How The Little Mermaid Originally Confused Walt Disney


It’s one of the most consistent compliments given by collaborators, employees, friends, rivals, and even foes: Walt Disney is a master storyteller. As an animator, director, and most importantly a producer, he has created or adapted some of Western culture’s most beloved tales for cinema, the result often being considered the definitive version of whatever thread he takes. (Direct action Little Mermaid starring Halle Bailey And Melissa McCarthy sails into theaters this month.) But for all his talent in that area, there are stories that, for one reason or another, defy Walt’s endeavors. And the work of other famous storytellers exemplifies challenges Walt could never have faced in his entire life.


Related: Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’: The Biggest Difference Between the Movie and the Original Story

Walt Disney Wants To Adapt The Life And Stories Of Hans Christian Andersen

The evil witch gave Snow White a poisoned apple at Disney's Snow White
Image via Disney

The 1940s was the graveyard of many Disney projects that were canceled or ruined. It was the decade in which Walt fell from the heights of success to a long period of disappointment, uncertainty, and helplessness. Just before calendars started showing the 40s, profit from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs let him build a new studio and seize the rights to many projects, but the poor performance of subsequent films prevented further work. Among the titles lost during these lean years are Chanticleer, HiawathaRoald Dahl’s gremlinscooperation with Salvador Dali And Aldous Huxleyand continuation of Fantasia.

The life of Hans Christian Andersen was one of the titles being played at the time. The studio has dabbled in the Danish writer’s work with Silly Symphony’s adaptation of “The Ugly Duckling”, but this will be an ambitious feature-length production, the marriage of live-action and animation years before. Southern Song. The film is meant to be a semi-fictional biographical one, interspersed with animated adaptations of Andersen’s fables. Among the stories slated for inclusion is “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” “Little Fir Tree,” “Snow Queen,” “The Nightingale”, and “The Little Mermaid”. The art of development persists today in Disney’s archives; “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” is developed by storywoman Bianca Majolie“Little Fir Tree” by the author of the story Bill Peteand “The Little Mermaid” by the famous Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen.

Disney and Goldwyn Partner on Proposed Film

The life of Hans Christian Andersen was also intended to be the first significant co-production in Disney studio history. Walt Disney was good friends with Hollywood producers Samuel Goldwyn, who had his own interest in a Hans Christian Andersen drawing dating from 1936. He and Walt (and their intermediary) discussed a production in which Goldwyn would oversee Walt’s live action and animation. Sail treatments came from both camps, with neither meeting full approval, but from the time a partnership was announced in 1940, work continued.

Walt remained active at the end of the production. As the adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” becomes mired in trying to retain everything Andersen has packed into his short but complex story, Walt warns against it. “We don’t need to do Andersen literally,” he told his staff. The sequence that tripped them up was the storm and the prince’s rescue. Andersen’s story has the prince coming ashore near a convent, where one of the local girls is taken by the prince as his savior. This element of mistaken identity is a challenge to spread, and Walt advises not even trying. She suggests that the prince, coming to follow her shipwreck, should catch a glimpse of the mermaid and hear the haunting chorus she sings to her, and carry away the memory of her mysterious savior without having to put on any face. This simplification continues into the prince’s wedding (which in Andersen’s tale is a pre-arranged marriage that the prince was against) until he learns that the bride is also the convent girl he believes has saved his life. Walt felt that it didn’t matter who the prince married, but what was more important was that he didn’t marry a mermaid.

Hans Christian Andersen Beat Walt Disney

little mermaid
Image via Disney

The co-production lived on until 1942, but separated for various reasons. Walt was never pleased with the scripts developed by Goldwyn, or with the way they portrayed Andersen himself. Disney’s financial situation remains dismal. And with World War II raging on, the studio’s energy was largely absorbed by government contract work. The partnership with Goldwyn was abandoned. Goldwyn himself had little interest in releasing the material. He held on to Andersen’s film idea until 1952, when he was finally released Hans Christian Anderson as a musical film starring Danny Kaye. Without Disney animation, fairy tales are performed in ballet.

Walt may have pursued half of his projects as packaged features in the same vein as most of his 1940s feature output, but the loss of funding and staff cost him. Another complication is that Andersen’s fable ultimately proves to be a formidable challenge to realize even as a short subject. As just an example, the titular character “The Snow Queen” spends most of her story off the page, and establishing a precise conflict between her and the story’s main character was beyond the reach of Walt’s staff. “The Ugly Duckling” proved to be the only Disney adaptation of Andersen that personally involved Walt. All of the work that had gone into the production with Andersen was packaged, and Walt led the studio to another story.

Then Disney Artists Found A Way To Adapt “The Little Mermaid” And Other Andersen Tales

Hans Christian Andersen may have baffled Walt, but the artist and Disney filmmaker who succeeded for decades has been taking up the challenge ever since. Three of the stories Walt had set for his films since then made it into the Disney drawings. “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” is the topic for Order “Piano Concerto No. 2”. Fantasy 2000, with original artwork by Bianca Majolie used as initial inspiration. 2013s Frozen is “inspired by” “The Snow Queen,” though it bears little resemblance to the original story (and offers questionable merits in its own right, but I won’t get to that today). And of course, there was 1989 Little Mermaidstill recognizable as adapted from Andersen’s tales but very much a Disney adaptation.

Directors Ron Clement And John Musker, not knowing about Andersen’s failed project of the 40s, was surprised that the story had not been adapted by Disney before when they submitted it in 1987. A few months into production, they became aware of their previous work and consulted for their film. Kay Nielsen’s art was used in the development of the storm sequence (Nielsen received posthumous credit for the film as a “visual development artist”), and a transcript of Walt’s story encounter was reviewed. Clements and Musker find that their own instincts align with Walt’s in key areas: the abolition of monasteries and arranged marriages, the idea of ​​a mysterious girl with a song in the prince’s memory, and dispelling the mermaid’s dual motivation for an immortal soul.

Of course, they haven’t faced each other in decades with Walt on anything. Working in short form sequences, Walt likes expediency and the mermaid rushes from her deal with the sea witch not understanding that she has paid with her own voice, running straight to the prince’s wedding. And while Andersen’s fairy tale ends in a bitter compromise (the little mermaid loses her prince but wins the chance to gain an immortal soul as the air princess) Walt goes to tragedy and ends the story with the mermaid dissolving into sea foam. Clements and Musker opted for a happy ending, taking no cues from Walt in either that or the details of the deal. But their movie made it to the screen, and Walt didn’t.


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