The Little Mermaid (1989)

G | 83 mins | Children's works | 15 November 1989

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HISTORY


       According to a 12 Nov 1989 LAT article, co-writer and director John Clements first developed and pitched the film’s concept to Disney. The studio initially rejected the idea because a sequel to the live-action mermaid feature, Splash , was already in development at the time. Following a read-through of Clements’s two-page treatment, however, studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg greenlit the project and contacted Clements about expanding his draft into a full screenplay.
       Contemporary sources give the following information: Production of the film from conception to final animation lasted roughly four years. John Musker joined the project later in 1985 and co-wrote the screenplay with Clements, as Disney approached songwriter Howard Ashman to develop the music. Ashman agreed and additionally recruited composer Alan Menken, with whom he had written the Off-Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors , to collaborate on the songs and to compose the score. Menken referred to the style of the soundtrack as “a pastiche of Disney,” incorporating elements of reggae and calypso with a Broadway musical approach. Once the script, storyboards, and recorded dialogue were finished under the co-direction of Clements and Musker, the animation process began.
       A 12 Nov 1989 LAT article indicates that, following the precedent set by Snow White , directing animators oversaw labor on individual characters rather than sequences. Glen Keane and Mark Henn in particular were responsible for supervising work on "Ariel." Modern sources cite the film as the first in which Disney utilized the Computer Animation Production System (CAPS) developed by Pixar. While the majority of the film was still made using the traditional hand-painted cel method, several ... More Less


       According to a 12 Nov 1989 LAT article, co-writer and director John Clements first developed and pitched the film’s concept to Disney. The studio initially rejected the idea because a sequel to the live-action mermaid feature, Splash , was already in development at the time. Following a read-through of Clements’s two-page treatment, however, studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg greenlit the project and contacted Clements about expanding his draft into a full screenplay.
       Contemporary sources give the following information: Production of the film from conception to final animation lasted roughly four years. John Musker joined the project later in 1985 and co-wrote the screenplay with Clements, as Disney approached songwriter Howard Ashman to develop the music. Ashman agreed and additionally recruited composer Alan Menken, with whom he had written the Off-Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors , to collaborate on the songs and to compose the score. Menken referred to the style of the soundtrack as “a pastiche of Disney,” incorporating elements of reggae and calypso with a Broadway musical approach. Once the script, storyboards, and recorded dialogue were finished under the co-direction of Clements and Musker, the animation process began.
       A 12 Nov 1989 LAT article indicates that, following the precedent set by Snow White , directing animators oversaw labor on individual characters rather than sequences. Glen Keane and Mark Henn in particular were responsible for supervising work on "Ariel." Modern sources cite the film as the first in which Disney utilized the Computer Animation Production System (CAPS) developed by Pixar. While the majority of the film was still made using the traditional hand-painted cel method, several scenes included digital imagery rendered through CAPS. The overall cost of the film fell into the range of $15 to $20 million, according to the Nov 1989 LAT article.
       An 8 Nov 1989 HR article stated that The Little Mermaid opened on approximately 1,000 screens in the United States on 17 Nov 1989 to critical acclaim, particularly for its music. According to a 10 Jul 1990 DV news item, the film earned over $80 million domestically during its first run, toppling former industry record holder Oliver & Company to become the animated feature with the highest grossing initial release. By Jan 1990, the film’s soundtrack had also achieved platinum status, selling the most copies of an animated feature soundtrack to date.
       The Little Mermaid received two Academy Awards: Best Music (Original Song), for Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s “Under the Sea,” and Best Music (Original Score), for Alan Menken. The film also garnered four 1990 Golden Globe nominations, including Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), for John Musker, and Best Original Song (Motion Picture), for Ashman and Menken’s “Kiss the Girl” and “Under the Sea.” Menken received the award for Best Original Score (Motion Picture), and both he and Ashman won for “Under the Sea.” At the 1990 Grammy Awards, Menken and Ashman won Best Recording for Children and Best Song Written Specifically For a Motion Picture Or For Television for “Under the Sea.”
              The opening title card reads “Walt Disney presents The Little Mermaid .” The end credits also indicate that the film is an adaptation of the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. While the plot remains largely faithful to the original story, the film was given a happier ending. In Andersen’s tale, the prince marries a princess from a neighboring kingdom, and, brokenhearted, the little mermaid dies and her body turns to foam. For the screen, the story was altered to conclude with Ariel becoming a human permanently and marrying Prince Eric.


