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Western Animation / The Little Mermaid (1989)

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"I don’t know when
I don’t know how
But I know something’s starting right now
Watch and you’ll see
Someday I’ll be
Part of your world!"

Entry #28 in the Disney Animated Canon, from 1989.

A loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's Tear Jerker Fairy Tale "The Little Mermaid", it features a mermaid named Ariel (Jodi Benson), one of the daughters of the Sea King, Triton (Kenneth Mars). 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 (Christopher Daniel Barnes), 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 (Pat Carroll) 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 film's critical and commercial success was considered a huge turning point for both Disney and western animation as a whole. Since the rise of home television in the 1950's, animation in the Anglosphere had gone through a rather ugly dark age marked by severely reduced budgets and the rise of the Animation Age Ghetto, leading to a glut of low-quality animated films and TV shows meant to pander to child audiences and sell merchandise. Additionally, Disney had spent the better part of the 70's and 80's licking the wounds of Walt Disney's death in 1966, and while the films they put out after The Jungle Book (1967) and before this one are still well-loved among fans and critics, both groups generally agree that they mark a commercial and artistic slump for the House of Mouse between 1968 and 1988, culminating in the infamous and near-Career Killer flop of The Black Cauldron in 1985. The Little Mermaid, however, was the point where all of that changed.


While western animation had already been creeping back up to its former glory both visually and artistically throughout the latter half of the 1980's, and Disney themselves had gone through some much-needed internal renovations after The Black Cauldron (to noticeably improved results), The Little Mermaid was considered the tipping point for both, being the first wholly-animated film in ages to be seen as a commercial and artistic triumph on par with live-action material. As a result, this movie is not only considered the most definitive start of The Renaissance Age of Animation, but also the beginning of the Disney Renaissance, a second golden age for the company marked by a return to producing and releasing high-quality commercially and critically successful animated movies based mostly on well-established literature and folklore. The period lasted for roughly a decade, ending with the release of Tarzan in 1999.

Of technical historic note, this was the last film of the Disney Canon to use traditional cel animation. All of the studio's future hand-drawn features would be inked and colored digitally using the Computer Animated Production System (or CAPS) software developed by Pixar (the final shot of this film was colored digitally due to a time crunch) and, much later, ToonBoom.

Its success led to a franchise that has seen two direct-to-video follow-ups (a sequel and a prequel), a prequel TV series and a successful Broadway musical.

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 Parks dark ride debuted at Disney California Adventure in 2011 (with a Magic Kingdom port opening the following year).

A Disney Digital 3-D re-release was slated for September 2013; however, it was later cancelled, and the 3D prints instead went straight to Blu-ray.

A live telecast on The Wonderful World of Disney was announced in 2016 but was shelved, then revived in summer 2019 and broadcast on November 5 that same year, to coincide with the film's 30th anniversary. The live version was a hybrid, combining live performances with the original film (songs were taken from both the movie and the Broadway version), and starred Aulii Cravalho as Ariel, Queen Latifah as Ursula, Shaggy as Sebastian, John Stamos as Chef Louie, Amber Riley as the emcee for Sebastian's concert at the beginning, and Graham Philips as Eric, with Jodi Benson appearing at the beginning and end of the special; in addition, Flounder, Flotsam, and Jetsam were depicted using puppets, and Max was portrayed by a real sheepdog named Bagel.

A live action remake is currently in development, with Rob Marshall (Beauty and the Beast (2017), Mary Poppins Returns) at the helm and Alan Menken returning as composer and writing new songs alongside Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is co-producing the film with Marc Platt. R&B singer Halle Bailey has been cast as Ariel, with Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Javier Bardem as King Triton, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, Awkwafina as Scuttle and Jacob Tremblay as Flounder.

All character tropes should be moved to The Little Mermaid character pages. If there is a Little Mermaid character, they are in that index somewhere.

The film shows examples of the following tropes:

