You may have heard that throughout social media that the month of May is being referred to as “Mermay” to celebrate mermaids. In honour of Mermay I thought I’d write another post all about everyone’s favorite Disney mermaid, Ariel from The Little Mermaid. This artwork is a character design drawing of Ariel in her mermaid form by an studio artist who’s name I have unfortunately been unable to track down. While in my last Ariel post I focused on how the animators made the important decision of what colour Ariel’s hair and tail should be, today with this black and white drawing I want to focus on how real teenage girls influenced the teenage mermaid’s design.
One of my passions in my research and writing is uncovering the untold stories of the many real woman and girls who inspired and contributed to the design of the Disney princesses. There were several woman who contributed to Ariel’s look, and many of them were young ordinary women. Everyone knows that Broadway actress Jodi Benson provided the mermaid’s speaking and singing voice, and animators also studied footage of her recording sessions to gain inspiration for Ariel’s expressions. Like Snow White, Cinderella, and so many others, a live action reference model was also filmed acting out Ariel’s role in footage used as a guideline for the animators. This model was Sherri Stoner, an expressive and silly improv comedian whose thin 5′ 2″ frame inspired Ariel’s own super thin teenage body. Many of Ariel’s teenage mannerisms were also taken from the footage of Stoner, including her frequent biting of her lip and her habit of blowing her hair out of her face. For the design of Ariel’s face, supervising animator Glen Keane looked to a source very close to home, his wife. He also studied pictures of a young starlet who he felt epitomized the 1980s teenage spirit, Alyssa Milano star of Who’s the Boss? . It was very important to the animators that Ariel looked like a typical teenage girl, despite her mermaid tail.
Ariel has so much contemporary fame that I think many forget that she is very much a product of the 1980s. That is why I chose this particular drawing, as it really highlights how much the era influenced Ariel’s design. Just look at the frizzy ’80s pigtails she has in this drawing and the giant flower hair accessory. Her heavy makeup is a clear reflection of the trends of the era as well. Although Ariel’s final look toned down this trendiness, her hair and makeup are still clearly 80s inspired. Her human clothes are even more a product of the era, just look at the leg-o-mutton sleeves on her wedding dress that were lifted straight from Princess Diana’s own wedding dress. Her personality is also based upon the concerns of a typical ’80s teenager. She’s a rebellious teenager eager to be considered an adult and be free to make her own choices, while still being “daddy’s little girl”, a clear contrast from Cinderella and Aurora in the ’50s. Ariel’s strong athletic swimming ability also makes her stand out from past princesses, while reflecting the exercise craze of the 1980s. While Ariel may still be the favourite of many little girls today, she really is the embodiment of a 1980s teenager.
Hope you enjoyed this brief look at Ariel from The Little Mermaid and the real young women of the 1980s who inspired her. Happy Mermay!
Image Credit: The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition