In the original book, the titular mermaid had no soul and thus had to earn one in the afterlife. In the Disney adaptation, Ariel is a ginger.
Ursula's penultimate line "PITIFUL, INSIGNIFICANT FOOLS!" is nothing more than "POOR UNFORTUNATE SOULS", twisted to reflect Ursula's true colors on the matter.
Remember the polyps in Ursula's cave? How they grabbed onto Ariel? They were trying to SAVE HER.
Rewatch Bonus: listen to the polyps after Ariel breaks free from their grip. Amidst all the moaning, one manages to make a cry of "I failed!"
This troper has always wondered why Eric's boots came off in the ocean, and he's barefoot when Ariel brings him ashore, as boots cannot come off in the water that easily. Then it hit me. Eric's bare feet being seen is meant to highlight something Eric, a human, has, but Ariel, a mermaid, does not have, which is obviously something (along with legs) she'd need if she wanted to be with him!
Which would explain why she spends so much time looking at her toes after she stops almost drowning.
Er, does that mean that Ariel pulled off Eric's boots herself so she could ogle his feet? No wonder they didn't show that part. If Eric hadn't woken up, the pants would probably have been next!
Kicking off your shoes if you fall into deep water is considered a survival tip; Eric's boots would have been the heaviest thing he could safely lose. Ariel removed his boots not only to admire his feet, but to help pull him to the surface; she's shown having difficulty carrying him.
Ursula the Sea Witch angrily refers to Ariel as "the little tramp" because she almost got Prince Eric to kiss her, even though she can't speak. Well, Charlie Chaplin, the brilliant silent movie star, was most famous for his "Little Tramp" character, who of course was never heard speaking.
Let's recap who knows about the human world except Ariel. There is Scuttle, there's Sebastian, and there's Triton. Oh, and Ursula, too. And their knowledge is, that's the fridge part, just connected to who they are. Scuttle is a creature of the surface, but flees any human, although he has seen some. He knows they aren't monsters, and he knows what they look like, but since he never spoke to one, he doesn't know their language and they way of life. Sebastian as a crab went on the seashore, so he knows quite a bit about humans, as demonstrated in Under the sea, and his smallish allows him to spy them. He knows about their way of life. On the contrary, he's too small to understand their personality, so here comes his opinion. Triton kows them as a fish can knows them: from under the sea, as this thing up there who holds the hook. Hence the "fisheaters" category.
In the beginning scenes of the movie, the sailors and Eric are commenting on the perfect sailing weather, and the sailors say that it must be because Triton is in a good mood, letting Eric know that Triton was, in legend, king of the sea. While they were either joking or being superstitious, Triton was in a good mood: he was about to watch his youngest daughter's musical debut. When she didn't show up and he found out that she went to the surface instead, he was furious at her and later got upset over how harshly he'd spoken to her. So maybe it is the sailors' superstition, but Triton happened to be in a bad mood when Eric and his men got caught up in the storm at night.
If you consider that scene and the concert to occur at the same time, it explains the sudden storm coming out of nowhere. Note Triton's red eyes as he realizes his daughter didn't show up, again.
Regarding the storm, did all the other sailors survive the hurricane? We only see Eric, Grim and Max. What happened to the other sailors?
We see the sailors behind Grimsby on the lifeboat.
Ursula is supposed to be half-octopus, but she has six tentacles instead. That is, unless if you count her arms as limbs, which means that she actually indeed has eight limbs from the start.
Octopuses are one of those animals that mutate horribly easily - they've been found with less than eight, right up to dozens of tentacles.
During the chanting part of Ursula's song, one of the words she says in the song is laryngitis a.k.a. the disease that makes you lose your voice!
The line is "Larynxes, glossitis, ad max laryngitis, la voce to me." Larynx is the voicebox, glossits is an inflammation of the tongue, la voce is Italian for voice, etc.
Ursula's human alias is Vanessa. Vanessa is a genus of butterfly. Butterflies are well-known as the masters of metamorphosis and mimicry.
Adding to this, the main ingredient in the potion she uses to change herself is a butterfly.