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  • 2D Visuals, 3D Effects:
    • The staircase Ariel runs down to find Eric and Vanessa.
    • And the horse-drawn wagon that Ariel and Eric ride in during their village tour. It's especially obvious when Ariel starts driving, and a few shots reveal the wheels not turning at all in plain sight.
  • Above the Influence: Eric has a girl he rescued from the beach obviously into him, given how she clings to him when he helps her to the castle, and she happily spends the entire next day with him. This girl also makes him laugh, is gracious as she is silent, and is full of surprises. He hesitates on kissing her, however, because as he tells her, he doesn't even know her name. There's also the issue of Sacred Hospitality in that she's technically his guest. After Sebastian whispers that her name is Ariel and Ariel nods when he asks, Eric loosens up.
  • Accidental Public Confession: "Humans? Who said anything about humans?"
  • Action Girl: Ariel is one of the first Disney Princesses to fight villains directly, fighting off a shark, saving Eric from drowning in a storm, and distracting Ursula when she tries to blast Eric, though Eric rescues her from Ursula in the end. In the stage musical, she's the one who kills Ursula, not Eric.
  • Actionized Adaptation: The movie made the Sea Witch the main villain, had her grow gigantic, and battle Eric and Ariel after gaining control of the entire ocean. This scene was even more action-packed than what was originally intended, with Jeffrey Katzenberg telling the writers to take inspiration from the just-released Die Hard.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Eric bursts out laughing when Ariel's attempts to "play" the snarfblast— Grimsby's pipe— cover the man's face in soot. He tries halfheartedly to simmer down.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The mermaid gets to marry the prince and live Happily Ever After. In the original story by Hans Christian Andersen, she dies after refusing to kill the prince, and becomes an air spirit.
  • 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 two 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 neutral character: when she turns the mermaid human, she requires no contract, tells her exactly what the consequences will be, and even allows her sisters to buy her a Last-Second Chance.
    • In the original story, the prince and his bride are a Perfectly Arranged Marriage, and there is no indication that this princess is a bad person. In the Disney version, "Vanessa" is actually Ursula in disguise, and Eric only agrees to marry her because he's under a spell.
    • King Triton is subject to a bit of this as well. In the original story the sea king had no particular grudge against humans, but Triton despises them and forbid his daughter from any contact with them. The breaking point is when he destroys her collection of human artifacts. Of course he regrets it almost immediately afterward, but by this point Ariel has already fled to Ursula.
  • Adapted Out:
    • The little mermaid's grandmother, who helped the sea king raise his daughters after their mother died in the original story, is not in the movie.
    • The princess that the prince fell in love with in the original story is removed (although Ursula, disguised as Vanessa, plays a very similar role).
    • The daughters of the air are not present in the movie either.
  • Adult Fear:
    • 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.
  • Agony of the Feet: As Sebastian is trying to get away from Chef Louis, he drops a frying pan on Louis' foot.
    • Averted by Ariel; in the Hans Christian Andersen version of the story, the little mermaid was in agony with each step she took. Ariel's new legs are very shaky initially, but there isn't any indication that they hurt her.
  • Aliens Speaking English: But with merfolks. 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.
  • All According to Plan: Ursula the sea witch, transformed into the human woman "Vanessa," sings "What a lovely little bride I'll make / My dear, I'll look divine / Everything is working out according to my ultimate design." This, however, is actually something of a subversion in that Ursula is experiencing a Sanity Slippage because her original plan isn't working out. She had thought that she could just take Ariel's voice and this would be enough to keep her from ever getting Prince Eric to give her the kiss of true love. After a near-miss only just stopped by her eel henchmen, she hastily concocted this plan to put Prince Eric under her spell and marry him herself.
  • All There in the Manual:
    • Triton's kingdom being called Atlantica is never called that in the movie, but it's called that in all other supplementary materials.
    • Ursula's human alter ego being called Vanessa too. You can hear the priest addressing her as Vanessa at the wedding, when he asks Eric the "Do you take..." part of the ceremony.
  • Alliterative Family: Alana, Adella, Aquata, Attina, Arista, Andrina, Ariel and their mother Athena.
  • Almost Kiss: Ariel and Eric almost kiss when he realizes the truth, but the spell turning Ariel back into a mermaid cuts them short.
  • Alto Villainess: Ursula certainly qualifies. In the movie, she's got Pat Carroll's throaty, almost masculine contralto. note 
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: Alana, Adella, Aquata, Attina, Arista, Andrina and Ariel all have different tail-colors. They're like an all-female underwater Sentai.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: The sea creatures and plant life all come in very bright colors that make the underwater world pop.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Ursula in the original film, Morgana in Return to the Sea and Marina Del Ray in Ariel's Beginning.
    • Played Straight in the Disney on Broadway version as well, with Ursula having the line: "Girls with ambition! They don't like that, do they? No."
  • An Aesop: Part of loving someone means respecting their individuality and their emotional needs.
    • King Triton loves his youngest daughter but he doesn’t respect her values or her opinions about the human world, and he places his Fantastic Racism towards humans over her desires for the future, trying to force her to be something that she’s not to the point where he unwittingly becomes an abusive parent to her and destroys her trust in him. Once he realizes what he’s done, he winds up regretting it dearly later and does whatever he can to reconcile with her. Eventually, he gives her a pair of human legs with no strings attached, so she can make her own decisions and do whatever she chooses with her adult life
    • Sebastian as well is initially very dismissive of the things that make Ariel unique, including her desire to be human. As the king’s right-hand man, he’s only interested in keeping her in line and urging her to conform to maintain the usual status quo, so they both can avoid invoking the king’s anger. It’s not until he sees how badly Triton hurts her and he knows his own part in that that Sebastian realizes Ariel is more than just the king’s daughter, she’s her own person with her own thoughts and feelings, so he starts treating her as such for the rest of the movie. Sebastian’s Character Development allows his relationship with Ariel to evolve and become much warmer in the second half of the film, as he becomes a parental figure towards her in Triton’s absence.
    • Like Flounder and Scuttle, Prince Eric is one of the few characters in the film who's always accepting of Ariel. Human Ariel is a very odd and peculiar young lady for her time (instead of being dignified or reserved, she wears her heart on her sleeve and has a bubbly, quirky, tomboyish, and endlessly curious personality), but Eric never treats her with anything less than kindness and respect, and he never tries to change her for his benefit. In fact, many of the things that make Ariel unique are things that Eric likes about her and feels attracted to, since he’s a rather atypical prince himself (preferring the company of working-class sailors over the pomp and circumstance of royal affairs). Ariel always feels comfortable being her real self around Eric, and he ultimately decides he still wants a relationship with her after discovering she was born a mermaid.
    • As for Ariel herself? In her grotto, she admits that what she wants — to be among humans, to walk and dance with them — is impossible. What she loves more about humans than their things is their freedom. She also knows she's being irresponsible, but she can't deny who she is or be the girl her dad wants her to be. Initially she's attracted to Eric because of his looks but she becomes more enamored after hearing that he's seeking someone special, someone who may be impossible to find, and she sees how brave and selfless he can be. Ultimately, when she becomes human she's allowed to be herself for the first time and explore her interests, and no one will destroy her esteem for it. At least, not until Ursula steps in. Even then, when Ariel believes Eric has chosen someone else over her and she has her heart broken, she still accepts his decision and doesn't think to intervene, showing Eric the same amount of respect he showed her and resigning herself to the consequences of her deal with Ursula, until she discovers Ursula double-crossed her and literally brainwashed Eric.
  • Anachronism Stew: The movie looks like it's set in the 18th century. That doesn't prevent Chef Louis from making random Gay Paree references that wouldn't be possible until the 1920s-1930s, including "Maurice Chevalier". The Champs-Élysées avenue of Paris was not yet a staple of the image foreigners have of Paris or France.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • Ursula's "garden" is made of former merfolk, now helpless, voiceless polyps, whom she transformed after they made near-impossible "deals" with her.
    • She does worse to Ariel. The contract fulfills its terms, trapping Ariel in a golden whirlpool and seeming to claim her for the garden as well. It transforms her partway, leaving her brown and writhing, with no ability to speak or move but still semi-mermaid. She's unable to do more than watching her father make a deal to save her. Given her expression, Ariel wanted to shout at her dad not to do it, the way Sebastian tried to warn her.
  • And Then What?: When Ursula lays her terms for the deal, Ariel points out some of the problems with it: becoming human means that she won't see her father or sister again. And if she gives up her voice, how can she convince Eric to fall in love with her? Ursula has a legitimate answer for the first point; Ariel is going to have to make a tough choice. For the second, she asserts that Ariel's looks, pretty face, and "body language!" are enough to win Eric over.
  • Angry Collar Grab: Scuttle tries to convey urgent news to Sebastian and Flounder, but is too flustered to speak coherently. Scuttle resorts to seizing a dubious Sebastian by his shell, and punctuates the sentence, "The Prince is gonna marry the Sea Witch in disguise!" by slamming the poor crab into the pier.
  • Animal Eye Spy: Ursula uses this with her eels Flotsam and Jetsum to keep an eye on Ariel.
  • Animal Talk: The majority of the marine animals, including Sebastian and Flounder and Flotsam and Jetsam, are capable of speech, as well as Scuttle the seagull. Max is a notable Aversion, as is the shark at the beginning.
  • 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.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The first two lines of "Under the Sea" are "The seaweednote  is always greener / In somebody else's lakenote .
  • Ash Face: Sir Grimsby, after Ariel blows through his pipe.
  • The Atoner: After arguing with Ariel over her fascination with humans and destroying her grotto, Triton tries to repair the damage done and regain her trust by taking Ariel's place as Ursula's prisoner.
  • Attack Of the 50 Foot Sea Monster: Ursula in the climax.
  • Author Appeal: Howard Ashman asked the production team to make Sebastian Jamaican just because he wanted to write calypso songs. Samuel E. Wright, being a native from South Carolina did an almost completely convincing Jamaican accent for the crab.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Prince Eric, master of Ship Fu.
  • 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.
  • Badass Normal: Prince Eric.
  • Badly Battered Babysitter: Sebastian's part in the movie is a fleshed out version of this plot. The fact that his charge is 16 does not make things any easier.
  • Bad Samaritan: Ursula.
  • Bare Your Midriff: By default for every mermaid. Ursula isn't in this category.
  • Beautiful Singing Voice: A central plot point. Ariel's singing voice is the one thing Ursula takes away from her before turning her into a human. Later, her voice is the one thing that makes Prince Eric remember her as the girl who saved his life when he shipwrecked at sea.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Ursula changes Ariel partly into a polyp to compel Triton to take her place. While her body is brown and withered, he (and the audience) can still see Ariel's face and her frightened eyes.
  • Benevolent Boss: Ursula, which is unusual for a Disney villain. Subverted in the TV series, though.
  • Berserk Button: Don't say anything about humans around King Triton.
  • Be Yourself: A bit of an Unbuilt Trope, since Ariel being herself means she literally can't be with the man of her dreams, but her Deal with the Devil to live on land robs her of her voice, the only means by which she could have told Eric who she was.
  • Big Bad: Ursula.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • Subverted when Eric tosses a harpoon at Ursula to stop her from threatening Ariel with the trident. All it does is annoy her enough to set her tights on killing him. It is played straight when Ariel redirects the trident's lethal blow to Flotsam and Jetsam instead.
