Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Ursula preparing the human spell for Ariel
|First appearance||The Little Mermaid (1989)|
|Created by||Hans Christian Andersen (original story)
Ron Clements & John Musker (film adaptation)
|Voiced by||Pat Carroll
Jodi Benson (as Vanessa)
|Aliases||Vanessa, The Sea-Witch|
Ursula (or Ursula, the Sea Witch) is a fictional character and the main antagonist of Walt Disney Pictures' 28th animated film The Little Mermaid (1989). She is voiced by Pat Carroll, who also provides her vocals for all the canonical animated media. Ursula is based on the "sea witch/sorceress" character in Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Little Mermaid". In the original story the sea witch is a neutral enabler, but for Disney's adaptation, the character was modified into a full-fledged antagonist and plays a larger role in the overall story.
The design of Ursula was based upon drag performer Divine. Pat Carroll was not Clements and Musker's first choice to voice Ursula; the original script had been written with Bea Arthur of the Disney-owned TV series The Golden Girls in mind. After Arthur turned the part down, actresses such as Nancy Marchand, Nancy Wilson, Rosanne Barr, Charlotte Rae, and Elaine Stritch were considered for the part. Stritch was eventually cast as Ursula, but clashed with Howard Ashman's style of music production and was replaced by Carroll. Caroll described the role as "part Shakespearean actress, with all the flair, flamboyance and theatricality, and part used-car salesman with a touch of con artist. Ruben Aquino served as the supervising animator for Ursula. Originally, Glen Keane had been asked to work on Ursula, as he had established a reputation for drawing large, powerful figures, such as the bear in The Fox and the Hound and Professor Ratigan in The Great Mouse Detective.
Ursula is a Cecaelia (part human, part octopus) sea witch who "helps" unfortunate merfolk to achieve her own goals. Her appearance is of an obese lavender-skinned, white-haired female human with a facial mole, but from the waist down she has six black tentacles. Although real octopuses have eight tentacles, they were reduced to six for Ursula so that they could be animated clearly.
The Little Mermaid
When Ursula first appears in the film, she states through monologue that she once lived in the royal palace of King Triton. Ursula commands her minions, the twin green moray eels Flotsam and Jetsam, to watch Triton's youngest daughter Ariel; her plan to seize power centers around Ariel's forbidden love for the human Prince Eric. When King Triton discovers the human artifacts hidden in Ariel's grotto, he uses the power of his trident to destroy everything, including a statue of Eric. Afterward, Triton departs, leaving Ariel to weep alone. Taking advantage of Ariel's trauma, Flotsam and Jetsam enter the grotto and persuade her to go to Ursula's lair, claiming that the sea witch is the only one who can solve her problem. Via the song "Poor Unfortunate Souls", Ursula proposes a deal in which she will turn Ariel into a human for three days. If Ariel receives the "kiss of true love" from Prince Eric before sunset on the third day, her transformation will be permanent. However, if Ariel fails, she will turn back into a mermaid and belong to Ursula forever. The price of transformation is Ariel's voice. Ariel signs a magical contract and Ursula takes her voice, then transforms Ariel into a mute human.
As the three days pass and Ariel comes "too close" to succeeding, an enraged Ursula decides to sabotage the bargain and takes the form of a beautiful human woman named "Vanessa" (voiced by Jodi Benson). Ursula magically hypnotizes Eric into marrying Vanessa on the third day, but shortly before the wedding Scuttle discovers that Vanessa is really Ursula in disguise and hurries to tell Ariel. Scuttle helps ruin the wedding, and during the mayhem, Ursula's necklace is destroyed, breaking the spell on Eric and restoring Ariel's voice to its original owner. The sun sets just before Ariel and Eric can kiss, and Ariel reverts to her mermaid form. Ursula, transforming back into her true form, claims Ariel and drags her into the sea. Triton then confronts Ursula, demanding she release Ariel, but even his power cannot break the contract. Utilizing her new leverage, Ursula offers to let Triton take Ariel's place in the deal. Triton accepts and is transformed into a polyp. With Triton no longer a threat, Ursula gathers up the crown and trident, becoming the new ruler of the seas. After Flotsam and Jetsam are accidentally killed during a brief confrontation, a furious Ursula uses the trident's power to grow into a gargantuan-sized version of herself and a battle ensues between her, Ariel and Eric. Ursula is defeated and killed by Eric, who steers the broken prow of a raised, derelict ship into her abdomen. With Ursula defeated and destroyed, her evil spells also cease to function; the polyps turn back into merpeople and escape from Ursula's hideout.
Ursula appears as the antagonist in four episodes of The Little Mermaid prequel television series: "Against the Tide", "Tail of Two Crabs", "Heroes" and "Ariel's Treasures". In all four episodes, she executes various plans to antagonize King Triton and take over Atlantica, but all fail. In the first two episodes, interaction between Ariel and Ursula is kept at a minimum, but in the later ones, Ariel and Ursula face each other more directly.
The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea
Ursula does not appear in the direct-to-video film The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, but she is mentioned many times, mostly by her sister Morgana. In the family portrait during the cut song "Gonna Get My Wish", Ursula was also depicted with light green skin similar to Morgana and their mother.