While this version cut out much of the darker material in Hans Christian Andersen's story, it does include a sly reference to the tale's Bittersweet Ending. The film names the mermaid Ariel, which at first glance is simply a reference to the air-spirit of the same name in The Tempest. But at the end of Andersen's original story, the mermaid makes a Heroic Sacrifice to save the prince she loves and throws herself into the ocean to become sea foam; instead of ceasing to exist, she's rewarded for her goodness by becoming an air spirit. - TechnicolorPachyderm
At first the whole "three days to fall in love" concept sounds a bit trite, especially since it takes a lot more than three days to love someone truly. But then you remember that Ursula never wanted Ariel to fall in love. She probably knew true love would take more time to develop and made it three days to ensure Failure Is the Only Option!
Also note that Ursula still interferes and is determined not to let the two kiss even though she knows it probably won't work. She wants to deny Ariel even the slightest chance of success out of spite, and to be absolutely sure that nothing will stop her from ruling the seas.
Ursula's example in "Poor Unfortunate Souls" of the wimpy guy and fat girl, who she makes buff and thin respectively: their story is "this one longing to be thinner, that one wants to get the girl". They didn't need her magic. He already wanted her just the way she was and she only wanted to be thin to be attractive! This nicely illustrates Ursula's tactic with Ariel. Ursula is the one who says the only way to win Eric's heart is for her to become human, and then immediately sets a deal in front of her to make it happen.
Various small moments in the film seem to show Eric ruling over a seafaring kingdom. If Ursula hadn't been destroyed, her power over the ocean would have caused devastation on land. Following that logic, in addition to protecting Ariel, Eric saved his entire kingdom by destroying Ursula.
Ariel was able to climb up the wedding barge (offscreen, but still) which only had a few skinny poles. Why? She's been climbing up all sorts things before (Eric's ship, the rock during the reprise, getting Eric's body on shore) and is used to improvising. Not to mention that was all done mostly with her arms, which were unchanged by Ursula.
She lives at the bottom of the sea, pretty much everything she does down there is done under a ridiculous amount of pressure from the weight of the water. She climbs all over the place as a human, but she also flawlessly controls a horse-drawn carriage. When they're running crazy, it's because she's letting them. On land, Ariel basically has super strength from the waist up.
Look at all the slapstick Sebastian has to go through after Ariel's transformation. Well who was it that snitched on her to Triton? Thus making him go mad, destroy her stuff and leave her easy prey for Ursula. Laser-Guided Karma.
Also a key point of Sebastian's Character Development is when he agrees to help Eric fall for Ariel. Up until that point, he had only worried about himself (i.e. how Ariel's behaviour would affect him) - and Triton destroying Ariel's stuff and sending her to Ursula had resulted from him worrying about his own skin. The point where he says "...and just be miserable forever" is him realising My God, What Have I Done? and admitting that Ariel is partially in this mess because of him. So he's doing his very best to make up for what he did, and ultimately coming to care for the girl after all.
There are seven seas; King Triton has seven daughters.
If Flounder and Sebastian hadn't been there when Ariel was turned human, Ariel almost certainly would have drowned. Ursula was planning to cheat Ariel by turning her into a human without sending her to the surface!
Ursula wanted to use Ariel as leverage against Triton, though, so she probably wouldn't have just let her drown for nothing. However, the other transformations we see in the series lack the uncomfortableaspects of Ariel's: Triton turned her into a human painlessly and wearing a dress conjured from nowhere, and in the sequel, Morgana transformed Melody quickly and painlessly and even gave her Magic Pants, even though she was using Ursula's magic. Triton made the process painless for his daughter, Morgana manipulated Melody by being nice to her, but Ursula just wanted to terrorize and demoralize Ariel as much as possible, and deliberately made the transformation as nightmarish as she could.
Ursula would have used Flotsam and Jetsam to drag her to the surface if Sebastian and Flounder were not there. If she wanted Ariel dead so pointlessly, she wouldn't have wasted a contract on her.
Similarly, Ursula's craftiness and planning skills can easily be justified by the fact that she's an octopus—octopodes are among the most intelligent of all non-primate animals.