    • Played straight in the climax. Eric pilots a formerly sunken ship towards Ursula and rams her right when she's about to obliterate a trapped Ariel.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Prince Eric's dog, Max. As Eric puts it, he's a knucklehead but he's harmless.
  • Big Good: King Triton.
  • Big "NO!": From Ariel, when her collection's destroyed and Ursula, when Eric's about to kiss Ariel.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: "Vanessa" to the landfolk, and Ursula in her regular form to the seafolk. Her entire Villain Song is about how she is only trying to help “poor unfortunate souls” like Ariel, when in reality she is using her clients to try to take over Atlantica.
  • 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. Triton also seems to have rescinded the order keeping the human and mer-worlds separated, as he, his daughters, and some other merfolk are openly attending Ariel's wedding from the water, and even waving to those on the boat.
  • Black Comedy: Considering how much spotlight is put on the underwater inhabitants being sapient equals to the merpeople, the kitchen scene with Louis whimsically chopping up and cooking sea food is played in a hilariously morbid manner. A traumatised Sebastian has to hold himself from vomiting.
  • Blackface: The "Blackfish" in Under the Sea is borderline. Surprisingly, Disney hasn't edited it out... yet.
  • 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).
  • Both Sides Have a Point: During their argument about Ariel going to the surface, they bring up legitimate points. Triton says that she defied his orders and could have easily been seen by humans. There's no guarantee that a sailor would take one look at her and want Ariel on a fish hook. Ariel retorts that humans are not barbarians — and she's right when Triton sees Eric heroically stopping Ursula to save Ariel — and he refuses to listen to her viewpoint so she has no choice but to go to the surface if she wants to explore. Triton even admits he may have been too hard on her.
  • Bowdlerise: This happens in the Scandinavian version.
  • Brainwashed: Ursula-as-"Vanessa" does this to Eric to torture Ariel.
  • Brick Joke: The "dinglehopper" and the "snarfblatt".
  • 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.
  • The Burlesque of Venus: Played with in the "Daughters of Triton" musical segment, although with 2 mermaids per shell and not one... except for Ariel's shell, of which she was missing.
  • Butt Biter: While Scuttle is stalling the Vanessa/Eric nuptials, Max gets loose and gleefully sinks his teeth into Ursula's butt.
  • 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.
  • The Cameo:
  • Canon Foreigner: Sebastian, Flounder, Scuttle and Grimsby are characters exclusive to this adaptation of the story.
  • Car Fu: More like "Ship Fu" and was done by Eric in the climax.
  • Carnivore Confusion: The main reason that King Triton and Sebastian don't like humans is because that they hunt and eat fish. This ignores the fact there are countless sea creatures that prey on other sea life. Even ignoring the shark that tried to eat Ariel and Flounder, Under the Sea featured plenty of aquatic life that get most of their meals through predation, including crustaceans like Sebastian.
  • 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.
  • Character Development:
    • Ariel was always fascinated by humanity, but after an encounter with Eric proves her right about humans being more than mindless monsters - that they can be good, kind, brave people - she learns to stay true to herself and what she believes in, even if it means clashing with her family. She also learns her reckless actions have greater consequences than she expected. After risking danger for the sake of discovery for the entire movie, Ariel finally bites off more than she can chew when she loses her wager with Ursula and the sea witch betrays her. Ariel is forced to watch as Ursula enslaves her father, tries to take over the sea, and tries to kill her and all her friends. To a lesser extent, she's scared of Max for half the movie due to him being a giant dog, but she learns that he's more cuddle than bite. When she gets her voice back and Max runs to her, Ariel doesn't flinch or attempt to run.
    • King Triton gets a sizable amount of character development when he realizes being so hard on Ariel just ended up driving her away from him, and when Eric saves his daughter's life from Ursula, it allows him to overcome his xenophobia of humans and realize that it's for the better that he lets Ariel stay with Eric.
    • Sebastian get a lot of character growth too. He spends the first half of the movie obsessing about how what Ariel does will affect him, and in fact rats her out to Triton because he's afraid of Triton punishing him. After seeing the horror Ariel goes through as a result and getting nearly served for dinner by Chef Louis, he decides to make Ariel happy and spends the rest of the movie trying to help her. Fittingly enough, both Triton and Sebastian's character development is underlined in a conversation between them.
    • Eric also gets some about his Loving a Shadow and wanting the perfect girl for him. He has the right to turn down princesses who wouldn't be a match for him, but Grimsby rightly says that searching for an ideal partner is impossible. When Ariel saves him and vanishes into the waves, Eric spends days searching for the figure with the mysterious voice and for chivalry reasons he doesn't want to flirt with the voiceless girl that falls under his protection. Ariel shows off her flaws while human, and she makes him laugh. When he realizes that she likes him, and he finds out her name, Eric is more willing to pursue Ariel and give up his impossible quest. Of course, then he learns that she's the girl with the voice and a mermaid to boot; cue him rowing solo to rescue her from Ursula, saying he's not going to lose her again.
  • Chariot Pulled by Cats:
    • King Triton makes his entrance into the concert hall riding on a giant oyster shell pulled by two seahorses. Inside the concert hall, though Triton can swim just fine with his own fishtail. Mer-kings be wack.
    • Sebastian rides a normal-sized seashell pulled by a normal-sized seahorse, which Sebastian has a little trouble controlling.
  • Chekhov's Army: Scuttle recruits the animals who helped Sebastian in "Kiss the Girl" to stall the wedding. The flamingoes and birds fly to the rescue.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The shipwrecks in the ocean, where Ariel explores. Ursula makes them float using the trident, and Eric pilots one to impale her.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Ariel is established as fairly strong, given she can move a boulder underwater with her bare hands, climb a ship's side with ease, and float a drowning man to the surface in seconds. She doesn't lose her strength when having to climb onto Eric's wedding barge, and does so pretty fast considering she's wearing a waterlogged gown.
    • Eric piloting (or at least attempting to) his ship in the hurricane. He manages to grab onto a shipwreck that Ursula accidentally summons with her trident, and directs it despite the choppy waters to kill her.
  • 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.
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
    • Scuttle.
    • 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?
  • Collector of the Strange: Ariel, who collects many items considered mundane to humans but strange to merfolk.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Unable to take the now gargantuan Ursula in an even fight, Eric instead uses the raised wreck of the ship he's pulled himself onto to ram its splintered prow clean through her.
  • 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.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Scuttle, despite spending most of the movie as a Know-Nothing Know-It-All, leads the sea world in an attempt to crash Eric and "Vanessa's" wedding, and is directly responsible for destroying Ursula's conch, thus giving back Ariel her voice and breaking Eric from Ursula's hypnosis in time to realise what is going on.
  • Crystal Ball: Ursula has a bubble that serves as this. It's also heavily implied that Flotsam and Jetsam's eyes act as this.
  • Curb-Stomp Cushion: His first attempt to save Ariel goes south, but Eric actually does land a direct hit on Ursula with his harpoon. The problem is that she's tougher than she looks and has a magical trident to disintegrate him.
  • Curtain Clothing: Ariel attempts to make a dress from a sail on a wrecked ship with Scuttle's advice. The result is more comical than anything, though Eric doesn't notice. Carlotta discreetly washes and disposes of it, giving Ariel actual clothes.
  • Cute, but Cacophonic: "Vanessa", once she loses possession of Ariel's voice.
  • Cute Mute: Ariel when she loses her voice.
  • Darker and Edgier: While it does have some Disneyfication it is a little darker than the original story, which was more of a tragedy.
    • Here the sea witch is far more menacing and the mermaid faces being eternally trapped in her garden as a polyp. Not to mention that the witch is essentially trying to conquer the entire ocean. The part where the mermaid trades her voice for legs is far scarier than in the story.
    • The shipwreck scene compared to the original story here. Special attention is drawn to the fact that the sailors could very well have died, and the ship explodes due to gunpowder. Lightning strikes the sails, making them catch on fire too. The whole time, the focus on Ariel's reaction shows that she's terrified and doesn't know what's going on.
  • Dead Guy on Display: The kitchen to Sebastian, which was full of seafood dishes and fish prepared to be cooked up. To Sebastian's absolute horror, he sees a plate of stuffed crabs, resulting in him fainting on the spot.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Grimsby has a few moments, such as when he dismisses "nautical nonsense". You can see where Eric got his snark.
  • 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:
  • Decomposite Character: Andersen's little mermaid only had five sisters; Ariel has six.
  • Demoted to Extra: Ariel's sisters, who had more to do in the original story.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Ursula states that she was "banished and exiled." Both are the same thing.
  • 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!"
  • Despotism Justifies the Means: Ursula's plans to rule, had she ruled as Queen of the Sea long enough.
  • Determinator: Ariel with her desire to be human and marry Eric and Eric's desire to marry the girl who saved his life.
  • Did You Get a New Haircut?: Scuttle asks Ariel this after she is turned into a human the first time, then if she had new seashells. Sebastian replies with "she's got legs, you idiot!" As Scuttle's doing this, he's standing on her legs and leaning on her toes!!! And LOOKING at them! She's even bobbing him up and down by kicking her leg slightly, trying to clue him in.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: After Ursula gains the godlike powers of King Triton in the climax and transforms into a giant sea monster version of herself, Eric saves the day by piloting a ship to impale Ursula. This is based on the end of The Call of Cthulhu (!).
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • Subverted. After Ariel hears the deal about if she does or doesn't kiss Eric, she starts reasoning that if she becomes human, she'll never see her father or sisters again. Considering what Triton just did, it's very wise of her to factor this in to her decision. Ursula then points out, "But you'll have your man. Life has tough choices in it, heh-heh." Then when Ursula demands Ariel's voice as payment, Ariel immediately protests, "But without my voice, how can I-?" with the obvious concern that she won't get Eric to fall in love with her. Ursula interrupts with, "You've got your looks! Your pretty face!" and sings about how men prefer women to not talk. While Ariel impulsively signs the contract and runs into problems communicating with Eric, she did put some thought into what she was doing.
    • Ursula gets this. She turns Ariel into a being that can't breathe water while Ariel's at the bottom of the sea. To make matters worse, Ariel can't swim as well in her human form and it's freezing in the ocean at that depth, so how was Ursula going to get Ariel to the surface if Sebastian and Flounder hadn't been watching?
  • 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. Of course, there was never any real detail to any of it, anyway.
  • Disneyfication: One of the most iconic (albeit also successful) examples of the trope. The Bittersweet Ending of the book is now a clear happy ending, trading her voice is substituted for having her tongue cut out, and Ariel's fate if she fails doesn't involve death. Also, in the original story, the sea witch was a True Neutral character. In the movie, she's named Ursula and upgraded to the Big Bad.
  • Disney Death: Ariel in the prequel.
  • 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.
  • The Dog Bites Back: While Scuttle is stalling the Vanessa/Eric nuptials, Max gets loose and gleefully sinks his teeth into Vanessa's butt, presumably as revenge for her earlier kick to his face.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: In-Universe. According to Word of God, Ariel's fascination with the human world (at least partially) actually came out of her father's strict forbidding of it.
  • 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. Which is strikingly bizarre for an Overprotective Dad trying his very best to keep his youngest daughter out of harm's way.
  • Dreadful Musician: Scuttle's "singing" (more like squawking) provokes a cringe from Ariel, an exasperated outburst of "Geeze man, I'm surrounded by amateurs!" from Sebastian, and a remark from Eric about how "somebody should find that poor animal and put it out of its misery."
  • Drives Like Crazy: Never, ever let Ariel drive your horse-drawn carriage (unless she learned better since then).

