The Little Mermaid is a 1989 musical comedy fantasy animated film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation. It was first released on November 17, 1989 by Walt Disney Pictures, but returned to theaters on November 14, 1997. The 28th animated feature in the Disney Animated Canon, the film is loosely based upon the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Little Mermaid".
The story centers a young mermaid named Ariel, who is captivated by the world upon the surface. When she falls in love with a human prince, she makes a deal with a villainous sea witch to become human, herself, and earn his love before the agreed time runs out.
The Little Mermaid was an unmitigated success for the studio, being praised for its animation, storytelling, and music by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. The movie grossed over $100 million at the US box office upon its initial release, and won two Academy Awards for Best Song ("Under the Sea") and Best Original Music Score. It is credited as the film to have started the historic Disney Renaissance, an era that had breathed life back into the animated feature film medium after a string of competent, but only inexpensive successful animated films such as The Aristocats, The Rescuers, and The Great Mouse Detective.
Following The Little Mermaid were two direct-to-video sequels (The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea and The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning) and an animated television series that ran from 1992 to 1994. A decade after the film's release, Ariel would be inaugurated into the Disney Princess media line, while Ursula would appear as a staple character in the Disney Villains franchise. In 2007, a stage adaptation of the film made its Broadway debut. A live-action reimagining based on the 1989 animation, and featuring the music of Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda, is currently in the works.
The film begins on a foggy morning out on the open sea. A ship then comes from the fog, filled with sailors singing stories of the legendary merfolk. ("Fathoms Below") Aboard that ship is a young prince, named Eric, his dog Max, and his advisor Grimsby. Grimsby denounces the merfolk as, "nautical nonsense," but one sailor insists them to be real. While distracted by Grimsby, a fish the sailor was holding slips from him and falls into the ocean.
The fish breathes a sigh of relief before swimming away from the ship. The opening credits play as the fish crosses the deep ocean until at last, we see merfolk. They then make their way through the ocean towards a shining underwater castle. The castle is the domain of King Triton and is where he was holding a concert in his name, performed by his seven daughters and the crab court composer, Sebastian. ("Daughters of Triton")
The concert goes as planned until it is discovered that Triton's youngest daughter, Ariel, is not there, much to his chagrin. In truth, Ariel was out excavating a ship graveyard with her best friend, Flounder the Fish. Inside one wreck, she finds a pipe and a fork, which fascinates her curiosity, all the while unaware of a shark watching her and Flounder from outside.
The shark bursts into the room Ariel and Flounder are in and gives chase to them, all across the graveyard, until the two manage to get the shark ensnared in an anchor ring. They then make their way to the surface, where their friend, a seagull named Scuttle, lives. Ariel asks Scuttle to tell her what the items she collected are. He describes the fork as a dinglehopper, an item humans use to style hair; and the pipe as a snarfblat, an object for making music.
Upon hearing the word "music", Ariel is quickly reminded of the concert she missed and makes haste back home. However, Ariel fails to realize she is being watched by two suspicious eels by the names of Flotsam and Jetsam. The two are spies under the employ of Ursula the Sea Witch, a member of King Triton's court before being banished. Ursula hates Triton with a passion for his atrocities towards her, and constantly schemes of ways to exact revenge. The moment Ariel caught her eye, Ursula commanded her cronies to watch her, hoping to use her to get to the king.
The film then moves to the royal palace, where Triton and Sebastian are scorning Ariel for missing the concert. But Flounder moves in to defend her, accidentally letting slip the encounter with Scuttle, which quickly angers Triton. The law of his kingdom forbids going to the surface world, for fears of merfolk being caught by humans. But Ariel believes humans not to be all that bad, which angers Triton to the point of telling her that as long as she is living under his ocean, she'll do what he says. This sends Ariel away crying, with Flounder following after.
