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YMMV / The Little Mermaid (1989)

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  • Accidental Innuendo: This gem from "Under the Sea":
    Darling, it's better down where it's wetter
  • Alternate Aesop Interpretation: It's been argued that the story is a cautionary tale for parents. Triton is pretty applicable to the standard overprotective parent that goes too far and unwittingly sends his child into the arms of someone who wants to hurt and exploit her.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: It's possible to view Triton's change of heart as being a little more nuanced than just wanting his daughter to be happy. He was turned into a polyp and nearly doomed the entire ocean to Ursula's rule (and who knows what kind of queen she'd be after she was done destroying everything). But it was a human - the human Ariel loves - who killed her and effectively fixed the mess Triton himself made. So him giving the couple his blessing could partly be an If It's You, It's Okay situation.
    • This interpretation is validated by the storyboarded alternate ending, where Triton says "That human saved my life" whilst watching Ariel with Eric at the end.
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  • Americans Hate Tingle: Despite being well liked elsewhere, the Disney adaptation is not well liked by Danish folk (Denmark is where the Little Mermaid story originated), mainly because of it abandoning the moral of the original story.
  • Applicability:
    • The most common allegorical view of this film is that it's a story about growing up. Ariel's life under the sea can be seen to represent childhood, pleasant and secure yet confining, while the human world represents adulthood, with all its potential dangers and struggles, yet with freedom and new joys that a child can't know... not the least of which is romantic love. Like many parents, Triton wants to protect Ariel like a child forever, but like most teenagers, Ariel is eager to grow up and have new experiences. In the end, like all parents, Triton realizes that he needs to let Ariel leave home and build her own life.
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    • As shown by the number of times on this very page that tropers have called Triton "racist," it can also be viewed as an anti-racism story. Open-minded Ariel looks beyond her birth culture's normalized bigotry, sees the value in a different culture, and eventually falls in love with a person from that group and chooses to adopt their ways. Triton's eventual change of heart can be seen to promote universal equality and positive race relations.
    • Like the original story, this version can also be viewed as queer allegory. Ariel's love is forbidden by her society, and like all too many, she's forced to leave her prejudiced family behind and risk her very life (the threat of Ursula serving as a stand-in for prejudice or AIDS) in order to truly be herself and love who she wants to love. She also faces the risk of Eric not returning her feelings, or returning them but choosing a more "conventional" partner like "Vanessa" instead. Even though the happy ending is a straight relationship, it can be seen to represent LGBTQ equality, with Ariel attaining the secure love, joy and acceptance that Andersen (bisexual) and lyricist Howard Ashman (gay and eventually died of AIDS) both undoubtedly longed for. The fact that it culminates in Triton making a rainbow appear over the newlyweds only enhances this vibe.
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    • It's also been argued that Ariel's becoming human can be seen as a metaphor for a transgender woman transitioning. She always wanted to join the human world (metaphor for transitioning), as she sings "Part of Your World" before she meets Eric. Then when she meets Eric, she decides to transition then so she can be with him - she always wanted to eventually, the prospect of getting a boyfriend just gave her the final push, as is the case with some transgender women. So Ariel gets legs and, one can assume, what goes between them. Also there is the rejection by and later reconciliation with her father, as a coming-out story might have. Check out some more info here.
    • Jodi Benson has said that she's met a lot of autistic children who related to Ariel having her voice taken from her and being unable to communicate her true feelings.
  • Base-Breaking Character:
    • Is Ariel a good character/role model or a terrible one? Those who dislike her point to her being selfish and reckless and whose sense of rebelliousness and occasional irresponsibility often causes problems. Her making a deal with Ursula, who she knows to not be trustworthy and who curses those who can't fulfill their end of a deal was a pretty big mistake, especially since it's for the sake of a man she barely knows. They also note that she doesn't appear to learn anything from the ordeal. Fans of her praise her bravery and decisive attitude, feeling that she's good as a flawed protagonist rather than being too unrealistically perfect. They also make the arguments that she has every right to want a life where she can find happiness, that she'd long been fascinated by the surface world and not just Eric, that after the deal she does spend a good deal of time getting to know Eric, that the film doesn't portray the deal as a good thing, but an understandable mistake in an extremely vulnerable moment and that she has to earn her happy ending, big time.
