Discover 10 remarkable divergences between the Disney classic and the new live-action remake of The Little Mermaid.


The Little Mermaid (2023)The Little Mermaid has joined the list of Disney’s animated films that have gotten the live-action treatment. Halle Bailey brings to life the little mermaid, Ariel, who dreams of the world above and a handsome prince. In order to make her wish come true, however, she will have to make a dangerous deal with a sea witch. Ariel will have three days to live a life on the land, but certain doom awaits if she fails to get the prince to kiss her. However, the live-action film often makes changes to the earlier animated plot.

Disney has already retold its take on the story in other forms over the years, including a prequel television series and a Broadway show adaptation. Being a previous attempt at adapting the love with live performers, the stage show appears to have had an influence on the film. Even the Andersen fairy tale that inspired it all gets a few shout-outs in the live-action film.

10 Ursula Is Triton’s Sister & Ariel’s Aunt

Ursula TLM

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

In the 2023 film version of The Little Mermaid, Ursula is presented as being Triton’s younger sister, who had been exiled from their underwater kingdom. This also makes Ursula Ariel’s aunt, bringing to mind Disney’s long line of wicked matriarchs. In a promotional video, Ursula’s actress Melissa McCarthy even mentioned she was playing Javier Bardem’s sister, referring to King Triton’s actor.

The idea of making Ursula and Triton siblings came from the production of the original 1989 film. In an early draft of the opening song, “Fathoms Below,” the sailors tell Eric about King Triton, his “seven fair daughters,” and his banished “witch of a sister” Ursula, who schemes to become queen of the seas. Fans have liked the idea over the years and have debated whether or not it’s canon. The Broadway adaptation had also incorporated the idea that the two were siblings. In one revision, the two also had multiple sisters who were murdered by a jealous Ursula.

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9 Ariel’s Sisters Have Gotten New Names

Little Mermaid Ariel's Sisters

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In both versions, Ariel is the youngest of King Triton’s seven daughters. In the 1989 film, they are introduced during the “Daughters of Triton,” sequence, where they’re given the alliterative set of names, Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Attina, Adella, and Alana. In the 2023 film, however, they are given the names, Mala, Karina, Perla, Indira, Caspia, and Tameka. These names are partially meant to bring to mind the “seven seas,” of which they are implied to be in charge of.

Ariel’s sisters are shown to be less than sympathetic towards humans, somewhat sharing their father’s views on the beings of the above world. This is seen in a sequence of them clearing off the remains of a human shipwreck and having more sympathy for the surrounding coral and sea fern. This may tie into blaming humans for their mother’s death, of which Ariel, being the youngest, remembers the least.

8 Scuttle Has Become a Female Diving Gannet

Little Mermaid Scuttle

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Scuttle is Ariel’s avian friend in both the 1989 and 2023 films. Both serve as Ariel’s sort of go-between for what the world above is like, though neither Scuttle seems to have a great understanding of humans. In the 1989 film, Scuttle was portrayed as a male seagull. In the 2023 film, however, Scuttle is a female northern gannet.

As a diving bird, this means Scuttle can now interact with the other characters in the underwater scenes. This change meant that Ariel breaking the surface to save Eric’s life is all the more poignant, as she’s doing it for the first time. The animated Ariel, meanwhile, is regularly shown rising above the sea to visit Scuttle. This might have also been done to address how Scuttle recognizes Vanessa’s reflection as Ursula the Sea Witch.

7 The Issue with Ursula’s Contract Has Been Avoided

Ursula Mermaid Mel

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One plot point that viewers have questioned for years from the original 1989 film was why Ariel doesn’t try to explain her situation to Eric by writing. At the very least, Ariel is able to write her own name, as seen when she signs Ursula’s contract.

The 2023 film gets around this issue by having Ariel make a deal with the witch by giving her one of her scales. Rather than writing it out, Ariel is able to reveal her name to Eric by showing him the consolation Aries as a hint. This also addresses why Sebastian, who managed to tell Eric Ariel’s name, implying the prince could somehow understand him, never tries to explain the situation to Eric either.

6 Prince Eric Has a Mother, Queen Selina

Little Mermaid Queen Selina

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In the 1989 film, Ariel’s love interest, Prince Eric, has no visible parents, with Grimsby being the closest thing he has to a guardian. The 2023 film, however, gives Eric a mother, Queen Selina. While Eric is presumably a prince by birth in the earlier film, Selina is Eric’s adoptive mother, having taken him in as her son after he was found in a shipwreck as a baby.

