‘The Little Mermaid’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: What Happens To Ariel And Eric’s Love Story?


When Disney first brought Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about a mermaid to life in the 1989 animated feature The Little Mermaid, it went on to become an iconic work of the production company. With the live-action adaptation now in 2023, Disney seems to rehash the popularity of the work but does not present a half-baked dish like most of its other similar ventures in recent times. 2023’s The Little Mermaid follows Ariel, the inquisitive daughter of King Triton, the King of the seas, as she desires to make friends with the human world. With commendable acting performances and fairly good visuals, The Little Mermaid is surely worth a watch.

Spoiler Alert

Plot Summary: What is the film about?

At the center of The Little Mermaid is the teenage mermaid princess Ariel, who is Triton’s youngest daughter. In the film, Triton is hailed as the King of the Seas and exercise control of the water bodies. On the auspicious occasion of Coral Moon, when Triton meets with all of his seven daughters, Ariel is late as usual, for she is busy exploring the depths of the sea. She and all her sisters have been taught by their father not to go anywhere close to the human world, but Ariel does not pay much heed to such teaching. She is fascinated by all the objects left behind by humans in the seas, and the mermaid collects all such items in her personal cove. According to Ariel, people who make such interesting objects can never be anything but good.

On the sea’s surface, sailors in big ships often go around hunting mermaids, as the legendary creatures are perceived as too different and, therefore, dangerous by humans. Close to where Ariel and her friends live is an island ruled by Queen Selina, who wants to reach out to lands away from her island but is troubled by the sinking of ships due to the rough seas. The Queen’s son, Eric, is an enthusiastic sailor and explorer who wishes to travel across the seas of the world rather than stay constricted in a life of luxury and leisure at his family castle. Therefore, Eric becomes the unofficial leader of his ship’s crew, as he is much loved by all, but the young man is unable to protect his ship one evening during heavy storms.

As the ship is destroyed and all the crew jump out to save themselves, Eric stays back to save his pet dog and is unable to get off in time. The man dangerously falls into the water, sinking to the bottom, when Ariel, who had been watching the ship from a distance, decides to intervene. She carries the unconscious Eric back onto the surface and then onto the beach. Ariel then uses the magical powers of the siren voice, which she has because she is a mermaid, to save Eric, but she also has to flee the scene when other humans rush to the place. Both Eric and Ariel now desire to meet each other once more as they start to fall in love. Meanwhile, the Witch of the Sea, Ursula, hatches a sinister plan to put Ariel in danger and, in turn, get revenge on her brother, King Triton.

Why Is King Triton Against The Humans?

When King Triton warns her daughters not to go near humans, he is extremely serious about it. With his other six daughters having already grown into adults by now, the father has to worry only about Ariel. Not only is the youngest mermaid at an inquisitive age, but she is also, by character, extremely curious and helpful to anyone around her. Despite her father’s warnings, Ariel often visits the sites of shipwrecks along with her friend Flounder, a fish, only to collect more artifacts from the human world. This has a very immediate danger to it as well since sharks always roam such places, but Ariel does not fear away because of such dangers. She is always extremely interested in knowing more about humans and the rest of the world, and she wishes with all her heart that she could spend time on land.

But Ariel does not exactly understand why her father is so cautious against humans, for Triton has experienced loss because of them. In the human world, it is believed that mermaids, or even mermen, are evil creatures that lure humans in and then kill them. For this reason, humans always hunt down mermaids, killing any that they see on the surface of the water, and some even seem to actively go to find and hunt these creatures. Some years ago, when Ariel was just a baby, her mother had gone to the surface out of curiosity as well. According to Triton, his wife, too, was always very interested in the world outside their known realm, and therefore, she would often venture out into unknown waters. On this particular occasion, the mermaid was killed by a human sailor, and Triton could do nothing but mourn her loss.

It is for this reason that King Triton dislikes humans so much and always wants to stay away from them. According to him, humans are the most distrustful, violent, and insensitive living beings who only know how to hurt sea creatures and eat them up as food. When the King finds out that his daughter is absent-minded because she has fallen in love, he is rather happy and enthusiastic at first. But when he learns from Sebastian the crab that Ariel is actually dreaming of being with the human prince Eric, Triton cannot control his anger. He destroys all objects from the human world in Ariel’s cove, including the statue that was acting as a reminder of Eric to her, and strictly orders her not to go to the surface of the sea. Although his intentions are good, and he does this out of genuine care and concern for his daughter, Triton turns into a controlling father who is blind to his daughter’s wishes and interests.

On the other side, in the human world, Eric, too, was facing a similar situation since his overprotective mother, the Queen, was not letting him leave the castle after the ship crash incident. She had heard about how Eric had been saved by a mermaid, but to her, his desire to seek out the mermaid was wishful thinking and the wrong choice either way. Queen Selina also warns Eric against the dangers of mixing with merpeople since they are believed to always be vindictive against humans. She and the other humans believe that the merpeople slink away soil from beneath the island, making the land more and more unstable. The rough seas and dangerous rocks that crash their ships are also believed to be caused by the sea gods and the merpeople. Therefore, humans also have their own set of beliefs that keep them away from merpeople and all creatures under the sea. The two species exist as two separate factions that cannot ever come together and coexist because of their various differences.

Who Is Ursula, And What Is Her Plan?

The antagonist in The Little Mermaid is Ursula, an evil octopus who lives in the dark depths of the sea with her band of followers, which includes eels and other creepy sea creatures. Ursula happens to be the sister of King Triton, but she had been banished by her brother from the mer-kingdom. As a sea witch, she was always known to stir up trouble, especially among merpeople and humans, and it was for this reason that Triton had sent away his own sister from the kingdom. Ursula obviously did not take kindly to this, and she was always waiting to take revenge on her brother and take away all of his powers. The evil witch uses magic to keep track of all events and happenings in the sea, and through this, she learns about young Ariel’s obsession with human beings. It is this information that she uses to make her next sinister plan.

Ursula is known to manipulate the dreams and aspirations of merpeople to trap them and make herself more powerful. As she herself tells Ariel, some merpeople come to her asking for help with their beauty and appearance since she has powers of dark magic in her possession. Ariel is convinced by Ursula’s claim that she can help her, and thus, she goes to meet with her aunt. Little does Ariel know that the witch has a different plan, and so she does not listen to the advice of her friends either. Ursula agrees to cast a spell on Ariel that would turn the latter into a human being for three days, but in return, she takes away Ariel’s magical siren voice. As part of the magic spell, Ariel also has to establish a romantic connection with Eric during these three days and then share with him a true lover’s kiss, which would turn her into a human permanently. But if she does not get this kiss within three days, then Ariel will have to return to the sea and live under Ursula’s control for the rest of her life.

Ursula’s real intention is to get control of Ariel, for she knows that taking away his youngest daughter would be the best way to hurt Triton. Ursula firmly believes that her niece will not be able to survive the human world without her voice, and even if she does, she will not have the true lover’s kiss. This is because the witch slips in a special curse in her magic, which makes Ariel completely forget about the kiss part of the deal, and even when her friends later mention the kiss, Ariel does not register it and instead falls asleep every time.

What Happens To Ariel And Eric’s Love In The End?

After Ariel becomes a human, which is signified by the two feet that grow where her tail had been, she gets caught in a fisherman’s net and is then taken to the island. Here, at the castle, she makes acquaintance with Eric but is unable to tell him about who she really is, for she literally does not have her voice. Nonetheless, Ariel and Eric do have the magical love connection that is so common in fairytales, and so the two start to grow close to each other even though Ariel does not speak. The two spend hours together reading maps and studying items in Eric’s study. They then also spend a day outside among the common people of the island, where Ariel learns more about human beings and their culture. She realizes that humans are definitely not just cruel beings like her father had taught her; there are many interesting facets to them. Ariel and Eric almost share their first kiss, but get interrupted by Ursula’s pet eels at the last moment.

Ursula now uses more magic to turn herself into human form, and now, as a woman named Vanessa, she appears to Eric. Using the voice of Ariel, which she had trapped inside her locket earlier, Vanessa convinces Eric that it was she who had saved him and even seems to cast a spell on him. Despite having developed feelings for Ursula, Eric agrees to marry Vanessa. Ariel learns that Vanessa is actually Ursula, and intervenes in the ceremony. She snatches away Ursula’s locket, turning the witch back into an octopus and also getting her own voice back. But before Eric can kiss Ariel, the three days’ time ends, and since no kiss has been shared, she turns back into a mermaid and is dragged back into the sea by Ursula.

Ursula now works on her real plan—she holds Ariel captive and boasts to Triton about this. Helpless, the King of the sea gives up his source of power—the magical trident that he carries—and Ursula now takes control of the weapon. She grows in size and takes control of the seas when Eric comes to help Ariel, and they together launch an attack against the giant octopus. It is Ariel who once again saves the day, as she uses her intelligence to strike Ursula with the mast of Eric’s ship. The evil witch dies, and when she drops the trident, it restores Triton to health. Triton takes back power and control as the King of the Seas, and he is now faced with a crucial decision regarding Ariel’s life.

Despite earlier having objected to it, Triton now finally accepts his daughter’s wish and lets her turn into a human being. Ariel returns to land and gets married to Eric, since Queen Selina also approves of this bond. Through their love, Ariel and Eric manage to bring the merpeople and the humans together, for the two sides keep away all their differences and come together.

In The Little Mermaid‘s ending, we see Ariel and Eric sailing away on their ship, as the couple wish to explore the world and find out about places and cultures different from their own. While mermaids are unable to shed tears, as stated in a quote from Andersen’s book at the very beginning of the film, Ariel now sheds a tear, overwhelmed by the love she gets from both her own people and the humans. This truly marks the fact that Ariel has transformed into a human being and provides a happy ending to the film.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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