6 Ways Disney's The Little Mermaid Differs from the Original Tale


Disney’s The Little Mermaid is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the same name. But how do the two differ?

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After the success of several live action adaptations of their classic animated films, there’s something new in the water. In early 2021, Disney begins production on their live-action Little Mermaid movie. The film has an expected release date of July 9, 2021, and will feature actress Halle Bailey as Ariel, with music supplied by the original animated film’s composer Alan Menken, and Hamilton‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Disney’s animated The Little Mermaid came out in 1989 and was a huge box office success, earning $84 million upon its release. The film featuring Ariel, Flounder, Prince Eric, and of course, the sea-witch Ursula, is one of the most beloved Disney films of all time. The Little Mermaid film is based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the same name but made some artistic changes for a happy ending. 

Here are 6 facts about the original story, and how it differs from the Disney film versions.

You can watch the animated movie on Disney+ , listen to the original story in the Fairytalez Audio Book app, and  read it on Fairytalez.com.

Her skin was as clear and delicate as a rose leaf, and her eyes as blue as the deepest sea; but, like all the others, she had no feet and her body ended in a fish’s tail.

1. Andersen’s Mermaid is nameless.

In popular culture, The Little Mermaid is synonymous with the name “Ariel,” but did you know that the Mermaid in the story is nameless? She’s only described as being the youngest sea princess, the youngest of the Sea-King’s six daughters.  The Disney version created the character of Ariel and made her the seventh daughter. The rest of the characters in the Andersen version lack a name as well. 

2. Andersen’s Mermaid doesn’t wear clothing.

In various fairy tale books, The Little Mermaid is often shown with clothing in her mermaid form, while Disney’s Ariel is never depicted without her famous purple sea-shell bra. However, the illustrations that accompanied Andersen’s Little Mermaid never showed her with clothing, and the story only says that the mermaids wear oysters clipped to their tail.

The little mermaid sits on a rock sunning herself
“The Little Mermaid.” Illustration by E.S. Hardy, published in Stories from Hans Andersen by W. Angeldorff (1890), DeWolfe, Fiske & Co.

3. Mermaids live 300 years.

The world of the mermaids is quite different from humans, and Andersen makes it clear, with the Mermaid’s grandmother saying “We sometimes live for three hundred years.” The grandmother also explains that humans have “an eternal soul” and that when mermaids cease to exist, they become “only foam on the surface of the water.” The Disney film doesn’t explain how long mermaids live, but does let us know that Ariel is 16 years old.

4. The Sea Witch was barely a character in the original.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, the Mermaid visits a Sea Witch. Unlike Ursula in the Disney film, the Sea Witch doesn’t have a large part in Andersen’s story, and only appears briefly. Once she saves the Prince’s life, the Mermaid longs for him and wants to have an eternal soul so she visits the Sea Witch. The witch then trades a magic potion for the Mermaid’s voice, since she had the “sweetest voice of any who dwell here in the depths of the sea.” The Mermaid agrees, and the Witch cuts off her tongue.

5. Being a human is not pleasant.

Once the Mermaid drinks the Sea Witch’s potion, it’s not very pleasant. The experience is like being poked with “a two-edged sword” and when she walks, the sensation feels like “stepping on knives.” The Sea Witch also promises that she can never return to the water again. 

6. The Disney film has a happy ending, and the original Little Mermaid does too, but in a much different way. 

The animated version of The Little Mermaid ends with a nice happy ever after, with the Prince getting married. Andersen’s version also sees the Prince marry but his bride is not you who would think. We’ll let you discover the rest of the tale for yourself!

Read The Little Mermaid on Fairytalez.com today. You can even listen to it in audio on the Fairytalez Audiobook Stories app for Apple and Android devices. You’ll also find several other Mermaid stories from the Mermaid Tales book in the audio app.

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