The Tale of the Little Mermaid

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A flash of red hair, a flick of translucent fin, and children and dreamers everywhere immediately recognize Ariel, the Little Mermaid. Since 1989, the film has enchanted audiences with its lovely songs and its story of a spunky teenager trying to find her own way. The Little Mermaid has only grown in popularity, adding a “dark ride” attraction and a Broadway show to her resume. You can find her at the Disney Parks and in the hearts of fans and Cast members alike. And now you can find her at the new Princess site on Disney.com, where her tale comes to life in videos, a dress-up activity, and an online storybook. Take a gander at the beautiful art from that tale below, accompanied by some mermaid tails – er, tales – shared with us years ago by two of the men behind the mermaid, directors Ron Clements and John Musker:

Did you know that the Little Mermaid was originally expected to be blonde? So, how did Ariel acquire her flaming red locks? Ron explained that both directors “are red-headed – or were! – and red hair just seemed to fit Ariel’s personality.” It doesn’t hurt that red hair looks spectacular against a turquoise underwater backdrop.

John explained that composers Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, “Actually wrote the score in the animation building. There was a room set up with a synthesizer and all that. And in a room next door, storybook artists were starting to work on ideas for ‘Under the Sea’ and some of the songs. That was what it was like in the early days of Disney animation – how it was done for ‘Snow White’ and ‘Cinderella.’ The composers were right there.”

Ron added, “In the old days, the room the director was in was always called the music room, because it had a piano and so much of the early work, like the Silly Symphonies and ‘Snow White,’ was so music-driven. Over the years they got away from that, so ‘Little Mermaid’ was a throwback.”

Another piece of Disney history that went into the creation of the “The Little Mermaid” was a True-Life Adventure film called “Mysteries of the Deep.” Made in 1959, the film took viewers into a beautiful underwater world – and it became a key resource for Ron and John, both landlocked Midwestern boys. According to John, “It had some great footage of an octopus walking along the ocean floor. Ruben Aquino, the lead animator on Ursula, took that footage and used it for a basis for her walk, with her tentacles kind of slapping and slithering along. They took some of the film and had Photostats made of it, and drew on top of them.”

A less slithery visual resource was motion model Sheri Stoner. They filmed her underwater so they could capture the motion of her hair. “People don’t think about this, but underwater is much more complicated to animate because hair always has to move, and any kind of fabric has to float, and the ripples and bubbles under the water … gravity is different,” said John. On the other hand, the directors claim that animals are always easier to create in animation than people – so The Little Mermaid was in many ways more challenging to animate as a “real girl” than as her mermaid self.

This October, “The Little Mermaid” will be released on Disney Blu-ray and Ariel’s story will continue to enchant audiences in a whole new format. Like her fellow princesses,the Little Mermaid is truly a timeless “part of your world.”

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