The film starts with several sailors singing "Fathoms Below" while sailing the ocean. Some of them tell about the merpeople's ruler, King Triton, to a young prince named Eric. His guardian, Grimsby, denies the myth although a sailor insists that it is true. He holds a fish to Grimsby which loses his grip and falls back to the ocean, relieved. It swims along with other sea creatures and multiple merpeople in the kingdom of Atlantica swimming to Triton's palace for a concert being held by the court composer, Sebastian the crab. The concert starts as Triton looks at Sebastian approvingly, happy to see his daughters singing. As each of his six daughters comes out and introduces themselves, they open the stage for Ariel, the seventh and youngest, to make her stage debut, though to their shock she is not in the shell ("Daughters of Triton"). Sebastian looks on in horror as Triton angrily calls out his youngest daughter's name, to which the scene switches to a shipwreck in a dark part of the ocean and the young Ariel commenting to her best friend, the cowardly atlantic yellow and blue young tropical fish Flounder, asking, "Isn't it fantastic?".
Flounder tries to worm his way out of going into the ship, but when Ariel agrees that he can stay out and watch for sharks, the young fish immediately follows the curious and brave mermaid into the ship. As they explore she finds a pipe and a fork, of which she examines with excitement. As she does Flounder gets a bad feeling only to see a shark waiting outside. As he screams the shark crashes in and chases both, Ariel maneuvering around slickly to avoid the hungry beast. Nearly escaping, Flounder runs into the ship's mast and becomes dizzy, almost eaten until Ariel saves him and the shark becomes stuck in an anchor. Flounder sticks his tongue out at the shark, remarking him a "big bully", though the shark comes close again to almost eating the small fish whom rushes to Ariel's side. Ariel joking exclaims Flounder to be "such a guppy", though he denies it and says, "am not".
Swimming to the surface, she meets a seagull, Scuttle, who has inaccurate knowledge of the human world and their objects. Ariel shows him the fork first, to which he incorrectly identifies it as a "dinglehopper", of which humans used to comb their hair. She then shows him the pipe, or the "banded bulbous snarfblatt" as he calls it, a musical device. As he blows into it for a tune only to get seaweed and fish, Ariel suddenly remembers about the concert and begins to panic, stuffing her treasures back into her bag and rushing off.
Unknown to anyone, all of this is being observed by Ursula, an evil half-octopus, half-woman, sea-witch, who for many years has been seeking a way to exact her revenge upon King Triton for banishing her from the kingdom. She gets an idea from seeing Ariel and sees her as the perfect pawn in her quest to rule the seas and orders her two lackey eels, Flotsam and Jetsam, to keep an eye on the girl, as she may have what it takes to have Triton lose his power and for Ursula herself to claim it.
Ariel is at the palace now, being scolded by her father (and Sebastian, too, as it made him a laughing-stock) about missing the concert until Flounder tries to help. He explains about the sunken ship, the shark chase (of which both Triton and Sebastian give each other annoyed looks, not beliving the small fish) and finally how Scuttle would not stop talking, to which Triton becomes angry and asks Ariel if she really did visit the surface. As Flounder hides behind an angry Ariel, she tries to soften it with "nothing happened", though this does not ease Triton's worry and disappointment at all. He begins to scold her once more, though Ariel defends herself this time, claiming that she's sixteen years old, though Triton tells her as long she lives under his ocean she'll abide by his rules. Unable anymore, Ariel swims off crying, hurt by her father's inability to understand.
Triton tells Sebastian his concern and asks if he's being too hard, though Sebastian disagrees and tells Triton that Ariel needs constant discipline. Triton suddenly smiles while listening, tells Sebastion that he's absolutely right, then sets the responsibility on Sebastian to watch Ariel, much to the crab's dismay. As he leaves the palace, beating himself up for opening his mouth, he sees Ariel sneaking away with her bag and follows her, only to find her go into her secret grotto. After a small struggle to get in, his jaw drops in awe, seeing the human treasures that Ariel has collected from cutlery to chests of jewels. He hides as Ariel asks Flounder why her father hates the world above, a place full of so many wonderful things. Ariel then expresses her desire to be free from the ocean, out in the world of humans, though at the end of her song she becomes sad again, reality showing that she may never have the dream she wishes ("Part Of Your World"). Sebastian falls down from a shelf, covered in human things like hooks and jewelery. He begins to go off on Ariel about her collection, though she makes the crab promise not to tell her father, as that he will never understand". Sebastian then calms himself and suggests going back to the palace, as Ariel is under a lot of pressure and needs something to drink. As he starts to take her back a looming shadow covers the grotto, causing the curious girl to go the surface, the reluctant Flounder and nerve-wrecked crab following. Ariel finds the ship and sailor's dancing, celebrating the young prince Eric's birthday. Ariel watches on before being found by Max, Eric's sheepdog, who licks her face before being called over by his master, whom Ariel sees and immediately falls in love with.