Ariel declaring that she loves Eric sounds like your typical teenage blather because of course it does, she's only ever seen him the one time and they never even spoke, so it feels like Triton's anger is justified even if he overreacts about it... until you realize he has no reason to know that. He knows she goes to the surface all the time, there's no reason to think she's never really met the man she says she loves. He wrecks her grotto solely because he hates humans and she refuses to agree with him. He completely overlooks the legitimate problem with her behavior because what he cares about is establishing dominance: demanding that she sing his praises, uphold his grudges and buy into his prejudices, all while pretending it's about her safety so he can still claim the moral high ground. When he signs the contract to give himself up for her freedom, he's not giving her a get-out-of-bad-decisions-free card, he's making up for throwing her under the bus before by sincerely protecting her.
Of course Ariel can't just write Eric a note. Even if she's seen a human writing tool before, she wouldn't know what the hell it was because she would have learned it from Scuttle (and thus learned wrong), and she lives underwater, where using regular ink on paper is impossible. The only time she writes anything, it's with a magic laser fishbone quill that burns her name magically into a magical parchment. If she had a desk set in front of her, she still wouldn't have a clue what to actually do with it.
Thinking about "Les Poissons" again, it's very possible that Chef Louis isn't as crazy as he appears—the whole song is shown from Sebastian's point of view, so it's likely that Louis is just preparing a meal the way a normal person would (and singing to himself, which many people do when they're doing something they enjoy) and Sebastian (being one of the animals he would cook) perceives it as something more horrific. Even the terrifying lyrics could fit into this idea—Louis may be singing in French and Sebastian isn't able to understand it, so we're hearing his interpretation of said lyrics.
The Seashell Bra that the mermaids wear, beside preserving modesty, also serve another doylist purpose: the shells are rigid, so the animators didn't have to care about the underwater Jiggle Physics.
That's not even the worst that can be made of it. How many of those fish and crabs did Sebastian know on a personal level? I mean, when the fish head lands directly in front of him, for all we know, it was someone he considered a friend.
Ursula's first appearance has her lamenting that she's "wasted away into nothing," and "practically starving." At first, you laugh at it, seeing how, er—big, she still is. But wait... if she genuinely believes she's wasted away and feels starved...how big was she beforehand??? Oh God, please don't tell me her One-Winged Angel form was her previous true form, oh God, please...
It could be taken metaphorically - when she lived in the palace she was wealthy and powerful and respected - probably the equivalent of the court magician - and now she's become a nobody.
Ariel signing that contract is effectively her signing away her soul. And without your soul you become a polyp. When I was young, I always figured that was what people look like without souls. When I heard about the sad ending of the original where the Little Mermaid dissolved into foam at the end because mermaids apparently don't have souls, it just made even more sense.
So Ursula is supposed to have an octopus' lower torso. But if you consider the fact that in real life, that's where the octopus' mouth is supposed to be, what is supposed to be the octopus' mouth in real life becomes's Ursula's anus!
Maybe it's supposed to be a hint to the audience that, as a chronic liar seeking to destroy Ariel for her own pleasure and profit, she's talking out of her ass when she's making the deal?
The boring part is that it was hard to animate eight tentacles. That's why Morgana, animated eleven years later, got 8—they were able to handle it.
Considering real life female octopuses have their reproductive organs inside their heads, that would mean that Ursula is sterile. Unless she has twoholes beneath those tentacles...
Actually, this makes even more sense when you learn from the supplements that she may or may not have been in love with Ariel's father.
They may or may not be siblings, which is even more horrific. Nobody mentions it in the movie or sequel, Ursula isn't in Ariel's Beginning, and they are siblings on Broadway.
Her being a rather sadistic Depraved Bisexual seems a bit more likely; she clearly enjoys seducing Ariel into a Deal with the Devil, but she also makes clear from the start that it's really Triton she wants to see suffer the most, and Ariel is the means to that end. (Besides, if you put a male who's into other males into a female body, doesn't that kind of make him... straight again? Ursula seems like she'd be just as depraved if she were male.)
So, the lesson here is that Ursula is a sadistic bisexual drag queen pedophile rapist with incestuous tendencies towards both her brother and niece? Who ever said that Disney films were sanitized?
Their mother's name is Athena. The goddess Athena had a problem with the god of the sea, Poseidon. The mother is never shown. Um, wait, what?
But the mother is shown in the prequel and I'm not sure what the Fridge Horror of that is anyway.
