February 08, 2011

Ursula marks a milestone as the first villain in the Walt Disney Renaissance, a period in which the studio released its string of highest-grossing traditionally animated films. She is also notable for being the Disney Renaissance’s only female villain. Small wonder Disney decided not to repeat itself with another female baddie, as Ursula was a tough act to follow.

One can straight away see who the villain in The Little Mermaid (1989) is. Ursula is the lone octopus person or cecaelia in a kingdom of merfolk led by King Triton. Evidently, Ursula represents one of many liberties Disney took with the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale on which the film is based.

Illustration for the original sea witch in Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (via bridgeman)  

Disney even intended for Ursula to be Triton’s sister. Ursula has a sister though, Morgana, the villain in the straight-to-DVD sequel The Little Mermaid: Return to the Sea (2000).

Ursula unfortunately knows "a little magic." A talented witch, Ursula wields great powers only second to Triton’s trident, a fact Morgana has made much of since childhood.

With great powers comes great goofiness however. In fact, Ursula is patterned after the drag queen Divine.

Drag queen and actor Divine

Ursula would have been drawn as a more slender woman, with the body parts of a scorpion fish. She would also have been voiced by the skinny Joan Collins.  

If they have no Blake, I’ll pass on the waterworks.

Even without Collins, Disney was able to create the ultimate “society hostess from hell.” Pat Carroll, who eventually snagged the voicing duties after a lengthy selection process, described Ursula as follows:

"She's a con artist, so I couldn't help thinking of a used-car salesman…a has-been Shakespearean actress."
- Pat Carroll

In that case, Ursula is the most sordid saleswoman to ever walk the ocean floor. She has hammered out numerous deals with merpeople, which mysteriously always ended with someone being “raked across the coals,” i.e. turned into polyps. "Poor Unfortunate Souls" has got to be the greatest sales pitch of all time. 

You Might Also Like