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Western Animation / The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning

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Every tale has a beginning, but only one begins Under the Sea.

The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning is the 2008 Direct to Video Prequel to Disney's The Little Mermaid (1989) and, as of 2023, the last of a very long chain of DTV Disney Animated Canon sequels, prequels, and midquels after John Lasseter took charge of Disney's animation department and killed any future films of this nature. (The rise of 3D animation no doubt played no small part in this as well.) note  This film reveals the cause of King Triton's fear and hatred of humans to be the death of his beloved Queen Athena, Ariel's mother.

During a family excursion on the surface, Triton (Jim Cummings) gives his queen Athena (Lorelei Hill Butters) a music box. A pirate ship appears, and Athena is killed while attempting to save the music box. Heartbroken, Triton bans all music from Atlantica.

Years later, a now teenage Ariel (Jodi Benson), dissatisfied with life, joins an illicit music club. Meanwhile, the princesses' governess Marina Del Ray (Sally Field), with the help of her manatee assistant Benjamin (Jeff Bennett), is plotting to get Sebastian's (Samuel E. Wright, in his final film appearance) job as Triton's right-hand man.

Followed in chronological order by The Little Mermaid (1989).

Ariel's Beginning contains examples of:

  • 2D Visuals, 3D Effects: The pirate ship in the beginning is made with computer 3-D animation.
  • Adaptational Personality Change: Prior to this film, some of Ariel's sisters were previously given some spotlight in the 1992 Little Mermaid TV show. Due to this film ignoring the show, the sisters are completely different from how they were presented there. In particular, Arista goes from a Jerk with a Heart of Gold who bosses Ariel around to an exciteable, naive Genius Ditz.
  • Accidental Pervert: Before the song "Just One Mistake", Benjamin is massaging Marina Del Rey's back when she gets up, this results in him briefly and accidentally massaging her butt before he recoils in surprise.
  • Alliterative Family: In addition to Ariel and her six sisters - Alana, Adella, Aquata, Attina, Arista and Andrina - this film also reveals that her mother's name was Athena. This is Played for Laughs early on, when Aquata gets into a squabble with Arista over the latter taking her things, arguing that they clearly have her initials on them.
    Attina: (annoyed) All of our names start with A, Aquata.
  • Almost Kiss: In the opening scene, Triton and Athena nearly kiss each other but are stopped by Ariel and her sisters watching them.
  • Alternate Continuity: ZigZagged. While it still maintains continuity with the original film, Ariel's Beginning has no connection to the previous prequel series, and gives the characters completely different backstories to the ones shown there.
  • Ambiguously Evil: Did the pirates run over Athena by accident, or was it intentional? Since it is implied they were actively plundering the merfolk for their no-doubt invaluable instruments made of precious metals, it may very well have been the latter.
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • Ariel's first visit to the Catfish Club shows that the hideout has a carefully planned out entrance procedure with multiple security checkpoints. Later, after Marina comes into the girls' room to find Ariel and her sisters missing, she's next shown having somehow tracked them to the club. How Marina found the club, or managed to get through or avoid the various security measures in order to enter it, is never shown or explained.
    • Sebastian leads Ariel to the location of her late mother's music box, implied to be where it landed when Triton threw it in anger after her death. How and when Sebastian found the box, or how it somehow managed to stay in this one position under the sea for an entire decade, is never made clear.
    • In The Stinger, Benjamin is shown sitting and dancing with Marina in her prison cell, but, being a manatee, isn't wearing prisoner garments like she is. Whether Benjamin was actually imprisoned with Marina - due to him at least partially going along with her plan - or is merely visiting her is not clear.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Marina isn't satisfied as a governess and wants Sebastian's job.
  • And Starring: The cast roll here ends with "and Sally Field as Marina Del Rey".
  • Artistic License – Biology: Marina has a swarm of pet electric eels. These eels are not only larger and much more monstrous looking than their real counterparts, but real electric eels actually inhabit freshwater habitats, rather than the deeper ocean where the film takes place.
  • Ascended Extra: Ariel's sisters receive more focus than the other movies and TV show combined.
  • Bare Midriffs Are Feminine: As always, mermaids are dressed in Seashell Bras (except for the older, uglier mermaid Marina), whereas mermen go around bare-chested.
  • Batman Gambit: Sebastian, of all people, pulls one off when leading Ariel, Flounder and the Catfish Club Band to the place where the lost music box sank, in the hope that Ariel would find it and return it to her father, which in turn would remind him of the happiness music brought with it.