It is possible the original post refers to one of the many, many interpretations of Greek myth where Poseidon raped Athena and then stole the children from her that he fathered. It must be pointed out that Athena being present in tie-in films means nothing to the 75% of the fandom that denies their very existence - this Fridge Horror entry works especially well if you believe that there is only one film in which Ariel's mother is practically never mentioned.
Her father is Triton, who's the son of Poseidon and while Athena does hold grudges in the stories, she doesn't tend to punish Poseidon's children for it.
Except Athena and Poseidon were never married, Poseidon married a sea nymph Amphitrite. She (Amphitrite) is Trition's mother, and Ariel's grandmother. In fact, from what I've read, Triton is often portrayed as Athena's foster father.
What exactly do Merfolk eat? Because before anyone replies with the answer a diet of seaweed and other assorted underwater plants I will point to the fact that they very clearly have evolved meat tearing teeth; if they were designed to eat nothing but roughage their teeth would be large and flat just like every other herbivore. So... all those completely and absolutely sapient, laughing singing and dancing, brightly colored jolly fish would have at some point in recent history been a Mermaid's dinner. And they were probably begging for their life as they did it. This not only casts a whole new light on the Merfolk hatred for humans (a past they would rather forget perhaps?) it actually makes Ariel's relationship with Flounder seem rather creepy in retrospect.
Kelp. They eat kelp.
Perhaps krill. They're a good source of protein and too small to converse with on a one on one basis.
How about sharks? The one that attacked Ariel and Flounder certainly didn't seem all that sentient, and shark meat is somewhat popular at seafood restaurants. Assuming they are omnivorous, the mermen and mermaids might well enjoy turning the tables on a predator by eating him. In fact, under other circumstances, Triton might even have congratulated Ariel and Flounder for trapping such a massive shark; that's enough meat for a banquet!
Perhaps it's similar to The Lion King, where a deleted scene shows Mufasa talking to an antelope with the following exchange: "Catch you later!" "Not if I can help it!" Circle of life and all that...
Evolved? This is a setting with species-changing magic. The original merfolk may well have been created from humans by a reversed version of the spell cast on Ariel.
...Which would mean they eat fish.
The creepy part of the "Ariel wants to be One Of Those Fish Eaters" thing isn't just that Ariel wants to be human, but that the end of the story centers on her mentors going ahead and enabling her to do this, consequence free. Think about that for a minute. All the objections Triton raises about humans are still true when the movie ends, they still eat fish in a manner that, to the undersea community, is alarmingly like pedo-snatching (luring unsuspecting victims with a treat and then it's into the van— I mean, ship) and raiding (entire schools of fish being snapped up overnight by nets). It's the in-universe equivalent of the housewife-in-denial in police procedurals, only instead of everyone thinking she's a moron because her husband may treat her like a queen, he's still a serial killer no matter how hard he stands by her, they just shrug and say "Well, you can't stand in the way of true love!"
So, Ariel's got three days to charm True Love's Kiss out of Eric, right? But she doesn't really know the guy at all, he's just a pretty face that she's projected her love of the surface onto. What would have happened if he'd fallen in love and kissed her, but she had realized in that time that she wasn't truly in love with him?
Send Flounder or Sebastian to get her father and have him change her back. Sure, she'd still be mute and Eric would be heartbroken but that's just something she'd have to live with.
Actually Triton would not have been able to change Ariel back, or even get her voice back for that matter. Ursula's contract was "legal, binding and completely unbreakable", even for Trident. His magic couldn't work against it in the end, so there is nothing he could do that would have stopped the effects at the beginning. Ariel made the deal. She would have had to deal with it.
Her family and friends could do a "true love kiss on the forehead" a-la Once Upon a Time and Frozen. The Aesop would be that the ones who truly loved her and she loved back were the ones around her all the time.
Wouldn't work, Ursula clearly states that Eric is the one who has to kiss her and really mean it. She's not going to leave such an exploitable loophole for Ariel to abuse.
In Golden Films's 1992 Mockbuster film, Lena ultimately manages to get Prince Stefan to marry her, but doesn't seem to regain her voice, meaning she's a mute for the rest of her life. It is implied that if Ariel and Eric had gone through uninterrupted with True Love's Kiss while she was voiceless, she would have suffered the same fate.