  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Exactly how a globe first explodes after King Triton fires an energy bolt from his trident in Ariel's grotto, along with the rest of Ariel's human treasures (it's something he quickly regrets).
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Vanessa certainly qualifies.
  • '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.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: How Ursula was introduced whilst spying on Ariel and Flounder via crystal bubble, before lamenting on her banishment.
    • King Triton does this when confronting Ariel in her secret grotto.
  • Even the Dog Is Ashamed: Max gets annoyed at Prince Eric's cluelessness over whether or not the mute Ariel was the one he's been looking for.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles: When Triton returns Ariel to human form, she emerges from the sea before Eric in a sparkling silver dress.
  • Evil Chef: Chef Louie certainly is from Sebastian's perspective, what with him singing about how he loves to chop and to serve little fish. However, he doesn't really know the sea creatures are sentient.
  • Evil Counterpart: Vanessa, Ursula's disguise, even without Ariel's voice, greatly resembles Ariel herself, albeit overall much darker. She also technically doubles as an Evil Brunette Twin.
  • 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...
  • Evil Eyebrows: Ursula.
  • Evil Laugh: Ursula does one about every five minutes.
  • Evil Overlooker: Some posters for the film have Ursula sporting a nasty grin and staring down at Ariel/the viewer.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Ursula's voice is always fairly low, but it gets really deep after she grows to gigantic size in the climax.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Scuttle happens to be flying by when Ursula, disguised as Vanessa, sings her evil plot, and he sees Ursula’s true reflection in the mirror.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: When Scuttle sees Ursula in Vanessa's reflection, he starts saying, "The Sea Witch! She's gonna, she's gonna-" before going Oh, Crap! and immediately flying to where Ariel is on the docks to finish the thought: "The Prince is marrying the sea witch in disguise!"
  • Excessive Evil Eyeshadow: Ursula and her sister Morgana.
  • Expository Theme Tune: The film opens with the short Daughters of Triton number which gives a brief summary of the characters. Sebastion apparently wrote a shout-out to HIMSELF into the number.
  • Facepalm:
  • Fade Around the Eyes:
    • Ursula does this at the end of her first scene. The image of her tentacles curling around her as the screen fades to black can be very frightening.
    • She does it again in the scene when she transforms into her disguise as Vanessa, but instead of her eyes, she does it with her teeth and the shell on her necklace as smoke fills her lair.
  • Fairy Tale
  • Fairytale Wedding Dress: Ariel's dress with the poofy sleeves.
  • Falling-in-Love Montage: Ariel and Eric touring the kingdom.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death:
  • Fan Disservice:
  • Fanfare: King Triton gets a nice trumpet fanfare as he enters, fitting for Lord of all the Seas. Sebastian also gets one, played on a kazoo.
  • Fanservice:
  • 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 fallen in love 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.
  • Fantastic Slurs: To go with King Triton's Fantastic Racism towards humans, humans are referred as "Fish-eaters" (which is kind of justified, considering that to the merfolk, the fish are sentient).
  • 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.
  • Fiery Redhead: Ariel. If one takes the prequel movie as canon, her father is a male example - as he had auburn hair in his youth.
  • Fine, You Can Just Wait Here Alone: "You can just stay here and watch for sharks."
  • Fish out of Water: Ariel's a near-literal example.
  • Foreshadowing: The "Under the Sea" musical number has Sebastian singing about how humans use fish for food. In the middle of the film, poor Sebastian ends up in a kitchen full of fish food, and almost becomes food himself.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Subverted. When Sebastian and Ariel both go missing, Triton asks the Herald if there's any sign of "them," not just his daughter, when he sends out search parties. He considers Sebastian as his closest friend and is heartbroken at the thought of having driven him away as well as his daughter.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Ariel and Eric play this straight, but if you go by previous Disney Princess standards, they avert it. Snow White barely even speaks to her Prince, Cinderella spends maybe a couple of hours with hers (and they don't speak enough for her to know he is the Prince), and Aurora exchanges maybe three sentences and a quick dance with Philip. Ariel and Eric spend a full day together touring the kingdom, taking in the sights, going to local festivals and such, and finishing off with an Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date. Eric was even about to give up pining for the girl who rescued him in favor of Ariel (not realizing it was Ariel) before Ursula interfered, so they definitely really liked each other even after spending time together.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: After Ariel's transformation, as Sebastian and Flounder begin rushing her to the surface, there are a few frames where you can see Ariel's butt, and the area between her legs.
  • Gainaxing: Ursula, of all characters, got an inordinate amount of time spent on her to make sure she jiggled realistically.
    • Ariel isn't immune to this either. During the "Part of Your World" reprise, when she raises herself above the rock on the final line, her breasts jiggle a little.
      • Ursula's human form, Vanessa's, breasts jiggle slightly at times during her wedding scene, and then much more overtly immediately following Ariel getting her voice back.
  • Gambit Roulette: Played with. Ursula's plan to get Ariel and use her as leverage against Triton hinged on Ariel's failure to get kissed by Eric before the third sunset. Ursula initially believed this was an Impossible Task without Ariel's voice and figured she just needed to sit and wait. However, when she saw how close Ariel and Eric were getting and realized that Eric would kiss Ariel before time ran out, she was forced to improvise by disguising herself as Vanessa and keep the two apart.
  • Garden of Evil: Ursula's garden of polyps at the entrance of her cave.
  • Gay Paree: Chef Louis is, well, Hollywood's idea of a French cook. His sequence is introduced with accordion music (which is a cliché related to Paris), he has a Maurice Chevalier Accent, speaks about "Nouvelle Cuisine des Champs-Élysées" (the Champs-Élysées avenue is in Paris) and even names Maurice Chevalier.
  • Giant Poofy Sleeves: Ariel's wedding dress.
  • Gloomy Gray: In the aftermath of King Triton's Unstoppable Rage, Ariel's secret grotto turns from a cool undersea blue to a chalky gray.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: Scuttle gets an army of fish, ducks, flamingos, crabs, dolphins, seals, and even starfish to help him crash and stall Vanessa's wedding.
  • Gonky Femme: Ursula is frightening, obese and mannish looking, but behaves as a sexy seductress, down to her make up, hip swinging and mannerisms-
  • Gorgeous Garment Generation
  • Got Volunteered: Sebastian ends up with the thankless job of keeping tabs on Ariel in the middle of a rant about how he'd make sure she stayed in line if she were his daughter.
    Sebastian: Hm! Teenagers... They think they know everything. You give 'em an inch, they swim all over you.
    Triton: Do you, er, think I - I was too hard on her?
    Sebastian: Definitely not. Why, if Ariel was my daughter, I'd show her who was boss! None of this "flitting to the surface" and other such nonsense. No, sir, I'd keep her under tight control.
    Triton: You're absolutely right, Sebastian!
    Sebastian: Of course.
    Triton: Ariel needs constant supervision.
    Sebastian: Constant.
    Triton: Someone to watch over her— to keep her out of trouble.
    Sebastian: All the time, I'd—
    Triton: And YOU are just the crab to do it.
    (Sebastian gasps in disbelief; cut to him leaving the throne room, muttering)
    Sebastian: How do I get myself into these situations?! I should be writing symphonies! Not tagging along after some headstrong teenager!
  • Graceful Ladies Like Purple: Ariel's seashell bra, and her dress in the sequel are purple.
  • 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.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: This movie emphasizes that finding the perfect romantic partner for you is impossible. Eric tries so hard to find the mysterious girl who saved him, and fails to realize the redheaded mute combing her hair with a fork is the same person. Ariel finds out that Eric can be obsessive and ignore what's in front of him, but she loves him regardless and he has a good heart. Neither are perfect, but they realize they want to be together despite their flaws.
  • Hartman Hips: While in her "Vanessa" form, the usually-obese Ursula is a lot more slender and elegant in her appearance, though her lower half is quite curvaceous.
  • 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.
    • Triton also gets one. Look closely at his face as he leaves after destroying Ariel's collection: As he sees his daughter sobbing uncontrollably, you can imagine him thinking "My God, What Have I Done?". Then Ariel and Sebastian go missing, and no one can find them; all Triton can do is organize search parties and fret.
  • Heroic BSoD: Ariel briefly undergoes one when "Vanessa" (Ursula in disguise) enchants Eric and the two are set to be married, leaving Ariel unable to fulfill her end of the bargain, meaning she will become Ursula's prisoner and be forever separated from Eric, her father, and her sisters. She can only weep in utter devastation at her loss. However, she snaps out of it upon learning of Ursula's deception and hurries to stop her from marrying Eric.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: And will nearly die for them.
  • Heroes Want Redheads
  • Heroic Dog: Max barks excitedly when Scuttle and his army animal crash the wedding, stalling Vanessa until Ariel can climb. Then Vanessa tries to strangle Scuttle when he squawks in her face, and he gets his beak on her shell necklace having figured out what it was. Max breaks free of his leash and bites Vanessa in the butt, not only saving Scuttle but also allowing the shell to break allowing Ariel to regain her voice and to break the spell on Eric.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: King Triton decides to take Ariel's place as Ursula's prisoner to free Ariel, though this could also be to regain her trust after feeling remorse for destroying her grotto.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: If Ursula wasn't such a showoff, she would not have surfaced Eric's ship and enabled him to kill her. A fitting death for a sea witch with an ego that outsizes her.
  • Hold Your Hippogriffs:
    • "You're not getting cold fins (feet) now, are you?"
    • "You are such a guppy (baby/chicken)!"
    • "You give them an inch, they'll swim (walk) all over you."
    • "The seaweed (grass) is always greener / In somebody else's lake (lawn)!"
    • "Someone needs to nail that girl's fins (feet) to the floor."
    • "It's time Ursula took matters into her own tentacles (hands)!"
    • "Leave no shell (stone) unturned, no coral (corner) unexplored!"
  • Hollywood Kiss: Ariel and Eric.
  • Honest John's Dealership: As seen and heard in "Poor Unfortunate Souls", Ursula has been known to make these kinds of deals with others.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Two during the sea storm. Even though crashing on the rocks knocks everyone into the water, they safely get into lifeboats with Eric pulling Grimsby into one since the latter can't swim. Then they hear barking; Max is still onboard! Eric dives into the water, climbs back onto the burning ship, and convinces Max to jump into his arms. He then runs with the giant sheepdog, and they nearly make it to the railing. Then the wood splinters under Eric's feet, trapping his leg. He does get Max out, who swims to the lifeboats, but the boat explodes when the flames hit the fireworks, knocking him out. Fortunately, Ariel was watching and rescues Eric when he sinks unconscious into the waves.
    • At the stalled wedding, Scuttle smashes Ursula's shell just as Ariel climbs aboard. Her voice is returned to her, breaking the spell on Eric, and he realizes she was the girl all along. They embrace and come closer for a kiss...but the sun has gone down already, turning her back into a mermaid. Ursula gloats, returns to her real form, and snatches Ariel before jumping overboard.
  • 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.
  • Hurt Foot Hop: This happens to Chef Louis after a pan falls onto his foot while he is chasing after Sebastian. He briefly hops in pain, clutching his other foot in both hands.
  • 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.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Again, Ursula's death. Eric rams a broken ship into her.
  • 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.
    • Ariel's face and movements were heavily modelled on her voice actress, the very redheaded Jodi Benson. Even twenty years later, the resemblance is incredibly striking.
    • 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.
    • Eric is also an animated version of Christopher Daniel Barnes. There's almost no difference between the two.
    • Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian—especially on the lips.
  • 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.
  • Improvised Clothes: Ariel's first dress is an old sail strategically tied up with rope.
  • Intangible Price: Ursula insists on Ariel's voice in exchange for turning her human.
  • Irony: Eric and Grimsby repeatedly discuss Eric's dating life when Ariel is nearby.
    • Even more irony: Grim councils Eric to forget his "dream girl" (Eric wished to marry the girl who saved him, not realizing it was Ariel), and to accept the real one he has.
  • 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. Unlike Triton, Ariel didn't destroy her daughter's things; she just told her off for disobeying her and realized she went too far when Melody ran off crying, deciding that Melody needs to know the truth. 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.
  • I Will Find You: Eric's intention when Ursula drags Ariel back to the sea.

