Over 30 years later, we’re getting ready to head under the sea once more. The Little Mermaid live-action remake is now in cinemas and, as is par for the course with Disney’s reinventions of animated classics, a lot has changed.
From new songs to completely original characters, there are differences aplenty in the Rob Marshall-directed musical – including ones that may not be obvious if you haven’t caught Ariel’s 1989 aquatic adventure in some time.
So, join us as we recount the different thrills, spills, and gills throughout The Little Mermaid’s bumper 135-minute runtime (almost a full hour longer than the original if you’re keeping count). Here are the nine major changes between the live-action remake and the animated original.
Spoilers for The Little Mermaid follow.
Three original songs
While all the classics, mercifully, remain intact, there are three new songs composed by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The first is Eric’s emotionally wrought number ‘Wild Uncharted Waters’, which he sings after being rescued from the shipwreck by Ariel.
The second new song is ‘For the First Time’. Arguably The Little Mermaid’s best original track, this is an interior monologue sung by Halle Bailey’s Ariel after she loses her voice and makes her way on land and through the kingdom.
The third, ‘Scuttlebutt’, is a cutesy rap by Awkwafina’s Scuttle – who informs Sebastian that Eric is set to propose to a mysterious new woman.
The quick performance ‘Daughters of Triton’ and the French chef’s ‘Les Poissons’ song are both cut from the remake.
A new character
Yes, there’s a completely new character in the above land that changes a fair chunk of the story’s dynamic.
Queen Selina, played by Noma Dumezweni, is the ruler of the main kingdom seen in The Little Mermaid and the adoptive mother of Prince Eric. She is seen providing counsel to Eric and warning him of the ‘sea gods’, as well as trying to stem the tide of failing commerce in her region.
Despite being the love of Ariel’s life, we don’t really know a great deal about Eric in the 1989 original animated movie. Here, the missing gaps are given more context.
He keeps his love for seafaring and exploration but, crucially, we now know he was adopted by Queen Selina and her husband 21 years prior to the events of The Little Mermaid. In a neat twist of fate, it was a shipwreck that brought the baby to their shores.
More time on land
The Little Mermaid’s second act is fleshed out considerably, with more time given to Ariel and Eric’s fledgling romance, as well as the mermaid getting to grips with her time on land (and gravity, among other things).
That includes a trip to the market – and minor dance sequence – that features a cameo from The Little Mermaid’s OG actor Jodi Benson.
Out of the whole movie, these scenes are the ones that have changed the most from the original, with additional dialogue, new interactions (including with Queen Selina), and three new songs.
Ursula and Triton’s family connection
Ursula is much more than a scheming sea witch in the 2023 live-action remake. Here, she’s actually the sister of King Triton, which makes their rivalry far more personal.
Curiously, this is a story beat first found in an early draft of the 1989 The Little Mermaid script. Fun fact: In the animated movie sequel – released in 2000 – Ursula actually has a sibling called Morgana.
The Siren Song
Mermaids’ siren songs are referenced multiple times in the 2023 live-action remake, mirroring the real-life myth of mermaids and sirens luring sailors into danger with their soothing melodies.
The Siren Song – Ariel’s voice and ability that saves Eric after being shipwrecked – isn’t something that’s explicitly referenced at all in the original animated movie. Here, it plays a key part in not only Eric’s fate, but why he falls for Ariel.
Ursula’s garden of souls
Ursula’s hobbies are a fair bit darker in the animation. For one thing, she has her garden of souls: a collection of merpeople who have been turned into polyps after they couldn’t pay the price for Ursula’s hard bargain. They’re still referenced in ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’, but aren’t seen or heard.
Ariel forgets she needs true love’s first kiss
Speaking of Ursula’s witchy machinations, she also ups the ante a little with Ariel’s trip above the surface. Thanks to her spell, the mermaid forgets that she needs true love’s first kiss from Eric to become a human permanently.
In truth, it’s one of the better changes in the live-action remake – it makes Ariel and Eric’s relationship feel more organic and earned, while making the three-day ticking clock all that more intense as Ariel struggles to remember why she’s on land.
While Ursula and Triton’s quick interaction in the final act yields the same result – Ursula now has the trident, and Triton loses power – the Sea King’s fate is a little different in the remake. Here, he is sapped of his life and killed by Ursula. It’s only Ariel’s actions after Ursula’s defeat that brings him back to life – and the two share a touching embrace.
Triton’s daughters and the Coral Moon
Triton’s daughters have a slightly different role to play in the live-action remake. They are all present in a new scene for the movie, seated in a council-of-sorts for the oncoming Coral Moon.
Sadly, they don’t get to perform the song ‘Daughters of Triton’ in any concert – the moment where Ariel was supposed to make her musical debut in the 1989 original. Like in the original, Ariel is nowhere to be found. The name ‘Coral Moon’ is also something solely used in the remake.
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