    • King Triton. A well-meaning father who only wants what's best for Ariel and who she should have listened to? Or an idiotic and possibly racist Jerkass father who brought the events of the movie's second act upon himself because he didn't handle Ariel's fascination with humans tactfully? And then there's the question of whether the second interpretation is the intent, but also, y'know, the whole point and he's supposed to be infuriating and realize he was wrong in the end – which of course further irritates people who agreed with him to begin with.
  • Best Known for the Fanservice: The movie is still quite famous, but for many, Ariel's nude scenes stand out as one of the key details they remember.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: Chef Louis and his musical number, "Les Poissons".
  • Broken Base:
    • Who is the oldest sibling: Aquata or Attina? Aquata was originally the heir, however the third movie puts Attina as the oldest. Fans differ on which they prefer.
    • In Finland, as in many European countries, the movie was dubbed twice. Fans can get quite intense about which dub is better, especially the two voices for Ariel: Johanna Nurmimaa, the first Ariel has a more mature, operatic voice that's completely different from Jodi Benson's, while the second Ariel, Nina Tapio, has a light, contemporary sound, closer to Jodi's. Other countries were there is a huge debate over the two dubs are Greece, German and France.
  • Crack Pairing:
    • For some bizarre reason, whenever Disney pops up on Imageboards /u/, they ship Ariel with Meg from Hercules (something we need to thank to batlesbo and X-Arielle).
    • Other very popular pairings in the fandom are Ariel/Jim Hawkins, Ariel/Peter Pan, and Ariel/Sora.
    • It's also not unheard of to ship Percy Jackson with Ariel, probably because of the whole sea thing.
    • Courtesy of the "Mickey's Philharmagic" show in Disneyland, Ariel/Donald Duck after she tickles his chin and he falls absolutely head-over-heels for her.
    • Some people also ship Ariel/Ursula.
  • Draco in Leather Pants:
    • In most websites, Youtube especially, many fans of the movie speak so well about Ursula and justify her behavior by saying that she explained the fine print to Ariel, and how Ariel was gullible for signing the contract. This is ignoring the fact that Ariel was just an Unwitting Pawn for Ursula to get close to the latter’s goal to rule the land and sea. It also doesn't help that it is never explained in the original movie why exactly Ursula was banished from Triton's kingdom (Later adaptations like the stage musical based on the Disney version reveal that Ursula was behind the death of Ariel's mother.)
    • Another reason Ursula gets this is because Evil Is Sexy. Then there's some (mistakenly) see her as an unfairly villified feminist icon because she's confident, intelligent, happily single, and powerful. Some even go so far as claim that she's just a victim of Triton's tyranny. Naturally these interpretations completely ignore that Ursula is a cruel, power-hungry, manipulative sadist like most villains.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • Sebastian was so popular that voice actor Samuel E. Wright recorded two albums as the character. There was even a tie-in Disney Channel special, and the character also starred in his own shorts on the short-lived Saturday Morning Cartoon Raw Toonage, along with his nemesis Louis.
    • "Vanessa" (Ursula's disguised form) is really popular with some fans.
  • Epileptic Trees: In The Da Vinci Code, author Dan Brown puts forth the theory that the directors and animators were pagan goddess worshipers and scattered clues and obscure references to the "Sacred Feminine" throughout the film, including Ariel's red hair. The reality is far less mystical though: the animators chose to make Ariel a redhead to avoid comparisons with Daryl Hannah's blonde mermaid character from Splash, and also because it gave a nice contrast with the blue sea and her green tail.
  • Evil Is Cool: Ursula is one of the favourite Renaissance villains precisely because of how effective she is. A Manipulative Bastard who waits until a victim is emotionally vulnerable - and then offers them a deal they take in the heat of the moment. And she pretty much succeeds by the end of the film.
  • Evil Is Sexy:
    • Ursula in her Vanessa form.