  • 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. Teen marriage was also much more common at the time, sixteen wouldn't really have been considered an unusual age to be getting married.
  • Jaw Drop: Sebastian's reaction upon seeing Ariel sing to Eric. His jaw is promptly closed by Scuttle.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Sebastian's frustrations with Ariel are understandable. As the court composer, it's his job to make sure that his concerts go according to plan. She's a no-show for rehearsals and her big debut, defies orders from her father to stay away from humans that eat up sea creatures like Sebastian, and doesn't appreciate what she has in the ocean. When Sebastian tells her off, he isn't nice about it, but he's also very correct.
  • Job Song:
    • In "Poor Unfortunate Souls", Ursula sings about her job of offering alleged help to people.
    • In "Les Poissons", the chef sings about his job as a chef.
  • Just the Way You Are: Eric doesn't care that the girl he loves is actually a mermaid. When he finds out, he's surprised but has a mild expression of This Explains So Much before going Oh, Crap! as Ursula kidnaps Ariel and takes her below. His next reaction is to go alone in a rowboat and mount a rescue, even as Ariel is urging him to get to safety.
  • Kick the Dog: Ursula in her human Vanessa disguise kicks poor Max for growling at her on her way up the aisle to marry Prince Eric. Max yelps and whimpers. Later, 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".
  • Language Equals Thought: Although land and sea share a common language note  Part Of Your World implies merpeople lack the vocabulary for a number of concepts meaningless underwater — concepts Ariel strives to acquire regardless, much like her collection of land artifacts.
    What's a fire and why does it (what's the word?) ... burn?
  • 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!!!"
  • Laughably Evil: The movie does well to balance Ursula's sadistic and sinister ambience with lots of brilliant snarking and scenery chewing courtesy of Pat Carrol.
  • Laughing Mad: Although Ursula usually does Evil Laughs, her laughter when gloating about her inevitable victory as Vanessa is closer to Laughing Mad.
  • 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.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: To denote that Scuttle is about to bring the pain, Sebastian orders him seriously to "Stall the wedding!" without his usual eye-rolling. Scuttle delivers by rallying an army of birds, dolphins, seals and fish to help. He also ends up smashing Ursula's shell after grappling with her for it.
  • Letter Motif: Ariel and all of her sisters have the same first initial — as did their mother. (See Theme Naming, below.)
  • Light Is Not Good: In this movie, when the trident glows, something bad is about to happen (Triton destroys the grotto in one of the most frightening scenes in Disney history, Ursula usurps him, etc). Subverted after Ursula's defeat, when it's used to turn Ariel human permanently.
  • Lighter and Softer: When compared to the original story, which had a very unhappy ending. Well, it is a Disney movie after all.
  • 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":
    • King Triton, after Ariel confesses her love for Eric during their argument.
    • Later in the climax, Ariel, after Ursula turns Triton into a polyp and picks up the crown and the trident.
  • Loose Lips:
    • Whilst making up a story to cover up Ariel's disappearance at the concert, Flounder inadvertently gets Ariel into trouble with Triton for going up to the surface by mentioning "seagull".
    • How King Triton found out of Ariel's rescue of Eric and her secret grotto, after Sebastian spills the beans due to Triton pressuring him whilst questioning Sebastian about Ariel's behavior.
  • Lord of the Ocean: King Triton himself is ruler of a race of merpeople in an underwater acropolis. The untold magical power of his trident makes one question whether or not he is the Greek God of his namesake, especially when Ursula gets a hold of it.
  • Losing a Shoe in the Struggle: Eric's boots come off in the ocean while Ariel is trying to save him from drowning. They also come off after Eric defeats Ursula, and before he makes it to shore.
  • Lost Voice Plot: Ariel didn't lose her voice in the normal way, but, through magic, she had it stolen.
  • Love at First Note: Eric for Ariel.
  • Love at First Sight: Ariel for Eric, with a chaser of Florence Nightingale Effect.
  • Love Hurts: Much less than in the original version, though Ariel's pain is obvious when she thinks Eric is going to leave her and marry "Vanessa".
  • Loves Me Not: With an underwater flower.
  • Loving a Shadow: Discussed by Eric and Grimsby about the mysterious girl who rescued him. Grimsby logically points out that a girl wouldn't just vanish into thin air, and Eric is searching for someone who may not exist. Eric insists that the girl is real and he knows it, he just has to keep looking. Ariel appears, voiceless and in need of help, and Eric starts falling for her spirited nature. If not for Ursula interfering, Eric would have given up the quest to talk with Ariel and declare his love.
  • Made of Iron: Eric in the climax takes a heck of a beating. The waves that Ursula summons knock him at least ten feet in the air, a shipwreck runs him over, causing him to sink underwater and nearly drown in the currents, and Ursula's electrified tentacles envelop him and said ship when he uses it to impale her. Eric somehow manages to swim to shore and collapse from exhaustion, with no signs of broken ribs or serious injuries. Anyone else would be dead.
  • Magically Binding Contract: Ariel signs such a contract with Ursula; 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.
  • Magic Cauldron: Ursula, as befits someone who's called a witch, has something which is functionally equivalent to a witch's cauldron. It's used for Ariel's transformation sequence.
  • Make My Monster Grow: Ursula in the climax.
  • Mama Bear: Ursula did not take Flotsam and Jetsam's deaths well. "Babies! My poor little poopsies!"
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: From Eric's perspective, anyway; the actual movie itself averts this. 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 realize they're one and the same.
  • Marilyn Maneuver: A disguised Ursula's (as Vanessa) wedding dress receives a draft from a flock of bluebirds as they fly underneath her.
  • Marry for Love: Eric intends to do this.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Ariel has six older sisters: Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Attina, Adella, and Alana.
  • Match Cut: When Eric is with the disguised Ursula and announces the iminent wedding at sunset, Ursula grimices down and we pan to her glowing necklace, which changes to a similar shot of the setting sun in the sky.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • "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 (as well as a Shout-Out to the original story, where the mermaid ended the story as an air spirit).
    • 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.
  • Mermaid Arc Emergence: Occurs when a human Ariel emerges from the sea and desperately gasps for air after almost drowning in Ursula's lair, throwing her head back causing her hair to flip in a backward arc.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: Scuttle discovers Vanessa is actually Ursula when he sees the reflection she casts in a mirror.
    Scuttle: The Sea Witch! Oh, no! She's gonna...I gotta... [flies into window!] ARIEL!
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Carp and newts living in saltwater habitats.
  • Moment Killer: Deliberately done by Floatsam and Jetsam when they knock over Eric and Ariel's boat, preventing the two from kissing.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • "You're too late!"
    • The music track "Destruction of the Grotto" starts out all lively and cheerful as Ariel admires her Prince Eric statue. When Triton shows up, the music does a total 180. Damn, that Menken knows how to write music.
  • 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.
    • Old fellow or not, Triton is pretty well-built, himself. Doesn't hurt that he's basically Aquaman with a fish tail.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Ariel all the way. She spends the first half of the movie in a Seashell Bra and nothing else, she is nude when she's turned into a human and she gets a very flattering dress towards the end. She was the first Disney Princess to have a degree of sexuality in her design.
  • Mundane Object Amazement: Ariel is amazed at things like forks and spoons.
  • Murder by Mistake: Flotsam and Jetsam are vaporized after Ursula's attempt to kill Prince Eric goes awry.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: Some of the best around.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Triton when he blames himself for Ariel's disappearance as well as Sebastian's, given the way he acted. This foreshadows his eventual Heroic Sacrifice to being Ursula's prisoner instead of Ariel.
    • Downplayed but when Ariel is in Ursula's clutches after failing to get Eric's kiss, she tries to apologize to her father. When he is turned into a polyp in her place she's clearly horrified.
    • Sebastian also has a similar reaction after Triton destroys Ariel's things. Like the former, this prompts him to try and help Ariel to make amends.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The DVD Commentary notes that the scenes of Ariel posed on the rock were based on the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen.
    • Ursula tosses a tongue-looking thing into her cauldron (see "Visual Pun" below). In the original story, the little mermaid's tongue was cut out before she became human.
    • Attina, one of Ariel's sisters, was named after an obscure previous Alan Menken musical, Atina: Evil Queen of the Galaxy.
  • Naked on Arrival: When Ariel first becomes human, the lower half of her body is unclothed.
  • Named by the Adaptation: None of the characters in the original fairy tale (the little mermaid, the prince, the sea king, the sea witch, etc.) have names.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The first teaser for the third movie, made entirely from scenes of the first two. Still manages to be quite haunting.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: If Triton hadn't stormed into Ariel's grotto and destroyed her stuff, Ariel would have been satisfied with Eric's statue rather than try to pursue him. She was already happier with her family, and affectionate. When Triton incinerates everything in the name of teaching Ariel a lesson — which is nonsense because he just wanted an outlet for his temper — it leaves her vulnerable enough for Ursula to offer a chance to be with the real Eric. Triton realizes this in the end, especially when Eric risks his life to save Ariel.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Ursula throwing a monkey wrench into her deal with Ariel to usurp power is ultimately a catalyst for Eric killing her for trying to kill Ariel, which convinces Triton to overcome his hatred of humans and let Ariel stay with Eric and depart with him and the rest of his kingdom on good terms.
  • Nice Mean And Inbetween: Out of Ariel's animal friends, Flounder is innocent and shy (nice), Sebastian is snooty and grumpy (mean), and Scuttle is a friendly but slightly annoying Cloudcuckoolander (in-between).
  • Nightmare Face: "So help me, Ariel, I am going to get through to you, and if this is the only way, so be it!"
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Ariel's love of the human world, by merfolk standards.
  • No Cartoon Fish: Interestingly zigzagged. While there are of course plenty of cartoon fish in this movie, all dead fish are drawn realistically. The fish caught in the net in the first scene all look realistic, but when the sailor picks one up and waves it around in front of Grimsby's face, it alternates between realistic and cartoony before settling on cartoony after it's released back into the water.
  • Noodle Incident: Ursula states that she once lived in the palace, indicating she must have held a high status in Triton's court, but at some point she was banished and exiled for life - but we're never told what she did to earn such a punishment.
    • Also, Eric asks Grim this "You're not still sore, cause I didn't fall for the Princess of Glowerhaven, are you?"
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Flounder, Sebastian, Scuttle, and Max for the goodies. Flotsam and Jetsam for the baddie.
  • Non-Standard Character Design: Ironically, the merpeople have much more realistic designs and proportions than those of the humans (With the exception of Eric and Vanessa.)
  • No Ontological Inertia: Ursula's prisoners are freed when she dies.
  • Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: Ursula claims this.
    Ursula: "I admit that in the past I've been a nasty
    They weren't kidding when they called me, well, a witch
    But you'll find that nowadays, I've mended all my ways..."

