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As audiences head under the sea — OK, to theaters — to watch Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid find out how authentic Ariel’s story is to the 19th-century original. Spoiler: Disney changed a lot. Plus, what The Little Mermaid retained from the classic tale and where it’s believed to take place. 

Ariel’s deal with Ursula is different in Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’

The premiere of Disney's 'The Little Mermaid,' which was changed from 'The Little Mermaid' original story, is attended by Melissa McCarthy
Melissa McCarthy | Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

Various parts of Andersen’s original Little Mermaid story have been tweaked by Disney. The two biggest include the deal Ariel, played by Halle Bailey in the 2023 remake, makes with Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) in addition to the ending. 

In Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Ariel’s arrangement with Ursula is as follows: she’s made human except without the use of her voice. If she gets Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) to fall in love with her and they marry, Ariel will be human forever. Failure, Ursula says, means a return to being a mermaid.

However, this version leaves out a major detail from the book. What happens to Ariel in the original Little Mermaid story is much harsher. Failure in Andrsen’s version means death.

As for the ending of The Little Mermaid, everything works out for Prince Eric and Ariel in Disney’s version. However, that’s not the case in Andersen’s book. 

The author has the prince marry another woman whom he believes saved him from drowning. Ariel has no way of telling him what really happened because she’s voiceless. Ultimately, Ariel ends up back in the sea in purgatory as sea foam after failing to kill the prince to secure her own survival.

What’s the same in Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’?

Now for what Disney kept in The Little Mermaid from Andersen’s original. First up, how Ariel meets Prince Eric. The movie stays true to the author’s story having Ariel spot Eric on a ship before becoming smitten as she saves him from drowning. Once again, the prince doesn’t see his rescuer following the near-death experience. 

Another element Disney included are specifics from Ariel’s deal with the sea witch, aka Ursula. Like the original, Ariel agrees to trade her tongue for legs which sees her going through much of the film without a voice. 

Where Does ‘The Little Mermaid’ story take place?

'The Little Mermaid' statue in Denmark, honoring the original Little Mermaid story by Hans Christian Andersen
The Little Mermaid sculpture | Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Unlike other Disney movies, the setting for The Little Mermaid isn’t necessarily clear in the story. Some believe the shores of Denmark could be where the story takes place, considering Andersen’s Danish origin. 

Italy is another contender for where The Little Mermaid takes place. Some regard the Italian coast as the story’s setting. Meanwhile, the Walt Disney Company has never confirmed its exact location. 

As for Ariel, where she’s from is shared in The Little Mermaid. As the daughter of King Triton, she’s from Atlantica, an underwater city thought to be based on the mythological city of Atlantis. 

Disney’s live-action version of The Little Mermaid opens in theaters on May 26.