Scuttle flies in and almost ruins Ariel's cover, though she hushes him quickly as Grimbsy, Eric's valet, presents Eric with his gift; a large statue of Eric himself. Eric thanks Grimbsy as Max growls at it. Grimbsy only comments on how he "had hoped it would be a wedding present". Eric then asks Grimbsy not to start again, wondering if the old man is angry because Eric keeps turning down princesses. He then says he wants the woman and love to hit him out of nowhere, "bam, like lightning". Ironically as he says it a storm comes, a strong one (making him wish he had chosen better words), and throws the ship around, smashing it into rocks. The ships sinks and the crew tries to escape, though Eric becomes stuck while saving his dog. The ship explodes because of a fire started by the mass and lightning, hitting the fireworks. Ariel searches for Eric who is unconscious. She saves him and takes him to shore where the sun clears up.
Sebastian gazes on in disbelief as Ariel sings to Eric, and she wants to be in his world now even more so. Max and Grimbsy come, though and Ariel flees into the ocean before they do. As she says good-bye Eric slightly wakes up to her voice, her image blinded by the sun. Grimbsy comes, delighted to find Eric and takes him back to the palace, thinking Eric's talk of Ariel as "taken in too much salt water". Max tries to get their attention to the young girl on the rocks, though they ignore him and go on. As they leave Ariel vows to fulfill her dream, no matter what ("Part Of Your World (Reprise)"). Ursula looks into the crystal ball and sees Ariel falling in love with the prince, so she will have her in the polyp garden.
Sebastian, fearful of the consequences for both Ariel and himself, decides to conceal these events from the King as well, including the fact that Ariel has fallen in love with Eric. The next Morning Ariel, still thinking about Eric, daydreams and sings to herself acting rather strangely around her family. Her Father and her sisters watch and suddenly release that Ariel is in love. Ariel cheerfully plays "Loves Me Not" with one of the ocean flowers and is determined to return to the surface and see Eric again. Sebastian tries to persuade her that the Ocean is her real home and she should forget about the Human World ("Under The Sea") but to no avail.
Later, Triton attempts to extract from Sebastian the name of the man (or rather, mer-man) she is in love with. Paranoid that Triton already knows the truth, Sebastian reveals Ariel's secrets in a panic. When King Triton learns that his daughter has had any association with a human, he becomes furious and proceed to go to Ariel's grotto. From there, Flounder has a surprise for Ariel which is the statue of Eric that was intended to be his birthday present. She is delighted of the gift by Flounder and uses it as a replica when interacting with Eric. Triton subsequently enters, angered about the human artifacts of the grotto and her saving a human from drowning as these had resulted in her disobedience to her father. He confronts a shocked Ariel about his rules forbidding contact to the human world. He is further angered when she confesses her love to Eric and is not concerned that they are not the same species as Triton has responded in disbelief. Triton then punishes Ariel by destroying the artifacts and the statue and hurting her feelings, much to her refusal and sobs at the now empty grotto with a regretted Triton, Sebastian and Flounder.
Ursula decides that now is the time to make her move, and she assigns her pet eels Flotsam and Jetsam to bring Ariel to her underwater cave. There, Ursula makes a deal with the princess to transform Ariel into a human for three days. Within these three days, if she plans to remain a human, she must get from Eric the "kiss of true love"; otherwise she will transform back into a mermaid at sunset on the third day. If this happens, Ursula will own her very soul and wither her down into a polyp to join her garden of other lost merfolk. Sebastian tries to stop her, aware of the sea witch's trickery, but Ariel is bitter and blames him for telling her father about her love for Eric ("Poor Unfortunate Souls").