When they've left, Triton asks Sebastian if he was too hard on Ariel, to which Sebastian replies, "definitely not." Sebastian suggests that Ariel needs constant supervision, which gives Triton the idea to send Sebastian to keep an eye on her. Sebastian complies with the King's demands but feels dissatisfied with the idea of, "tagging along some headstrong teenager." However, Sebastian's thoughts are interrupted when he sees Ariel and Flounder swimming off elsewhere, prompting him to follow her. He is led to a hidden grotto where he discovers a variety of human objects gathered together.
Ariel, still hurt by her father's words, sings of her collection of human objects, and how she desires to visit the world of humans, despite what her father had to say of them. ("Part of Your World") The mood is quickly broken by Sebastian crashing in, and threatening to reveal Ariel's grotto to the king. Ariel attempts to reason with him, but before anything could be resolved in the conflict, a large object is seen floating overhead blocking moonlight from the grotto roof. Ariel, being ever curious, swims to the surface to figure out what this massive object was. The object proves to be a human ship, shooting fireworks into the night sky. Ariel swims towards the vessel, in spite of Sebastian's protests, and climbs aboard to behold dancing seamen. Ariel learns that the humans aboard are celebrating the birthday of their prince; one creature that catches her eye is Max, the sheepdog who takes a liking to Ariel. But Ariel is left enamored when she sees the dog's master, Prince Eric.
Eric is given a large statue of himself as a birthday present, by Grimsby, who sourly proclaims that he hoped it would be a wedding present. Eric protests that he just had not found the right girl yet, but insists that when he does it will hit him, like lightning. It was then, that the sounds of thunder echoed in the distance, followed by an ever-growing gust of wind.
Without warning, a hurricane blows in, sweeping up both ship and crew violently in a volley of wind and water. Ariel is thrown off the vessel but manages to catch sight of the ship being struck by lightning setting the ship on fire. When the ship crashes into a gaggle of rocks, the crew is sent overboard, along with the statue of Eric. Though they all make it to the lifeboats, Eric discovers that Max is still on the burning vessel, and goes off to rescue him. While Eric manages to get Max to safety, he is unable to save himself when he gets blown away by a massive explosion and lands into the ocean below underwater. While she sees this and rushes towards his aid, Ariel rescues Eric and takes him back to shore.
Once at the shore, Ariel sings of her desire to join Eric's world, before fleeing at the sounds of Grimsby and Max approaching. While Ariel sings, Eric only manages to catch a glimpse of her before she leaves; but as Grimsby raises him up, Eric vividly remembers a girl who had saved him, and is determined to find her. As Ariel watches them from a nearby rock, Sebastian tells her that the situation must be kept secret from her father, but Ariel does not pay attention. With vigor and determination, Ariel makes a bold proclamation that she will be a part of Eric's world.
However, what Ariel does not realize, is that she's being watched by Ursula's eels. Ursula is gleeful of the situation and eerily looks to a gaggle of polyps in her lair; all of them, former dreamers who came to her power. She then mutters about Ariel becoming a charming addition to the group.
A few days later, Ariel spends her time daydreaming of Eric, which piques the curiosity of her father, who believes Ariel to be in love with another merman. All the while, Sebastian is a nervous wreck trying to keep the secret from being found out. Ariel then decides that she wants to visit Eric, but Sebastian is having none of that. He attempts to bring her down to earth with a musical number about how the sea is better than the land ("Under the Sea").
Sebastian manages to bring a bunch of fish together to sing along, but as this party is happening, Flounder shows up and manages to slip Ariel away unnoticed. By the time the song ends, Ariel is nowhere to be seen, and Sebastian is left alone to grumble about her. Suddenly, the royal herald calls for Sebastian to report to the King about Ariel. Sebastian, afraid that Triton figured out what has happened, accidentally slips the truth during the meeting, and is forced to tell the King everything, much to his fury. Back at Ariel's grotto, Flounder reveals that he had saved the statue of Eric from the wreck, much to Ariel's delight. However, the pleasantries are interrupted by Triton being led to the grotto by Sebastian. After a short argument, Ariel confronts Triton and tells him that she rescued Eric from drowning to death, and she loves him. Horrified by her words, Triton ultimately snaps and obliterates all the secret treasures in her grotto and reduces them to a junk pile, leaving Ariel in tears. After a now remorseful Triton leaves, feeling extremely guilty over what he had done, a weeping Ariel tells Sebastian and Flounder to leave her alone to grieve, not allowing them to comfort her.
