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You might think that all Disney movies are fiction. After all, everyone knows that animals don’t talk and pumpkins don’t turn into princess carriages. But did you know that other Disney animated films are actually based on real-life events that happened in history?

The Little Mermaid is many Disney fans’ favorite film of all time. Fans are now waiting anxiously for studios to start filming the live-action remake of the classic underwater tale.

While we wait, let’s consider the question: was Disney‘s The Little Mermaid based on a true story? Surely, mermaids don’t really exist? Read on to learn more about the history of this classic favorite!

Disney’s version of ‘The Little Mermaid’

The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid | Disney

Disney’s 1989 animated filmThe Little Mermaid, defined a generation of Disney fans. The film tells the story of Ariel, a misfit mermaid princess who spends her days longing to be part of the human world and admiring her collection of human artifacts, most of which she uses incorrectly.

On one of her trips to the surface of the ocean, she catches a glimpse of Eric, a human prince. Ariel’s heart is captured, and desperate for a way to become human and join Eric on land, she ends up making a cursed trade with the evil sea witch Ursula.

Ursula robs Ariel of her precious voice in exchange for giving her human legs. Sadly, Ariel is able to physically be present with Eric, but cannot express herself to him because her voice has been robbed. Of course, the movie ends happily, with Ariel escaping Ursula’s curse; she and Eric get married and live happily ever after.

With catchy tunes that won the film both Oscars for Best Original Song and a Grammy (both for the song Under the Sea) and a cast of wonderfully quirky supportive characters including Sebastian the bossy, despairing crab and Flounder, Ariel’s loyal best friend, it’s not hard to see how The Little Mermaid became so popular.

The story behind ‘The Little Mermaid’

We’re sorry to disappoint you, but no, there was no real-life mermaid on which the character of Ariel was based. However, Walt Disney Studios didn’t create the story of The Little Mermaid themselves, either.

The Little Mermaid is actually based on a Danish fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen, written all the way back in 1837. The original story, though, is a bit more dramatic and gruesome than Disney’s version.

Although the general storyline stays true to Andersen’s fairytale, there are a couple of points that Disney apparently decided not to use in the cartoon version. For example, in the original fairytale, Ariel (whom Andersen didn’t give a name and simply referred to as “The Little Mermaid”) is told by the Sea Witch Ursula that once she becomes a human, she will never be able to return to the sea again. Furthermore, if she fails to capture Eric’s heart, then she will turn into sea foam and die. Sadly, she does fail to capture his heart; Eric marries another woman, and Ariel turns into sea foam.

On top of that, in Andersen’s fairytale, it is not only Ariel’s voice that Ursula wants: it’s her tongue. Gruesomely, the sea witch makes the mermaid hack out her own tongue with a knife. It’s not hard to see why Disney decided not to include this part in their children’s movie!

What’s next for fans of ‘The Little Mermaid’


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The Little Mermaid may not have been based on a true story, but that doesn’t make people love it any less. Fans have been anxiously awaiting the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, which will star the beautiful and talented Halle Bailey. However, the current pandemic has pushed back filming, which was set to begin in April.

In addition to Bailey, the remake is also set to star Melissa McCarthy as Ursula and Awkwafina as the seagull Scuttle. Fans will just have to wait a little bit longer to dive under the sea with this fantastic cast.