The Little Mermaid is based on the story of Hans Christian Anderson though with many charming and thoroughly Disney additions. The movie tells the story of King Triton's daughter Ariel, a mermaid who dreams of the human world. One day Ariel makes a visit to the surface and sees a human for the first time- a handsome prince! It is love at first sight for Ariel and so she rescues the prince from drowning. Prince Eric hears her singing and falls in love with her voice. In a desperate attempt to return to the prince, Ariel makes a deal with sea witch Ursula. In exchange for human legs Ariel must give Ursula her voice. She must make the prince to fall in love with her and give her a kiss of true love before the sun sets on the third day or else she will return to being a mermaid and will belong to Ursula.
Before The Little Mermaid was released is a time known to Disney fans as the "dark era". Things weren't looking all that magical at the Disney Company. The movies produced were not particularly successful, and it was at this time that Disney animator Don Bluth left the company, taking 11 other animators with him, to start Don Bluth Productions. His company began releasing movies (such as Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, and The Land Before Time) that were consistently outperforming Disney's releases (The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, and Oliver & Company). The Little Mermaid marked a turning point for the company and the start of what would become known as the "Renaissance Era". From this point Disney reestablished itself as a major contender in the animation world and in fans hearts.
What I have always loved about Ariel is her gumption. She thinks for herself and goes after what she wants. There is no waiting around for this princess. Once she has decided on a course of action she throws herself into it full heartedly. That is always something to be admired about in a heroine. No matter how many times I watch this movie I feel so badly for Ariel when her father destroys everything in her grotto. As an adult I now understand that her father is just trying to protect her, but I still cannot agree with his methods and my heart breaks to see all of Ariel's hard work and dreams literally smashed to pieces . I must also confess that every time I see a large dinglehopper I am tempted to start combing my hair with it! I don't do it… I just really, really want to! This was only made worse when Disney started actually selling a Dinglehopper Hairbrush! (Sold here if anyone is interested!)
Probably my favourite part of The Little Mermaid is the music by the wonderful team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. The songs are wonderfully upbeat and charming and serve to help carry the plot, much like a Broadway musical, and not just as placeholders within the movie. Even Chef Louis' song about cooking up dinner is able to make me smile, even though Sebastian's life is in danger! The Little Mermaid actually won two Academy Awards for Best Score and Best Song ("Under the Sea"). I must say I agree with the Academy on the best song! "Under the Sea" is a catchy, upbeat, comedic, and is an all-around good time! Interesting fact about Sebastian- it was Howard Ashman that recommended changing Sebastian (then called Clarence) from and English-butler crab into a Jamaican Rastafarian crab! Can you imagine The Little Mermaid without the calypso-style "Under the Sea"?!
The Little Mermaid is a wonderful and charming movie that seems to always be able to transport me back to a childhood of pretending I was a mermaid every time I was in water (bathtub included!). This film was successful enough to be followed by a sequel that tells the story of Ariel's daughter Melody (The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea), and a prequel that follows the adventures of a much younger Ariel (The LittleMermaid: Ariel’s Beginning).
For those interesting in learning a little more about the Disney Renaissance Era I recommend checking out the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty. Though I haven't yet seen it myself, it has been on my "Must Watch" list for a while!