However, unbeknownst to her, Flotsam and Jetsam enter the grotto and sweet talk Ariel into going to Ursula to achieve her dreams of being with Eric. As they leave, Flounder and Sebastian follow after Ariel all the way to Ursula's lair. Ursula comforts Ariel and explains that she can grant Ariel's wish to be human for three days, but she must give Eric the kiss of true love before the sunset on the third day, or she belongs to Ursula. ("Poor Unfortunate Souls") In exchange for legs, though, she must give away her voice. Ariel agrees to these terms and signs the contract, trapping her voice in a necklace Ursula wears, and giving her human legs.
Once Ariel has been transformed into a human, Sebastian and Flounder escape Flotsam and Jetsam's grasps and take her to the surface, where the group meets up with Scuttle on a beach near Eric's castle. Sebastian threatens to tell King Triton about the deal Ariel made with Ursula, but Ariel manages to convince him to help the group. Scuttle then tells Ariel about how to blend in with humans, and the first step is to dress like them. Scuttle takes a portion of a sail for Ariel to wear, just as Prince Eric arrives at their location. Though Eric does not know she's the girl who saved his life, he is willing to bring her to his castle to be taken care of, with Sebastian tagging along in a pocket in Ariel's sail cloth.
Later, inside the palace, while Ariel is taking a bath, Sebastian is sent, through a series of unfortunate events, to the castle kitchen. It's there that Sebastian encounters a seafood-obsessed chef who attempts to cook him. ("Les Poissons") As this conflict goes on in the kitchen, Ariel meets with Eric and Grimsby in the dining hall for dinner, where the two men discuss giving Ariel a tour of the kingdom, to which she agrees.
Later that night, Sebastian discusses plans to get Eric to kiss Ariel, though Ariel does not listen, being too enamored in the human world's splendors. After Ariel falls asleep, Sebastian tells her she is "completely hopeless" and drifts off.
But down in King Triton's palace, the situation is grim. King Triton has sent several search parties looking everywhere for Ariel and Sebastian, but not a single trace of either one of them has been found anywhere. Triton tells them to keep looking and to not rest until they're found. Triton is left in grave remorse over his actions, blaming himself for Ariel's disappearance.
The next morning, Ariel and Eric begin their tour of the kingdom, starting with the nearby town. Ariel is enamored by every single thing she sees, whether it's puppets, horses, or dancing. The day passes into the evening when Eric takes Ariel on a lagoon cruise. Sebastian, seeing this as the perfect moment, decides to take matters into his own claws, and plays a song to excite the two into kissing ("Kiss the Girl"). However, the song is quickly interrupted by Flotsam and Jetsam overturning the boat, successfully ruining the mood.
Frustrated with the progress Ariel's making, Ursula decides to take matters into her own tentacles and transforms herself into a beautiful young maiden named Vanessa. She then uses Ariel's voice to hypnotize Eric just before he can announce his true feelings to Ariel. The next morning, Eric and Vanessa are announced to be wed by sunset, leaving poor Ariel heartbroken as the wedding ship departs from a port. Ariel and her friends are left behind while Vanessa convincingly plays her role as a love-struck woman, clinging constantly to Eric's side, raising no suspicion. While Ariel witnesses the ship sailing off, she begins weeping over Eric's loss.
