearly bare feet than clearly wearing shoes.
Dramatically Missing the Point: When Flounder tries to defend Ariel and tells about how they were chased by a shark which could have killed both of them, Triton's response is fairly lackadaisical. But, the second Flounder accidentally lets it slip that they went to the surface, Triton goes apeshit.
Drives Like Crazy: Never, ever let Ariel drive your horse-drawn carriage (unless she learned better since then).
Earth-Shattering Kaboom: King Triton blows up the model of the planet Earth in Ariel's lair, along with the rest of Ariel's human things (it's something he quickly regrets).
'80s Hair: Ariel. Doubly impressive in that her hair is like that when she's out of the water and sopping wet. Not even the power of the ocean can defeat THAT volume. Underwater... well, hair spreads out underwater. This is why female scuba divers keep theirs short.
Evil Counterpart / Evil Twin: Vanessa, Ursula's disguise, even without Ariel's voice, greatly resembles Ariel herself, albeit overall much darker.
Evil-Detecting Dog: Max can smell something wrong with Ursula when she's in the Vanessa-disguise (she probably smells like octopus and whatever those things are that she eats). Between that and his knowing who actually saved Eric...
Expy: Blink-and-you'll-miss-it, but the three washerwomen that wash Ariel's sail "dress" and gossip bear quite a strong resemblance to the three witches from Disney's version of The Black Cauldron, though with normal skin tones and no warts.
The original draft of the above scene originally had Eric wrestle the trident from her long enough to "oblige" her when she demands he give it back... by tossing it right through her heart (This scene was Re-used in the second Kingdom Hearts game).
Fantastic Racism: King Triton toward humans. When Ariel points out that he's judging Eric without knowing him, he declares "Know him?! I don't have to know him! They're all the same!"
Exposition removed from the original movie, but added back into the musical and the prequel, reveals that Ariel's mother was killed by humans (well, ran over by a pirate ship), making Triton's paranoia about them somewhat more sympathetic.
Furthermore, he says that in anger when his youngest, somewhat favourite daughter, had just professed her love for an unknown human being and her wish to leave home (possibly forever) to stay with him. Cue Adult Fear here: you're a single father of a bunch of girls. Someone killed their mother when the youngest, the one who resembles her the most, was naught than a little girl. She grows to be an happy, adjusted but somewhat ditsy, fine teenager, and one day she gets home in love with someone. You're just overjoyed, proud of the job you did without your beloved wife around... and then your daughter loudly proclaims she has falled in one with someone you believe the cause of every affliction in your life, coming from the same background of the ones killing your own wife, who'll treat your little girl no one knows how and who'll never, ever let you keep protecting her.
Feather Fingers: Notable in that the fish characters avert the "fish can walk on their tailfins" subtrope until the "Under the Sea" number, where it looks awkward. Scuttle doesn't exactly avoid the Trope Namer either.
Fee Fi Faux Pas - Ariel, at her first dinner with Eric, uses a dinglehopper (a fork) to comb her hair (based on faulty information provided by Scuttle the seagull). She also grabs Grimsby's pipe and blows into it believing that it is a snarfblatt, which Scuttle blows like a trumpet.
Grass Is Greener: "Betcha on land they understand/Bet they don't... reprimand their daughters..."
In "Under the Sea", Sebastian points out, "The seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake..."
Happily Married: Ariel and Eric, from the end of the first movie and into the sequel.
Heel Realization: Sebastian, twice; after he spills Ariel's secret, leading to the destruction of her 'collection', and after he tries to coerce her into trying to go back on Ursula's deal. He helps Ariel in her mission wholeheartedly after the second time.
Honest John's Dealership: As seen and heard in "Poor Unfortunate Souls", Ursula has been known to make these kinds of deals with others.
Humans Are the Real Monsters: Whilst Triton is extremely harsh in the way he tried to cut down Ariel's human obsession the fact remains is that he has some extremely good reasons for trying to protect his daughter. Warfare, pollution and the stuffed crab Sebastian runs into are all perfect examples of this.
