Perhaps, you’ve watched it several times but how well do you really know the Disney classic The Little Mermaid? “The Little Mermaid” was not only an enormous critical and commercial success, but it also launched a creative renaissance in Disney’s animated features (including such modern classics as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King”) and a wave of princess-mania that continues to this day.
Did you know the ending was inspired by Die Hard, for example? Or how about that Sebastian was supposed to be an English crab? Or that it very nearly never went to production? So, here are very interesting facts about The Little Mermaid:
1. Illustrator Kay Nielsen even worked up some character sketches for the movie before the project was shelved. Decades later, the “Little Mermaid” animators rediscovered his sketches in the Disney archives and used them as inspiration for their own character work. He earned a credit in the final film, nearly 50 years after he did the work.
2. Ariel’s signature red hair was chosen in part because red and green are complementary colors, and also because Daryl Hannah had just played a blonde mermaid in the very popular film Splash and they didn’t want any confusion.
3. Patrick Stewart was reportedly offered the role of King Triton, but he had to turn it down because he was too busy with “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The part went instead to Kenneth Mars.
4. The special effects needed for the underwater sequences were among the most complex for any Disney animated feature since “Fantasia” 50 years earlier. Animator Mark Dindal estimated that he and his colleagues had to draw a million bubbles.
5. On the naming of Ariel’s many sisters: Atina was inspired by a musical Alan Menken wrote called “Atina: Evil Queen of the Galaxy,” Alana was Howard Ashman’s lyrical nod to Alan Menken, and Andrina was the name of one of the director’s aerobics instructors.
6. The film was nominated for three Oscars, all for its music. Menken won for Best Score, and he and Ashman landed two Best Song nods, for “Under the Sea” (which won) and “Kiss the Girl.”
They were Disney’s first Oscars for an animated feature since “Song of the South” 42 years earlier. “Mermaid’s” Oscar success launched a new wave of Academy Awards for songs from Disney cartoons.
7. Many of the sailors dancing on Prince Eric’s ship are caricatures of people from the staff. The man dancing on the platform is reportedly Razoul Azadani, who has worked with Ron Clements and John Musker on several films (recently he was a layout artist on Paperman).
8. At the time, Disney had resisted making its animated features readily available on home video, fearing it would cut into profits from its then-standard practice of re-releasing them theatrically every seven years.
Nonetheless, “Little Mermaid” came out on VHS in May 1990, just 6 months after the film’s initial theatrical release. It ultimately sold 23 million copies on VHS and another 7 million on DVD years later, making it one of the most successful home video releases of all time.
9. Disney didn’t animate the bubbles. Making an animated film is a lot of work under the best of circumstances, and the Disney animation studio was still on the rebound after years of neglect and underperforming films.
Since it was partly set underwater, ‘Mermaid’ required a huge amount of effects animation. To cope with the enormous amount of work required, Disney had most of the bubbles animated at Chinese animation studio Pacific Rim Productions, freeing up the Disney effects animators to work on more complicated effects.
10. Disney scrapped plans for a 3D re-release of “Mermaid” after doing lackluster business with other retrofitted 3D cartoon features. It did release the 3D version on disc and at one theater, the El Capitan in Hollywood, in late 2013.