Little does anyone know, Scuttle happens to fly over the wedding ship when he hears Ariel's voice coming from the bride's dressing room. He spies from a porthole, and once Vanessa takes a look at the dressing room's mirror, Ursula's reflection is shown. Realizing Vanessa's true identity, Scuttle flies off to inform Ariel and the group about Vanessa. The group then makes a plan, Ariel and Flounder go after the wedding ship on a barrel, Sebastian goes to tell King Triton of what's happening, while Scuttle goes off to stall the wedding.
Scuttle gathers lagoon and sea creatures of all sorts (including bluebirds, flamingos, pelicans, lobsters, starfish, dolphins, and seals) to converge on the wedding ship as the wedding is just underway. There is a little warning for Vanessa when the attack begins, and the ship is sent into disarray, giving Ariel the time she needs to get aboard. Moreover, Vanessa is utterly flustered, disoriented, and sidelined from being able to do anything. Thanks to the help of Max, Scuttle manages to snap the necklace off Vanessa's neck, shattering it across the deck, returning Ariel's voice back to her, and releasing Eric from the spell. Eric finds Ariel and admits she's the one who saved him, but Vanessa warns Eric to leave Ariel alone, before realizing that her voice was now Ursula's after her shell broke. But before the two can kiss, the sun sets and Ariel turns back into a mermaid. Ursula transforms herself back to her true form, taking Ariel back with her under the sea.
It is not long before Ursula thinks of her next move and runs into Triton and Sebastian, and a conflict occurs. Triton confronts Ursula and demands her to release Ariel, but to no avail. Ursula counters by insisting that Ariel is her slave. After Triton hears Ariel apologizing to him, he attempts to destroy the contract she signed, binding her to Ursula, but finds that he's unable to do so because it's magically enhanced by being legal. So, to save his daughter, Triton signs the contract and becomes a polyp in her place. Ursula claims Triton's crown and trident and becomes queen of the sea, which angers Ariel to the point of attacking her when the sea witch almost destroys her. Meanwhile, Eric takes a rowboat from the wedding ship and speeds off towards Ariel's location. He goes underwater and attacks Ursula, who then commands Flotsam and Jetsam to go after him. The witch's eels drag him back underwater, so she can blast him. To save Eric, Flounder, and Sebastian attack Flotsam and Jetsam.
In the midst of the chaos, Ursula attempts to use the trident to destroy Eric, but a furious Ariel confronts and stops Ursula by pulling on her hair, causing her to miss Eric and hit Flotsam and Jetsam instead, reducing them to ashes. Ursula mourns their loss before vengefully turning to the ones responsible. As Ariel hurries to join Eric, the enraged Ursula spouts black ink and begins to enlarge. Ariel attempts to tell Eric to save himself, but he refuses to abandon her, just as Ursula's gigantic form emerges, leaving Eric and Ariel helpless to her power. In the midst of her rampage, Ursula creates a whirlpool, raising shipwrecks from the ocean floor.
Just as Ursula prepares to kill Ariel with the trident's blasts, Eric saves Ariel from Ursula by ramming a splintered bowsprit towards the evil witch's abdomen. Ursula blows up into a scattered mass of organs while Eric makes it to the shore and passes out on the beach. After Ursula's remains sink to the ocean floor, her curse is removed from the merfolk in her garden, as well as King Triton, and peace is once again restored to the ocean now that Triton has regained his crown, trident, and kingdom.
Back on the surface, Triton observes Ariel looking at Eric and realizes she really does love him. After taking with Sebastian, Triton decides that he has to let Ariel be free to lead her own life and tells Sebastian that he is going to miss her. He then transforms her once more into a human - this time permanently. Ariel goes to Eric, they finally kiss, and the two are immediately wed shortly after, and at this ceremony, after Ariel and Eric are married onboard the wedding ship, Ariel bids her friends and family, including her six older sisters, her father Triton, Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle, goodbye to live her new life in Eric's world, and the film ends with Ariel and Eric kissing as the screen fades to black.
