‘The Little Mermaid’ Fairy Tale
The story of The Little Mermaid is a fairy tale published by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen in 1837. It follows the journey of a young mermaid who is willing to give up her life in the sea in exchange for a human soul. While the popular Disney adaptation names the titular character Ariel, in Andersen’s telling, she’s known simply as “the Little Mermaid.”
Much like in Disney’s retelling of other famous fairy tales, several of the darker details from the original story were omitted. For example, when the Little Mermaid visits a sea witch in Andersen’s story, she allows the witch to cut out her tongue in exchange for human legs. The endings are also quite different. The Disney version ends with the wedding of Ariel and Prince Eric. But in Andersen’s fairy tale, the Little Mermaid chooses to sacrifice herself to save the prince’s life and she becomes a spirit of the air, eventually destined for heaven.
Throughout his career, Hans Christian Andersen authored numerous plays, novels, poems, travel books, and autobiographies. But he is most renowned for his fairy tales, which have become some of the most frequently translated works in literary history. As a testament to his legacy, a bronze and granite sculpture of the Little Mermaid was unveiled by the waterside in Copenhagen, Denmark on August 23rd, 1913. It has since become one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions.
Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’
Over 150 years after Andersen’s fairy tale was first published, the story was pushed to the center of pop culture with the 1989 release of Disney’s animated film, The Little Mermaid. Broadway actress Jodi Benson voiced the movie’s princess, Ariel, beating out over 500 other actresses for the role. Benson would later go on to voice several other Disney characters, including Barbie in the Toy Story franchise.
The Little Mermaid was an important turning point for Walt Disney Animation Studios. After over a decade of mostly lackluster animated releases, the film is widely regarded as the start of the “Disney Renaissance” – the span from 1989-1999 when the studio returned to producing critically and commercially successful animated films that were often musical adaptations of well-known stories. Other movies that were part of the Disney Renaissance era include Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), and Mulan (1998), among others.
It was also a major moment for the trajectory of the company’s soundtracks. The Little Mermaid was composer Alan Menken’s first Disney film. His work on the movie won him two Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song at the 1990 Academy Awards, the studio’s first Oscar wins since 1972. To date, Menken has won eight Oscars and 11 Grammy Awards, all for his work with Disney. In 2020, Menken earned his EGOT status after winning the Emmy for the song “Waiting in the Wings” from Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure.
In 2016, Disney announced that a live-action remake of The Little Mermaid was in the works. Iconic composer Alan Menken was immediately attached to the project. It was also announced that Hamilton playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda would be writing several additional songs for the new movie. The Little Mermaid won’t be Miranda’s first foray into Disney animated films, as he was also behind the music of 2016’s Moana and 2021’s Encanto.
The titular character in the 2023 film will be played by Halle Bailey, an actress and singer-songwriter who was previously best known as half of the musical duo Chloe x Halle with her sister Chlöe Bailey. The duo signed with Beyoncé’s record label, Parkwood Entertainment, in 2016 after she discovered their song covers on YouTube. Since then, the duo’s music has been nominated for five Grammy Awards.
With a runtime of 2 hours and 15 minutes, The Little Mermaid will be the longest Disney live-action remake to date, beating out Cruella’s runtime by one minute. It will be 52 minutes longer than the animated version of The Little Mermaid, which clocked in at 1 hour and 23 minutes long. The film’s star Halle Bailey has shared that the new movie will “expand upon elements and themes from the source material,” and that fans will see more of Ariel “ going after her passions and what she wants for herself.”
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