This article contains spoilers for Disney’s The Little Mermaid (2023)the little Mermaid Join the list of Disney animated movies that got the live-action treatment. Halle Bailey greets the little mermaid, Ariel, who dreams of the world from above and a handsome prince. In order to make her wish come true, she will have to make a dangerous deal with a sea witch. Ariel will have three days to live a life on earth, but some doom awaits her if she fails to convince the prince to kiss her. However, the live-action film often makes changes to the previous animated plot.

Disney has actually re-told its take on the story in other forms over the years, including the TV series prequel and the Broadway show adaptation. Being an earlier attempt to adapt Love for live performers, the stage show appears to have had an influence on the film. Even Andersen’s fairy tale that inspired it all got a few shout-outs in the live-action movie.

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10 Ursula is the sister of Triton and aunt of Ariel

Walt Disney Studios

In the 2023 movie version of the little MermaidUrsula is introduced as Triton’s younger sister, who has been banished from their underwater kingdom. This also makes Ursula Ariel’s aunt, reminiscent of the long-running Disney series of mothers. In a promotional video, Ursula actress Melissa McCarthy mentioned that she was playing Javier Bardem’s sister, a reference to the King Triton actor.

The idea to make siblings Ursula and Triton came from the production of the original 1989 movie. In an early draft of the opening song, “Fathoms Below”, the sailors tell Eric about King Triton, his “seven beautiful daughters”, and his exiled “sister-witch” Ursula, who plans to become Queen of the Seas. Fans have loved the idea over the years and debated whether or not it was canon. The Broadway adaptation also included the idea that the two were brothers. In one review, the two also had several sisters who were killed by a jealous Ursula.

9 Ariel’s sisters got new names

Sisters of the Little Mermaid Ariel
Walt Disney Studios

In both versions, Ariel is the youngest of King Triton’s seven daughters. In the 1989 film, they are introduced during the “Daughters of Triton” sequence, where they are given the combination of homonyms, Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Atena, Adela, and Alana. However, in the 2023 movie, they are given the names, Mala, Karina, Perla, Indira, Caspia, and Tameka. These names are partly meant to remind us of the “seven seas,” for which they are supposedly responsible.

Ariel’s sisters are shown to be less sympathetic to humans, and somewhat share their father’s views on the beings of the world above. This is seen in a series of removals of human shipwreck remains and a greater sympathy for the surrounding coral and sea fern. This may relate to humans being blamed for their mother’s death, which Ariel, the youngest, has no memory of.

8 Scuttle became a female dive

Little Mermaid Pail
Walt Disney Studios

Scuttle is Ariel’s bird friend in both the 1989 and 2023 films. They both serve as Ariel’s go-betweens for what the world above is like, though neither Scuttle seems to have much of an understanding of humans. In the 1989 film, Scuttle is portrayed as a male seagull. However, in the 2023 movie, the Scuttle is a female northern fowl.

As a diving bird, this means that Scuttle can now interact with other characters in underwater scenes. This change means that Ariel breaking through the roof to save Eric’s life is very touching, as she’s doing so for the first time. Meanwhile, the regularly animated Ariel is shown rising above the sea to visit Skottle. This may also have been done to address how Scuttle’s reflection on Vanessa’s reflection is recognized as Ursula the Sea Witch.

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7 Ursula’s contract problem was avoided

Ursula Mermaid Mel
Walt Disney Studios

One plot point that viewers had questioned for years from the original 1989 movie was why Ariel didn’t try to explain her situation to Eric through writing. At the very least, Ariel can write her name as seen when she signs Ursula’s necklace.

The 2023 movie revolves around this problem by having Ariel make a deal with the witch by giving her one of her scales. Instead of writing it down, Ariel is able to reveal her name to Eric by showing him solace to Aries as a hint. This also addresses why Sebastian, who managed to tell Eric’s name Ariel, implying that the Prince could somehow understand him, never tried to explain the situation to Eric either.

6 Prince Eric has a mother, Queen Selena

The Little Mermaid Queen Selena
Walt Disney Studios

In the 1989 film, Ariel’s love interest, Prince Eric, has no apparent parents, with Grimsby being the closest thing he has to a guardian. However, the 2023 film does give Eric Selena’s mother Queen. While Eric is supposed to be a prince by birth in the previous film, Selina is Eric’s adoptive mother, having taken him in as her own son after he was found in a shipwreck as a baby.

In many ways, Queen Selena acts as a cover for Ariel’s father, King Triton. While Triton is suspicious of humans in the world over the seas, Selina has similar reservations about the sea. In particular, the Queen dislikes the travels her son takes, and is similarly overprotective of him. Selina is also afraid of what lives under the sea, even showing her shock when she learns that Ariel is a mermaid, calling her a “sea creature”. Grimsby serves as a mediator between the mother and the son. Much like Triton, Selena is also shown to be a single parent.