- Jodi Benson as Ariel
- Christopher Daniel Barnes as Prince Eric
- Pat Carroll as Ursula
- Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian
- Jason Marin as Flounder
- Kenneth Mars as King Triton
- Buddy Hackett as Scuttle
- Ben Wright as Grimsby
- René Auberjonois as Chef Louis
- Paddi Edwards as Flotsam and Jetsam
- Edie McClurg as Carlotta
- Will Ryan as The Seahorse Herald
- Kimmy Robertson as Alana
- Frank Welker as Max, Glut the Shark
- Hamilton Camp as Seadog
- Jack Angel as Sailor #1
- Susan Boyd as Chorus
- Philip Clarke as Sailor #3
- Jim Cummings as Male Mermaid
- Jennifer Darling as Female Mermaid #1
- Allan Davies as Chorus
- Linda Harmon as Chorus
- Anne Lockhart as Washerwoman
- Sherry Lynn as Adella
- Melissa MacKay as Chorus
- Mickie T. McGowan as Female Mermaid #2
- Gene J. Merlino as Chorus
- Patrick Pinney as Sailor #2
- Robert Tebow as Chorus
- Charlie Adler as Priest
- Jackie Ward as Chorus
- Debbie Shapiro
- Robert Weil
- Ed Gilbert
- Steve Bulen
- Nancy Cartwright
- Gail Farrell
- Donny Gerrard
- Mitch Gordon
- Willie Greene Jr.
- Walter S. Harrah
- Phillip Ingram
- Luana Jackman
- William A. Kanady
- Edie Lehmann
- Guy Maeda
- Lynn Dolin Mann
- Arne B. Markussen
- Lewis Morford
- Kathleen O'Connor
- Marilyn Powell
- Gloria G. Prosper
- Michael Redman Jr.
- Sally Stevens
- Rob Trow
- Joe Turano
- Bobbi White - Singer
- Robert S. Zwirn
- Jim Cummings - Additional Voices
- J.D. Daniels - Additional Voices
- Gerrit Graham - Additional Voices
- Rob McKuen - Additional Voices
- Malachi Pearson - Additional Voices
In 1986, The Great Mouse Detective co-director Ron Clements discovered a collection of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales while browsing a bookstore. He presented a two-page draft of a movie based on The Little Mermaid to CEO Michael Eisner, who passed it over because at that time the studio was in development on a sequel to Splash. But the next day, Walt Disney Pictures boss Jeffrey Katzenberg, green-lighted the idea for possible development, along with Oliver & Company.
That year, Clements and Great Mouse Detective co-director John Musker expanded the two-page idea into a 20-page rough script, eliminating the role of the mermaid's grandmother and expanding the roles of the Merman King and the sea witch. However, the firm's plans were momentarily shelved as Disney focused its attention on Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Oliver & Company as more immediate releases.
In 1987, songwriter Howard Ashman became involved with Mermaid after he was asked to contribute to Oliver & Company. He proposed changing the minor character Clarence, the English-butler crab, to a Jamaican Rastafarian crab and shifting the music style throughout the film to reflect this. At the same time, Katzenberg, Clements, Musker, and Ashman changed the story format to make Mermaid like an animated Broadway musical. Ashman and Alan Menken teamed up to compose the entire soundtrack. In 1988, with Oliver out of the way, Mermaid was slated as the next major Disney release.
More money and resources were dedicated to Mermaid than any other Disney animated film in decades. The artistic manpower needed for Mermaid required Disney to farm out most of the bubble-drawing in the film to Pacific Rim Productions, a China-based firm with production facilities in Beijing.
Principal artists worked on the animation - Glen Keane and Mark Henn on Ariel, Duncan Marjoribanks on Sebastian, Andreas Deja on King Triton, and Ruben Aquino on Ursula. Originally, Keane had been asked to work on Ursula, as he had established a reputation for drawing large, powerful figures (the bear in The Fox and the Hound, Professor Ratigan in The Great Mouse Detective). Keane, however, was assigned as one of the two lead artists on the petite, charming Ariel, and oversaw the "Part of Your World" musical number.
