Fairytale Retellings & Prompts: The Little Mermaid

This month we’re doing a series called the A-Z blogging challenge where we dive into Fairytale Retellings and provide prompts for writers. Writers are the people making the books, television shows, and movies of tomorrow. For more information on the challenge check out my earlier post here.

What if the entire Disney movie was voiced by a man? Where did they get the design for Ursula the sea witch? Did the original story of the Little Mermaid have a happy ending? For the answer to these questions and more, read on.

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).

The Disney version of the story centers around Ariel a 16-year-old mermaid Princess in the kingdom of Atlantica, in the Atlantic Ocean. She is captivated by the world upon the surface despite the fact that contact with the human world is strictly forbidden by her father Triton. Her secret adventures with her best friend Flounder put her in the path of a young prince whom she falls for after saving his life. To be with him she makes a deal with a villainous sea witch Ursula to become human, herself, and earn his love before the agreed time on the crooked contract runs out. All this with only the help of Flounder and her father’s advisor Sebastion and no voice.

Things to look for during your re-watch of the 1989 Disney version of the movie:

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.

In the contract Ursula has Ariel sign, if one were to pause as the camera pans down, one could see a Mickey hiding between a bunch of jumbled letters.

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. The transformation back to human is only shot from the waste up.

Can you imagine watching the entire movie with only one voice doing all the parts? Yeah, me either. So it was a shock to learn 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. What?!

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. Thank you, Howard, what would this movie have been without Sebastian’s distinctive sound.

A number of backgrounds used during the “Kiss the Girl” number were recycled from Disney’s earlier film The Rescuers. Now that The Rescuers are on Disney+ be sure to check for these when you re-watch.

What about the sea witch? Ursula’s design was based on the famous drag queen, Divine.

The film ranks as #51 of the 100 Greatest Cartoons as voted in Great Britain. (What’s up with that?) Where does it fit on your own list of the greatest cartoon films?

Want to learn how to draw the characters from the Disney film? Check out the tutorials here.

I wrote my own little mermaid story but I want to know what would you have done differently? How would you make this story fresh again?

For more blogs participating in A to Z 2020 click the link here.


T.S. Valmond is the science fiction and young adult fantasy author of The Bolaji Kingdoms Series and The Verity Chronicles. As an award-winning poet, world traveler, and sign language interpreter she uses her experiences to fuel her stories. She’s a regular contributor to the website and founder of the Riders & Flyers group.


  1. I never liked the Andersen tale as a kid, but I really enjoyed the Japanese animated movie version. It was a lot darker than Disney, and had the original ending. Which made a lot more sense to me, because in Hungarian the story is called “Little Foam-maid”, and that title only makes sense with the original ending 😀

    The Multicolored Diary

    1. I’ve never seen the Japanese version, I’ll have to search it out now. Thanks for coming in and sharing the Hungarian version too. There were too many to include in one post.

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