As agreed, Ursula make a potion to change the little mermaid. As "payment", she takes Ariel's voice and makes her unable to speak, knowing that Eric remembers Ariel only by her voice. Ursula's spell traps Ariel in a bubble and splits Ariel's tail into two legs. As a result of the transformation, Ariel is naked from the waist down (with the exception of her breasts). After the bubble pops, Ariel struggles for breath and starts to drown, though Sebastian and Flounder rush to her rescue. Sebastian and Flounder drag Ariel to the surface in the iconic scene where she breaks into the sky and takes her first breath of air as a human. Her friends then take her toward the beach. Meanwhile we discover that Prince Eric has been searching far and wide for the girl who saved him, and sang to him with her beautiful voice. Ariel then wakes up and sees her new legs and wiggles her toes. She then is extremely happy that she is human.
Sebastian tries to convince Ariel to go back to Ursula and get her to give Ariel back her voice so she can go home with every other fish in the sea. Ariel gives him a sad look, to which Sebastian realizes she will be more unhappy. Reluctant, he gives in and agrees to help Ariel find Eric, commenting on "what a soft shell he's turned out to be". Scuttle then decides to help Ariel by dressing her up so she can look nice ("If you want to be a human, the first thing you got to do is dress like one"). He puts her in an old sail, unknowing it isn't really clothing. Eric who is out on a walk asks his dog, Max where the girl could be, though Max smells Ariel and her gang and rushes off. He comes and chases Sebastian and Ariel joyfully. Ariel climbs on a boulder to get away from Max, who only jumps up and licks her face. In a matter of minutes, Eric comes along and sees her sitting on a rock, wearing the ship's mast sheet tied on with ropes. His initial hopes that this familiar-looking girl is the one he is looking for are shattered when he learns that she can't speak. He has no idea who Ariel is and what she has done for him, and she is unable to tell him. He takes her back to the castle, thinking her to be from a shipwreck and greatly traumatized.
When they arrive at the castle, the maids are happy with Ariel as they wash the sail cloth and Ariel bathes in the private bath. Sebastian, whom was hiding in the sail (though it's not known how it got a pocket), somehow winds up in the kitchen where the chef, Louis, tries to cook him ("Les Poissons"). Sebastian escapes after the chef ruins the kitchen, Carlotta angry at him for causing a ruckus. Ariel tries to impress Eric at the dinner table but fails, as the information Scuttle gave her was wrong; she tries to comb her hair with the fork, though Eric looks on her with an odd glance (though she believes it's because she's being rude and doing it at the table, as later she still brushes her hair with it in her bedroom), and blowing into Grimbsy's pipe, thinking it is still musical, though only ash comes out and onto Grimbsy's face. Eric laughs to Carlotta's delight, who says that "that's the first time" she's seen Eric "smile in weeks". Ariel is pleased about this while Grimbsy tries to change to conversation by asking if Eric would like to take Ariel on a tour of his kingdom. He lifts his plate to where Ariel sees Sebastian. Grimbsy, who is still scolding Eric for not getting out, does not notice and Sebastian rushes to Ariel's plate where he hides. As he finishes with Eric, he remarks that they'd best eat before the crab runs off his plate, though his fork comes down on an empty plate, leaving Grimbsy confused.
That night Ariel watches on as Eric plays with Max, then goes to bed, content with being in the palace. Sebastian tries to give Ariel advice as well as complain, though the young mermaid falls asleep, leaving him to come to the conclusion that she is "truely hopeless". The day progresses as Eric takes Ariel on a tour with many laughable moments as Ariel sees everything with wonder. They try to end the day by taking a boat ride in a lagoon, with Sebastian revealing Ariel's name and trying to get the young couple to kiss ("Kiss the Girl"). However Ursula intervenes and has Flotsam and Jetsam overturn the boat, ruining the kiss, while Eric wants to carry Ariel with him. Thinking it was too close, Ursula decides to "take matters into her own hand" and creates a potion that transforms her into a human, calling herself 'Vanessa'. The scene switches to Eric playing his flute and watching Ariel, Grimbsy coming out to advise Eric; "better then any dream girl is one of flesh and blood", showing the kingdom's liking for Ariel, then leaves. Eric, unsure, throws his flute into the ocean and decides to go inside. Before he can though a mysterious woman is singing on the beach, Eric looking down, the voice being familiar. As the mist vanishes he sees Vanessa who is using Ariel's voice from her shell necklace. Eric stares on and becomes hypnotized, falling under the spell.
