10 Things You Didn’t Know About Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’
‘Oliver & Company’ and ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit‘ helped Disney animation get back on its feet, but it was ‘The Little Mermaid’ that brought the Mouse House back to its roots and laid the framework for the modern fairy tale musical. In celebration of the film’s Blu-Ray debut, here are ten behind-the-scenes facts about the 1989 Disney classic that you may not have known.
It Was Going to Be Part of an Earlier Movie
Specifically, The Little Mermaid was going to be part of Disney’s proposed biopic about storyteller Hans Christian Andersen. The film was envisioned as a combination of live action scenes about Andersen’s life and animated segments for the fairy tales. The film never happened and Disney’s didn’t return to the idea of an animated ‘Little Mermaid’ for many decades.
It Was Almost Passed Over for a ‘Splash’ Sequel
Future ‘Mermaid’ director Ron Clements originally presented the idea of an animated ‘Little Mermaid’ to then CEO Jeffery Katzenberg at a pitch meeting. But Katzenberg wasn’t interested. The studio was working on a sequel to the 1984 comedy ‘Splash,’ and Katzenberg thought that two mermaid movies would be overkill.
The ‘Splash’ sequel never happened and must not have been going so well, because Katzenberg reversed his decision and greenlit ‘Mermaid’ for development the very next day.
Sebastian was Originally Stuffy and British
‘Mermaid’ was already in development when composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman were brought on to make the film a musical. One of the characters in this early version of the movie was a stuffy British butler crab named Clarence. Ashman suggested turning Clarence into a Rastafarian and giving the film’s music a calypso flavor. Based on this idea, Clarence evolved into Sebastian.
One of Ariel’s Sisters’ Names Is an Homage to Alan Menken
Ariel has six older sisters, who introduce themselves in the musical number ‘Daughters of Triton.’ They are minor characters in the original film, but are fleshed out in the TV series and the prequel ‘Ariel’s Beginning.’ Most of their names are just random “A” names, but “Alanna” is a nod to composer Alan Menken and Attina is named for the titular character from Menken’s rock opera ‘Atina, Evil Queen of the Galaxy.’
Disney Didn’t Animate the Bubbles
Making an animated film is a lot of work under the best of circumstances, and the Disney animation studio was still on the rebound after years of neglect and underperforming films. Since it was partly set underwater, ‘Mermaid’ required a huge amount of effects animation. To cope with the enormous amount of work required, Disney had most of the bubbles animated at Chinese animation studio Pacific Rim Productions, freeing up the Disney effects animators to work on more complicated effects.
Ursula Is Not an Octopus
Obviously, she’s half human and part tentacled creature. But what kind of tentacled creature? Most people will tell you “octopus,” but if you actually count the tentacles, Ursula only has six. There were originally going to be eight, but that many tentacles on such a major character was a giant pain to animate. So Ursula lost two tentacles, making her more of a squid.
Pat Carroll Was Not the First Choice to Voice Ursula
Or the second, for that matter. The part was initially offered to ‘Golden Girls’ actress Bea Arthur. After Arthur declined, the role went to stage and screen actress Elaine Stritch. Stritch had problems working with Howard Ashman and was eventually replaced by Pat Carroll.
Of course, Ursula’s look is famously based on ‘Pink Flamingos’ star Divine, who died in 1988 and was never considered for the vocal role.
Ben Wright, Voice of Grimsby, Was a Disney Veteran
Eric’s elderly manservant Grimsby was voiced by actor Ben Wright, who was known for his roles in many radio, television, and film productions, including ‘The Sound of Music’ where he played the lead Nazi Herr Zeller.
But Wright was also a Disney voice actor, having played Mowgli’s wolf father in ‘The Jungle Book’ and Pongo’s owner Roger Radcliff in ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians.’ Sadly, Wright passed away shortly after completing work on ‘Mermaid.’
‘Part Of Your World’ Was Nearly Cut
Hard as it is to imagine ‘The Little Mermaid’ without Ariel’s big song, it almost happened.
After young children in a test audience became restless during the scene, Katzenberg wanted to shorten or even cut the song entirely. The film’s directors and Glen Keane, the lead animator of the scene, convinced Katzenberg to hold off until a later test screening with a more complete version of ‘Part Of Your World.’ Katzenberg agreed, the new test audience liked the song, and ‘Part Of Your World’ was spared.
It was the Last Cel Animated Disney Film
‘The Little Mermaid’ was the last Disney film to use the cel animation process. Part of Disney animation since before ‘Snow White,’ cel animation required animator’s drawings to be copied onto clear sheets of plastic, painted on the opposite side and laid over the hand painted backgrounds.
The old method was replaced with a computer version called CAPS (Computer Animation Production System), which Pixar developed to allow drawings to be scanned, colored and composited digitally. The final shot of ‘Mermaid’ was finished using CAPS.