5 Ariel gets to “sing” on the floor

Little Mermaid boat scene
Walt Disney Studios

In the 1989 film, Ariel becomes a pantomime character after she gives up her voice to a sea witch. As noted by critics, this works well in the animation, as Ariel’s bright-eyed expression easily conveys her emotions, from the joy at seeing the world above to the heartbreak of rejection for Vanessa.

However, the 2023 movie finds a way to allow Ariel the chance to “sing” on Earth. Ariel shares her thoughts with the audience on the song “For the First Time”, presented as being in her imagination rather than sung out loud. “Part of Your World” also gets a second, more tragic critique just before the climax. The Broadway adaptation also afforded Ariel some opportunities to sing during her three days as a human, such as the similar song, “Beyond My Wildest Dreams,” and the quartet, “If Only.” This allowed Ariel to “talk” to the audience, if not the other characters.

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4 Ariel takes an active part in fighting Ursula

Ariel Haley Bailey
Walt Disney Studios

Ariel is already very proactive in the original movie and story, considering she saved Prince Eric’s life during their first meeting. The 2023 movie also gives her a more active role during the story’s climax. First, when stopping the wedding between Eric and Vanessa, Ursula’s alter ego, it is Ariel herself who attacks her rival and rips out the necklace containing her voice. In the original animated movie, it was Scuttle who broke the contract.

Likewise, Ariel and Eric switch roles during the final confrontation with Ursula. In a reversal of the 1989 animated movie, Eric is caught in a whirlpool and Ariel steers a ship at the giant witch, killing her once and for all. The Broadway show gave Ariel a more active role in defeating Ursula, by destroying the shell that was the source of her power.

3 Ursula proved more deadly

The Little Mermaid, Triton, by Javier Bardem
Walt Disney Studios

Those who made deals with Ursula in the 1989 movie risked turning into her polyp henchmen, spending the rest of their lives stalking her grotto. Ariel is briefly transformed into one before King Triton takes her place, becoming a descendant himself. After defeating Ursula, the polyps break free and revert to their original forms.

Ursula proves even more deadly in the 2023 movie. Instead of polyps, Ursula’s grotto is filled with bones, and presumably others made deals with her, if not the humans drowned in the seas. During her confrontation with Triton, the Sea King is reduced to dust by Ursula’s serpents before claiming the trident and seas as her own. Fortunately, Triton is restored after Ursula’s defeat. A novelization of the film also indicated that Ursula may have had a role in the death of Ariel’s mother, a notion that also appears in some versions of the Broadway show, though Triton blames the humans, implied as one person in particular, for his wife’s death in the final film.

2 The story’s original ending gets a brief shout-out

Little Mermaid Scuttle (1) -1
Walt Disney Studios

When he meets Ariel’s animal friends on Earth after she becomes human, after hearing what happened from Flounder, Scuttle asks if Ariel has killed the Prince yet. Sebastian corrects her that Ariel only needs to kiss the prince to remain human and escape Ursula’s clutches. While this can be attributed to simple wordplay, some viewers interpret this as a cry for the original fairy tale.

In Andersen’s original story, the Little Mermaid will die if the prince marries another girl. When the prince ends up marrying a foreign princess, the sea witch gives the mermaid a way to save herself. If she kills the prince, she can at least go back to being a mermaid. The mermaid refuses to do this and accepts her fate. Her self-sacrifice is rewarded by becoming an air being, or “daughter of the air”. Over the years, fans have also speculated that the Disney heroine’s name, “Ariel,” was also a reference to this ending.

Ariel also drops The Little Mermaid into the sea during a second re-enactment of “Part of Your World,” as if to symbolize her counterpart’s original fate. Andersen’s original was on the filmmakers’ minds during the 2023 movie. The live-action remake opens remarkably with a lifted quote from Andersen’s original script: “But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers much more.”

1 The movie does not end with a wedding at sea

Jonah Hauer King and Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid
Walt Disney Studios

The 1989 film ends with Ariel marrying Eric on a ship, allowing her family and friends from the depths of the sea to greet her from the waters. The 2023 movie is going a different way. Ariel and Eric are seen leaving on a small boat to travel around the world together. However, mermaids come out to greet her, as well as Queen Selina and Grimsby. Ariel also hugs her father in both versions.

Similarly, Eric’s wedding to Vanessa is downplayed for being an engagement party in the remake. The original The Little Mermaid sure didn’t end its story with her wedding, either. However, Ariel and Eric at least end the movie in happier circumstances.


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