The next morning Ariel awakens as Scuttle comes in to tell them the news of Eric becoming hitched in the afternoon. Ariel, thinking it is her, rushes down stairs half way until she sees Vanessa clinging to Eric's arm. Eric unwillingly plans to marry her immediately much to Ariel's shock and heartbreak. Even Grimbsy is a little shocked and suggests for it to not happen, Eric demands the ceremony be ready as soon as sunset. Ariel flees, crying as Vanessa looks up, and then chuckles while looking down at her shell necklace.
The wedding ship takes off at sunset, which is when Ariel's deal with Ursula ends. Unknowingly to Vanessa, Scuttle spots her while staring in one of the boat's portholes and sees the reflection of Ursula in the mirror. He rushes towards Ariel and explains the situation. Sebastian swims off to inform Triton, Ariel and Flounder try to reach the galley, while Scuttle is assigned to distract the wedding party. Ariel jumps into the water and struggles to swim until Sebastian cuts loose some barrels, of which she grabs hold on. Flounder takes hold of the barrel and both rush off to the boat. With the help of various sea and air animals - and Eric's dog, Max - Scuttle brings the ceremony crashing down in a spectacular fashion, and Eric's sheepdog, Max bites Vanessa's bottom while she is fighting Scuttle. The nautilus shell around her neck snaps off and shatters on the deck; as Ariel climbs on board, her voice restored. Ursula's enchantment over Eric is broken and Eric rushes to Ariel. Realizing that Ariel was the girl who saved his life, Eric rushes to kiss her, but he is too late; the sun sets and Ariel transforms back into a mermaid, fin and all. Eric looks on, stunned as Ariel reaches up for help. Before he can, though, Vanessa transforms back into Ursula and charges to Ariel, taking her back into the ocean and leaving Eric with the words, "so long, lover boy". Eric now tries to help Ariel but fails.
Ursula explains to Ariel as they head off that she won't need to worry, she's after a much bigger fish to which Triton catches up with Ursula and attempts to destroy the contract she made with Ariel, but is unable to do so, Ursula laughing as she says, "The contract's legal, binding, and completely unbreakable, even for you!". Ursula then tries to persuade Triton into exchanging places with Ariel as the contract forms around her and begins to make her wither into a polyp. Triton looks on sad, and finally agrees, using his trident to sign it over Ariel's name. Before he can re-think his decision the contract now forms over him and makes him wither, though much faster then Ariel so he can not undo it. He becomes a worm and Ursula laughs on.
Ursula takes Triton's crown andtrident and declares herself ruler of the ocean. Angered by this, Ariel confronts Ursula and lunges at her, beginning to throw her aside and prepares to destroy her, demanding authority as she is the new ruler. Eric, who has not given up on Ariel, however, dives into the sea and throws a harpoon at Ursula; it only hits the tip of her shoulder, but it distracts Ursula long enough for Ariel to be free. She orders Flotsam and Jetsam to drown Eric, but they are thwarted by Flounder and Sebastian. Ursula decides to destroy Eric herself, aiming the trident for a destructive blast. A not-so-happy Ariel pulls Ursula's hair back to stop her and ruins Ursula's aim, making her destroy her pet eels by mistake. Ursula shortly mourns their death although is soon enraged by Ariel and Eric for not being happy with her and fooling her. Ursula then grows to a giant and monstrous version of herself as Flounder and Sebastian witness her growth with fear. Ariel warns Eric to leave the ocean by the danger of Ursula's tenure although insists that he would not leave her. The Sea Witch then grows beyond the surface and towers the young couple frightened of her new size.