Another first for recent years was that live actors and actresses were filmed for reference material for the animators. Broadway actress Jodi Benson was chosen to play Ariel, and Sherri Lynn Stoner, a former member of Los Angeles' Groundlings improv comedy group, acted out Ariel's key scenes. Not all of Disney's animators approved the use of live-action reference; one artist quit the project over the issue. An attempt to use Disney's famed multiplane camera for the first time in years for quality "depth" shots failed because the machine was reputedly in a dilapidated condition.
Aside from its main animation facility in Glendale, California, Disney opened a satellite feature animation facility during the production of Mermaid near Orlando, Florida, within the still-unfinished Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park at Walt Disney World. Though the park opened to the public a year later, work at the animation studio began in May 1988, and the Disney-MGM facility's first projects were to produce an entire Roger Rabbit cartoon short, and contribute ink and paint support to Mermaid.
The Little Mermaid is the last Disney feature film to use the traditional hand-painted cel method of animation. Disney's next film, The Rescuers Down Under, used a digital method of coloring and combining scanned drawings—CAPS (Computer Animation Production System), which eliminated the need for cels. A CAPS prototype was used experimentally in a few scenes in Mermaid, including the final wedding scene. Other CGI includes some wrecked ships in the final battle, a staircase behind a shot of Ariel in Eric's castle, and the carriage Eric and Ariel are riding in when she bounces it over a ravine (notice that the wheels do not move when it comes down for a landing).
On November 15, 1989, The Little Mermaid began critics' screenings in Los Angeles and New York City. On November 17, 1989, the world premiere of The Little Mermaid took place near Orlando, Florida on all ten AMC Pleasure Island screens at Walt Disney World's newly-built Pleasure Island nightclub.
A soundtrack was released for the film on October 13, 1989, and was met with great praise and accolades. The soundtrack would be re-released in 2006 as well.
The Little Mermaid was released to rave reviews upon its initial release. It quickly became a cultural phenomenon, with many critics hailing it as a return to the quality filmmaking Disney animation was known for during the days of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella. It won a number of accolades, specifically for its music, including two Academy Awards for Best Song and Best Score, two Golden Globes and one Grammy, among others. Rotten Tomatoes reported that the film has a 93% "Certified Fresh" score based on 69 reviews, with an average rating of 8.19/10. It became the 9th highest grossing film of 1989 behind Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Batman, Back to the Future Part II, Ghostbusters II, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Licence to Kill, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Lethal Weapon 2. The site's consensus reads "The Little Mermaid ushered in a new golden era for Disney animation with warm and charming hand-drawn characters and catchy musical sequences".
Theatrical release history
- November 17, 1989 (original release)
- November 14, 1997 (re-release)
- September 13, 2013 (one-month limited engagement 3D re-release at the El Capitan Theatre)
- September 20, 2013 (Disney Second Screen Live re-release)
Home video release history
- Main article: The Little Mermaid (video)
- 1990 (VHS/Betamax/Laserdisc - Walt Disney Classics) - The film's home video debut was in May 1990 after a highly successful run at the box-office. Consumers made this the year's top-selling title on home video, with over 10 million units sold (including 7 million in its first month). It was one of the highest-selling home video titles ever at the time. On the cover of this version, one of the pillars on the golden castle bears a resemblance to a phallus, though it is a coincidence as said by Disney and the man who drew it, who in fact did not work for Disney.
- 1998 (VHS/Laserdisc - Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection) - The growing popularity of Disney films that peaked with The Lion King in 1994 ignited much interest in The Little Mermaid from new Disney fans and from a new generation of kids. By the time the movie was re-released on VHS in March 1998, millions of people were eager to set their hands on a copy. The VHS sold 13 million units and ranked as the 3rd best-selling title of the year on the VHS chart.
- 1999 (DVD - Limited Issue) - The film was included in the Limited Issue line and was released as a "barebones" DVD set with a poor video transfer and no substantial features.