The confrontation between Ariel and Triton when he discovers her grotto full of human treasures is unsettling enough at first. Then he pulls out his trident and starts blasting them all to pieces directly in front of her. With him in a rage and her desperately trying to stop him, and then trying to save her things from being destroyed - in all the chaos, it's not hard to imagine how easily she could have accidentally gotten in his line of fire...
Ursula removes the one thing that her victims would find most helpful to fulfill their contract to her. In Ariel's case it was her voice to make it ridiculously hard for Eric fall in love and impart that one true kiss. So what the hell did Ursula take away from that Mermaid who just wanted to be thinner during Poor Unfortunate Souls in order for her to fail her contract? Because I have horrible images of the poor thing gorging herself to bursting point after Ursula stole her self-control.
The song makes it pretty clear that they were trapped because they couldn't pay Ursula, NOT because they failed the deal. Notice that Ariel's payment is her voice, which is not actually a part of her deal with Ursula. Her deal is getting legs for three days and having to kiss Eric within three days or be trapped by Ursula. The price for even making that deal in the first place is Ariel's voice. We do not know what price was asked from the fat mermaid and wimpy merman, but apparently they couldn't provide it.
Another horror: for the previous merfolk to be done in by not being able to pay then they must have signed the contract before Ursula was done explaining the deal, letting their excitement get the best of them. Once the contract was signed they were obligated to pay as long as Ursula fulfilled her part.
It's also made clear that Ariel is a special case: the payment comes first because it's the best way for Ursula to sabotage Ariel's attempt to fulfill the conditions of the spell she knows she's going to cast, but the service is the casting of the spell itself. For the other "poor, unfortunate souls", in fairy tales usually it's a matter of providing a service and then demanding the payment of something the customer was willing to part with when they didn't actually have it yet. It's easy to promise away your firstborn when you think you'll die alone anyway.
When Ursula dies, what happens to that gigantic body that sinks into the sea? Does it just rot away, or does she turn into lobster food, or what?
An awful lot of scavenging hagfish can't believe their luck, probably.
Free calamari, anyone?
This actually also happens with whale carcasses. They sink off to the bottom of the ocean, where they provide a banquet for sea life for YEARS.
When the camera is panning down to her lair before the polyps turn back into mermaids, you can see some bits of her body crumbling away as they sink.
Wouldn't Morgana's ice prison eventually melt?
Not if it's cold enough, and if she sunk all the way to the bottom of the sea, it might be. Alternately, it's magically made ice, so perhaps it doesn't melt like regular ice?
Let's just be glad Ariel wasn't wearing pants when her legs decided to turn into a tail again.
It probably would rip them in half, assuming it starts at the groin (like when she lost her tail). It would seal together starting at the top, and rip through the seams as it went to the toes/fins.
Consider the polyps in Ursula's garden for a moment. They went to her for help, and now are rooted in the ocean floor forever (at least, until Ursula's death), crying out and attempting to scare off more potential victims. How long have some of them been there? Do they continue to age in their reduced state? And imagine what their families and friends must have thought when they never returned...thank goodness they all were restored after Ursula's death.
There's evidence that Ursula turning into Vanessa is just an elaborate glamour, not a physical change. The mirror reveals her true form, which wouldn't be the case if she was totally physically transformed. (If it did, every mirror would show Ariel floating in the air with a tail, and in the sequel, Melody doesn't ever notice anything unusual about Ariel's reflection.) Max could also tell that Vanessa was bad news, probably because she still smelled like a gigantic, sopping wet octopode. If the wedding hadn't been interrupted, that would have left Eric alone with Ursula's real form, under mind control and therefore helpless, thinking he's making love to a beautiful woman while Ursula does unspeakable things to him. Ergh!
And just imagine if they had purple babies with tentacles.
Did anyone think to clue Ariel in on how mammalian sex works before her wedding night with Prince Eric? 'Cause that's got to be a helluva surprise if you're not expecting it.
