- “I consider myself a reasonable merman... I set certain rules and I expect those rules to be obeyed!”
- ―King Triton to Ariel
King Triton (also known as the Sea King) is a major character in Disney's 1989 animated feature film The Little Mermaid. He is the ruler of Atlantica, an undersea kingdom inhabited by merpeople. As king, he wields the all-powerful trident, which grants him control over the seas. By his late wife Queen Athena, Triton is also father to seven daughters, the most notable of which is Ariel. Equal parts over-protective and well-meaning, Triton initially disapproves of Ariel's admiration for the human world on account of his misanthropia.
As stated above, the handsome, feisty, and sassy Triton rules the underwater kingdom of Atlantica, though his power has been implied to spread across the entirety of the sea. He is a muscular merman, the husband of the late Queen Athena, and the father of Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Attina, Adella, Alana, and Ariel. The king's magical trident appears to be made of gold. It emits a glowing light and a typical sound when in use. Besides his trident, he has a crown and two armbands, which also appear to be made out of gold.
His archenemy was Ursula, the old sea witch who was once a senior member of the Court of King Triton. For many years, she had been seeking a way to exact her revenge upon him for banishing her from the kingdom.
The reason for his constant clashes with Ariel, as told by directors Ron Clements and John Musker, is that he is very strong-willed and independent, like his daughter. Ariel is said to be Triton's favorite child because as a child, he also had red hair and sees himself most in Ariel. The strong resemblance between Ariel and her mother, Athena, probably also plays a role in his favoritism.
The prequel film The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning initially depicts Triton as a devoted and loving father and husband. After his wife's death, he becomes extremely strict due to the grief he suffered over his queen's death but eventually comes to terms with the incident, showing this by allowing music back into Atlantica after previously banning it in the wake of the tragedy.
The television series, set before the events of the original film, shows Triton to be a wise ruler. He is prejudiced towards humans (possibly due to the death of his wife, even though Athena's death was an accident and despite evidence that merpeople are half-human). Though he's constantly at odds with Ariel regarding humans and dangerous adventures, he has shown to have a large feeling of guilt and remorse for upsetting his beloved daughter.
In the original film, Triton is shown to be a caring father. However, his prejudice regarding humans often led to personality conflicts with Ariel. He is shown to have an explosive temper when provoked. It was also briefly implied that he may have had genocidal thoughts on humans in general, or at the very least didn't particularly care if a human ended up drowning, as when arguing with Ariel shortly after discovering that she saved Eric. When Ariel tried to explain that Eric could have died if it weren't for her, Triton unmovingly stated that it was "one less human to worry about" in response, despite confirming shortly afterward that he doesn't even know what Eric looks like. His eruptive nature, when pushed far enough, was also shown to lead to violent acts, as he destroyed most of Ariel's human artifacts as a way to "get through to her" after the possibility of losing his daughter to the human world was brought into play. Despite this, he immediately showed remorse afterward, as his angered expression softened to one of despair. After Ariel goes missing (after becoming human) he blames himself for the situation and tirelessly spends his time searching for her, unable to rest until she's safe at home, showing he is able to admit when his aggressive actions (in spite of the reasonings) have gone too far. Earlier in the film, he also confided in Sebastian out of the fear that he may have been too strict with Ariel, showing a struggle in both keeping her safe and being a loving father.
By the time of the sequel, Triton has become accepting of humans. He has a notable soft spot for his granddaughter, Melody and highly values her safety. He's presented as still very wise, though incredibly toned down temper wise. However, his aggressive nature remains in times of crisis.
Triton's supervising animator in the original film was Andreas Deja. King Triton is a large, handsome elderly merman with fair skin and a massive, well-muscled physique. He has long white hair, a thick, matching beard and mustache, a widow's peak hairline, and bushy, gray eyebrows. As a child, he had freckles and his hair was originally red but turned auburn (the same color as his daughter Attina's hair) when he was a young merman. Like his daughter, Ariel, Triton has blue eyes (which are olive green in Ariel's Beginning), though they are more of a grayish hue compared to hers. Because he is a merman, Triton's lower body is a navy-blue fish-like tail with cyan, translucent fins and a matching, fish-lip waist-line. Triton also has three signs of his royal status; he wears gold gauntlets with borders on the edges and five studs around the middle on his forearms, stopping just below the elbow, a golden, five-pointed crown resembling a sea star, and, most important of all, wields the legendary trident, a golden, three-pronged weapon with vast magical powers and abilities.
Powers and abilities
- Superhuman Strength: Despite his old age, Triton is still known to have a great degree of superhuman strength, to the point that most enemies of Atlantica, like Ursula, avoid getting into a direct physical confrontation with Triton.