In other media
Ursula appears in Disney park attractions such as the Fantasmic! show debuted in 1992 at Disneyland Park, as one of the Disney Villains summoned to destroy Mickey Mouse. Ursula is a central character in the annual Halloween-themed fireworks show HalloWishes at the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party "hard ticket" event. Ursula also appears at the tail end of the Little Mermaid unit in Walt Disney's Parade of Dreams at Disneyland.
In the Kingdom Hearts video game, Ursula appears as one of Maleficent's co-conspirators, using the power of the Heartless to attack Atlantica and gain power. In this version of events, the official walkthrough states that Ursula was King Triton's fortuneteller before she was banished. Ursula is eventually defeated by Sora, Ariel, Donald Duck and Goofy. In Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, she appears as a facsimile created from Sora's memories. In Kingdom Hearts II, Ursula mysteriously returns through the powers of darkness and appears to Ariel, and recreates her film role. As the film's storyline is retold in the game, Ursula does not recognize Sora and company, and Ariel makes no mention of her defeat in the original Kingdom Hearts. In fact, when Ursula arrives to make the deal with Ariel, the latter reacts as though she has seen Ursula for the first time. Sora, however, does note that Ursula "got what she deserved" in the first game. At the story's climax, she is defeated when Eric hurls the trident straight through Ursula's chest, destroying her seemingly once and for all. However, she reappears in the Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, confronting Sora and Riku out at sea in her giant form from the end of the movie. The game gives conflicting hints on whether or not this Ursula is the "real one," and serves a very small role, providing the tutorial to the game's battle system and delivering a line that foreshadows the plot of the game's main antagonist, Xehanort.
She has appeared for the concept art from Epic Mickey in 2010. When Ursula tries to kidnap Gremlin Gus, Mickey comes to the rescue and saved him from trying to let go of her clutches.
Ursula appeared occasionally in the animated television series Disney's House of Mouse (2001) as one of Mickey's guests at the night club. In the Halloween/villain special "House of Villains", she participated in the musical number "It's Our House Now" alongside other Disney villains, and is one of Jafar's henchmen.
Ursula has appeared in various Disney Press novels and tie-ins for the franchise. A comic book series "Disney's The Little Mermaid" was released in 1992, revolving around the adventures of Ariel living under the sea as a mermaid. Ursula appears in a few issues, notably "Serpent Teen", which depicts how Ursula obtained the sea serpent carcass that makes her home. My Side of the Story: Ursula (2004) retells the plot of the film from Ursula's point of view, and depicts Ursula having romantic feelings for Triton. The Villain Files (2005) depicts Ursula's youth living in Triton's castle and Ariel when she was a baby.
In the musical version of the original film, Sherie Rene Scott originated the live role, which she played until January 25, 2009. Other actresses who have played the role are Heidi Blickenstaff and Faith Prince.
In this version, Ursula is King Triton's sister, a concept for the original film that was eventually dropped. When Ursula and Triton's father died, the pair were given equal share of the sea plus two magical items. Triton received the trident while Ursula received the magic Nautilus shell. Though the two were to rule the seas together, Ursula's greed and use of dark magic to usurp Triton led to her being banished. The desire for revenge and power is her motivation for the show. The musical's plot is similar to the film, with the exceptions that Ursula doesn't transform into Vanessa, and Ursula is ultimately defeated by Ariel, when the mermaid destroys the Nautilus shell that contains Ursula's power.
In addition to her song from the film, Alan Menken and Glenn Slater wrote new songs for Ursula: "I Want the Good Times Back", which introduces Ursula and her backstory, "I Want the Good Times Back (reprise)", where Ursula orders Flotsam and Jetsam to sabotage Ariel's attempt to get Eric to kiss her, and a reprise of "Poor Unfortunate Souls", where Ursula forces Triton to sign a deal and claims the trident. An additional song was written for Ursula during the workshop stage, "Wasting Away", but this was replaced by "I Want the Good Times Back". Emily Skinner provided vocals for Ursula in the workshop.
Once Upon a Time
Ursula makes an appearance in Season 3 of the television series Once Upon a Time. In the episode "Ariel", Ursula is described as a sea goddess whom no one has seen for a thousand years. According to Ariel, Ursula gave merfolk the ability to gain legs once a year, when the tide is highest. Ariel uses this ability to visit Prince Eric at his castle, where he is having a ball honoring Ursula. Later on, the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) disguises herself as Ursula in order to make a deal with Ariel and trick her into capturing Snow White. This physical disguise includes short white hair and tentacles, similar to Ursula's animated appearance. Although the Queen considers Ursula to be "a long-dead octopus", she is shocked when the real Ursula (voiced by Yvette Nicole Brown) possesses a statue and warns the queen not to impersonate her again.
Reception and legacy
Ursula is one of Disney's most famous animated villains and has become part of modern pop culture. The staff of Variety praised Ursula as "a visual feast, a thick-jawed nightmare who swishes about on eight octopus legs in one of the film's more inspired inventions."
In 2012 Disney released a Disney Villain line of dolls and make-up, and its revamped imagery was criticized for "slimming down" of Ursula to make her "marketable" and ignoring body diversity. For Halloween of 2013, Amber Riley portrayed Ursula in a celebrity parody/tribute of "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago titled "Spell Block Tango", directed by Todrick Hall, which was praised for its highlighting Disney villains. In Lady Gaga's ARTRAVE: The Artpop Ball tour, she wears a dress based on Ursula.
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