The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning is a 2008 Disney animated fantasy feature film, and
the direct-to-video prequel to the 1989 film The Little Mermaid. Directed by Peggy Holmes, the film's story is set before the events of the TV series, the 1989 film andsequel, where all music has been banned from the underwater kingdom of Atlantica by King Triton, and his youngest daughter Arielattempts to challenge this law. The film features the voices of Jodi Benson, Samuel E. Wright, Sally Field, and Jim Cummings. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released the film on August 26, 2008. The film openly contradicts certain events of the television series, implying that it is an independent installment of Disney's The Little Mermaid franchise.
King Triton and his wife, Queen Athena, rule over the underwater kingdom of Atlantica, which is filled with music and laughter. They have seven young daughters, the youngest of whom is Ariel. The merfolk are shown relaxing in a lagoon above water, and Triton gives Athena a music box. Suddenly, a pirate ship approaches. Everyone escapes except Athena, who is crushed by the ship when she tries to save the music box. Devastated by the death of his wife, Triton throws the music box away and bans music from the kingdom.
Ten years later, Ariel and her six older sisters live under a strict routine maintained by their governess, Marina Del Rey and her assistant, Benjamin. Marina hates being the girls' governess and longs to be Triton's attaché, a job currently filled by Sebastian thecrab. Ariel hates their current lifestyle, which brings her into arguments with her father. One day, Ariel encounters Flounder, a youngfish whom she later follows to an underground music club. She is overjoyed by the presence of music, and is shocked when she sees Sebastian performing there. When her presence is revealed, the entire band stops playing and hides, believing Ariel will tell her father about them. Ariel sings a song explaining her love of music and the remembrance of her mother and she joins the club with an oath.
Ariel returns to the palace, and her sisters confront her over her disappearance. She explains where she was, and the following night all seven girls go to the club to have fun. Marina finds them, she later reports their activities to Triton, who destroys the club with his trident. Sebastian, Flounder and the band are sent to jail, while Marina gets the job she wants.
Triton locks his daughters inside the palace, resulting in Ariel asking him why music is forbidden. Triton refuses to answer and shouts I WILL NOT HAVE MUSIC IN MY KINGDOM!. Distraught, Ariel argues that Athena wouldn't have wanted music forbidden and swims to the bedroom, with her sisters following. That night, she leaves Atlantica and frees the jailbirds. Sebastian leads them to a deserted place far from the palace where Ariel finds Athena's music box, as Sebastian hoped. Ariel and Sebastian decide to return to Atlantica to bring the music box to Triton, hoping that it will change his mind, as he has not remembered how to be happy after Athena's death.
On the way back, they are confronted by Marina and her electric eels. Marina wants to stop them so she will retain her position of "power", and struggle ensues. It ends when Marina barrels towards Sebastian, but Ariel pushes her away, getting hit in the process. Triton arrives in time to witness this, and blames himself. He sings the lyrics of "Athena's Song", and Ariel wakes up. The film ends with Triton restoring music to Atlantica and appointing Sebastian as Atlantica's first official court composer, much to everyone's glee. Everyone rejoices except Marina, who's been sent to jail.
Inside the prison cell, Benjamin, who was also arrested for knowing about Marina's plan, asks Marina if she's learned her lesson. She begrudgingly says yes, and Benjamin asks Marina to dance with him. They begin to dance inside the cell.
This film's working title was The Little Mermaid III, and it was originally scheduled for a mid-2007 release. When John Lasseter took over Disney Animation, more resources were spent on completing Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, and attention only returned to this film in July 2006 after the wrap up of Cinderella III.
A teaser trailer and musical preview of the film (an alternate version of "Jump in the Line") were attached to the Platinum Edition DVD of The Little Mermaid, which was released in October 2006. At the time, the working title The Little Mermaid III was still being used.
- Jodi Benson as Ariel
- Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian
- Jim Cummings as King Triton and Shelbow; Triton's original voice actor, Kenneth Mars, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was unable to reprise the role.
- Sally Field as Marina Del Rey
- Parker Goris as Flounder
- Tara Strong as Adella and Andrina
- Jennifer Hale as Alana
- Grey DeLisle as Aquata and Arista
- Kari Wahlgren as Attina
- Jeff Bennett as Benjamin the manatee and the Swordfish Guards
- Andrea Robinson as Queen Athena (singing voice)
- Lorelei Hill Butters as Queen Athena (speaking voice)
- Rob Paulsen as Ink Spot the octopus and Swifty the shrimp
- Kevin Michael Richardson as Cheeks the blowfish and Ray-Ray the manta ray
The score to the film was composed by James Dooley, recorded the score with a 72-piece ensemble of the Hollywood Studio Symphony, as well as a big band, at the Sony Scoring Stage. The film features new songs written by Jeanine Tesori, along with covers of previously recorded calypso songs that were arranged by Dooley. The songs featured in the film are:
- "Athena's Song" - Performed by Andrea Robinson (Queen Athena)
- "Just One Mistake" - Performed by Sally Field (Marina Del Rey)
- "I Remember" - Performed by Jodi Benson (Ariel)
- "Jump in the Line (Shake, Shake, Shake, Senora)" - Performed by Samuel E. Wright (Sebastian) and chorus
- "Jump In The Line" (Shake, Shake, Shake, Senora) A cappella version - Performed by Parker Goris (Flounder), Samuel E. Wright (Sebastian), Jodi Benson (Ariel) and chorus
- "Man Smart, Woman Smarter" (instrumental only)
- "Just One Mistake" (reprise) - Performed by Sally Field (Marina Del Rey)
- "I Will Sing" - Performed by Jeannette Bayardelle
It is currently unknown if a soundtrack album will be released.
The film was released on Region 1 DVD in the USA on August 26, 2008, and on Region 2 DVD in the UK and Europe on September 22, 2008. The DVD contains special features including deleted scenes, a production featurette hosted by the director, games and activities, and a featurette hosted by Sierra Boggess about the Broadway musical.
On December 16, 2008, the film was released in a "The Little Mermaid Trilogy" boxed set that includes The Little Mermaid (Platinum Edition) and The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea.
The DVD became the top-selling DVD for the week ending August 31, selling 980,237 copies. Reviews of the film have generally been positive, though the new villain, Marina Del Rey, has been criticised as being a poor follow-up to Ursula. The animation quality of the film has been praised as being "impressive" for a direct-to-video and comparable to that of the original film. A mildly negative review has described that in the film "goofiness often gets buried too often underneath a blah story that's much too run-of-the-mill to allow the emotional oomph of the characters' plights to truly impact". The music has also been criticised as being unmemorable, with one review stating that "to label this a musical would be false advertising".