In many ways, Queen Selina functions as a foil to Ariel’s father, King Triton. While Triton is suspicious of the humans in the world above the seas, Selina has similar reservations about the sea. In particular, the queen dislikes the voyages her son goes on and is similarly overprotective of him. Selina also fears what lives under the sea, even showing shock upon learning that Ariel is a mermaid, calling her a “sea creature.” Grimsby serves as a go-between of sorts between the mother and son. Much like Triton, Selina is also shown to be a single parent.

5 Ariel Gets to “Sing” On Land

Little Mermaid Boat Scene

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In the 1989 film, Ariel becomes something of a pantomime character after she gives up her voice to the Sea Witch. As critics have noted, this works quite well in animation, as Ariel’s bright-eyed expressions easily convey her emotions, from joy at seeing the world above to heartbreak from being rejected for Vanessa.

The 2023 film, however, finds a way to allow Ariel a chance to “sing” on land. Ariel gets to share her thoughts with the audience in the song, “For the First Time,” presented as being in her imagination instead of sung out loud. “Part of Your World” also gets a second, more tragic reprise right before the climax. The Broadway adaptation also allowed Ariel a few chances to sing during her three days as a human, such as in the similar song, “Beyond My Wildest Dreams,” and the quartet, “If Only.” This allowed Ariel to “speak” to the audience, if not the other characters.


4 Ariel Takes an Active Role in Fighting Ursula

Ariel Halle Bailey

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Ariel is already quite proactive in the original film and story, considering she saves Prince Eric’s life during their first encounter. The 2023 film also gives her a more active role during the story’s climax. First, when stopping the wedding between Eric and Vanessa, Ursula’s human alter-ego, it is Ariel herself who attacks her rival and rips off the necklace containing her voice. In the original animated film, it was Scuttle who broke the necklace.

Similarly, Ariel and Eric switch roles during the final showdown with Ursula. In a reverse of the 1989 animated film, Eric gets caught in a whirlpool and Ariel drives a ship into the giant witch, killing her once and for all. The Broadway show also gave Ariel a more active role in defeating Ursula, by destroying the shell that was the source of her power.

3 Ursula Proves to be Even Deadlier


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Those who made deals with Ursula in the 1989 film risked being transformed into her polyp minions, spending the rest of their lives haunting her grotto. Ariel is briefly turned into one before King Triton takes her place, becoming a polyp himself. After Ursula’s defeat, the polyps are freed and change back into their original forms.

Ursula proves far deadlier in the 2023 film. Instead of polyps, Ursula’s grotto is filled with bones, presumably of others who made deals with her, if not shipwrecked humans. During her confrontation with Triton, the sea king is transformed into dust by Ursula’s eels before she claims the trident and the seas as her own. Fortunately, Triton is restored after Ursula is defeated. A novelization for the film also implied Ursula may have had a hand in the death of Ariel’s mother, an idea that also appeared in some versions of the Broadway show, though Triton blames humans, implied to be one in particular, for his wife’s death in the final film.

2 The Story’s Original Ending Gets a Brief Shout-Out

Little Mermaid Scuttle (1)-1

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When Ariel’s animal friends meet up on land after she’s become human, After hearing what happened from Flounder, Scuttle asks if Ariel has killed the prince yet. Sebastian corrects her that Ariel merely needs to kiss the prince to stay human and escape Ursula’s clutches. While this could be chalked up to simple wordplay, some viewers interpret this to be a shout-out to the original fairy tale.

In Andersen’s original story, the little mermaid will die if the prince marries another girl. When the prince ends up marrying a foreign princess, the sea witch does give the mermaid a way to save herself. If she kills the prince, she can at least return to being a mermaid. The mermaid refuses to do this and accepts her fate. Her self-sacrifice is rewarded when she becomes an aerial being, or a “daughter of the air.” Over the years, fans have also speculated that the Disney heroine’s name, “Ariel,” was also a reference to this ending.

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Ariel also notably drops a little jade mermaid into the sea during a second reprise of “Part of Your World,” as if symbolizing her counterpart’s original fate. The Andersen original was on the filmmakers’ minds during the 2023 film. The live-action remake notably opens up with a quote lifted from the original Andersen text: “But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.”

1 The Film Doesn’t End with a Wedding at Sea

Jonah Hauer-King and Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The 1989 film ends with Ariel marrying Eric aboard a ship, allowing her family and friends from under the sea to greet her from the waters. The 2023 film goes for a different route. Ariel and Eric are seen leaving on a small boat to travel the world together. That said, the other mermaids come out to greet her, as do Queen Selina and Grimsby. Ariel also gets to embrace her father in both versions.

Similarly, Eric’s wedding to Vanessa is downplayed to being an engagement party in the remake. Granted, the original little mermaid didn’t end her story with her own wedding, either. However, Ariel and Eric at least end the film in much happier circumstances.

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