Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Little Mermaid, The

US Animated Movie (1989). Disney. Pr Howard Ashman, John Musker. Dir Ron Clements, John Musker. Screenplay Clements, Musker. Based loosely on "The Little Mermaid" (1937) by Hans Christian Andersen. Voice actors Christopher Daniel Barnes (Eric), Jodi Benson (Ariel), Pat Carroll (Ursula), Buddy Hackett (Scuttle), Jason Marin (Flounder), Kenneth Mars (Triton), Ben Wright (Grimsby), Samuel E Wright (Sebastian). 82 mins. Colour.

Apart from its general theme, TLM is not an interpretation of Andersen. The youngest of the underwater King Triton's Seven daughters, Ariel, is far too interested in matters terrestrial, notably human beings; investigating a shipwreck she spies and falls in love with the insipid Prince Eric. The sea-Witch Ursula sees this as an opportunity to gain Vengeance against Triton: she draws up a Contract with Ariel whereby the Mermaid may be human for three days, remaining so if receiving Eric's true-love kiss before the end of that time; failing that, Ariel's Soul will be forfeit to Ursula. Eric falls for Ariel, but the kiss remains unkissed. Ursula disguises herself as a woman much like Ariel but of stronger will, Vanessa, and immediately ensnares Eric, who forgets Ariel. Luckily, his wedding with Vanessa is disrupted at the last moment by Ariel and her friends.

TLM's subtext is more sombre than expected from a Disney animated movie. The story can be read as of the sexual awakening of a young woman, her fascination for the world of "alien" men, and the difficult Rite of Passage she must undergo in order to enter both that world and full social and sexual adulthood. This subtext is reinforced by the figure of Triton, whose resistance to the notion of his daughter meddling with humans can be interpreted in terms of sexual jealousy; in the end, however, he must graciously surrender her to her rightful lover. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.