Released in 1989, the Disney animated film The Little Mermaid quickly became one of the animation studio's most beloved and most successful films of all time. Disney's loose adaptation of the beloved Hans Christian Andersen fairytale follows the young mermaid princess Ariel as she tries to live as a human on land.
The film features some of Disney's most memorable characters and character designs, including Ariel of course; her faithful sidekicks Flounder and Sebastian; the dashing Prince Eric; and the epic and over the top sea witch Ursula. All of these characters, along with many others, contributed to what made the film such a success. But early concept art designs of these roles could have taken the film in a very different direction.
10 Ariel's Hairstyles
The Little Mermaid has become truly iconic since it was released over 30 years ago, and one of the many reasons for its popularity is, of course, Ariel herself. Ariel is known for many things: her wide-eyed wonder, her love of collecting, her beautiful singing voice. But above all else, Ariel is best recognized for her stunning red hair.
In early versions of her design, however, this red hair wasn't always a guarantee. The above sketches during the design process feature an even younger, almost Tinkerbell-esque Ariel with blonde hair of varying shades, and a red hue that is a bit more orange.
9 Stunning Landscapes
Long before Disney was primarily working with CGI animation and depicting stunning underwater scenes, The Little Mermaid contained some truly remarkable seascapes and seaside locations. Prince Eric's castle is located conveniently right upon the shore, allowing for meaningful moments of both connection and longing for the initially seabound Ariel.
As this stunning landscape piece shows, original designs for the palace would have been even more grand, featuring a beautiful pastel color scheme and an elegant watercolor style.
8 A Truly Adorable Sebastian
Sebastian has an unenviable role in The Little Mermaid. Not only does he serve as King Triton's primary source of counsel, but he also finds himself in the role of babysitter for Ariel, as he tries to steer her away from the life above the sea and turn her attention back to the world underwater.
As a result of his wise, exhausted personality, Sebastian winds up looking almost like an older man in his crab design. This original idea for Sebastian would have featured a much more childlike persona for the crab, which clearly didn't fit his eventual role.
7 A Very Different Ariel And Eric
Ariel is supposed to be only 16 years old in the film, and Eric presumably isn't much older than her. Additionally, they both hail from royal families, albeit very different ones, so it wouldn't be hard to imagine they have some aristocratic and upper-class personality tendencies.
However, these early designs for the eventual couple reveal a decidedly different, even snobby looking version of both characters. Neither character is rendered in the softer, traditional style of Disney heroes, and the animation, therefore, would have been far too jarring.
6 A much meaner Triton
King Triton has the difficult job of managing the entire kingdom of Atlantica, as well as raising a group of young, very different, and very opinionated daughters - including one who desires to live on land among humans. He can occasionally come across as harsh in the film, as he tries to keep his loved ones safe.
But in the end, Triton is still a lovable, almost teddy bear-like old man, with a true loving heart and a soft spot for his daughters. This original design for his character would have made it much harder to see Triton in any warm and loving way.
5 A Very Different Flounder
More than any other character in the movie, Flounder is Ariel's best friend. Incredibly loyal to her, even though he frightens easily and worries about her all the time, Flounder is by Ariel's side through thick and thin, even after she makes the transition to living on land.
Part of what makes Flounder so lovable is his adorable, almost baby-like design. Small and round and chubby, Flounder protests that he's not a guppy - and in the case of this original design, which has him much more elongated and adult-looking, that definitely would have been true.
4 A More Realistic Scuttle
Scuttle is one of the funniest characters in the film - a seagull who prides himself on his knowledge of the human world, even though that knowledge is always completely wrong. The Scuttle we know and love is ruffled, messy, and always looks just a little bit off-kilter.
But the original designs for Scuttle depicted here would have found him looking like a more traditionally realistic seagull. There's almost something intimidating about this design, too, with the sharp beak and leering eyes. It's definitely not Scuttle.
3 Ursula's menacing early design
Ursula is one of the most memorable villains in the Disney canon - and also one of the largest. Inspired in large part by the famed drag performer Divine, Ursula's eventual design is loud and proud and inspired by the body of an octopus.
This earlier, downright eerie design for Ursula would have found her sporting a look much more reminiscent of devil rays or Manta rays. She is also striped and sporting a fierce villainous crown and collar, which might have even been too over the top for a flashy villain like Ursula.
2 Ursula's Terrifying Theft Of Ariel's Voice
The predatory implications of Ursula's theft of Ariel's voice are plenty clear enough in the Disney film. But thankfully, Ursula manages to steal Ariel's voice without actually touching her, thanks to the powers of sea witch magic.
In this early design of that key scene, however, an almost eel- and gargoyle-like, truly grotesque Ursula is practically fawning over Ariel as she claws at her with her long, menacing fingers and clutches her tight in her tentacles.
1 Ariel's original tail design
Even though Ariel eventually gives up her life under the sea in favor of legs that allow her to live on land, her mermaid design is undeniably iconic. Incredibly sleek and beautiful, Ariel's mermaid appearance is now essentially the standard against which all mermaid tails and bodies are compared to.
In this original design, however, Ariel's anatomy would have incorporated more of the traditional fish appearance, including a pair of fins around her waist in addition to the conventional fishtail.