She then has power of all the ocean, producing a storm whilst having Ariel and Eric pulled away in the process as a wave overwhelms Eric away and having Ariel trapped in a maelstorm created by Ursula with the trident, which also summons shipwrecks on it. Ursula gleefully monitors the changes while Ariel clings on a rock in the whirlpool and notices Eric below a shipwreck, worried about him. Eric manages to get on one of the shipwrecks whilst Ursula spots Ariel and blasts her off which she then falls down to the eye of the whirlpool. Ursula then tries to use the trident to destroy Ariel, narrowly avoiding every blast. Eric notices this and decides to stop Ursula by having her killed by the shipwreck as he has an idea from its splintered bowsprit to defeat her and prevent Ariel's destruction. She prepares a blast that is presumed to be unavoidable for Ariel and slowly prepares it while Eric navigates the shipwreck to kill Ursula and pulls the wheel hard to port which as she then notices it, it impales her stomach, resulting in great pain for her. The bowsprit then conducts lightning which the electricity then affects Ursula and is electrocuted more and more along with the shipwreck until she explodes by the overloaded electricity. Under her last breaths, she drags the remains of the shipwreck with her melting tentacles as Sebastian and Flounder witness this. Eric has managed to escape to safety while she explodes and collapses to shore as he is exhausted as Ursula then fully dies.
Ursula's death then has her magic no longer in her control which the polyps in Ursula's garden, including Triton, are all changed back into merpeople. Noticing how sad his daughter is that she will not be in the world above, and realizing how much she is truly in love with Eric, Triton decides that if Ariel truly wants this to be happy, he'll allow it. Ariel watches in astonished delight as she is changed permanently into a human by her father. A bright light goes around her, her tail splits into two legs, and she emerges from the sea as Eric awakens and sees Ariel in a glittering blue dress. She runs into Eric's arms, and the two finally kiss, which changes directly to the final scene.
In the final scene, Ariel and Eric, who are married, are seen kissing on their wedding day. Both humans and merpeople turn out for the wedding, and Triton accepts Eric as a part of the family. Eric and Ariel sail away into the sunset, Triton creates a rainbow. Everyone waves goodbye. Then Ariel and Eric kiss again, as a chorus Reprise of "Part of Your World" plays and the movie fades to black, showing that they lived happily ever after.
The Little Mermaid is an important Disney film for many reasons
- It marked a return to the musical format that made Disney films popular from the 1930s and 1970s, after a test run with Oliver and Company the year before. It featured seven original songs by composer Alan Menken Howard and lyricist Howard Ashman , who also served as the film's producer.
- It is the first Disney movie that shows a girl almost completely naked, though her front and back are never fully shown (This is the second, however, if one counts Cinderella showering in the beginning of Cinderella). The movie Mulan later repeats this when Mulan is stripped of her clothes in shadow form, and the bath scene.
- It had the most special effects for a Disney animated feature since Fantasia was released forty-nine years earlier. Effects animation supervisor Mark Dindal estimated that over a million bubbles were drawn for this film, in addition to the use of other processes such as airbrushing , backlighting, superimposition, and some flat-shaded computer animatio.
- The Little Mermaid was a box office success and grossed over $200,000,000 worldwide.
- The Little Mermaid won the 1990 academy award for orginal music score."kiss the girl" and "Under the Sea" were nominated for the academy award for best song; the Oscar went to "Under the Sea".
- The soundtrack, riding high on the heels of the film's popularity and the Academy, Golden Globes and Grammy Awards, went triple platinum, an unheard-of feat for an animated movie at the time.
- The Little Mermaid started the Disney Renaissance which lasted until the Theatrical Release of Tarzan.
- as Ariel & Vanessa
- as Prince Eric
- as Ursula
- as Sebastian
- as Flounder
- as King Triton
- as Scuttle
- as Grimsby
- as Chef Louis
- as Floatsam & Jetsam
- as Carlotta
- Jodi Benson as Ariel & Vanessa
- Christopher Daniel Barnes as Prince Eric
- Pat Carroll as Ursula
- Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian
- Jason Marin as Flounder
- the late Kenneth Mars as King Triton
- the late Buddy Hackett as Scuttle
- the late Ben Wright as Grimsby
- Rene Auberjonois as Chef Louis
- the late Paddi Edwards as Floatsam & Jetsam
- Edie McClurg as Carlotta
- Will Ryan as a Seahorse
- Frank Welker as Max the sheepdog
- Fathom Below - Sailors
- Daughters of King Triton - Triton's daughters
- Part of Your World - Ariel
- Part of Your World (reprise) - Ariel
- Under the Sea - Sebastian & Sea Creatures
- Poor Unfortunate Souls - Ursula
- Les Poissons - Chef Louis
- Kiss The Girl - Sebastian
- Part of Your World (Finale) - Chorus
all information on the Little Mermaid came from http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/The_Little_Mermaid