The Little Mermaid is a 1989 American animated feature produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name. Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, the film was originally released to theaters on November 17, 1989 and is the twenty-eighth film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. During its initial release, The Little Mermaid grossed over $84 million in the United States and an additional $99 million internationally.
The film is given credit for breathing life back into the animated feature film genre after a string of critical or commercial failures that dated back to the early 1980s. It also marked the start of the era known as the Disney Renaissance.
A stage adaptation of the film with a book by Doug Wright and additional songs by Alan Menken and new lyricist Glenn Slater opened in Denver in July 2007 and began performances on Broadway.
Ariel, a sixteen-year-old mermaid princess, is dissatisfied with life under the sea and curious about the human world. With her best fish friend Flounder, Ariel collects human artifacts and goes to the surface of the ocean to visit Scuttle the seagull, who offers very inaccurate and comical knowledge of human culture. Ignoring the warnings of her father (King Triton) and court musician (Sebastian the crab) that contact between merpeople and humans is forbidden, Ariel still longs to be part of the human world; to this end she has filled a secret grotto with all the human artifacts she has found. ("Part of Your World") While Sebastian, who was assigned to watch over Ariel and be sure she does not visit the surface again tries to convince her that its better to live under the sea than in the human world ("Under the Sea")
One night, Ariel and Flounder travel to the ocean surface to watch a celebration for the birthday of Prince Eric, with whom Ariel falls in love. A sudden storm hits, during which everyone manages to escape in a lifeboat except for Eric who goes and rescues his dog Max, who was still trapped on the ship. He saves Max but almost drowns but is saved by Ariel, who drags him to the beach. She sings to him, but when he stirs awake he sees a vision. She dives underwater when Max comes to Eric. Eric has a vague impression that he was rescued by a girl with a beautiful voice; he vows to find her, and Ariel vows to find a way to join Eric. ("Part of Your World (reprise)")
Triton and his daughters notice a change in Ariel, who is openly lovesick. Triton questions Sebastian about Ariel's behavior, during which Sebastian accidentally reveals the incident with Eric. Triton furiously confronts Ariel in her grotto, using his trident to destroy her collection of human treasures. After Triton leaves, a pair of eels, Flotsam and Jetsam, convince a crying Ariel that she must visit Ursula the sea witch, who can supposedly make all her dreams come true.
Ursula makes a deal with Ariel to transform her into a human for three days ("Poor, Unfortunate Souls"). Within these three days, Ariel must receive the "kiss of true love" from Eric; otherwise, she will transform back into a mermaid on the third day and belong to Ursula. As payment for legs, Ariel has to give up her voice, which Ursula magically traps in a shell she wears as a locket. Ariel's tail is transformed into legs and Sebastian and Flounder drag her to the surface.
Eric and Max find Ariel on the beach. He initially suspects that she is the one who saved his life, but when he learns that she cannot speak, he discards that notion—to both the frustration of Ariel and Max (who knows the truth). He helps her to the palace, where the servants think she is as a survivor of a shipwreck. Ariel spends time with Eric, and at the end of the second day, they almost kiss ("Kiss the Girl") but are thwarted by Flotsam and Jetsam. Angered at their narrow escape, Ursula takes the disguise of a beautiful young woman named "Vanessa" and appears onshore singing with Ariel's voice. Eric recognizes the song, and in her disguise, Vanessa/Ursula casts a hypnotic spell of enchantment on Eric to make him forget about Ariel.
The next day, Ariel finds out that Eric will be married to the disguised Ursula on a ship. She cries and is left behind when the wedding barge departs. Scuttle discovers that Vanessa is Ursula in disguise, and informs Ariel. Ariel and Flounder chase the wedding barge, Sebastian informs Triton and Scuttle is assigned to literally "stall the wedding." With the help of various animals, the nautilus shell around Ursula's neck is broken, restoring Ariel's voice back to Ariel and breaking Ursula's enchantment over Eric. Realizing that Ariel was the girl who saved his life, Eric rushes to kiss her, but the sun sets and Ariel transforms back into a mermaid. Ursula reverts to her true form and she kidnaps Ariel.
Triton appears and confronts Ursula, but cannot destroy Ursula's contract with Ariel. Triton chooses to sacrifice himself for his daughter, and is transformed into a polyp. Ursula takes Triton's crown and trident, which was her plan from the beginning. Ursula uses her new power to gloat, forming a whirlpool that disturbs several shipwrecks, one of which Eric commandeers. Just as Ursula is set to use the trident to destroy Ariel, Eric turns the wheel hard to port, in effect ramming the ship's splintered bowsprit through Ursula's abdomen.
With Ursula gone, her power breaks and the polyps in Ursula's garden (including Triton) turn back into the old merpeople. Later, after seeing that Ariel really loves Eric and that Eric also saved him in the process, Triton willingly changes her from a mermaid into a human using his trident. She runs into Eric's arms, and the two finally kiss. Ariel marries Eric in a wedding where both humans and merpeople attend.