A conversation of the creepy things Disney gets away with in kids movies brought me to the sudden realization that the Little Mermaid is, at heart, a watered down version of Faust. Both protaganists feel they've reached the heights of their current lives, both make a Deal with the Devil to pursue a life they believe will bring them more happiness, both fixiate on a love interest which leads to them messing up royally, ruining the lives (permanently or temporarily) of a bunch of people, both end up being redeemed at the end. The original Hans Christian Andersen version of the Little Mermaid even more strongly parallels this, as much of the mermaid's motivation was to receive a soul, and at the end of the story she did, sort of. After suffering and dying, instead of just being dead, she is made into a spirit and given the chance of eventually earning soulhood and going to Heaven. In Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and subsequent adaptations, Faust's soul is eventually redeemed after he goes to great lengths to make up for the guilt of ruining Gretchen. In fact, Anderson could have drawn from elements of Faust, as he was well educated, and the legend of Faust predated him by at least 200 years.
Upon a rewatching with friends this troper remembered Ariel's age, 16. At the end of the film she gets married. At least in the sequel we don't know how old she is when she had her daughter.
It could be worse. In some parts of the USA people can marry as young as 14. In some Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, girls can legally be married off as young as nine and in a few places such as Pakistan, there is no minimum age for marriage in the law. Yeah, think about that for a minute...
Note: in the U.S. where marriages below 18 are allowed parental consent is required for those that are not legal adults. Anyways, concerning Ariel's age, people used to grow up much faster than they do now, the concept of 'teenager' as we know it being a relatively recent thing. If it bugs you enough, feel free to imagine a bit of a time skip between Ariel's second transformation into a human and the wedding.
Please remember this also takes place in the 1600-1700's; so, it's Values Dissonance.
In fact, one of the curiosities of this movie is that Ariel's whole personality would be a lot less typical of a 16-year-old girl back in the 17th or 18th century than nowadays. Might the writers be secretly hinting that Triton's underwater kingdom is actually a few centuries ahead of Eric's in development of its social norms?
While girls and women of the 17th and 18th centuries might not have been "liberated" in the modern sense, that didn't stop a good many of them from being a bit rebellious and wild. Ariel would hardly have been the first spoiled 16-year-old upper-class girl from those times to go eloping with a handsome guy that her family despised. Think of Romeo and Juliet, or (for one of the more well-documented Real Life examples) Ferdinand and Isabella. Romance was still considered something of a luxury in those times, but some of the nobility and royalty could afford it.
This troper's noticed a lot of people commenting on Ariel's reaction to breathing air the first time after being turned into a human. Thing is, she just came up from probably a good few dozen feet below sea level, propelled by two small sea creatures and what little movement she could do with her legs (having been used to fins her whole life). She was probably was under for a few minutes at least. Now think of how you would feel if you had held your breath for that long, if you hadn't passed out beforehand.
Wait, I'm confused.What exactly are you implying?
Ariel's a magical creature, and may have superhuman durability that allows her to hold her breath for a long period of time. This also works both ways, as Ariel can be out of water for long periods of time as a mermaid, as revealed when she sits for a while on Eric's ship.
Judging from their existence in her collection, Ariel has never seen a knife, fork, or spoon before, and presumably has no idea what they're for (considering she takes Scuttle's word that a fork is a hair-styling tool called a dinglehopper). So... do these supposedly cultured and advanced merfolk just eat with their hands? How do they craft their clothes, their instruments, their furniture, if something as simple as a blade is foreign to Ariel (and thus, one would assume, to merfolk in general)?
The cultured and civilized people of the Roman Empire mostly ate with their hands. As for the knife in that set of tableware, it was a butter knife. The merfolk might well have some bladed weapons or tools just as the Romans did, but never thought to use them at the table, especially if they don't necessarily eat at tables.
Even in medieval Europe, even royalty and nobility would eat with their hands, with the aid of a knife. And not a butter knife either.
Or they do have tableware of some sort, but it's sufficiently different from humans' that Ariel didn't recognize it out-of-context. (By the time she did see it in context, she'd been told what it was by an "expert", so didn't speculate about it further.)
Scutttle gets the uses of a fork and a comb mixed up. Given that he's he's fairly unfamiliar with both, that's fair enough, but where does he come up with the name dinglehopper?
Ass Pull on Scuttle's part. He doesn't actually know what any of the human objects are called (or what they are for), but he still wants to look smart. So he just makes up a name.
We still don't know if Atlanticans use the same written alphabet of Danish people: in a different medium this tropers remembers a piece in Aquaman where Vulko, the resident sage, mentions that the Atlantean's alphabet is a complex system with vocals, consonants and alcerips (basically a third kind of letter used for diphthongs). At least two thirds of Ariel's attempts could have ended in random squiggles.