- Superhuman Speed: Despite his old age, Triton is still known to have a great degree of superhuman speed, as he can move amazingly fast in the water, even for a merman; despite this, he is still not as fast as Ariel (who is the fastest mermaid in all of Atlantica), although it is very likely that in his prime, that Triton was just as fast, if not faster than Ariel.
- Speed Swimming: Despite his old age, Triton is still capable of swimming at a much faster rate than humans or even certain marine creatures in terms of undersea travel or sea travel, as a whole due to his half-marine status; for example, he was able to get to Norway from Atlantica in less than a day, as seen in the episode "Metal Fish".
- Underwater Breathing: As a merman, Triton is able to metabolize oxygen from the water, which negates the need to surface, though he is certainly more than capable of breathing on land.
- Aquapathy: As a merman, Triton is capable of speaking with aquatic fauna; as he can understand and communicate with aquatic/marine creatures.
- Aquakinesis: As a merman, Triton possesses the power of aquakinesis, but at a much higher level, compared to normal merpeople, as demonstrated in the first film, and it's sequel The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, he was able to lift himself out of the water with a summoned wave-form and sustain his position by channeling and funneling moving water to secure his stance.
- Thermoendurance: As a merman, Triton has demonstrated the ability to endure temperatures far more extreme than would be survivable for a normal human, this is seen in the TV series and The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea.
- Atmokinesis: One of the sailors implies at the beginning of the film, that Triton can alter the weather, specifically that relating to the sea, to have favorable or unfavorable sailing conditions depending on his mood.
- High-Level Intellect/Expert Tactician/Leader: Triton is highly intelligent and wise; as the king of Atlantica, Triton is a highly skilled tactician and a very capable leader.
- Expert Swimmer: As a merman, Triton is an excellent swimmer as demonstrated in the TV series and the prequel film The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning.
Weapons and Equipment
- Trident: Triton utilizes a magic trident to protect his family and Atlantica from dangerous threats, it possesses several magical powers and abilities, like the ability to turn merpeople into humans, according to Triton; the trident has more than the power of lightning itself, but only in the hands of the current monarch of Atlantica.
In the original film, Triton is prejudiced toward humans and Ariel's fascination with humans casts a strain on their relationship. According to Triton, contact between the human world and the merworld is strictly forbidden.
Triton first appears at a concert in Atlantica, presented by the seahorse serving as the host. After Sebastian the crab, the distinguished royal court composer, and Triton's loyal servant are presented, Triton and Sebastian have a discussion about how they anticipate the concert due to Ariel, Triton's youngest daughter, is supposed to make her musical debut. But Ariel turns out to be absent, much to Triton's extreme fury. After an initial argument with Ariel over her latest trip to the surface, Triton orders Sebastian to keep an eye on her. When Triton learns that Ariel saved the life of a human being she has fallen in love with, he loses his temper and, determined to turn Ariel over to his views of humans, destroys her collection of human things, completely ignoring his daughter's protests. In the aftermath, Triton, instantly horrified and remorseful over his actions, leaves a tearful Ariel alone in her grotto in shame.
Later on, after Ariel runs away from home in search of the sea witch Ursula and Triton sees she disappeared, he orders a search for her to apologize for what he had done, unaware that she has accepted Ursula's deal and become a human. He asks Seahorse Herald if any sign of Ariel and Sebastian and he replies that they searched everywhere and no traces of them and Triton orders them to keep looking and no one sleeps until they return home safe and sound and he sadly did so. Triton is briefly seen suffering extreme remorse over what he had done, blaming himself for his daughter's disappearance.
When Sebastian, who had been watching over Ariel, arrives from the surface and tells the king about Ursula's scheme, Triton quickly goes out with Sebastian to find her. Ariel apologizes to her father, who attempts to destroy the contract between Ariel and Ursula, to no avail. Upon learning from Ursula that Ariel had signed an agreement with Ursula and that she may be willing to make an exchange for someone even better, Triton willingly takes his daughter's place, despite knowing the cost of his choice. Triton is temporarily transformed into a polyp, but after Ursula is destroyed, he is restored to his original form and regains both his crown and his trident, as well as his regal status.
By the end of the film, Triton has softened his attitude and realized that he had made a mistake by thinking humans were vicious and that he had been wrong in doing so. Upon noticing how much Ariel loves Prince Eric (who had destroyed Ursula and subsequently not only saved Triton's life, but also the entire kingdom of Atlantica) as much as she is loved by Triton, as well as considering Sebastian's statement "Children got to be free to lead their own lives", Triton transforms Ariel into a human once again, allowing Ariel to be with Eric. He is later seen at the wedding of Ariel and Eric, where he gives his daughter a heartwarming hug and accepts Eric as his son-in-law; when Eric bowed, smiling, Triton returned the smile as though thanking him for saving his life and the kingdom of Atlantica. After saying goodbye, he then uses his trident to cast a beautiful rainbow over the sky.