- 2006 (DVD - Walt Disney Platinum Editions) - The film was re-released on DVD on October 3, 2006, as part of the Walt Disney Platinum Editions line of classic Walt Disney animated features. Deleted scenes, new musical sequences and several in-depth documentaries were included, as well as the Academy Award-nominated short film intended for the shelved Fantasia 2006, The Little Matchgirl. On its opening day the DVD/Blu-ray Disc sold 1.6 million units, and in its first week, over 4 million units, making it the biggest animated DVD/Blu-ray Disc debut for October. It ranked second on the DVD sales chart and enjoyed the best first-week sales of all the Platinum titles. The Special edition came out in the U.K. on November 6, 2006.
- 2013 (DVD/Blu-ray Disc - Diamond Edition) - The film was re-released on October 1, 2013, as part of the Walt Disney Diamond Editions.
- 2019 (DVD/Blu-ray Disc - Signature Collection) - For the first time in 4K UHD Blu-ray, the film was released on February 26, 2019, as part of the Walt Disney Signature Collection.
- Another The Little Mermaid film had been planned as the next film after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Production started soon after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but was put on hold due to various circumstances. While this film was in production in the 1980s, someone found Walt's Mermaid script by chance. Many of his changes to Hans Christian Andersen's original story were coincidentally the same as the changes made by Disney writers in the 1980s.
- Glen Keane, the supervising animator for Ariel, jokingly stated on the 100 Greatest Cartoons DVD that Ariel looks exactly like his wife "without the fins." The character's body shape and personality were based upon that of Alyssa Milano, then starring on TV's Who's the Boss?; the effect of her hair underwater was based on footage of Sally Ride when she was in space, and her live-action reference model was Sherri Stoner.
- When Scuttle is providing "vocal romantic stimulation" while Eric and Ariel are out on the lagoon, he is actually squawking his own version of Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet".
- A number of backgrounds used during the "Kiss the Girl" number were recycled from Disney's earlier film The Rescuers.
- The dress Carlotta wears is a larger version of the one used by Cinderella in Cinderella.
- The film ranks as #51 of the 100 Greatest Cartoons as voted in Great Britain.
- Near the start of the film when King Triton is seen riding a dolphin-pulled chariot over an audience of merfolk, Kermit the Frog, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy can be seen in the audience.
- Ursula's design was based off the famous drag queen, Divine.
- In the contract Ursula has Ariel sign, if one were to pause as the camera pans down, one could see a Hidden Mickey between a bunch of jumbled letters.
- During Scuttle's disruption of the wedding between Eric and Vanessa, The Grand Duke and King from Cinderella can be seen standing together in the background.
- In transformation scenes in The Little Mermaid franchise, one only sees the mermaid to human transition, where the tail splits in half with each becoming a leg. In this film, we see that happen to Ariel when Ursula turns her into a human. In the sequel (The Little Mermaid II), the same thing happens to Ariel's daughter, Melody, when Ursula's younger sister Morgana's magic from a bottle wears out on her, while she was trapped in an ice cave with a much older Flounder. We never see these transitions the other way around. In the original movie, during Prince Eric and Vanessa's wedding scene when Ariel is about to kiss Eric, Ariel only jerks upward in pain and slips down on the deck (she is only shown to the waist). A clip later, her tail is shown having just transformed under her dress. In the sequel, when Melody is transformed, her feet are covered in swirling green lights before her tail pops out.
- In the scene after Ursula is destroyed, Ariel's pose as she looks longingly at Eric bears resemblance to the famous statue of Andersen's Little Mermaid in Copenhagen (sculpted by Edward Eriksen).
- According to the DVD commentary, the shark that chases Ariel and Flounder at the beginning is named Glut, and he was planned to return for a rematch with Flounder later on.
- In the video game series Kingdom Hearts, Ariel and Mulan are the only official Disney Princesses featured in the game who are not of the fabled Princesses of Heart. Strangely, Alice of Alice in Wonderland is featured as a Princess of Heart, while unlike Ariel, is not a princess.