Yes, we do. She signs her name on Ursula's contract (in appropriately-princesslike calligraphy, even!)
She might be able to write but just forgot about it in the excitement of the moment. After all, Eric took a liking to her on the beach and at dinner. Hell, her attraction was working without her voice.
Being able to sign her name doesn't necessarily mean Ariel is actually literate. As with much of medieval royalty, signing her name might have been the only skill in writing Triton deemed necessary for her to learn, with the rest of the task of reading and writing messages delegated to court scribes. Beyond that, the royal tutors might well have tried to teach Ariel more, but it's fairly well established in the film that she's a bit spoiled and something of a slacker.
Also, would writing have even helped her? Remember, Ariel had to get True Love's kiss, not just any kiss. Wriitng Eric a note that said "Hey, I'm a mermaid princess who sold my voice to an octo-witch and you need to kiss me, like, NOW" may have even made Eric think she was crazy. Maybe Ariel could write but that doesn't solve much.
Regarding the contract, it's "Legal, binding, and unbreakable." Fine. Except, Ursula interfered with Ariel's execution of her contractual obligations on two separate occasions. First, by having Flotsam and Jetsam capsize the boat that Eric and Ariel were in, thus acting as mood killers, and then by showing up herself in disguise, casting a spell on Eric, and attempting to draw him to her to prevent Ariel from kissing him. By any reasonable legal standard, that should have rendered the contract null and void. I can't tell you that you have three days to complete a difficult task, then shoot you in the kneecaps and claim breech of contract when you fail to complete the task in the allotted time. What Ursula and her agents did is the very textbook definition of Tortious Interference.
You're assuming that the legality of Ursula's contracts would be the same as the legality of 21st century human contracts. Chances are they're not. I'd imagine Ursula's contracts are based solely on the very basic premise of each side fulfilling the terms of their agreement: Ursula will give Ariel legs (which she does) and Ariel gets Eric to give her the kiss of true love within three days, or she forfeits herself to Ursula - basically leaving either herself or Ariel room to interfere and sway things to their advantage as much as they want (which they both do: Ursula with the aforementioned examples, and Ariel by enlisting the help of Sebastian et al). Since Ursula is the one who draws up the contract (and she clearly wants Ariel to fail), she's hardly going to include any clauses that might prevent her from playing dirty. Heck, even demanding Ariel's voice as payment could be considered a breach of contract by your logic, since she knows Eric's in love with whoever saved him and can only identify that girl by her voice.
The TV Series:
In episode 2 when visiting the Sharkanians, Ariel emphasises that Sebastian is the ambassador. She never tells them that she is Triton's daughter or uses her authority as a princess. The brilliance? She knows the Sharkanians are devious and not to be trusted, and telling them she is the princess is likely to get her kidnapped or ransomed.
Sebastian shows that he has somewhat of a way with children in "Double Bubble". Of course that's why Triton chooses him to keep an eye on Ariel in the movie.
As noted under Villain Decay, Ursula isn't quite as menacing as she is in the movie. In the movie when Ariel first gets asked to go to her, she knows Ursula is bad news (her treatment of the Bad Luck Creature). But she still reconsiders, which she wouldn't have done if Ursula had been as menacing as in the film.
Ursula is a master con-artist, she had no reason to threaten Ariel when she could just swindle and con her. The whole movie plot was her master con, a bid to get the throne exploiting a weakness Ariel didn't have in the TV Series: Eric.
In one episode, Ariel actually meets Hans Christian Andersen and he's inspired to write her story. That's great...until you remember how horrifying the mermaid's transformation was in his story. What the hell, Hans?
He's inspired, not bound to write Ariel's biography. Assuming the first movie follows the animated series, Queen Ariel would have rather liked the random writer who she met as a girl become famous for his good, albeit depressing, imaginary stories than for dumping everything she told him in a book for money and fame.
In one episode, a character is able to take a human boot and transform it into a weapon, much like a gun. Now, remember how Eric loses two pairs of boots in the ocean in the first film?
That's not what happened at all, though. The entire joke of the episode was that the boots did nothing. It's just that every time someone held a boot in their hand like it was some kind of six-shooter that fired super blasts, it just so happened that there were ships above the water firing cannonballs at each other.