    • A good number of viewers found Ursula sexy even in her original form. "Don't underestimate the importance of BODY LANGUAGE!"
  • Fair for Its Day: Today some take issue with the movie as its heroine is a girl who leaves behind her family and her undersea home to live out her dream of adventures and discovery on land and pursue a guy she just met. At the time though, Ariel was written by Disney to be a proactive girl, following after the more passive and demure Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora. She also was the first Disney princess to set out and win the heart of the guy she loved, rather than have him show up and carry her off. (And she was also the first Disney Princess to save the life of her prince, twice. She is a Damsel in Distress in the climax, but that is merely Eric returning the favour).
  • Fandom Rivalry: Ariel is often compared (sometimes unfavourably) to the Disney protagonists that came after her. Belle from Beauty and the Beast is the most common, Belle usually being held up as a better feminist role model. If a debate about whether Ariel is feminist or not comes up, she's usually compared to Belle in some way. This has gone the other way in recent years, as Belle has gotten a backlash from some fans who feel she is too perfect - the Unshaved Mouse in particular preferring Ariel because she was flawed. It's also been pointed out that Pocahontas gets compared to Simba for the reverse reasons that Belle and Ariel are compared; Pocahontas being too perfect and Simba being flawed. Simba is praised for his flaws, while Ariel is criticised for hers.
  • Fanon: Despite the fact that it was scrapped for the final film, many fans still write Ursula as Triton's sister. This later became official canon once more after the Broadway musical brought this element back.
  • Genre Turning Point: After the box office failure of Sleeping Beauty, Disney decided to make cheaper movies with animation of much worse quality. The Little Mermaid was the first movie after decades where a lot of effort was put into the animation quality, and the first fairy tale as well, and its huge success started the Animation Renaissance.
  • Genius Bonus:
    • Mythology fans will recognize Ursula and Morgana as cecaelias, a race of half-octopus, half-human creatures.
    • Many fans who learn the What Could Have Been Fanon are confused on how Triton (a merman) and Ursula (a Cecaelias) could be brother-and-sister. Those familiar with Greek Mythology, and the fruitful spawn of Poseidon (Triton's father), will know that children of the Greek Gods were frequently different species of each other.
    • Ariel is named after the air spirit from William Shakespeare's The Tempest. This is most likely a reference to the original ending, in which the un-named mermaid dies and turns into an air spirit.
    • Ursula's incantation for casting the spell on Ariel includes the words "Laryngitis" and "Glossitis". Someone well-versed in medical terminology would notice that they are rather common conditions that may result in mute-ness.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Ariel is unironically the most popular Disney Princess in Japan, far more popular there than in the United States, since Japanese Disney fans love telling stories about Mermaids.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • "Oh Eric, don't believe in any of this nautical nonsense."
    • In Triton's entrance, there's a cameo of Mickey, Donald and Goofy years before the latter two go there themselves.
    • Ursula calling Ariel "Angelfish". Fast forward twenty one years and another ocean dweller calls another redhead "Angelfish" and earns himself a spot on The Scrappy list.
    • Vanessa strangling Scuttle + "Why you little—!"
    • In the original Hans Christian Andersen book, the mermaid had to earn an immortal soul at the end where she previously had none, and nowadays it is often joked that gingers have no soul. Consider Ariel's hair color in the Disney adaptation.
    • Vanessa, a villainous split personality of Ursula, is voiced by Jodi Benson. In the English dub of Grandia II, Jodi Benson voices Millenia, a villainous split personality.
    • Ariel was modelled after actress Alyssa Milano. Years later, Milano's character on Charmed would be turned into a mermaid - in a plot that heavily references this film. To make it even more hilarious, Milano is terrified of water (and shooting the underwater scenes were very tricky for her).
    • The Little Mermaid used the Can-Can when Louis is chasing Sebastian, and that wasn't the only landmark release in 1989 to use that. It was also the invincibility theme in Super Mario Land, which had an underwater level.