Not to mention all the hundreds of diseases that a Mermaid's human half could potentially contract from humans: syphilis, smallpox and plague would fit the general setting of this film (approximately the 16th to 17th century given the look of the ships).
The prequel gives the best reason of all for his actions — his wife was killed by a human ship.
Hypno Trinket: The shell containing Ariel's voice. Inverted in that it is Ursula who is wearing it and using it to manipulate Eric, rather than the usual case of the antagonist placing it on the victim.
Hypocritical Singing: "Poor Unfortunate Souls" in a slight variation. Ursula, while trying to get Ariel to make a deal with her, sings about how she uses her powers to help people. Of course, these deals are always a lot more profitable to her than to any of her beneficiaries, mainly because she goes out of her way to ensure that those under contract can't hold up their end of the bargain.
Ink-Suit Actor: Scuttle and his voice actor, the late Buddy Hackett. Hackett had his wife take photos of his face as he tried to make seagull-esque expressions in preparation for the role, and it seems the animators used those photos as reference material.
Subverted with Ursula, although just barely. Her design was based on Divine, and apparently was actually intended to be voiced by Divine, but he died before he could lend the voice.
And we can't forget Sherri "Slappy Squirrel" Stoner, who served as the main physical model for Ariel. That little lip-biting thing Ariel does on occasion? That's all Sherri.
Innocent Fanservice Girl: Ariel. When she first becomes human, the only thing she's wearing is her Seashell Bra. Not having much knowledge of clothes, who knows how much longer she would have went naked without care if Scuttle hadn't given her that old sail.
It Runs in the Family: Ariel sees Triton as an overprotective, suffocating father unable to understand her needs and desires and spends her adolescence trying to find a way to reach her dreams and defy his authority, despite loving him dearly. But then, Ariel manages to reach her dreams, have her father accept her as an adult, marry her sweetheart... and becomes the tormented mother of a rebellious daughter believing her to be overprotective, suffocating, unable to understand her needs and desires, who spends her entire adolescence trying to find a way to reach her dreams and defy her authority, despite loving her mother as much as she loved his father. On the other side, Triton is a loving, doting father trying to shelter her daughter for every perceived threat... as Ariel becomes a similar, if not equal, parental figure for her own daughter. Seems that genetics conspire to turn every rebellious teen in Triton's family into an adult Mama Wolf or Papa Bear as soon as the biological clock starts ticking.
"I Want" Song: "Part Of Your World" in the original and "Her Voice" in the musical.
Jailbait: Ariel has just turned sixteen at the start of the movie, but no one makes any issue of her getting married what is presumably just weeks later. Possibly because she's royalty.
Kick the Dog: In human form, Ursula kicks Max — and he comes back to bite her in the butt.
Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Scuttle claims to be an expert on humans but thinks forks are combs called "dinglehoppers", and smoking pipes are musical instruments called "snarfblats".
Large Ham: Ursula has a few of these moments. Whoo boy, whoever said "Right, Ursula is nuts, so we want you to go ABSOLUTELY CRACKERS!" to Pat Carroll made the best decision ever; here's the proof - "YOU POOR, UNFORTUNATE SOOOOOOUUULLLLLLLL!!!!!". For a better example, actually watch the song; wow! Disney went crackers... and it worked.
Louie the chef. "Come out, you little pipsqueak and FIGHT LIKE A MAN!!"
"Hee, hee, hee! Ho, ho ho!"
You could say even Sebastian falls under this, too: "Well, [the concert] WAS RUINED! THAT'S ALL! COMPLETELY DESTROYED! (dramatic) This concert was to be the pinnacle of my distinguished career... (enraged) NOW THANKS TO YOU I AM THE LAUGHINGSTOCK OF THE ENTIRE KINGDOM!!!"
Leitmotif: Used and subverted. Normally it's a good thing to hear Ariel's Voice, but in the scene when Eric throws his flute into the sea and seems ready to marry voiceless Ariel, hearing that song turns into an Oh Crap moment for the audience.
Letter Motif: Ariel and all of her sisters have the same first initial — as did their mother. (See Theme Naming, below.)