The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and notes were written by participant JoAnn Yao, a student at Georgia Institute of Technology, with Vinicius Navarro as academic advisor.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
Feb 1998.
---
Daily Variety
9 Jan 1990
p. 49, 54.
Daily Variety
5 Mar 1990
p. 6.
Daily Variety
10 Jul 1990.
---
Entertainment Weekly
26 Feb 2010.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Nov 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jan 1990.
---
Los Angeles Times
12 Nov 1989
p. 7, 19.
Los Angeles Times
15 Nov 1989
p. 1.
New York Times
15 Nov 1989
p. 17.
New York Times
1 Jul 2009.
---
People
4 Dec 1989.
---
USA Today
10 Jan 2008.
---
Variety
13 Jan 1988.
---
Variety
8 Nov 1989
p. 32.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Addl dial
Addl dial
Addl dial
Addl dial
PHOTOGRAPHY
Cam mgr
Anim cam supv
Anim cam
Anim cam
Anim cam
Anim cam
Anim cam
Anim cam
Anim cam
Anim cam
Anim cam
Process lab
Process lab
Process lab
Available light, addl cam services
Available light, addl cam services
Available light, addl cam services
Available light, addl cam services
Baer anim, addl cam services
Baer anim, addl cam services
Baer anim, addl cam services
Baer anim, addl cam services
Video shooter
Video crew, addl cam services
Video crew, addl cam services
Video crew, addl cam services
Negative cutting, addl cam services
Projection, addl cam services
Sd reader, addl cam services
Sd reader, addl cam services
Sd reader, addl cam services
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Storyboards
Storyboards
Storyboards
Storyboards
Storyboards
Storyboards
Storyboards
Visual development
Visual development
Visual development
Visual development
Visual development
Visual development
Visual development
Visual development
Visual development
FILM EDITORS
Supv ed
1st asst ed
1st asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
MUSIC
Songs by
Songs by
Orig score by
Songs prod
Songs prod
Songs prod
Mus dir
Songs arr
Songs arr
Supv mus ed
Mus editing
Mus scoring mixer
Orig score rec and mixed at
Orchestrations by
Orch cond
SOUND
Supv sd ed
ADR ed
Asst sd ed
Processed sd eff
Processed sd eff
Apprentice sd ed
Foley by
Foley artist
Foley artist
Foley artist
Foley rec
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Visual eff supv
Eff graphics
Main and end titles des
Titles & opticals by
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod admin
Asst prod mgr/clean-up
Asst prod mgr/clean-up
Asst prod mgr/post prod
Prod coord
Scr supv
Prod secy
Prod secy
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Auditor
Casting
Casting
Trainee
Trainee
Trainee
Trainee
Trainee
Trainee
Trainee
Trainee
ANIMATION
Directing anim
Directing anim
Directing anim
Directing anim
Directing anim
Directing anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Char anim
Animating asst
Animating asst
Animating asst
Animating asst
Layout supv
Layout asst
Layout asst
Layout asst
Layout asst
Layout asst
Layout asst
Layout asst
Backgrounds supv
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Asst prod mgr/backgrounds
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
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Asst eff anim
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Asst eff anim
Asst eff anim
Asst eff anim
Asst eff anim
Asst eff anim
Asst eff anim
Asst eff anim
Asst eff anim
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char key
Char des
Char des
Char des
Char des
Char des
Char des
Char des
Char sculptures
Anim checking supv
Anim checking
Anim checking
Anim checking
Anim checking
Anim checking
Final check supv
Final check
Final check
Final check
Final check
Final check
Final check
Final check
Scene planning supv
Scene planning
Scene planning
Ink & paint asst mgr
Ink & paint secy
Xerographic cam supv
Xerographic cam op
Xerographic cam op
Xerographic cam op
Xerographic cam op
Key xerographic processor
Key xerographic processor
Key xerographic processor
Key xerographic processor
Key xerographic processor
Key xerographic processor
Xerographic processor
Xerographic processor
Xerographic processor
Xerographic processor
Xerographic processor
Xerographic processor
Xerographic processor
Xerographic processor
Xerographic processor
Xerographic processor
Xerographic processor
Mark-up, xerographic processor
Xerographic check/inking supv
Xerographic check/inking
Xerographic check/inking
Xerographic check/inking
Xerographic check/inking
Xerographic check/inking
Xerographic check/inking
Xerographic check/inking
Xerographic check/inking
Xerographic check/inking
Xerographic check/inking
Xerographic check/inking
Xerographic check/inking
Xerographic check/inking
Paint lab supv
Mix & match
Mix & match
Dispensary
Dispensary
Dispensary
Computer anim
Computer anim
Computer anim eng
Airbrush
Airbrush
Asst
Asst
Asst
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
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Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
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Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Breakdowns/Inbetweens
Col models supv
Col modelist
Col modelist
Col modelist
Col modelist
Col model painter
Col model painter
Col model painter
Col model development
Col model development
Cel service
Cel service
Cel service
Cel service
Cel service
Painting supv
Painting supv
Painting supv
Asst supv
Mark-up/paint checker
Mark-up/paint checker
Mark-up/paint checker
Mark-up/paint checker
Mark-up/paint checker
Mark-up/paint checker
Mark-up/paint checker
Mark-up/paint checker
Mark-up/paint checker
Mark-up/paint checker
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
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Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Painting
Addl painting services
Painting supv
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Florida studio tour ink & paint
Live action reference
Live action reference
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" by Hans Christian Andersen in his Fairy Tales Told for Children (Copenhagen, 1837).
DETAILS
Release Date:
15 November 1989
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 15 November 1989
Copyright Claimant:
The Walt Disney Company
Copyright Date:
17 November 1989
Copyright Number:
PA431543
Physical Properties:
Sound
Sony Dynamic Digital Sound in selected theatres
Sound
Dolby Digital in selected theatres
Sound
DTS Digital Sound in selected theatres
Color
Technicolor
Animation
Lenses/Prints
Prints by Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
83
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
29385
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