- The color that Disney Imagineers created for Ariel's tail was, in fact, created just for the movie and was aptly called "Ariel".
- On the main menu of disc 1 of the Finding Nemo DVD, one of the things Dory says is, "I'm so excited! I've always wanted to see The Little Mermaid!"
- When this film was re-released in theaters in 1998, some foreign translations were redubbed. Some original dubs were restored later (like French original dub, restored for the 2006 DVD edition).
- The first-ever Russian dub of this film was made in 2006. Prior to this, one male voice was dubbed on top of the English version.
- The final defeat of Ursula is very similar to the climax of Howard Philips Lovecraft's short story, "The Call of Cthulhu". Cthulhu is also a giant human-octopus hybrid (although his overall appearance is closer to that of Davy Jones) who is also vanquished by the prow of a ship being rammed into him.
- The original story did not have a happy ending. Walt Disney himself believed the original ending to Hans Christian Andersen's version to be too depressing and altered it. In the original version, after having her tongue cut out, the Little Mermaid does not marry the Prince but is instead offered the opportunity to slay him and return to life as a mermaid. Her refusal to do so is an act of true love, and thus she is turned into sea-foam - the manner in which merfolk die. Her 6 sisters offered their long, beautiful hair to the Sea Witch in an effort to allow their sister the opportunity to gain a soul. In exchange for their gorgeous hair (which mermaids are also known for) the Sea Witch allows the Little Mermaid to be reborn as a Sylph (an aerial spirit with an immortal soul devoted to helping children, and who herself will one day enter heaven).
- In the Norwegian version, Ursula was voiced by Frøydis Armand and Sebastian was voiced by Helge Jordal. The two actors were married at the time and had one child.
- It should be noted that The Little Mermaid is considered to be a transitional film; it was one of the last Disney movies to use xerography and the first movie to introduce the CAPS system, in which the latter would later be used in subsequent 2D films beginning with The Rescuers Down Under.
- It was also the final Disney film to use a multiplane camera.
- This film is the only Disney one that Howard Ashman was alive to see fully finished. Ashman died during the production of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.
- Previously, the musical Smile had involvement with Ashman as the lyricist (not to mention the writer of the book and the director) and Jodi Benson in the cast, likewise, not to mention Benson's character sings the song "Disneyland" in it.
- This is the last Disney film to have the 1985 Walt Disney Pictures logo in the original theatrical release and 1990 WDC home video release and the first Disney film to have the 1990 Walt Disney Pictures logo, which appeared in the theatrical trailer, the 1997-98 theatrical re-release, 1998 WDMC home video release, 1999 Limited Issues DVD release, and 2006 Platinum Edition release. The 2011 edition of the 2006 Walt Disney Pictures logo later appeared in the 2013 Diamond Edition and 2019 Signature Collection releases.
- The 1998 VHS release of this film is the first one to have a music video during the credits. It depicts Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel, on a beach, and, at the beginning and end of the video, the camera is moved over a live-action ocean. The second and third were Recess: School's Out and Piglet's Big Movie.
- This is the first Disney film to have music by Alan Menken.
- This is the first entry of the Disney Renaissance.
- This was the first Read-Along version to be narrated by Roy Dotrice.
- This is one of the most popular Disney movies on "Marine Day" in Japan, because of Ariel herself being a mermaid.
- Despite The Great Mouse Detective being credited for financially saving the Walt Disney Company from bankruptcy back in the '80s, this film has been credited for restoring the popularity of the company.
- This is the last film in the Disney Animated Canon to use the original sound effects (including as well as the Castle Thunder).
- This is the last Walt Disney Animation Studios feature film to use the traditional hand-painted cel method of animation. All 2D films released afterwards beginning with The Rescuers Down Under, along with this film’s sequels, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea and The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning, use digital ink and paint instead.
- The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea
- The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning
- The Little Mermaid (live-action film)
- List of Disney theatrical animated features