Limb-Sensation Fascination: One of the most important events is Ariel's transformation into a human. The film focuses briefly on her feet and how she's excited to have toes she can wriggle.
Little "No": Ariel, after Ursula turns Triton into a polyp and picks up the crown and the trident.
Magically-Binding Contract: The one Ariel signs with Ursula currently provides the page image and quote; when Triton tries to destroy it with his trident, it doesn't work. As it turns out, the only thing that can break Ursula's contracts is her demise — once she dies, all the polyps in her garden return to their natural forms.
Mama Bear: Ursula did not take Flotsam and Jetsam's deaths well. "Babies! My poor little poopsies!"
Also, Ariel in the sequel and Athena in the prequel.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Broken up into two components. The girl Prince Eric encounters on the beach is the 'dream girl'; the girl who uses a fork to comb her hair and jumps a carriage over a ravine is the 'manic pixie'. Only at the end does Eric realise they're one and the same.
"Eric" is an Old Norse name that can mean "One Ruler", "Lone Ruler" or "Lone Prince", which is what he is in the beginning of the film.
Ariel is Hebrew for "Lion of God" and is derived from one of God's Archangels.
It's also the name of the air-spirit servant in The Tempest—appropriate for the mermaid who's bent on leaving the water and living an air-breathing existence.
Vanessa's name is derived from the Latin word "Vanitas", which means among other things Vanity, Worthlessness, Emptiness, and Nothingness. The first meaning is more than a little obvious, but the remaining three meanings also have a place in it as well, as it highlights the fact that Vanessa is Eric's false savior.
Merfolk Speaking English: Without it, giving up a voice might not have been so painful. Ariel wouldn't know how to talk to the prince, and Biped!Ariel could have just learned to speak the local Deaf lingo.
Mr. Fanservice: Whilst not as popular as Phillip from Sleeping Beauty, Eric nevertheless has his fair share of fangirls. It helps that he's the Animation Renaissance's first bona fide badass.
Ariel's sisters in the original appear to be exactly the same. The only difference is their hair and the color of their tails and bras. Although they look the same in the face, Adella is the chubby one out of the bunch, differentiating her from the rest of her slim sisters.
In a movie crossover version, Eric and Aladdin have similar features.
Orifice Invasion: The giant hands Ursula summons go down Ariel's throat to claim her voice.
Our Mermaids Are Different: Ariel definitely popularized mermaid characters for a generation. The filmmakers certainly claim that they subverted the blonde, otherworldly, mischievous archetype of the mermaid by creating a rebellious redheaded mermaid who was very human rather than fiery in character.
The Outside World: Ariel is fascinated by the world above the ocean surface, particularly in humans to the point that she falls in love with one, and makes a Deal with the Devil to get the chance to live up there.
Ariel has no mother, and while he's not evil, her father is so misguided in his attempts to protect her that she feels emotionally abandoned.
Eric seemingly has no parents whatsoever and was possibly raised by Grimsby.
Parental Favoritism: Despite their personality conflicts, Ariel is Daddy's favorite. According to the DVD Commentary, the directors and producers were a little uncomfortable with the idea but rationalized it out as Ariel being the most like her father in temperament.
Also, she's the youngest daughter and the one more resembling her dead mother. Psychologically, she reminds Triton of his wife and, while her eldest sisters had, at least for a while, a mother and a father, Triton feels constantly the brunt of educating, caring and sheltering Ariel alone.
Pinocchio Syndrome: "Part of your World" is a passionate declaration of the desire to become human. The desire becomes uncontrollable after Ariel's encounter with Eric, who could be said to represent the human world she's always longed for. Even after she becomes human, she is just as, if not more, focused on exploring as she is on kissing Eric and saving her own life.
Pre-Mortem One-Liner: As Ursula is about to do in Ariel with the trident, she bellows, "SO MUCH FOR TRUE LOVE!!!" Only a split second later, Ursula gets killed when Eric impales her on the bowsprit of a sunken ship, which also somehow causes the trident to backfire on her.
