Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for ‘The Little Mermaid’As a famous crustacean once said, “The seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake,” and so is all the money that Disney is going to make when the 2023 live-action remake of The Little Mermaid ends its theatrical run. While many of Disney’s live-action reimaginings of their classic animated films have been hit-and-miss, this latest attempt is bound to make a big splash, as it’s already being praised by critics as one of the better remakes from Disney. That’s for good reason, as not only are there some great vibrant visuals that stay true to the original, but also packed with outstanding performances, including a flawlessly cast Melissa McCarthy as Ursula and a sensational breakout role for Halle Bailey as Ariel.
However, perhaps the biggest question for fans eager to see Ariel’s adventure on the big screen for the first time since is how the film ends. After all, while not the norm, Disney has taken creative liberties with their remakes before, even with the way they end. 2016’s The Jungle Book proved that by having a completely different conclusion. Instead of the story’s main character living with the humans in the man village like in the 1977 original, Mowgli (Neel Sethi) remains in the jungle with his animal friends and family.
Does The Little Mermaid also make changes to the ending from the 1989 classic that preceded it? Read below to find out:
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While there are a few tweaks to the story from the 1989 version, such as Ursula being Ariel’s aunt in the 2023 film, the climax of The Little Mermaid remake is pretty much identical to the original animated classic. The third act officially begins when Ursula, using the voice she swindled out of Ariel, disguises herself as the beautiful Vanessa (Jessica Alexander) and enchants Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) into thinking that she’s the mystery woman who saved him after his shipwreck. With news following that Eric is getting married, Scuttle (Awkwafina) tells (or rather raps) the news to the still-mute Ariel, only for the young princess to discover that another woman has been betrothed to her one true love.
It doesn’t take long for Ariel to realize that Vanessa is Ursula in disguise, and with the help of her friends, is able to reveal that truth to Eric. Unfortunately, Ariel isn’t able to share a “True Love’s Kiss” before sundown, thus meaning that Ursula wins. The sea witch drags Ariel back into the depths of the ocean after the princess turns back into a mermaid, eventually coming face to face with her estranged brother, King Triton (Javier Bardem). The ocean king quickly realizes that the only way to save his daughter and earn her freedom is to relinquish his all-powerful Trident to Ursula. Once he does, Ursula sicks her trusted eels, Flotsam and Jetsam, on Triton, dragging his powerless body down to the abyss.
A small but significant change to the original film is who gets the last laugh on Ursula in the final battle, this time with Ariel being the one responsible instead of Eric. The prince does prove to be a helpful ally in the conflict, hurling a spear at Ursula to get her attention. Now armed with the power of the Trident, Ursula fires a beam of energy at him and Ariel, accidentally killing her pet eels in the process. Bloodthirsty for revenge, Ursula uses her new powers to turn into a massive sea monster, creating a virtual monsoon in which the protagonists are now trapped.
Ursula quickly sets her sights on Eric, the Prince now marooned on a jagged rock. While the ocean is in chaos, various shipwrecks that were stuck at the bottom of the ocean are now being brought up to the surface. Ariel finds herself on one of these ships, and makes her way to the vessel’s helm. Right before Ursula is about to kill Eric, Ariel turns the ship to port and impales Ursula with the sharp bow of the ship. A brutal Disney villain death that’s virtually identical to the original, with the exception being that Ariel and Eric’s roles are reversed.
In the aftermath of Ursula’s defeat, Eric and Ariel don’t feel like they’ve gotten a happy ending. With Eric back on the surface and Ariel still destined to be a human, all seems to be lost. This doesn’t go unnoticed by King Triton, who sees that his beloved daughter is now more depressed than ever. After a reality check from his royal advisor, Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), the strict but good-hearted monarch realizes that his little mermaid is not so little anymore. He uses his power to grant Ariel her wish to become a human, with zero strings attached. Almost immediately after getting her permanent land legs, Ariel and Eric finally reunite, sharing a long-overdue kiss of true love.
As you’d probably expect, especially if you love the original film, Ariel and Eric end the film as husband and wife, though this proves to be only the start of their new lives. Earlier in the film, Eric is facing a conflict with his mother, Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni). The Prince wants to explore the uncharted seas, but the Queen thinks it would be best if they kept to themselves and the rest of the kingdom. It’s not all that different from the initial position between Ariel and her own parent earlier in the film. In the end, Selina realizes her son is capable of making his own decisions, and gives him and Ariel the ability to travel the globe on their own ship, looking for plenty of new adventures in uncharted waters on the high seas.
When Ariel and Eric are about to embark on their expedition, Triton, Ariel’s sisters, and all the other loyal citizens of Atlantica come to bid the princess and her husband farewell. This brings a tear to Ariel’s eye, leading her to hug her father for one last time. A final familiar visual ripped straight from the classic animated masterpiece that inspired it.
The Little Mermaid is now in theaters.