    • Christopher Daniel Barnes, who voices Eric, would go on to voice a certain well-known superhero whose primary love interest is also a redhead.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • Say the words "Look at this stuff" to any girl born since, say, 1984, and they'll immediately be able to sing the entirety of "Part Of Your World" back.
    • "Don't underestimate the importance of BODY LANGUAGE!!!"
    • Two words: Hipster Mermaid. Disney's As Told By Emoji series turned this into an Ascended Meme for the Little Mermaid episode.
    • With of all the acquisitions Disney has made over the past two decades, "Part of Your World" has been parodied again and again anytime Disney thinks "But who cares? No big deal. I want more", and acquires something new.
    • Ariel Needs Legs, a Stylistic Suck comic by Neil Cicierega in which Ursula gives Ariel eight legs and Eric is a Pokémon fan. Perhaps the most well-known part is when Eric comes clean to Grimsby about Ariel's condition:
      Eric: Eight legs!
      Grimsby: ...Seven vagánias [sic].
    • Mariah Carey's lip sync gaffe at the 2016 New Years celebration has led to people joking that Ursula stole her voice.
    • The phallic-looking castle on the original VHS cover.
    • With "nbd" becoming common acronym slang in text messages, fans of the film latched onto Ariel's lyric of "But who cares/No big deal" and have churned out numerous fan-made shirts with an Ariel macro captioned "But who cares/NBD"
    • "Red hair, obsessed with Muggles... must be a Weasly".
    • Sebastian's line "The human world, it's a mess", has become quite popular in recent times.
  • Moe:
    • Ariel is a very adorable mermaid.
    • Flounder is just so cute.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Ursula starts well over the line and really crosses when she interferes with her own deal with Ariel and hypnotizes Eric into falling in love with her in disguise. It gets worse when she attempts to blast Ariel with the trident, after turning into a giant version of herself. Also in the TV series, she attempts to murder an alleged bad-luck creature despite it being completely harmless to begin with.
  • Narm:
    • For some fans, the added seconds of animation in the DVD release of the film, such as having the camera show the shark's face at the beginning before it crashes through the window, or give more focus on Ursula's giant form and her attempting to zap Ariel with the trident comes off as this, due to those extra sequences clearly having a lower quality in the animation and reducing the frightening tone of those scenes. For instance, the shark's face looks like it came out of a more juvenile cartoon, and Ursula's extra seconds with a hammy laugh added comes off as more silly than scary.
    • The scene where Sebastian has his Heel Realization and agrees to help Ariel find Eric, is a fairly heartwarming moment... but when you remember that Ariel is essentially standing there naked from the seashells down, the scene can come off as seeming a bit silly. Especially if you listen to the DVD commentary where the crew discusses how they had to be very careful with the camera angles for obvious reasons, and relied very heavily on her Godiva Hair.
    • The spell to take Ariel's voice includes the word "laryngitis," which Ursula sings with the exact same portentousness as the rest. It works for kids, but can really seem weird for adults who get the reference.
  • Never Live It Down:
    • Ariel is frequently criticized for entering the deal with Ursula. A lot of the criticisms miss the fact that the film portrays it as a bad thing, the fact that Ursula is waiting until Ariel is in a particularly vulnerable moment to strike, and of course the fact that Ursula actively sabotages the deal when Ariel comes too close to fulfilling on her end.
    • Ariel is also criticized for giving up her life under the sea with her family for a man she barely knew. The fact that she already wanted to gain feet and join the human world long before she ever saw Eric is another point the criticisms fail to grasp.
    • Jeffrey Katzenberg is often ridiculed for wanting to cut "Part of Your World" due to a few children appearing bored in a test screening. This ignores that he apologised as soon as the movie came out and said it would have been one of the biggest mistakes he ever made.
    • Even 20 years after some finnish fans are still angry that the movie was re-dubbed back in 1998, despite fact that three actors from original dub reprised their roles in the new dub.
  • One-Scene Wonder: The shark who attacks the ship Ariel and Flounder are exploring. Doesn't appear past this sequence in the finished film (he was slated to appear again later, but that was ultimately left out) but often appears more in video games as a mini boss because he's that memorable.