  • Ode to Food: "Les Poissions" is a hammy song sung by a chef about how he loves to cook fish. Sebastian, who hears him singing, is simultaneously horrified and grossed out.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Sebastian when he sees Ariel has rescued human Eric and is singing over him. Complete with Jaw Drop.
    • He does another one when he accidentally rats Ariel out to Triton.
    • Also, when Ariel sees her father in her grotto after she swoons over the Eric statue.
    • After Ariel blurts out she loves Eric directly to Triton's face, both she, Triton, AND Sebastian have this expression. Cue another one from Ariel and Sebastian when Triton shortly afterwards starts destroying the grotto.
    • Sebastian is a king of this trope; he does ANOTHER one when Ariel tells him she's going to Ursula, and this time, he has good reason to be horrified.
    • And both Sebastian and Flounder when Ariel signs Ursula's contract and gets turned into a human. He gives another one when they're on land.
    • Sebastian again when he finds himself face to face with the kitchen's contents, including stuffed crabs. Cue faint. Then once more when he sees Chef Louie and nearly throws up. Then again when he runs into a dismembered fish head. As a matter of fact, Sebastian does an Oh, Crap! look virtually every five seconds in this part of the film as he gets noticed; every example would require its own page (along with Louie when the jig ends).
    • Eric when Ariel starts their carriage running towards a cliff.
    • Ariel and Sebastian when they see Eric hypnotized into marriage with Vanessa/Ursula.
    • "Vanessa" does a big one as a big flock of birds speed towards her.
    • "Vanessa"/Ursula when she speaks after this and realizes she no longer has Ariel's voice.
    • The entire wedding barge when Ursula drops her disguise.
    • Ariel and Sebastian after Ursula turns Triton into a polyp.
    • Ursula when her "babies" get zapped.
    • Flounder and Sebastian when Ursula goes One-Winged Angel.
    • Ariel and Eric when confronted with One-Winged Angel Ursula.
    • Ariel when Ursula traps her.
    • Ursula when she gets Impaled with Extreme Prejudice by Eric.
    • Sebastian when Louie finds him on the wedding barge.
    • "Oh my gosh! My father's gonna kill me!"
    • Scuttle when he sees Ursula's reflection in Vanessa's mirror. Ariel has the same reaction when he frantically reports that the "bride" is Ursula in disguise! It suddenly all makes sense now!
    • Flounder when he sees the shark behind him.
  • Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: Invoked as part of the song "Kiss the Girl".
  • One Mario Limit: "Ursula" wasn't a very common English name to begin with, but no reasoning parent today would name their child such, thanks to the villain of this film.
  • One-Winged Angel: Ursula at the end. Vanessa changing back into Ursula also counts.
  • Only Six Faces:
    • 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.
  • OOC Is Serious Business:
    • Normally Scuttle when telling Ariel "facts" about the human world is in a jovial tone, or at least she can figure out he's wrong instantly. When he flies to Ariel, Flounder and Sebastian after seeing Ursula's reflection in Vanessa's mirror, he's frantic and serious, quickly telling them "the prince is marrying the sea witch in disguise!" Even though Sebastian questions him, the trio realize that he's right, and that they have to get to the ship. Then when Sebastian orders Scuttle to stall the wedding, Scuttle calls all the sea creatures and birds he can find, to give Vanessa a Humiliation Conga and smash her shell.
    • Sebastian ordering Scuttle to stall the wedding also counts. For their time together, Sebastian has treated Scuttle as a fool. When he gives his orders, he sincerely tells Scuttle to get to it, without his usual condescension.
  • 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.
  • Overprotective Dad: Triton destroys almost everything Ariel cares about because of this, but in the end he becomes a Papa Wolf.
  • Overly Long Name: Horatio Felonious Ignacious Crustaceous Sebastian.
  • Papa Wolf: And protects her from Ursula (Well, he tries.)
  • Parental Abandonment:
    • 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 of a parent having a favorite child, 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.note 
  • Parents Are Wrong: Ariel wants to live on land and marry a human. King Triton vetoes this, but eventually relents and realizes that "children should be free to live their own lives."
  • Pimped-Out Dress: The dinner dress Ariel is given as well as her wedding dress.
  • 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.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The stage version has a song called "If Only", in which Ariel, Eric, Sebastian, and Triton all in different places mourn that they can't understand or be understood by someone they care deeply about.
  • Post-Victory Collapse: Eric passes out on the beach after his battle with Ursula.
  • Powerful and Helpless: Triton can do nothing to break the contract Ariel signed with Ursula. All the power he wields through his trident cannot destroy the contract. All he can do to save Ariel is pull a Take Me Instead.
  • Power Hair: Ursula.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The Broadway musical adaptation removes the Vanessa subplot, replacing it with a contest scene where several princesses compete for Eric's affection through singing. Also, during the climax, Ursula never grows into a giant beast once she gets the trident, as it would've been impossible to pull off onstage (this means that there's no final battle between Eric and Ursula; instead, Ariel is the one that kills her).
  • Precision F-Strike: In the stage musical, one of Ursula's songs, "I Want the Good Times Back", manages to squeeze in this line:
    Ursula: And get the good times back, I mean with all the perks/The trident, crown, and throne, all mine alone! The whole damn works!
  • 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.
  • Princesses Prefer Pink: Ariel's dinner dress and nightgown are both pink.
  • Princess Protagonist: Ariel, the protagonist of the movie, is the princess of her undersea kingdom, though she rejects the life set out for her and falls in love with a human prince.
  • Princesses Rule: Gender Flipped with Prince Eric.
  • Product Displacement: The 2013 restoration/3D conversion removed the words, "In Association With Silver Screen Partners IV" from the opening credits.
  • Progressive Instrumentation: "Kiss the Girl" has the various animals jump in one at a time.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "...You turn back into a mermaid. And, you belong. To me."
  • Punctuated Pounding: "DO YOU HEAR WHAT I'M TELLIN' YOU? The Prince! Is MARRYING! The Sea Witch! in DISGUISE!" All while Scuttle has grabbed Sebastian and is slamming him into the dock.
  • Purple Is the New Black: A major color for Ursula.
  • Race Against the Clock: Ariel has only three days to get a kiss from Eric and remain human permanently, otherwise she'll turn back into a mermaid.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Triton was already furious that his daughter had made contact with a human, but Ariel's defying shout of "I love him!" proved to be the straw that broke the seahorse's 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)?
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Ariel misses her musical debut due to exploring shipwrecks. When she realizes it and heads back, both her father and her conductor chew her out for being so irresponsible since it humiliated Triton and Sebastian.
    • It doesn't matter how trained a sailor is; if a ship gets caught in a hurricane, then everyone onboard is at risk.
    • Eric won't kiss a girl he just met because he doesn't even know her name due to her being mute, even if she's sending clear signals and also she's technically his guest. He only acquiesces on finding out her name and Grimsby telling her she's wonderful, real, and right before his eyes.
    • The instant Ariel first becomes human, she's struggling to breathe underwater and would've been in real danger of drowning had Ursula not been quick to seal her in an airtight bubble, and Sebastian and Flounder have to help her reach the surface as quickly as they can.
    • Moments after that when Ariel is on land, she wobbles while taking her first steps simply because she isn’t used to having human legs and it’s the first time she ever walks with them.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Played straight with Grimsby. He is basically Eric's Parental Substitute and implied to be his guardian before he came of age, telling him he deserves to be happy. Eric at least appreciates the sentiment, if not Grimsby trying to fix suitable matches for political reasons. While Grimsby hates being on the water and doesn't believe in the sailors' folktales, he goes anyway because it's Eric's birthday and will endure any discomfort for his sake. Later, Grimsby clearly ships Eric with the voiceless Ariel when the latter eats dinner with them, and encourages Eric to pursue what is real and before him rather than what's impossible. The ending confirms that he is more than fine with Eric marrying a transformed mermaid, because what matters is his adopted son is happy, and he can't help but comfort Carlotta who is sobbing Tears of Joy.
