Why Toymakers Were Originally Horrified The Little Mermaid's Ariel Had Red Hair

Hair. It’s way more important to a Disney Princess than one might assume. And not just for Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), who makes awesome use of her flowing locks in Tangled. No, the color of a character’s hair can also make waves, as when toy companies found out that Ariel of The Little Mermaid was going to be a redhead. Basically, they freaked out. During a press day to celebrate the movie’s 30th anniversary, The Little Mermaid co-director Ron Clements told CinemaBlend:

John Musker and I, we wrote the original script. And our intention was always that she would be a redhead. … [But] the Tyco Toys company was making the dolls. And when they came in, and they saw that she was a redhead, they were horrified. They said, ‘All of our research,’ at that time, ‘shows that redheaded dolls have never sold. They don’t sell.’ And they’re making the dolls. And we said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, but she’s going to be a redhead.’ The truth is, they were so panicky about it, that the very first Ariel dolls that were made, she was not a redhead. She was kind of a strawberry blonde. And people wanted the dolls, they had to go back and remake the dolls because they wanted her to have red hair. Nowadays, you see that hair color, it’s not that unusual anymore.

It’s no longer unusual because Ariel set a new standard for redheaded heroines in the Disney universe, and beyond. And while the red hair didn’t really break out after The Little Mermaid – which is celebrating its anniversary with a 4K rerelease of the film – the hair on Ariel is a distinct trademark, and one that helps her stand apart from all of the other Disney Princesses.

Even though former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg opposed the red hair, as well. For totally different reasons. Ron Clements recalls to CinemaBlend:

Jeffrey Katzenberg had different ideas, I think. And for whatever reason, a lot of what he saw early on was black-and-white animation footage, which are just pencil drawings. And she sort of looks blonde. I think if you look at a pencil test, you would imagine her hair being very light. But when he first saw that she was a redhead, he was concerned. And I remember him saying at the time, ‘Everybody knows all mermaids are blonde.’ I don’t know exactly where that came from. [laughs]

Now all I want to see is how that red hair looks on the new 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray that Disney is releasing on behalf of The Little Mermaid’s anniversary. Here is Ron Clements telling the story of why some little kids have Ariel dolls with strawberry blonde hair (and why that’s a huge collector’s item now):

Ariel made her triumphant return to the big screen last year in the princess scene in Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-it Ralph 2. There has been talk about a potential live-action Little Mermaid adaptation, similar to the Lion King, Dumbo and Aladdin movies coming to theaters in 2019. No movement on it yet, so for now, we have to enjoy the 30-year-old animated classic, which will be available for purchase on Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD on February 26.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.