On a cloudy day at sea, Prince Eric sets sail and listens to the crew aboard his ship as they share superstitions about King Triton, ruler of the merpeople. Meanwhile, in the ocean depths below, Triton and his subjects gather for a concert featuring his daughters and conducted by the court composer, a crab named Sebastian. Everything proceeds smoothly until the king’s youngest daughter, the mermaid Ariel, disrupts the performance by being absent for her solo. Instead, Ariel and her fish friend, Flounder, are gathering souvenirs from a shipwreck. After the two friends narrowly escape from a shark and swim to the ocean surface, Ariel shares her findings with Scuttle the seagull, who identifies each item. Upon learning that one object is a musical instrument, Ariel realizes her blunder and hurries home, unaware that the sea witch Ursula’s pet eels have been watching and following her. By projecting their sight to a magic bubble in the witch’s lair, the eels inform Ursula of Ariel’s fascination with humans. Banished and politically powerless, the witch gleefully views this revelation as an opportunity to reclaim the throne from Triton and instructs her minions to continue spying. Upon her return home, Ariel receives a scolding from both her father and Sebastian that only increases in censure after Flounder unwittingly mentions their excursion. Triton furiously forbids Ariel from having any association with humans, referring to them as “fish-eating barbarians,” but she disagrees and rebels, arguing that she is sixteen years old and no longer a child. Once they are alone, the king commands Sebastian to watch over Ariel, which the crab begins to do as ... +