King Triton also appeared in The Little Mermaid TV series. According to the cartoon series, Triton was the son of Poseidon and the grandson of Neptune, of whom he had many fond memories. As a child, his nickname was "Red" for his red hair.
Although his anti-human sentiments remained, he could sometimes be persuaded to recognize his mistakes, such as when he apologized to Ariel for scaring her so much that she failed to return home after a human charm bracelet was accidentally locked around her wrist or when he was persuaded to help Ariel rescue a man trapped in a submarine at the bottom of the ocean (Implied at the end of the episode to be Hans Christian Andersen, who wrote the original tale).
He does seem to have some confidence in his daughter's abilities, as he once allows her to go and explore the source of a trail of pollution. He would later travel to the surface (said to be one of the first times he had been there), using his trident to create storms to drive the last bit of pollution away.
In the 1992 Disney Special "Sebastian's Party Gras", Sebastian and his performing friend, Sam Wright, are back for another spectacular show at New Orleans Square in Walt Disney World! Kids at home are invited to "Twist And Shout", join a "Conga Line", and do the "Limbo Rock"! Combining colorful animation and engaging live entertainment, "Sebastian's Party Gras" introduces the Little Mermaid's father, King Triton, who urges Sebastian to conduct his concerts under the sea only! But through the magic of music, the King changes his tune, learning that when you "Give A Little Love", "Life Is A Magic Thing" indeed!
Triton appears in the sequel, The Little Mermaid II: Return To The Sea. He seems to trust humans — or at least his son-in-law, Eric — by the time of this film. Upon the birth of Ariel and Eric's daughter Melody, he attends a celebration of her birth that takes place at sea. As a gift, he gives Melody a special locket that reveals a picture of Atlantica. However, his love for his granddaughter proves to be a weakness, which is exploited by Morgana, Ursula's younger sister. Morgana attacks the ceremony, desiring to avenge Ursula, and demands Triton's trident in exchange for Melody's safety. While Ariel and Eric are able to foil Morgana's plot, Ariel makes the decision to withhold all knowledge of Atlantica and mermaids for Melody's safety, and Triton orders a search for Morgana and no one will rest until she is vanquished. A sea wall is put up around the kingdom, sadly cutting Triton off from his daughter and granddaughter.
Twelve years later, Triton is met at sea by Eric and Ariel, who explains that Melody has gone missing. Triton transforms Ariel into a mermaid to assist in the search. Triton and Ariel eventually find Melody with Morgana. With Melody ignorant of her true heritage, Morgana had convinced the girl that Triton had stolen the trident from her. Melody had been transformed into a mermaid and tasked with retrieving the trident, as only Triton or one of his descendants could remove it from its resting place. Despite Ariel's protests, Melody gives the trident to Morgana, resulting in an epic battle.
Eventually, Triton is able to retrieve his trident after Melody steals it back, and then throws it to him. Triton states that neither Morgana or her family will threaten his ever again before using the trident to freeze Morgana in a block of ice, which sinks to the bottom of the sea. He then offers to allow Melody to become a mermaid permanently. However, she instead requests that he remove the sea wall, reuniting the humans and the merpeople.
In the prequel film, an opening prologue shows King Triton's wife, Queen Athena. The pair had a loving relationship. However, Athena was crushed to death by a pirate ship while trying to save the music box King Triton gave her as an anniversary present. Triton was so broken-hearted by her death that he banned music from Atlantica and forced everyone—even himself—to follow a strict daily schedule and it was the possible reason why he hated humans. Ariel's free-spirited personality is what casts a strain on their relationship in this film too, and he is particularly angered when he discovers that the leader of the (illegal) Catfish Club is, in fact, Sebastian, throwing his confidante into prison for this. He eventually comes to see the error of his harsh decisions, pardons Sebastian, lifts the ban on music and appoints Sebastian as his court composer at the end of the film.
In the film, Jim Cummings took over as the voice of Triton since his original voice actor Kenneth Mars was unavailable at that time due to health problems - Mars died three years after the prequel film's release.
King Triton made a few cameos in the series House of Mouse. In "Jiminy Cricket", he was seen sitting alongside Rafiki, Grandmother Willow, and Merlin the Wizard. In "Salute to Sports", when Mickey said he wanted the audience to do the wave, Triton summoned an actual wave. In "Pete's House of Villains", Ursula was in charge at the reservation desk and refused to let Triton in the club. Instead, she morphed him into a polyp again.
He lost his wife (who was killed by a pirate) and developed a xenophobic grudge against humans as a result. He uses the voice talent of his daughter Ursula in order to lure sailor. However, she prevents attacks from the Jolly Roger, saving Captain Hook and his crew. Having a grudge against her father, she stole a magic bracelet from his vault, allowing her to become human. She becomes a pub singer and befriends Hook. However, this concludes a pact made with Poseidon to trap her singing voice within an enchanted shell in exchange for squid ink, for neutralizing his nemesis Rumplestiltskin. Instead, Ursula stole the ink from the vault for him just as her father arrives to take the procured item away. Angered that the ink has been crushed, Hook removed her voice so the King can never use her to sink another ship again.