  • Big "NO!":
    • Triton lets out one just before Athena gets crushed by the pirate ship.
    • Triton yells another one after Ariel pushes Sebastian out of Marina's way, only to get knocked out in the process.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Stern but well-meaning Attina, who is the oldest and as such, the next in line for the Atlantican throne.
  • The Cameo: Scuttle makes a two-second appearance in one very brief scene.
  • Call-Forward:
    • The prologue shows Ariel's mother Athena being killed by human pirates. In addition to setting up this film's conflict with his ban on music, this is also heavily implied to be the cause of Triton's hatred of humans, and why he forbids Ariel from going to the surface in the first film.
    • Flounder closes Ariel's Jaw Drop in reaction to seeing Sebastian sing, the same way Scuttle closes Sebastian's in the first film.
  • Casting Gag:
    • Tara Strong, who voiced Ariel's daughter Melody in the second movie, voices Ariel's sisters Adella and Andrina.
    • In the European Spanish dub, Alana is voiced by Sara Polo, who had her break earlier in the year playing another mermaid in Luchia Nanami from Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: The Catfish Club Band at first don't want to risk going back to Atlantica with Ariel, Flounder and Sebastian. They change their minds and show up just in time to save Ariel and Flounder from the electric eels.
  • Covers Always Lie: The film's main poster depicts a teenage Ariel and her sisters alongside Athena and a younger, darker-haired Triton. Ariel's parents are only depicted this way in the prologue when Ariel and her sisters are still children, as Athena dies in the Downer Beginning while Triton has his more iconic older design for the main narrative.
  • Darker and Edgier: While it has its share of humor and music, the film's plot primarily revolves around Ariel's family grieving for her late mother, and the depressive state that Triton in particular fell into because of it, making it by far the heaviest and most sombre instalment of the franchise.
  • Dead Hat Shot: When Athena gets killed by the pirate ship, all we get that is left of her is the music box, with No Body Left Behind.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Played with via Andrina, the second youngest. She is good-natured but is a known wisecracker who is perfectly capable of deadpan.
  • Disney Death: Ariel, after a Diving Save for Sebastian. She awakens as Triton sings "Athena's Song".
  • Doomed by Canon: Anyone who watched the film this story is a prequel to already knows Marina won't keep Sebastian's job or even her previous one as a governess.
  • Downer Beginning: The prologue ends with Queen Athena being crushed to death by the pirate ship, leading to King Triton forbidding all merfolk from going to the surface again and banning all music from the kingdom.
  • Dumb Blonde: Subverted with Arista, the third youngest. She is simple-minded, but when the sisters hit the Catfish Club together, she shows off her musical talents and plays a mean saxophone.
  • Dystopian Edict: "All music is forbidden in the kingdom!"
  • Fantastic Racism: King Triton's hatred of humans is due to his wife's death at the hands of pirates.
  • The Fashionista: Alana, the second oldest, who is highly interested in glamour and makes her own beauty products.
  • Fiery Redhead: Ariel is more than willing to make known her dissatisfaction with her father's laws.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Since this film takes place before The Little Mermaid, we already know that Athena will die, Triton's xenophobia will remain, and Sebastian will keep his job as a composer.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The screen quickly cuts to black just as the pirate ship kills Athena. Yikes!
  • Grand Finale: Of the Disney Animated Canon's sequel/prequel films until Ralph Breaks the Internet in 2018.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Athena pulls one when she tries to save the music box from getting stolen by the pirates, but by the time she does so, it's too late for her to jump back underwater, and she suffers her ultimate fate.
  • Informed Species: Nope, real electric eels don't have those big, predatory fangs, nor such enlarged tailfins.
  • Jaw Drop: After discovering the secret underground music club, Ariel has this reaction when she sees Sebastian singing.
  • Karma Houdini: The pirates receive no on-screen comeuppance for killing Athena.
  • Killed Offscreen: We never actually see Athena's death.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Ariel's a Little Sister Heroine with six older sisters named (from oldest to youngest): Attina, Alana, Adella, Aquata, Arista and Adrina.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Electric eels are purely freshwater dwellers.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The film opens with Ariel and her sisters as young children, then has a decade Time Skip.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Seeing how Ariel run from home because of his actions, Triton realizes how badly he screwed up after seeing Ariel take a hit for Sebastian and thinking she died, unconsciously letting go of the music box.
