Disney's return trip under the sea takes fans into some uncharted waters. The live-action remake of "The Little Mermaid" starring Halle Bailey is a faithful adaptation of the animated classic. But it's not a shot-for-shot retread, as director Rob Marshall makes numerous tweaks, some minor and some more significant. Let's take a deep dive into how the "Little Mermaid" remake differs from the original.
Warning: Spoilers will follow.
Two songs are cut, and another is moved
Two songs from the animated film are cut starting with "Daughters of Triton," which Ariel's sisters perform in a concert conducted by Sebastian. There's no longer a concert, nor does Sebastian seem to be the king's court composer anymore. The remake also drops "Les Poissons," which a chef sings while chasing Sebastian, and "Fathoms Below" is now placed right before Eric's shipwreck instead of in the opening scene.
Two songs have lyric changes
"Poor Unfortunate Souls" is modified to remove a section where Ursula tells Ariel about how in the human world it's "much preferred for ladies not to say a word."
The lyrics of "Kiss the Girl" are also tweaked. Sebastian originally sings, "Possible she wants you too / There is one way to ask her / It don't take a word / Not a single word / Go on and kiss the girl." In the remake, the lyrics are instead, "Possible she wants you too / Use your words, boy, and ask her / If the time is right and the time is tonight / Go on and kiss the girl."
Composer Alan Menken told Vanity Fair the "Poor Unfortunate Souls" lyrics are updated to avoid making "young girls somehow feel that they shouldn't speak out of turn," while "Kiss the Girl" is altered to make clear that Eric won't "force himself on [Ariel]."
Several songs are added
Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote several new songs, including Prince Eric's "Wild Uncharted Waters" and Scuttle's rap, "The Scuttlebutt." Neither Eric nor Scuttle has a song in the original film.
Ariel also has two new songs, "For the First Time" and "Part of Your World (Reprise II)." In the animated film, Ariel never gets another song after her early "Part of Your World" reprise. She sings much more in the remake and also now joins "Under the Sea."
Scuttle is a diving bird, not a seagull
Scuttle is not only changed from male to female but is also now a diving bird instead of a seagull. "This was done specifically so that Ariel would only meet Scuttle underwater, because, at the start of our story, Ariel has never dared go above the surface," director Rob Marshall said in production notes. In the animated film, she has gone to the surface multiple times.
Ariel's sisters have different names and roles
The names of Ariel's sisters are changed from Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Attina, Adella and Alana to Tamika, Perla, Caspia, Indira, Mala and Karina. The seven sisters are now meant to be rulers from the seven seas. "We made the decision to lean into the mythology of Triton and the underwater world," Marshall said in production notes. "Having the seven sisters from the seven seas also felt more global."
Backstory about Ariel's mother is added
The remake mentions that Ariel's mother was killed by a human, while the original doesn't explain what happened to her (though 2008's "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning" revealed she was hit by a pirate ship).
Ursula is Triton's sister
Ursula is now confirmed as King Triton's sister. This wasn't established in the animated film, though it was mentioned in an alternate version of the original's "Fathoms Below" scene.
Ursula makes Ariel forget she has to kiss Eric
The biggest change is that Ursula now makes Ariel forget she has to kiss Eric. In the original, she knows that the whole time. But this fits with the film's goal of slowing down the Ariel and Eric romance and having them ease into it more naturally.
To that end, the movie puts more emphasis on Ariel wanting to go to the surface world because of her general interest in humanity and not just specifically Eric. A moment where she picks a flower while saying "he loves me, he loves me not" immediately after meeting him, for example, is excised. Ultimately, what finally convinces Ariel to take Ursula's deal is the notion that she will never be able to leave the ocean, not that she will get to be with Eric.
Ariel gives Ursula one of her scales
Ariel originally signs her name on a contract to complete the deal with Ursula, but in the remake, she gives her a scale to add to a cauldron. This may be the remake's effort to address a longstanding question: If Ariel can write, can't she communicate with Eric that way?
Ariel is found by a fisherman, not Eric
Eric immediately finds Ariel after she becomes human in the original, whereas in the remake, a fisherman finds her. This allows the film to place greater weight on the moment Eric finally arrives but fails to realize she's the girl who rescued him. In the original, that happens sooner, and Ariel seems more frustrated by it than devastated.
Eric and Ariel share much more screen time
Much of Ariel and Eric's bonding in the animated film is conveyed via montage, but the remake fleshes this period out, including by following them to a market. There's also a new scene showing that Eric has a room of items collected from his travels, mirroring Ariel's grotto. So the two bond because they're both naturally curious about other cultures, meaning they have something in common now. One of Eric's items is a jade "little mermaid," which isn't in the animated film.
Ariel kills Ursula, not Eric
In both films, Ursula is impaled by a ship, but in the remake, Ariel kills her instead of Eric. This is one of a few new moments that give Ariel more control over her destiny and depict her as a resourceful person. She snatches Ursula's necklace and restores her voice, for example, while Scuttle takes the necklace from Ursula in the original. Earlier, Ariel tricks a shark by making it swim into her reflection. In the 1989 version, the shark gets stuck in an anchor, but Ariel doesn't trick it. She also now figures out how to share her name with Eric by pointing to the Aries constellation. Sebastian simply whispers the name to Eric originally.
Eric is fleshed out significantly and gets a new backstory
All of the backstory about Eric being taken in by Queen Selina after washing ashore in a shipwreck is invented for the remake, as is Queen Selina herself, and Eric's motivation to explore so their kingdom doesn't get left behind is also new. But this allows the ending to become cathartic not just because Ariel and Eric live happily ever after, but because they now join forces to reach out to other cultures. In the end, the remake is a love story not just about Ariel and Eric's love for each other but about their shared love of discovering new things.