Recently, I chose to revisit my childhood and watched the 1989 Disney Animated film, “The Little Mermaid.” Then, I watched the 1975 Discotek Media “The Little Mermaid.” I was then reminded of the original story that the film I grew up watching was based off of, Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 “The Little Mermaid.” I always knew that the original story and 1989 film adaptation differed greatly, but I’ve recently pondered why changes were made. To answer this, I believe that listing some of these major changes is in order:

  1. The Little Mermaid in the film is given name of Ariel, has six sisters, and is 16 years old. In the story, the Little Mermaid is merely referred to as the Little Mermaid, has five sisters, and is not yet 15 at the beginning of the story.
  2. The Little Mermaid in the story was allowed to travel to the surface at the age of 15 like all other mermaids whereas Ariel was forbidden, as per her father’s orders due to his wife, Athena, having been taken by humans and hates everything associated with them.
  3. In the Little Mermaid, Ariel asks Ursula for legs because she wants to be with Prince Eric, but the Little Mermaid in the story also wants to be immortal and be granted a soul to go to Heaven, as mermaids don’t get this like humans.
    1. To wed a human and be kissed by one would grant her a soul and an afterlife. If she doesn’t wd a human and become immortal, she will live to 300 years and then turn into sea foam.
    2. She is told this by her grandmother in the fairytale. The grandmother is not present in the movie, just like Scuttle, Flounder, and Sebastian do not exist in the fairytale.
  4. The Little Mermaid in the story is quiet and thoughtful whilst Ariel is quite the rebel in the movie.
  5. Ariel’s transformation was painless in the movie whilst the Little Mermaid’s in the story was made painful in the form of every step she took feeling like knives in her foot and leaving a trail of blood behind.
  6. The Sea Witch in the story was not evil like Ursula.
    1. In order for the Little Mermaid to get legs, the Sea Witch cut off her tongue and whilst Ursula took Ariel’s voice and put it in a seashell.
    2. The Sea Witch granted the Little Mermaid legs on the condition that she must marry the Prince. If he marries another, she will die the next day. Ariel, on the it hand, was given three days or else she would belong to Ursula.
  7. Rather than being found by Max and Grimbsy on The shore after the shipwreck, the Prince is found by a girl, who happens to be a Princess. Thus, the Prince marries the other girl. The girl in The story is tantamount or equivalent to Ursula aka Vanessa, as she had Ariel’s voice and made Eric believe that she is the one who saved him through having the same voice he heard come from his savior.
    1. He didn’t love the Little Mermaid and referred to her as a “dumb founding.”
  8. The Little Mermaid in the story flung herself from the boat and to her death on the Prince’s wedding day. She became the daughter of air rather than turning into sea foam and was to be granted a soul if she didn’t commit any bad deeds. In the movie, Ariel and Prince Eric lived, as they would say, happily ever after.

Thus, we can conclude that it was due to the rather dark aspects and the fact that Disney is known for ensuring happily ever afters. An adaptation that does, however, stay true to the original in some ways is that of the 1975 Discotek Media version so one may question why Disney didn’t take the same approach in alleviating the darker aspects. Well, I think we all know that isn’t Disney-like and frankly, it makes for an equally exhilarating tale.

By Maya Abou El Nasr