The Terrifying True Story of ‘The Little Mermaid’ Disney Changed

Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid is much happier than the story it’s based on by Hans Christian Andersen. But is that a surprise when Disney World is known as the happiest place on Earth? Keep reading to learn how Disney’s The Little Mermaid compares to Andersen’s original story. 

Beginning scenes of ‘The Little Mermaid’ follow Andersen’s story

When audiences first meet Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson), the title character in The Little Mermaid, she does see Eric (voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes) on his ship, just like the mermaid — who has no name — in Andersen’s story.

And she rescues him — referred to as the “prince” in his version — from drowning and promptly falls in love with him. Just like the original, Eric doesn’t see Ariel after his near-death experience. 

Ariel saves Eric in Disney’s 1989 version of The Little Mermaid. | YouTube

Ariel’s deal with Ursula leaves out major details from original 

When the mermaid makes a deal with the sea witch, she agrees to trade her tongue for legs. This part remains the same in The Little Mermaid when Ariel makes a deal with Ursula (voiced by Pat Carroll).

Ariel can only stay human if the prince falls in love with her and they get married. Ursala explains to Ariel if she fails she’ll be a mermaid once again. 

Here’s where the story gets interesting. Andersen’s version has the mermaid dying if she doesn’t hold up her end up of the bargain.

Ariel in The Little Mermaid. | Disney via Instagram

Another more minor detail Disney leaves out of the animated film is that in Andersen’s story the mermaid has another reason to complete her mission. In his version, mermaids don’t have souls and humans do. 

Andersen’s mermaid pays a big price for having legs

When Ariel becomes a human, she has legs and it’s a very exciting time for her.

What Disney left out is the penalty the mermaid has to pay for getting those legs in Andersen’s story.

Taking a step with her human legs is as the author put it, like “walking on knives,” according to Bustle

There’s no happy ending in Andersen’s story

The Little Mermaid ends with the characters living happily ever after. But not in Andersen’s world.

Instead, the prince marries another woman whom he believes saved him from drowning.

Ariel and Sebastian. | Moviequotes

Meanwhile, the mermaid has no way of telling him the truth because she has no voice. She’s given another shot when she’s told if she kills the prince, she will live. 

In the end, the mermaid can’t bring herself to kill the man she loves and ends up back in the sea where she becomes sea foam or a “daughter of the air” where she remains in purgatory. 

Disney’s making a live-action version of ‘The Little Mermaid’

Much like other Disney classics, The Little Mermaid is being made into a live-action film. When the entertainment giant announced the cast for the remake, a controversy over race ensued because Disney chose Halle Bailey, a 19-year-old black actress and R&B singer, to play Ariel, who was white in the 1989 adaptation. 

Benson, the original voice of Ariel, defended Disney’s casting decision telling Comicbook.com, “I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters.” 

Jodi Benson the voice of 'The Little Mermaid'
Actress Jodi Benson, who is the voice of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, at Disney Studios in Burbank, California. | Bob Riha Jr/WireImage

She also underscored the importance of storytelling. 

“We need to be storytellers,” Benson said. “And no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the color of our skin, our dialect, whether I’m tall or thin, whether I’m overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever color, we really need to tell the story.”

Few additional details have been released about the remake since the movie is in pre-production.