    • Subverted. King Triton tries to be as he's gently telling Ariel off for missing her debut concert, while Sebastian is playing the Bad Cop. When he finds out Ariel went to the surface, he chews her out because she could have been hurt by humans, and won't listen to her protests that nothing happened.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Ursula has only six tentacles instead of the traditional eight because of budget issues. Though if you include her human arms, she does have eight limbs.
  • Rebellious Princess: Ariel fits this to a T. She's pretty much the Trope Codifier, at least for Disney's near-constant use of this trope ever since.
  • Refrain from Assuming: Ariel's main song, "Part Of Your World", can be mistaken as "Part of That World" as she says the latter in the song. She does say the former in the reprises, however. It's because at first, she's referring to "that" world in the abstract. Later, she's singing about being part of Eric's ("your") world.
  • Rescue Romance: It goes both ways, too.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Why does Triton see humans as enemies and forbid merpeople from going above water? It isn't until the threequel that we probably get this answer.
  • Right-Hand Attack Dog: Ursula the Sea Witch's pet green moray eel minions Flotsam and Jetsam.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: After a long string of generic Prince Charmings, Prince Eric actually turns out to be quite the hero. 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.
    • The scene at the beginning of the movie also bears this out - Eric clearly knows his way around the ship, leaping to help a sailor lash down a line on a cleat. And right after this, another sailor remarks of Eric's ignorance of Triton "Thought every good sailor knew about him", indicating that he, a real old salt, considers Eric to be a good sailor.
  • 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.
  • Rule of Three: "Before the sun sets on the third day..."
  • Sacred Hospitality:
    • Downplayed since she has ulterior motives, but Ursula doesn't physically harm Ariel, Sebastian or Flounder when they visit her lair. While the eels shut up Sebastian when he tells Ariel not to take the deal, it's not physically binding for long.
    • Eric takes Ariel to the castle to get cleaned up on seeing she's mute, alone, and scared on the beach thanks to Max chasing her. It's also why he doesn't want to kiss her the next day since she's technically his guest, since he is the one with the power, but he gives in on hearing her name.
  • 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, 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.
  • Sealed with a Kiss: The clause of Ursula's contract with Ariel.
  • 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.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Eric first sees Ariel in human form when she's wrapped tarp around her body. When Carlotta dresses her in a pink dinner gown, they're delighted to see how she looks.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Scuttle, Sebastian, and Flounder kind of get pushed to the side during the climax.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Prince Eric was named after animator Eric Larson, one of Disney's Nine Old Men, in his honor.
    • 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'.
    • 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).
  • Shown Their Work: Ursula's blood is shown to be blue when Eric harpoons her. Cephalopods do indeed have blue blood in real life.
  • Signature Instrument: The first time that Ariel sets eyes on Prince Eric, he's playing a festive tune on a flute while the seamen dance and cavort. Later, Eric plays Ariel's theme in the longshot hope that his dream girl will return. When at last Prince Eric heeds Grimsby's advice to pursue the lovely on-hand Ariel, he pitches his flute into the sea, allegorical to discarding his pursuit of someone unobtainable.
  • The Silent Bob: Ariel after becoming human.
  • Simple, yet Opulent: Ariel's dresses in this movie have a few trimmings at most.
  • Slapstick Knows No Gender: Scuttle's plan to stop the wedding involves having Ursula attacked with nearly everything him and the ocean can throw at her, compared to the rest of the climax this is played very comically. Bonus points since Ursula is still in her far more feminine "Vanessa" disguise at this point.
    • One could argue that Ariel gets into a mild form of this every now and again, most notably at the dinner scene where she confuses the fork for a hairbrush-like object and essentially makes herself look like an idiot. Relatively tame by the standards of her successor princesses, but it is notable how she got the ball rolling for this trope to apply even to the female lead.
  • 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).
  • Sliding Scale of Animal Communication: Zig-zagged. The merpeople communicate fully with the sea animals, and Ariel maintains that ability once she becomes human, but she cannot communicate with Max. Regular humans cannot understand animals, except when Eric understands Sebastian whispering Ariel’s name during “Kiss the Girl.” But animals can largely understand humans.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Scuttle, about knowledge of human life.
  • 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").
  • Springtime for Hitler: The reason why Ursula demands Ariel's voice as payment for turning her into a human is that she knows Eric is in love with the voice and not the actual girl, and humans don't fall in love in just three days. Her scheme backfires; Eric starts falling for Ariel because she makes him laugh and have fun, and when he finds out her name he's more flexible about potentially imposing on his guest. Ursula has to hypnotize Eric to make sure Ariel doesn't get the kiss in time.
  • Static Character: Zigzagged. Thanks to Eric's influence, Ariel does learn she should stay true to her core beliefs, in spite of her father's xenophobia, and she also learns some of her more impulsive, short-sighted actions can have far-reaching consequences, but her character doesn't change that much in the first movie compared to other Disney protagonists. This could be a deliberate choice, since one of the main points of the original film is that people keep trying to force Ariel to be something that she's not and she finds happiness and acceptance on land, with Eric. In any case, the sequel gives her further, more significant Character Development, and the prequels flesh out her upbringing.
  • Stating the Simple Solution:
    • Before Triton destroyed her grotto, Ariel's plan was to find out where Eric lived and go see him, while still in mermaid form, and using Flounder's splashing to get Eric's attention. As she realizes, however, as long as she's in the sea then she's in her father's domain and he would never allow that.
    • Triton tries to destroy the contract with his trident on learning Ariel now belongs to Ursula. The paper remains intact, and Ursula gloats how a legally binding contract is beyond his power.
  • Steamrolled Smart Guy: King Triton assigns Sebastian to keep watch over Ariel. However, Sebastian is repeatedly unable to convince Ariel to follow his instructions, as she sneaks off to visit humans instead.
  • Steel Drums and Sunshine: "Under the Sea," Sebastian the crab's song about how it's great to live in the ocean, prominently features steel drums. The song is also popular with pannists in real life.
  • Strong Family Resemblance:
    • 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.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: The "Daughters of Triton" song.. It's a concert Sebastian has created with all of Triton's daughters and is supposed to be the grand debut of Triton's youngest daughter, the lead character of the film, the Little Mermaid we know as Ariel.
    Six Daughters: And then there is the youngest in her musical debut / Our seventh little sister, we're presenting her to you / To sing a song Sebastian wrote, her voice is like a bell / She's our sister, Ari... (gasps of shock and surprise at Ariel's absence)
    King Triton: (in extreme fury) 'ARIEL!'
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: When Sebastian discovers Ariel's collection in the grotto, he shouts, "IF YOUR FATHER KNEW ABOUT THIS PLACE, HE'D...", but Flounder cuts him off.
  • Super Drowning Skills: As soon as Ariel turns human, almost every scene involving her and water goes...poorly until Flounder and Sebastian help her out. Justified as she's used to having a tail and breathing underwater, and even those who have been human since birth need to be trained and taught how to swim.
  • Super Not-Drowning Skills: On the other end of the spectrum, Eric seems to possess this in the first movie's finale, during which he dives into the sea, and to throw a harpoon at Ursula, while he's about 6 feet away from his rowboat.
  • 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.
      • And let's not forget it was Flounder who got Eric's statue into Ariel's grotto.

