Why Disney Originally Passed On The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid is one of Disney most popular animated features and is credited with bringing the studio back from the brink. Of course, it could have happened very differently, because the movie almost never happened. According to John Musker, one of the movie's two directors, Disney originally passed on the concept because they were afraid it would conflict with another mermaid movie they were planning, Splash Too.

Yeah, initially they said, 'We're doing a sequel to Splash. We don't want to do another mermaid movie.' We were like, 'Really? You don't want to do this? This is going to be kind of special.' And then they gave it a reprieve when they read the two-page treatment Ron wrote. They read that and said, 'Oh, there might be something here. Disney does fairy tales and this is a fairy tale we haven't done.' So they put it into development after initially saying, 'Nah, forget it.'

In an interview with Yahoo, John Musker and his directing partner, Ron Clements, presented their idea to do Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid at a Disney "Gong Show" where everybody presented ideas to then Disney exec's Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Apparently, the idea was originally "gonged" because Disney was already producing the made-for-TV sequel to Splash, Splash, Too, and they didn't want to do another mermaid movie. However, once they read the treatment that Ron Clements had written for the film, they realized it was the perfect film for Disney to do, and changed their mind. It's an almost unfathomable concept. No "Under the Sea?" No "Kiss the Girl?" What sort of world would we be living in without that? I don't want to think about it.

Today, we've all forgotten that Splash, Too was even a thing, because The Little Mermaid was a revolution in Disney animation. The period of time known as the Disney Renaissance began with The Little Mermaid. Prior to its release the studio had been going through a period of struggle following flops like The Black Cauldron and Oliver and Company. John Musker and Ron Clements were also responsible for another hit during this period, the Robin Williams led Aladdin.

Now, the pair are back together on the verge of releasing their newest collaboration, Moana. Today Disney is going through another period of strength in their animation department on the heels of films like Tangled and Frozen as well as non-musical animated features like the recent Zootopia. This is actually the pair's first foray into computer animation, as their last project together was Disney's last hand-drawn feature, The __Princess and the Frog.

It's hard to believe that The Little Mermaid almost didn't happen. If tht had been the case the Disney Renaissance would have been put off by two full years until the release of Beauty and the Beast in 1991. That's assuming that the rest of the slate of films had gone forward in the same way at all.

And, of course, now Disney is looking at The Little Mermaid as one of their upcoming live-action remakes, using the talents of Moana's Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the music. We're certainly glad Disney changed their minds on that one. Disney's next animated musical, Moana, will hit screens November 23.

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.