  • Retroactive Recognition:
  • Ron the Death Eater: Being on two opposing sides of an issue, both Ariel and King Triton have people who ignore all faults and/or good qualities in one while demonizing the other.
    • King Triton. While Triton’s hatred of humans may come off as extreme while having a scary Hair-Trigger Temper which resulted in him infamously destroying Ariel’s grotto, Triton is also shown as a loving father and he can be a nice guy when he’s not angry. His detractors, on the other hand, forget that he's a single parent trying to raise seven daughters, and run an entire kingdom. It also helps that he immediately regrets his overreaction to Ariel's love for Eric, and the effect it ended up having on her.
    • Ariel. While she can come off as naive, irrational, and (unintentionally) selfish, she is for the most part, a kind, adventurous, and well-meaning teenager who tries to stay true to what she believes in and give everyone, even humans, a fair chance. Her detractors, on the other hand, overlook the fact that she's also a sheltered teenager who, simply doesn't feel she fits in where she is and wants a life of her own. As for the deal with Ursula, she didn't exactly jump right into it. She was manipulated and pressured into taking it at a time when Triton's violent actions had left her hurt and vulnerable. She, too immediately regrets the consequence of her own mistake. That is to say, Triton nearly suffering the same fate as Ursula's other victims.
  • Sacred Cow: Let's just say Ariel is this for many people, and leave it at that.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: The movie seems a bit like a paint-by-numbers Disney flick these days. Literally everything about it was new and groundbreaking at the time. Merging a fairy tale with Broadway elements? This was the first film to really popularize that formula. So numerous animated films these days owe their existence to this one. And in a form of meta Early Installment Weirdness, Ursula in her initial scenes delivers a very theatrical monologue that's Leaning on the Fourth Wall, which doesn't happen in any of the other Renaissance movies.
  • She Really Can Act: A deliberately invoked case, as the directors felt a bit guilty at losing Jodi Benson’s performance for most of the second half after Ariel loses her voice, so they let her show more of her range by having Ursula use Ariel’s voice in her reprise of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”
  • Signature Scene:
    • The scene of Ariel finishing her "I Want" Song reprise, which shows her singing on a boulder while a wave crashes behind her in the background, is almost always the one scene that you will see in Disney's advertising and commercial spots that mention this movie.
    • The underwater musical in "Under the Sea" may be another one. Particularly the shot of the little sea horses swimming up around Ariel at the end are put in many generic Disney-referring clips.
    • There's a third one, the one in which Ariel rises from the ocean after being turned human by Ursula.
    • The scene where Ariel brushes her hair with a fork is also popular.
  • Signature Song: "Under the Sea" with "Part of Your World" also a contender.
  • Squick: Ursula. All the time. Especially when talking to Ariel and performing a lot of giggling like a Burlesque entertainer.
  • Strawman Has a Point:
    • Triton isn't wrong that humans do catch and eat fish (his subjects), and since merpeople are half-fish his concern for his daughter getting "snared on some fish-eaters' hook" isn't completely unfounded. note , Of course, fish are 100% sentient in this mythos, which humans are completely unaware of. The Carnivore Confusion doesn't help matters either - in real life, fish eat other fish all the time.
    • On a lesser note, Triton and Sebastian scolding Ariel for missing the concert. Based on Flounder's reaction, it seems the audience is supposed to think they shouldn't reprimand her at all for missing the concert. ("But it wasn't her fault!") However, this is far from Ariel's first no-show (as Sebastian noted earlier, "If only she'd show up for rehearsal once in a while," and Triton's "I just don't know what we're going to do with you, young lady"), and they have a point that because of her absence, the concert was ruined and those in it (Sebastian, her sisters) were humiliated. While Triton and Sebastian are too hard on her and won't hear her out, they have every right to be angry and hold her accountable for her actions.
  • Superlative Dubbing: Ariel's stunning Norwegian voice done by Sissel Kyrkjebø gained a lot of attention, to the point she went on to voice Ariel in the Danish and Swedish dubs as well. To further exemplify the beauty of Sissel's voice, she's also the One-Woman Wail you hear on the Titanic soundtrack.