  • Take Me Instead: This is the essence of King Triton's offer to Ursula. Ariel has signed her soul over to her and in order to break the Magically Binding Contract he has to put his signature in place of hers.
  • Teeth Flying: At the end of the movie, Louis the chef loses a few teeth after getting hit on the face by a mast.
  • Tempting Fate: Eric uses a very poor choice in words with the following line.
    Eric: When I find her, I'll know. Without a doubt. It'll just - bam! - hit me... like lightning.
    [cue Dramatic Thunder]
  • Theme Naming: The Daughters of Triton are all "A" names: Ariel, Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Attina, Adella, and Alana. All of them are also three syllables, like their mother's name Athena.
    • Odd Name Out: Ariel's name starts with A like her sisters', but it does not end with A.
      • But sometimes she in the Croatian and Italian dubs.
  • They Have the Scent!: Max tracks Ariel down by scent twice in the film, licking her face upon finding her both times. The second time is even how Prince Eric first meets her.
  • This Is Reality: Grimsby is fond of saying this. He tells Eric that folktales about the sea aren't real, and girls don't just rescue princes from drowning and vanish. Needless to say, he's proven wrong about both.
  • Title Drop: During "Vanessa's" song: "Soon I'll have that little mermaid and the ocean will be mine!"
  • Tranquil Fury: King Triton is initially like this when he confronts Ariel in her grotto.
    Triton: I consider myself a reasonable merman. I set certain rules, and I expect these rules to be obeyed.
  • True Blue Femininity: When Eric is showing Ariel around his land, she wears a dress with a blue skirt, and a large, blue hair ribbon.
  • Triumphant Reprise:
    • One of the most iconic scenes in the film, just after Ariel rescues Eric, and vows to return to him on land someday.
    • A second reprise of "Part of Your World" plays over Ariel and Eric's wedding. Additionally the original ending would have had Ariel appearing in human form singing the Triumphant Reprise herself.
    • A smaller one; Ariel sings a solemn chorus so that Ursula can steal her voice and hypnotise Eric. When the shell breaks and Ariel's voice is returned to her, she sings a more triumphant version of the chorus.
  • True Love's Kiss
  • 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.
  • Two-Person Love Triangle: Because Eric thinks that Ariel, not having a voice, can't be the woman who saved him, given that he heard this mystery woman singing.
  • Unbuilt Trope: As the first proper Disney-Broadway film, that so many Animated Musicals have been inspired by, it's surprising to see that the musical elements are at least justified in-universe. A supporting character is a concert composer and he's responsible for some of the film's more splashy numbers. The heroine having a beautiful singing voice is also a plot point - and it's exploited by the villain.
  • Under the Sea: Although it's about video games, this is the Trope Namer. On the other hand, it IS the main setting in most Little Mermaid video games.
  • The Unreveal: It is not mentioned at one point why King Triton forbids Ariel going to the surface. The prequel film implies otherwise, as his mother was crushed to death by a ship while above water.
  • Unscaled Merfolk: Ursula, being half octopus (a cecelia).
  • Unstoppable Rage: King Triton flies into a destructive fit of blind rage when Ariel tells him that she's in love with Eric.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Had the Seahorse Herald had been a tad bit more specific on why Triton needed to see Sebastian about Ariel, the crab wouldn't have thought it was because the Sea King knew about Prince Eric.
  • Unwitting Pawn: While Ariel was completely aware of what she was getting into when she made a Deal with the Devil with Ursula, she didn't know that Ursula was using her as a pawn to become the ruler of Atlantica. As quoted by the 2004 Disney Princess storybook:
    Ursula: "It's not you I'm after. You're merely the bait to catch your father."
  • Urban Legends: In similar fashion to the word "SEX" allegedly appearing in the sky in The Lion King (1994), one of the posters and the 1990 Walt Disney Classics VHS front cover for The Little Mermaid feature a decidedly 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.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Ursula near the end.
  • Villainous Glutton: Ursula.
  • Villain Has a Point: Ursula agrees that if Ariel becomes human then the latter won't see her family, but she'll have her man: "Life has tough choices in it." Even though Ariel at the end becomes human thanks to Triton letting her go, she will still have a life on land far apart from her father and sisters.
  • 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".
    • The sequel has a deleted one, "Gonna Get My Wish".
  • Visual Pun: A rather dark one. When Ursula sings the line "It's she who holds her tongue, who gets her man.", she tosses a human-looking tongue into her cauldron.
  • Voice Changeling: It actually is Jodi Benson talking and singing for Ursula in the Vanessa disguise, sounding pettier and more cacophonic. Ursula uses it until Scuttle smashes her shell and Ariel receives her voice back.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: During the opening "Fathoms Below", Grimsby is seasick from the rough waters and is Green Around the Gills when responding to Prince Eric's comment about the fresh sea air, and then his cheeks bulge and he leans over the ship's railing to puke, facing away from the camera.
  • Was Too Hard on Her: King Triton dwells over this after scolding Ariel. He also thinks this after destroying her secret grotto filled with human treasures. To be fair, he did go overboard with the latter.
  • Watching the Sunset
  • 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.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: King Triton, although unlike others he actually has a Freudian Excuse.
  • Wham Line:
    • Said by Ariel during an argument with Triton about saving Eric's life:
    Ariel: Daddy, I love him!
    • Ursula tells Ariel exactly the thing she wants to hear: "The only way to get what you want is to become a human yourself."
  • Wham Shot: Ariel is about to kiss Eric...but the sun goes down. She collapses onto the deck, with a mermaid tail, gesturing apologetically to him. Eric has a look of surprise as well as This Explains So Much.
  • Wicked Witch: Although Ursula is a member of a fairy race rather than human, she's considered a Wicked Witch to merpeople.
  • Witch with a Capital B
    "I admit that in the past I've been a nasty, /They weren't kidding when they called me, well, a witch..."
  • X-Ray Sparks: Occurs during Ursula's death.
  • You Are Too Late: Pointed out by Ursula when the heroes arrive too late to complete Ariel's contract.
  • You Are Worth Hell: Eric changes into his sailor clothes and goes out in a little rowboat to save Ariel from Ursula, armed with only a harpoon. When Ariel tells Eric he needs to get away from Ursula's wrath, he pulls her in a hug and says he's not leaving her.
  • You Can Talk?: Eric is surprised when the shell is shattered and Ariel gets her voice back, as she had been up until then seemingly completely mute. He realizes she's the girl who saved him.
    Eric: You can talk. You're the one. It was you all along.
  • You Monster!: Ariel to Ursula, once King Triton gets transformed into a polyp.
  • Youngest Child Wins: And is the only one to actually get married and leave home, apparently in this movie. Word of God says that Ariel is her father's favourite, because she is the most like her deceased mother.


Video Example(s):


Unbreakable Even for You

King Triton learns that his daughter Ariel signed away her soul to the sea witch Ursula and tries to blast away the contact with his trident. As Ursula explains though, the contract is legal, binding and completely unbreakable, even for him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / MagicallyBindingContract

Media sources:

Main / MagicallyBindingContract