Disney’s 28th animated motion picture marked the beginning of one era and the end of another. The Little Mermaid ushered in an animated Renaissance for the studio, sparking a string of hits that included Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and more. The film was also the last fully cel-animated picture for the studio, as computers soon took over many of the animators’ more menial tasks. Historical considerations aside, The Little Mermaid was plain old good fun, a somewhat loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale.
Young mermaid Ariel longs to explore the world of human beings, but her father, King Triton, forbids it. Defying the king, Ariel ventures up to the surface and saves the life of a drowning human prince named Eric. When Triton learns of this, he destroys the girl’s collection of human artifacts and restricts her from seeing her prince again.
Ever the spunky rebel, Ariel strikes a bargain with octopus-legged Ursula, the sea witch, agreeing to trade her voice for a pair of human legs. As with all evil bargains, this one comes with a catch: If Ariel can’t score a kiss from her human love within two days, Ursula will own her soul forever.
The humanized mermaid finds Eric, but without her precious singing voice, the handsome young man has no way of identifying her as the woman who saved his life. To make matters worse, Ursula assumes a human form of her own, using Ariel’s voice to steal the Prince’s heart. Unless Ariel, Sebastian the crab, Flounder the fish and Scuttle the albatross can thwart the sea hag’s plot, the little mermaid will be lost forever.
An overwhelming success, The Little Mermaid helped rescue Disney from its 1980’s downswing. Part of the credit must go to composer Alan Menken and lyricist (and co-producer) Howard Ashman, whose songs “Part of Your World,” “Kiss the Girl” and the Oscar-winning “Under the Sea” made the soundtrack album almost as popular as the film itself. Romantic, thrilling and funny, The Little Mermaid brought the Disney magic back for a whole new run of animated classics.