  • Suspiciously Similar Song: Part Of Your World is largely a compositional and thematic re-working of Ashman and Menken's own "Somewhere That's Green" from Little Shop of Horrors. In fact, while working on the song, Ashman and Menken jokingly referred to it as "Somewhere That's Dry".
    • Pay close attention to Louis the chef's ditty "Les Poissons", which has the same melody as "Be Our Guest".
  • Testosterone Brigade: Ariel has one due to her general appearance, which includes a Seashell Bra and nothing else when a mermaid, and her several nude scenes when she turns human, which undoubtedly sped up puberty for many.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: The film doesn't delve into Ariel's character at the third arc of the movie and how the experience has changed her (if it changes her at all). One of the most criticized aspects of the movie about her shallowness could have easily been fixed by showing how sorry she was at her action that almost cost Triton his kingdom. A scene where Ariel apologizes to Triton after Ursula's defeat was storyboarded, but deleted from the finished film. There is a moment where she tells Triton that she's sorry and didn't know what she was getting herself into... but she's cut off before she can say too much more, making it less satisfying than a full scene would be.
  • Uncanny Valley: The goldfish in the opening of the film's 1998 VHS release featuring Jodi Benson. The CGI aged... badly, to say the least, and the fishes' voices don't help.
  • Unfortunate Character Design: The priest. (Although this too is an urban legend.)
  • Values Resonance: Lily Orchard pointed out that Triton, regardless of his intentions, is an abusive parent who has to learn to better himself despite not wanting to hurt Ariel and never physically harming Ariel. The writers clearly meant for the audience to sympathize with Ariel, a teenage girl trying to escape her abusive father. For 1989, this is a very nuanced, subtle take on emotional abuse, especially due to the fact that Ariel only forgives her father when he saves her life and recognizes her maturity and intelligence by giving her legs.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Badass?: Being a non-action girl whose main motivation is becoming human to be with her prince, many people love to yell, "Ariel is a stupid bitch and a bad role model for little girls who THROWS HER LIFE AWAY FOR A GUY!" without stopping to realize that she already wanted to see the human world, Eric was mostly the final push she needed to make the decision to go there, and Ursula was doing some pushing of her own in a particularly vulnerable moment for Ariel, etc. Apparently a woman isn't allowed to fall in romantic love ever; nor is romantic love allowed to be a partial motivation to do something she wanted to do anyway. She also gets a lot of flak for needing to be rescued by Eric at the end, even though she had saved him twice before that.
  • What an Idiot!:
    • Ariel somehow forgetting the concert was that day was (unintentionally) inconsiderate but a little believable and understandable. What raises eyebrows, on the other hand, is that none of the other concert personnel seem to have reminded her at all. Or that her sisters - who are visibly shocked that Ariel isn't there - didn't at least check to make sure she was in her position on the stage. Sebastian really should have seen the embarrassment coming for allowing such a mistake to happen.
    • For many viewers Ariel accepting Ursula's deal is this. Yes, Ariel was devastated by her father destroying her treasures, and thus wasn't thinking clearly. Yes, Ursula is a manipulative bastard who deliberately waited until Ariel was at her most vulnerable to strike. And yes, Ariel is an impulsive teenager. And no, it's not portrayed by the film as "a good thing." However, for many viewers Ursula's status as an Obviously Evil Devil in Plain Sight offering an almost literal Deal with the Devil, coupled with the nearly impossible terms of her contract and harsh penalty for failing, makes any deal with her come off as this. (It's even lampshaded in a deleted scene.)
  • The Woobie:
    • Ariel is really good at looking like a kicked puppy. Yes she's disobeying her father's wishes but she's essentially being forbidden from something that makes her happy. And after Triton destroys her things, good lord...
    • Falling into the Jerkass Woobie category is Triton. Yes, he holds some pretty racist views in regards to humans and goes way too far in punishing Ariel by destroying her collection. However, when he finally realizes what a terrible mistake he's made, Ariel is already gone and there's no sign of her.
    Triton: Oh, what have I done? What have I done?

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