  • No Body Left Behind: Athena's death comes off as this; her body was nowhere to be seen after the ship crash.
  • No Music Allowed: Triton creates the music ban because Queen Athena died going back for the music box he had given her. He is consumed by grief for the next ten years and subjects the kingdom to misery with him. It’s not until Ariel runs away and rediscovers the music box that Triton sees the error of his ways and finally resolves his grief by letting music flourish in Atlantica again.
  • Noodle Incident: As Triton says that he doesn't remember having any trouble with Ariel's sisters, Sebastian mentions an incident involving Arista and a blowfish and another involving Aquata and a stingray.
  • Nostalgic Music Box: King Triton gives his wife a music box as a gift. She is then killed while trying to save it from being crushed. Later, Ariel finds the music box, and its haunting melody helps persuade her father to lift the ban on music by reminding him of his late queen.
  • Oh, Crap!: Athena's final moments as she realizes she's too late to escape the pirate ship. Triton has the same just before she gets hit.
  • Ominous Clouds: While the merfolk were playing amongst a rocky shore of a seaside pool, dark clouds begin rolling across the sky just before a pirate ship appears to steal their treasures. Even Sebastian points out the change in both the sky and the mood of the flashback before the real tragedy hits with the ship crashing into both the rocks and Queen Athena:
Sebastian: "But even the brightest days can be darkened by an unseen tempest."
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Marina is tipped off by the seven sisters being up early. That cause her to find out that they left during the night.
  • Punny Name: Marina del Rey (Rey, not Ray) is the name of a seaside town near Los Angeles.
  • Pursuing Parental Perils: Athena is killed during a visit to the surface while trying to save a music box. Ariel shares her mother's love of music, and in the TV series and the original movie she is infatuated with the surface world.
  • The Quiet One: As children, Ariel and her sisters do not speak verbally, aside from laughing and gasps, with all the talking done by Triton and Athena.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Ariel joins Flounder, Sebastian, and the Catfish Club Band after escaping from Atlantica.
  • The Reveal: The facts that Athena looks exactly like Ariel (except for their eye colors) and lost her life to pirates explains why Triton hated humans so much and why he was so protective of his youngest daughter.
  • Saved by Canon: Ariel has a Disney Death in the film's climax. Given that the movie is a prequel, it's inevitable that she survives.
  • Say My Name: Triton cries out, "ATHENA!!" twice in sadness as she sacrifices herself to save the music box.
  • Seashell Bra: As in the first movie, this is standard mermaid attire. One of the sisters even has a "lucky" Seashell Bra.
  • Sibling Team: Ariel and her sisters. Each of her six older sisters has their personalities differentiated to an extent not yet seen in previous Little Mermaid literary, TV or film installments.
  • Skewed Priorities: At the beginning, whilst Ariel's family tries to get away from the ship, Athena goes back to grab her music box. She ends up being crushed and killed by the ship because of this. It did have sentimental value to her and Triton, but she still died for a music box.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Out all seven Princesses of Atlantica, Ariel's the one who looks the most like Athena—in fact, the only real physical difference between being their eye colors (Ariel has blue eyes while Athena has green eyes).
  • Taking the Bullet: Ariel dives right in front of Sebastian, taking the blow meant for him by Marina, causing her to fall into a trench with her unconscious.
  • Theme Music Powerup - I Remember, which is Ariel's first (chronologically in the Little Mermaid series timeline) signature song and goes a long way towards revealing her beliefs and personality. (It also has an element of a Lonely Piano Piece before it slowly but surely shifts into gear.)
  • Villain Song: Marina Del Ray's "Just One Mistake", which could also double as a villainous "I Want" Song.
  • Water Is Air: 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.
  • Widely-Spaced Jail Bars: Sebastian can clearly fit through the bars of the jail cell he and the Catfish Club Band are stuck in. It's even pointed out by one of the prisoners trying to convince him to pick the lock.
  • Zoomed-Out Reframing Gag: After Marina squeals to King Triton about Sebastian's secret band and has them arrested, everyone witnessing reacts with shock and horror, while Marina herself loudly celebrates that she's got the mighty sea-king in the palm of her hand. Meanwhile, two random fish swim by and notice her whooping and hollering from afar.
    Fish #1: Who is that?
    Fish #2: I don't know, but she scares me


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Little Mermaid III, The Little Mermaid 3, The Little Mermaid III Ariels Beginning


Ariel's sacrifice

Ariel nearly risks her whole life when protecting Sebastian from Marina.

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