On a cloudy day at sea, Prince Eric sets sail and listens to the crew aboard his ship as they share superstitions about King Triton, ruler of the merpeople. Meanwhile, in the ocean depths below, Triton and his subjects gather for a concert featuring his daughters and conducted by the court composer, a crab named Sebastian. Everything proceeds smoothly until the king’s youngest daughter, the mermaid Ariel, disrupts the performance by being absent for her solo. Instead, Ariel and her fish friend, Flounder, are gathering souvenirs from a shipwreck. After the two friends narrowly escape from a shark and swim to the ocean surface, Ariel shares her findings with Scuttle the seagull, who identifies each item. Upon learning that one object is a musical instrument, Ariel realizes her blunder and hurries home, unaware that the sea witch Ursula’s pet eels have been watching and following her. By projecting their sight to a magic bubble in the witch’s lair, the eels inform Ursula of Ariel’s fascination with humans. Banished and politically powerless, the witch gleefully views this revelation as an opportunity to reclaim the throne from Triton and instructs her minions to continue spying. Upon her return home, Ariel receives a scolding from both her father and Sebastian that only increases in censure after Flounder unwittingly mentions their excursion. Triton furiously forbids Ariel from having any association with humans, referring to them as “fish-eating barbarians,” but she disagrees and rebels, arguing that she is sixteen years old and no longer a child. Once they are alone, the king commands Sebastian to watch over Ariel, which the crab begins to do as soon as he notices her sneaking out of the palace with Flounder. Sebastian follows the two friends to a large underwater grotto where Ariel has squirreled away her collection of man-made objects. There, the princess expresses her desire not only for independence but also for a life in the human world. Sebastian confronts Ariel, and she implores him not to tell her father about her hideaway before a massive shadow passing overhead draws her attention. Unable to resist her curiosity, Ariel swims to the surface to find Eric’s ship, on which a birthday celebration for the prince is underway. As she moves closer for a better look, the mermaid sees handsome Eric for the first time and becomes besotted. She overhears Grimsby, Eric’s manservant, urging the prince to marry soon, to which Eric replies that he will once he finds the right girl. Suddenly, a hurricane sets in; Eric is thrown overboard and almost drowns before Ariel drags him to safety on the beach. The mermaid sings as she keeps vigil by the prince’s side, leaving him dazed with the memory of her voice when he wakes and she dives back into the ocean. Entirely smitten, Ariel becomes determined to be with Eric, much to the delight of Ursula, whose spies have witnessed everything. Over the following weeks, Ariel’s infatuation manifests itself in her dreamily distracted behavior, rousing her family’s curiosity. After Sebastian tries in vain to discourage such feelings and convince Ariel of the merits of living undersea, Triton probes him for information on who has captured her heart; subsequently, Sebastian blurts the truth about Ariel rescuing a human. The princess is in her secret grotto when her father arrives, incensed, and, at her continued defiance, destroys her entire collection. Thus finding Ariel alone and distraught, Ursula’s minions persuade her to visit the sea witch, who offers a deal: in exchange for her voice, Ariel can become a human for three days, before the end of which Eric must fall in love with her and kiss her to make the transformation permanent. Otherwise, the enchantment will end and the mermaid will belong to Ursula. Ariel accepts the contract, and Ursula places Ariel’s voice in a shell necklace before transforming her into a human. Sebastian and Flounder, having followed the princess to Ursula’s lair, help her swim up to the ocean surface and eventually the shore, where Eric finds her during a walk and assumes that she has survived a shipwreck. The prince recognizes Ariel but quashes his excitement when he learns she cannot speak and therefore cannot be his mysterious rescuer. Feeling sympathy for her nonetheless, Eric brings Ariel back to his palace for care and shelter. Meanwhile, Triton is worriedly scouring the ocean for his daughter, regretting his part in driving her away. The next day, Eric shows Ariel his kingdom, finishing the tour with a rowboat ride during which Sebastian provides romantic music; Eric and Ariel nearly kiss but Ursula’s lackeys intervene by capsizing their boat. Infuriated by how close Ariel came to success, Ursula transforms herself into a beautiful woman and uses the princess’s voice to enchant the prince later that night. The following morning, Eric announces his plan to marry Ursula at sunset, leaving Ariel heartbroken. Later, however, Scuttle the seagull discovers Ursula’s disguise and alerts Ariel, who immediately swims out to the ship on which the wedding is being held, while various sea creatures aid her by disrupting the ceremony. In the ensuing chaos, Ursula’s shell necklace is broken along with the spell upon Eric, and Ariel regains her voice in time for Eric to realize her true identity, but not for them to kiss before sunset. The princess becomes a mermaid once more, and Ursula whisks her away to the ocean where Triton finds her and learns of her deal. Upon proving the contract unbreakable, the witch offers the king an opportunity to take his daughter’s place, which he accepts. Ursula then transforms the king into a polyp and claims both his crown and magic trident. Determined to save Ariel, Eric dives into the water and launches a harpoon at Ursula just as she moves to kill Ariel, angering the witch into magically magnifying herself to a towering size. Using the trident, Ursula summons a storm to create a massive whirlpool in which she traps Ariel. The turbulent waters unearth various shipwrecks, and Eric manages to climb aboard one vessel to steer it towards the witch and drive its pointed bow through her abdomen. Ursula dies, and all under her power, including Triton, become merpeople again. Afterwards, when Triton observes Ariel pining for Eric as she watches him on the beach from afar, the king permanently transforms his daughter into a human. Ariel goes to Eric on shore, and they finally share their first kiss. With Triton’s blessing, they happily marry soon after on a ship at sea before an audience of merpeople, humans, and sea creatures. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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