A sixteen-year-old mermaid princess named Ariel is dissatisfied with life under the sea and curious about the human world. Ariel, with her best friend, a fish named Flounder, collects human artifacts, and visits the surface of the ocean to visit a seagull named Scuttle, who offers comically inaccurate knowledge of human culture. Ignoring the warnings of her father, King Triton, and the court musician, Sebastian the crab, that contact between merpeople and humans is forbidden, she longs to be part of the human world; to this end she has filled a secret grotto with all the human artifacts she has found.
Ariel and Flounder travel to the surface to watch a celebration for the birthday of Prince Eric, with whom Ariel falls in love. The birthday celebration is cut short by a massive storm, during which the ship is struck by lightning. Everyone manages to escape in a lifeboat, except for Eric who boards the burning ship to save his dog Max. Eric almost drowns, but is saved by Ariel, who drags him to the beach. She sings to him, but when he stirs awake, she dives underwater. Eric has a vague impression that he was rescued by a girl with a beautiful voice; he vows to find her, and Ariel vows to find a way to join Eric.
Triton and his daughters notice a change in Ariel, who is openly lovesick. Triton questions Sebastian about Ariel’s behavior, during which Sebastian accidentally reveals the incident with Eric. Triton furiously confronts and punishes Ariel in her grotto, using his trident to destroy her entire collection of human treasures, including her prized statue of Prince Eric. After Triton leaves, a pair of eels, Flotsam and Jetsam, convince a crying Ariel that she must visit Ursula the sea witch, who can supposedly make all her dreams come true.
Ursula makes a deal with Ariel to transform her into a human for three days. Within these three days, Ariel must receive the “kiss of true love” from Eric; otherwise she will transform back into a mermaid on the third day and belong to Ursula. As payment for legs, Ariel has to give up her voice, which Ursula magically traps in a shell she wears as a locket. Ariel is transformed and, with the execption of her breasts, is naked. She is dragged to the surface by Sebastian and Flounder. There, she is washed up on a rock. She sits up and looks in astonishement at her new legs. She lifts her right leg out of the water and examines her foot. She wiggles her toes and smiles open-mouthed. Shortly after, Scuttle helps dress her in the remains of sail. She is found by Eric, but when he learns that she cannot speak, he discards the notion that she is the one who saved his life. He helps her to the palace, where the servants think of her as a survivor of a shipwreck. Ariel spends time with Eric, and at the end of the second day, they almost kiss but are thwarted by Flotsam and Jetsam. Angered at the close call, Ursula takes the disguise of a beautiful young woman named “Vanessa” and appears onshore singing with Ariel’s voice. Eric recognizes the song, and “Vanessa” casts a hypnotic spell of enchantment on Eric to make him forget about Ariel.
The next day, Ariel finds out that Eric will be married to “Vanessa” on a ship. She cries and is left behind when the wedding barge departs. Scuttle discovers Vanessa’s true identity and informs Ariel. Ariel and Flounder chase the wedding barge, Sebastian informs Triton, and Scuttle is assigned to “stall the wedding.” With the help of various animals, the nautilus shell around Ursula’s neck is broken, restoring Ariel’s voice back to Ariel and breaking Ursula’s enchantment over Eric. Realizing that Ariel was the girl who saved his life, Eric rushes to kiss her, but the sun sets and Ariel transforms back into a mermaid. Ursula reverts back to her true form and she kidnaps Ariel.
Triton appears and confronts Ursula, but cannot destroy the contract Ursula made with Ariel. Triton chooses to sacrifice himself for his daughter and signs the contract. Ursula transforms Triton into a polyp. Ursula takes Triton’s crown and trident and declares herself queen of the oceans, which was her plan from the beginning. Eric dives into the sea and throws a harpoon at Ursula. In her rage, she attempts to destroy him by using the trident, but Ariel attacks her, and Ursula accidentally kills Flotsam and Jetsam. Angered, Ursula subsequently transforms into gigantic proportions and stirs up a storm using the magical trident. A whirlpool is also formed, which disturbs several shipwrecks, one of which Eric later commandeers. Just as Ursula is set to use the trident to destroy Ariel, Eric turns the wheel hard to port, in effect ramming the ship’s splintered bowsprit through Ursula’s abdomen, killing her in a huge explosion.
When Ursula dies, her power breaks, and the polyps in Ursula’s garden (including Triton) turn back into merpeople. Later, after seeing that Ariel really loves Eric, Triton willingly changes her from her mermaid form into a human using his trident. She runs into Eric’s arms, and the two finally kiss. In the final scene, Ariel gets married to Eric in a wedding, when both humans and merpeople now become attendees.
This is the film that started the Renaissance of Disney musicals. Granted, its predecessor, Oliver & Company was a musical, it was an experiment to see if the audiences would come. I’d say it’s a safe bet that they came.
I don’t see how anyone can not like this film. Ariel is your typical teenage girl who is rebelling against her overbearing father to be with the man she loves. Your basic love story, just in a different setting.
If I have any issues with this movie is that she was supposed to have 3 days to fall in love with the prince, but those 3 days ended up condensed into a montage. They could have expanded a bit with that, but that’s just my opinion.
Everyone will love this movie. If you don’t, then you just have no taste!
5 out of 5 stars