Pyrrhic Victory: It is explicitly stated in Ursula's song that Ariel's voice is a fee, not a loan. If she had managed to fulfil the Sea Witch's contract and kissed the Prince within three days, Ariel, a teenage girl who loves singing and who would be trying to integrate into human society, would have spent the rest of her life as a mute.
Not necessarily, if the lyrics "she don't say a word and she say won't a word until ya kiss the girl" are any indication. It's entirely possible that fulfilling the contract means that Ursula will have to return the voice. Nothing in the contracts suggests that it's a permanent payment, and Ursula's words, while suggesting that it's going to be permanent, never says it's a fee, just a payment. Since loans are a form of payment, it also fits with the general nature of Ursula's deals (that the client has to fulfill a task in order for it to be permanent). Alternatively, Sebastian might believe that, once they complete Ariel's part of the deal, he'd be able to convince Triton to force Ursula to give Ariel her voice back.
Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: In Ariel's Beginning, Ariel joins Flounder, Sebastian, and the Catfish Club Band after escaping from Atlantica.
Rainbow Motif: The seven daughters of Triton each have a different color tail. If we were to arrange them chromatically, they are: Arista (red), Attina (orange), Adella (yellow), Ariel (green), Aquata (blue), Andrina (purple), Alana (pink).
Ramming Always Works: Well, how else are you going to take on the giant sea monster when you don't have any cannons (or wizards)?
Royals Who Actually Do Something: After a long string of genericPrince Charmings, Prince Eric actually turns out to be quite the Badass. He killed Ursula by impaling her with a freaking boat. Dialogue during the dinner scene suggests that Eric is quite active in the ruling of his kingdom and has to take time off just to show Ariel around. Ariel, Triton and Melody are pretty active as well, when danger shows up.
Rule of Symbolism: Ursula is meant to be the personification of lust, with Ariel being purity. There is a similar metaphor in the original story, with the mermaid being lust and the Temple princess being purity, which is why the latter gets the prince.
Sanity Slippage: Ursula, while not a good character, was sane and composed during most of the film. However, when she transforms into Vanessa, it's implied that she lost quite a bit of sanity (to the point of becoming a borderline Ax-Crazy) when turning into her, as she talks to her mirror in a manner similar to a schizophrenic, emits a psychotic grin when throwing a pin at a mirror's head with enough velocity to knock the mirror back, and most certainly kill a person had that been a human being, plus her cackling.
The whole reason for Ursula resorting to her Vanessa alterego was counteracting Sebastian's proactive plan to have Ariel seduce Eric. Basically, she got her arms twisted into action, with all the consequent pressure.
Scenery Censor: Nude Ariel on land: while Sebastian & company might be getting an eyeful in a few scenes, the audience won't. Also, in addition to the Censor Shadow while she's under the water, a few strategically placed bubbles block the view between Ariel's legs just in case any particularly lecherous viewers should try gamma-correcting those shots in a graphics editing program.
Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Meta example. While composer Alan Menken had a great deal of experience writing stage music for Howard Ashman's lyrics, this film was his first attempt to write a background score for a feature film. According to the DVD Commentary, he sought out advice from fellow composers, who essentially told him "It's a cartoon. Nobody cares, blow it off." Menken decided not to take their advice... and won an Oscar for Best Original Score.
Seashell Bra: Made of what appear to be purple clamshells. Also of note is that the sixteen-year old Ariel was the first Disney character designed and animated in a way that showed the line of her cleavage.
Shadow Discretion Shot: Ariel's transformation into a human by Ursula. Subverted though, in that if you lighten the color on your monitor, you can see see a good deal of Ariel's nude body.
So an octopus-monster, Ursula, is menacing everyone. Heroically, Eric pilots a ship into her, the snapped bowsprit impaling it and sending it back to whence it came. But enough about the end of H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu...
One of Ariel's sisters is named Alana, after composer Alan Menken.
Alana also means 'harbor'.
In the TV series, Ariel and Arista have to get rid of two saltwater crocodile robbers who snuck into the palace in a manner similar to Kevin's methods against Marv and Harry from the Home Alone franchise.