Betrayed by Hook and developing a great dislike for humans as well as her own species, Ursula chose to no longer be a mermaid and used her father's trident to transform her fins into tentacles, thus becoming the Sea Witch.
Triton appears as a minor character in the novel by Serena Valentino. It's revealed that Ursula is his long-lost sister who was raised by a human fisherman after Triton abandoned her. When Ursula brings destruction to her old village to get revenge for them killing her father, Triton appears and tells her of their blood relation to each other. He brings her back to his kingdom but he is disgusted by her cecaelian form and tells her she could only live in his palace if she was in mermaid form, which adds a further strain in their relationship. He is shown to have no sympathy for any human because humans eat fish, and even tells Ursula explicitly that her adopted father deserved to die. When Ursula tells her story to the Odd Sisters, they grow a deep hatred of Triton and they agree to help Ursula plot his downfall. Later he is seen with Ursula giving up his freedom in exchange for his daughter's. After Ursula's death, he comes to realize that he treated her harshly and decides to make things right with Ariel and turn her into a human permanently.
King Triton plays a role in the Kingdom Hearts video game series, again as Ariel's overprotective father who openly berates the worlds outside the ocean floor. In the original game, he appears to have an impressive knowledge of the worlds outside Atlantica, despite said worlds supposedly being a secret. Triton also shows awareness of the Keyblade and its lore, proving he's been aware of the events of the Kingdom Hearts universe even longer than the protagonist Sora.
Triton makes his first appearance in the series' flagship installment, Kingdom Hearts where he forbids Sora, Donald, and Goofy from interacting with his world in their quest to find and seal the keyhole, knowing Ariel's fascination with worlds outside of Atlantica would lead her into trouble during the trio's mission. However, after Ursula causes havoc in search of the keyhole, as well, Triton leaves it in the hands of Sora, Donald, Goofy, and Ariel to stop her, eventually revealing the keyhole to be within Ariel's grotto.
In Kingdom Hearts II, the king's worries are switched from Ariel's obsession with the worlds outside of Atlantica, to the human world above the sea surface. To revert her mind from it, he asks Sora, Donald, and Goofy to help Ariel instead focus on Sebastian's concert, in which she's set to sing in. Things take a turn for the worse when Ursula returns and attacks, taking over the sea and transforming Triton into a polyp. However, due to the actions of Prince Eric, the heroes are able to save the day, and the king, teaching Triton the surface isn't all bad, thus allowing his daughter access to the surface, as well as Eric's hand in marriage.
In the stage adaptation of the film, Triton's role is similar to that of the original. However, it also adds in a twist that Ursula is his sister (based on a deleted concept from the original film). It also reveals that the reason why he banished Ursula was that of her attempt to gain the Trident when she was inherited with the Nautilus. He also has his own musical number in a reprise of "World Above", where he forbids Ariel from pursuing Eric and the human world as a whole.
In The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure, King Triton can be seen as an audio-animatronic at the end of the ride, celebrating Ariel and Eric's wedding.
For the interactive attraction, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, King Triton has his own spell card known as "King Triton's Trident".
Triton also appeared in the SpectroMagic parade with a lit up Trident.
In Voyage of the Little Mermaid, King Triton makes a vocal appearance at the beginning of the show confronting Ariel about humans, voiced by an uncredited actor. Triton reappears in animation on screen speaking with Sebastian about letting Ariel go as he did at the end of the original film.
At the Disney's Art of Animation Resort, Triton's likeness can be found alongside other Little Mermaid characters as a 35-foot tall statue seen in the Little Mermaid courtyard.
- King Triton possibly based on Neptune, the Roman god of seas and earthquakes, the equivalent of the Greek god Poseidon.
- The original Triton is from Greek Mythology, son of the sea god Poseidon, who had a fishtail and a frontal pair of horse legs, and sounded a conch shell when making a presence.
- The Little Mermaid episode "Red" shows that he used to have bright red hair. When he reverts to his normal age, his hair lightens to auburn (as seen in the prequel), then orange, yellow, and finally white.
- In the Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers episode "One-Upsman-Chip", there was a merman statue in a sea-based restaurant that strongly resembled King Triton. This could have been in honor of The Little Mermaid movie because this episode aired nine days after the film's release.
- Before Kenneth Mars was cast, Patrick Stewart was originally offered the role of King Triton's voice, which he had to turn down, leading to a string of roles in the Disney Renaissance he was forced to turn down and later regretted (his regret of missing the opportunity to voice Jafar in Aladdin being the most prominent).