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The Little Mermaid (1989) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • In Disney's beguiling animated romp, rebellious 16-year-old mermaid Ariel is fascinated with life on land. On one of her visits to the surface, which are forbidden by her controlling father, King Triton, she falls for a human prince. Determined to be with her new love, Ariel makes a dangerous deal with the sea witch Ursula to become human for three days. But when plans go awry for the star-crossed lovers, the king must make the ultimate sacrifice for his daughter.

  • Loosely based upon the story by Hans Christian Andersen. Ariel, youngest daughter of King Triton, is dissatisfied with life in the sea. She longs to be with the humans above the surface, and is often caught in arguments with her father over those "barbaric fish-eaters". She goes to meet Ursula, the Sea Witch, to strike a deal, but Ursula has bigger plans for this mermaid and her father.

  • This is the story of a little mermaid named Ariel, who dreams of going on land. When her father, King Triton, forbids her to go on land, Ariel visits Ursula who her father had banished. Even though she helps her get to land, what Ariel doesn't know is that Ursula has plans to destroy her to get revenge on her father.

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  • A mermaid princess makes a Faustian bargain with an unscrupulous sea-witch in order to meet a human prince on land.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • Ariel, a sixteen-year-old mermaid princess, is dissatisfied with life under the sea and curious about the human world. With her best fish friend Flounder, Ariel collects human artifacts and goes to the surface of the ocean to visit Scuttle the seagull, who offers very inaccurate and comical knowledge of human culture. Ignoring the warnings of her father (King Triton) and court musician (Sebastian the crab) that contact between merpeople and humans is forbidden (the sea's primary contact with humans involve fishermen, so King Triton considers humans as nothing more than mere predators), Ariel still longs to be part of the human world; to this end she has filled a secret grotto with all the human artifacts she has found. ("Part of Your World") Sebastian, who is assigned to watch over Ariel and be sure she does not visit the surface again, tries to convince her that its better to live under the sea than in the human world ("Under the Sea").

    One night, Ariel, Flounder and an unwilling Sebastian travel to the ocean surface to watch a celebration for the birthday of Prince Eric, with whom Ariel falls in love. A sudden storm hits, during which everyone manages to escape in a lifeboat except for Eric who goes back to rescue his dog Max. He almost drowns saving Max but is saved by Ariel, who drags him to the beach. Although it seems that his heart isn't beating, Ariel notices that Eric is breathing. She sings to him but dives underwater when Max returns to Eric. Upon waking, Eric has a vague impression that he was rescued by a girl with a beautiful voice; he vows to find her, and Ariel vows to find a way to join Eric. ("Part of Your World (reprise)")

    Triton and his daughters notice a change in Ariel, who is openly lovesick. Triton questions Sebastian about Ariel's behavior, during which Sebastian accidentally reveals the incident with Eric. Triton furiously confronts Ariel in her grotto, using his trident to destroy her collection of human treasures. After Triton leaves, a pair of eels, Flotsam and Jetsam, convince a crying Ariel that she must visit Ursula the sea witch, if she wants all of her dreams to come true.

    Ursula makes a deal with Ariel to transform her into a human for three days ("Poor, Unfortunate Souls"). Within these three days, Ariel must receive the 'kiss of true love' from Eric; otherwise, she will transform back into a mermaid on the third day and belong to Ursula. As payment for legs, Ariel has to give up her voice, which Ursula takes by magically removing the energy from Ariel's vocal chords and storing it in a nautilus shell. Ariel's tail is transformed into legs, leaving her naked except for her seashell bra. Sebastian and Flounder drag her to the surface. Meanwhile, Triton discovers Ariel and Sebastian's disappearance and, wracked with guilt over his behavior, orders a search for them.

    Eric and Max find Ariel on the beach. He initially suspects that she is the one who saved his life, but when he learns that she cannot speak, he discards that notion, to the frustration of both Ariel and Max (who knows the truth). He helps her to the palace, where the servants think she is a survivor of a shipwreck. Ariel spends time with Eric, and at the end of the second day, they almost kiss ("Kiss the Girl") but are thwarted by Flotsam and Jetsam. Angered at their narrow escape, Ursula takes the disguise of a beautiful young woman named "Vanessa" and appears onshore singing with Ariel's voice. Eric recognizes the song and, in her disguise, Vanessa/Ursula casts a hypnotic enchantment on Eric to make him forget about Ariel.

    The next day, Ariel finds out that Eric will be married to the disguised Ursula on a ship. She cries and is left behind when the wedding barge departs. Scuttle discovers that Vanessa is Ursula in disguise, and informs Ariel. As Ariel and Flounder chase the wedding barge, Sebastian informs Triton, and Scuttle is assigned to literally "stall the wedding." With the help of various animals, the nautilus shell around Ursula's neck is broken, restoring Ariel's voice and breaking Ursula's enchantment over Eric. Realizing that Ariel was the girl who saved his life, Eric rushes to kiss her, but the sun sets and Ariel transforms back into a mermaid. Ursula reverts to her true form and kidnaps Ariel.

    Triton appears and confronts Ursula, but cannot destroy Ursula's contract with Ariel. Triton chooses to sacrifice himself for his daughter, and is transformed into a polyp. Ursula takes Triton's crown and trident, which was her plan from the beginning. Ursula uses her new power to gloat, transforming into a giant, and forming a whirlpool that disturbs several shipwrecks to the surface, one of which Eric commandeers. Just as Ursula is set to use the trident to destroy Ariel, Eric turns the wheel hard to port and runs Ursula through the abdomen with the ship's splintered bowsprit, mortally wounding her. With her last breaths, Ursula pulls the ship down with her, but Eric escapes to shore in time.

    With Ursula gone, her power breaks and the polyps in Ursula's garden (including Triton) turn back into the old merpeople. Later, after seeing that Ariel really loves Eric and that Eric also saved him in the process, Triton willingly changes her from a mermaid into a human using his trident. She runs into Eric's arms, and the two finally kiss.

    In the final scene, an unspecified amount of time later, Ariel marries Eric in a wedding where both humans and merpeople attend.

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