This is the reason why they ended up changing the ending to the final version. Apparently, one of the creators had recently seen Die Hard, and thought they should make the movie more action-packed like the movie (which probably explains the "Ship-Fu" at the end of the movie).
Slasher Smile: Ursula does this quite a bit during the final battle. Vanessa, Ursula's disguise, has this when gloating about her inevitable victory (specifically, when she throws her hairpin at a mirror with enough force to knock the mirror back upon impact).
The Smurfette Principle: Ariel as the protagonist and Ursula as the villain. All of the supporting cast are male, making it a 6:2 male-to-female ratio. Ariel's sisters have no importance and Carlotta the maid has only a handful of lines.
Spared by the Adaptation: The mermaid in Andersen's Fairy Tale died, although her soul remains in what amounts to Purgatory, and for every good child she observes, she gets closer to entering Heaven, but for every bad, disobedient child, the process will take longer.
Spell My Name with an S: Ariel's sister's name, Aquata, is clearly pronounced (and spelled, in the captions) AquaNta in "The Daughters of Triton" in the 1989 film.
Also, concept artwork indicated that Vanessa's name was originally supposed to be spelled with an "e" instead of an "a" (meaning, it was intended to be spelled "Venessa").
In Ariel's Beginning, Queen Athena looks exactly like Ariel with Green Eyes.
In the sequel, Melody looks a lot like Eric, down to her bangs and eyebrows.
Super Not-Drowning Skills: Eric seems to possess this in the first movie's finale, during which he swims to the bottom of the ocean to throw a harpoon at Ursula.
Super Strength: Implied with Ariel when the movie first shows her grotto, where she moves a boulder aside with ease when accessing it.
Flounder is a freaking powerhouse. He's able to pull Ariel and the barrel fast enough to catch up with the wedding barge, too; and he pulls her all the way to the surface from the bottom of the ocean right after she transforms.
Teeth Flying: At the end of the movie, Louis the chef loses a few teeth after getting hit on the face by a mast.
Truth in Television: During the "Kiss the Girl" sequence, flamingos are seen despite the setting being implied to be around Europe. In real-life, there are actually species of flamingos that are native to Southern Europe (The greater flamingos, which are also native to parts of Africa and South Asia). Likewise, the fireflies being in the lagoon is also of this trope, as they can exist in temperate environments as well as in marshes.
Urban Legends: In similar fashion to the word "SEX" allegedly appearing in the sky in The Lion King, the poster art for The Little Mermaid features a decidely phallic-looking column on King Triton's castle. The Legend goes that a disgruntled animator had been fired and drew the column into the poster out of spite before he left. Whatever the case, the art has since been changed and recent posters no longer feature the castle anyway.
That particular Urban Legend being discredited immediately by the fact that animators don't draw a film's posters or cover art.
Villain Song: "Poor Unfortunate Souls". And to a lesser extent, even though it's more comedic, "Les Poissons". Chef Louie's sadistic glee is almost certainly villainous as he comes close to serving Sebastian for dinner.
In The Musical, "I Want The Good Times Back", again by Ursula.
The prequel has Marina Del Ray's "Just One Mistake".
Water Is Air: The animators worked their butts off to make the underwater physics at least more believable than usual, so we'll chalk up Ariel gasping and crying as a Translation Convention. Actually, it is theoretically possible for her to gasp underwater because, since she lives underwater, she probably has gills that activate when underwater, a binary respiratory system, if you will.
Subverted on the whole with Ariel's movements within the water, for the creation of which animators referenced the movements of astronauts in zero gravity.
Also, why they censor Ariel's movements on land: they don't show how she got Eric on the shore, or how she climbs the ship and later the rock. It would look really awkward if they showed her dragging herself around, but still,...
And completely un-subverted in the prequel by having merpeople swim down the 'streets' in a completely upright posture, as if they were walking on feet, even though their tails don't touch the ground.
Wedding Smashers: Scuttle rounds up every critter in the area to crash the Vanessa/Eric nuptials, buying Ariel time to get to the wedding barge.