The Little Mermaid (1989)
Ursula is a villainess who first appeared in the 1989 Disney animated feature film, The Little Mermaid. She was voiced by Pat Carroll in the film, its subsequent TV series and the Kingdom Hearts video games. She is a sea witch who "helps" unfortunate people while achieving her own goals. Though uncommonly known, Ursula's species is known as a Cecaelia- from her waist up, she has the body of an overweight purple-skinned, white-haired female human (modeled after drag performer Divine), and from the waist down she has the tentacles of a black octopus. However, in "The Little Mermaid" TV series, her kind was referred to as Octopian. She is based on the character the sea witch in the original tale by Hans Christian Andersen, but she wasn't a villainess but just a disreputable mermaid.
The Little Mermaid
Ursula the Sea-witch was once a senior member of the court of King Triton, the king of the underwater city of Atlantica. She was originally supposed to be his sister, but the scene mentioning that was deleted, and it is now considered only semi-canon. For her obsession with Dark Magic and treachery against the kingdom, Ursula was banished, and retreated to a secret lair on the outsides of the city with her two moray eel minions, Flotsam and Jetsam. For many years, she watched over the city waiting for her chance to seek revenge on Triton and gain the crown of Atlantica, becoming Queen of the oceans.
Ursula lives in a leviathan (an enormous skeleton of a sea monster or whale), in the middle of a field of underwater lava tubes and fissures. The inside is lined with a garden of writhing, green polyps--which all actually used to be merpeople. They all came to Ursula for help, making deals in exchange for different favors from magic, but then found themselves unable to fulfill their side of the bargain in some way. Although not directly stated, the film implies that the vast majority, if not all, fall into this category. Ursula thus claimed them as her own and added them to her collection. She spends her time brooding and plotting and occasionally indulges herself by snacking on shrimp.
After Triton punishes his daughter, Princess Ariel, for falling in love with a human, Ursula sends Flotsam and Jetsam to lure Ariel back to the sea witch's lair. Ursula proposes (in the song Poor Unfortunate Souls) that if Ariel gives her renowned singing voice to Ursula, Ursula will swap Ariel's fins for legs and transform her into a human, allowing her to pursue Prince Eric, the human with whom she fell in love. If Ariel does not succeed in kissing Eric within three days of the transformation, she will become Ursula's forever, being transformed into a little shriveled polyp. Ariel agrees to this, and Ursula magically pulls the mermaid's voice straight from her throat and placed inside her Nautilus shell necklace, and then splits Ariel's tail into two legs.
When Ariel comes "too close" to succeeding in her task, though, Ursula takes the form of a beautiful human female with Ariel's voice in order to sabotage the relationship. The form she assumes looks remarkably like Ariel, though she has brunette hair instead of red, and her overall coloring is darker than Ariel's. Taking on the name Vanessa, Ursula lures Prince Eric into agreeing to marry, using Ariel's voice to cast a spell of bewitchment and entrancement upon him, thereby thwarting any chance of Ariel's success. After Ariel and her friends manage to disrupt the wedding at the last minute, Ariel's voice returns to her throat and the spell upon Eric is broken. However, before they can foil Ursula's plot, the sun sets. Both Ursula and Ariel regain their true appearances on the wedding ship, the former in a spectacular lightning-enhanced transformation. Taking Ariel into the depths of the ocean, Ursula meets Triton. She starts the process of withering Ariel down into a polyp, while gloating to Triton that there is nothing he can do about it. She then makes Triton an offer--she will release Ariel if Triton takes her place. Triton agrees; Ariel is restored and Triton is withered. The crown and trident are now unowned--and Ursula rapidly claims them.
When Eric comes and attacks Ursula before she can kill Ariel, Ursula turns her attention on him. However, Ariel attacks her, causing her aim to go awry. The trident blast intended to destroy Eric instead disintegrates her two eel pets.
Enraged at this, Ursula grows to an enormous size. On the surface, she toys with the two tiny protagonists, creating a giant storm with Triton's magic trident. She then creates a whirlpool that brings a number of shipwrecks to the surface - a fatal mistake. As she laughingly prepares to kill the helpless Ariel with a bolt of energy, Prince Eric drives one of the ships through Ursula's abdomen, breaking her concentration long enough for the Trident's power to backfire and destroy her. She is then lost forever and never seen again, causing Triton and the other bewitched plants and ployps to return to their previous merfolk forms.
Ursula appears as a frequent villainess on the Little Mermaid prequel television series. Some of her plans there included her tricking Sebastian to conquer Atlantica, destroying a Bad Luck Creature, recruiting the Octopods against Atlantica and using Ariel's treasures against Atlantica.
Origins and past
During planning for the film, Ursula was not originally designed as a Cecaelia. It was thought that she would be another sea creature, such as a rockfish. The production team, however, saw a documentary about octopuses, and decided that their multiple arms and overall imposing appearance would be perfect for the character they were creating (strangely, she is only drawn with six tentacles, due to the studio's budget at the time, however, including her human-like arms, she is a true octopod). Additionally, original concept art for Ursula (much of which can be seen at the Disney-MGM Studios attraction The Magic of Disney Animation) depicted her as a tall, skinny, older woman. When this look was abandoned in favor of Ursula's now-famous "Octopod" form, many of these same features were saved and subsequently attributed to the evil witch Yzma, villain of The Emperor's New Groove.
In an interview with Disney Magazine, Pat Caroll claimed to have based her voice for Ursula on a combination of Uriah Heep, a used car salesman, and a Shakespearean actor.
Ursula's lair, including its own cauldron and a short "hallway" with her shriveled victims looking on helplessly, is set inside a large skeleton of a seemingly ancient fish, identified as The Leviathan in a few sources, including the video game Kingdom Hearts. In the game, when you begin to enter the area where Ursula's lair is in, the subtitle says "The Leviathan". A Little Mermaid Disney comic revealed the origins of the creature: it was kept in a labyrinth by a race of eel-men, where it was used to train their warriors. When the creature escaped, it had to be killed so it wouldn't cause any serious damage. Ursula then acquired the carcass after making a deal with the eel-men.
In the 2006 DVD of the film, deleted scenes have Ursula as King Triton's sister, making her Ariel's aunt. (This is also indicated in the book Disney Villains: The Top Secret Files.) This fact is also mentioned in the DVD guide. It is not clear if this is meant to be a fact of the finished film (with no indication) or an abandoned story concept.
According to Ursula in The Little Mermaid's entry in the Disney Princesses: My Side of the Story books, Ursula's actions for most of the film are actually the fault of a dark alter-ego she calls "Bad Ursula". In this book, she also harbors romantic attraction to King Triton.
Magic and music
The body text that is quickly flashed across the screen when Ursula offers Ariel the contract says: "I hereby grant unto Ursula, the witch of the sea... , one voice, in exchange for byon once high, Dinu*gihn thon Mueo serr on Puur-qurr I rehd moisn petn r m uenre urpti m srerp monk guaki ,Ch rich noy ri imm ro mund for all eternity. signed,"
During the song "Poor Unfortunate Souls", Ursula recites the spell for taking Ariel's voice as:
- Beluga, Sevruga
- Come winds of the Caspian Sea
- Larynxes, glossitis
- Et Max Laryngitis
- La voce to me
- Come winds of the Caspian Sea
The chant is also sung as part of her HalloWishes appearance.
During production of the film, Ursula originally sang a song titled "Silence is Golden". However, it was not liked, and quickly "thrown away". The song "Poor Unfortunate Souls", which originally contained an extra verse in the middle, was written and used in its place.