The Little Mermaid

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
The Little Mermaid Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Superb, entertaining animated musical has some scary stuff.
  • G
  • 1989
  • 83 minutes

Parents say

age 6+
Based on 57 reviews

Kids say

age 6+
Based on 92 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Kids can try to name all the sea creatures -- crabs, oysters, dolphins, etc. -- when Sebastian sings "Under the Sea." They can also look up the original (much darker) story by Hans Christian Andersen and decide which version they like better.

Positive Messages

This movie places high value on romance and the concept of true love -- Ariel is so enamored with Prince Eric that she sacrifices everything, from her family to her voice, in order to be part of his world. Many think this storyline is problematic because it reinforces the idea that a woman should give up her pursuits and opinions in deference to a man. But others can put this concept aside to enjoy the sweetness of the central character and the universal challenges of love. Other themes include curiosity and perseverance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ariel is adventuresome, rebellious, and brave. She also gives up everything -- her family, her home, her voice -- for love, even though her trust in the sea witch puts everyone she loves in danger. Eric doesn't show much of a personality. Sebastian is loyal and tries hard to help Ariel even though he doesn't agree with what she's doing. Ariel's father is protective and will do anything to help save his daughter.

Violence & Scariness

Ariel's father is imprisoned by the cruel sea witch, Ursula, who also grows larger than a ship and tries to crush it wielding a giant trident. Ursula brags about all the mermaids she's imprisoned and those "poor unfortunate souls" are shown shrunken down and sad. A French chef runs around the kitchen after Sebastian the crab with a cleaver and merrily chops up other fish. Eric almost drowns when his ship sinks in stormy waters. Ursula dies rather dramatically in the end.

Sexy Stuff

The entire movie revolves around Ariel's crush on Prince Eric and her desire to be with him. One sweet-natured song is all about getting a kiss out of Prince Eric.


Ariel is a very popular Disney princess, whose brand reaches far and wide, with princess branding on consumer merchandise, food products, etc. as well as in books, websites, and other media.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters handle a pipe.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Little Mermaid is based on the classic Hans Christian Andersen story and has some scary moments. Ursula the sea witch grows into a giant and wields a trident in a climatic scene. A bloodthirsty French chef merrily chases after Sebastian the crab with a cleaver, hoping to make him the main course. Romance is central to the story, with Ariel sacrificing everything, from her family to her voice, to (hopefully) be with the man she falls in love with at first glance. That aspect has long troubled some viewers. Ariel is a very popular Disney princess with a brand that reaches far and wide.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bynycbailey November 14, 2014

Avoid this movie - bad values

This is a great movie if you want to teach your kids to give up an important quality about themselves (e.g., beautiful singing voice, legs) and instead use sex... Continue reading
Adult Written bySirenStar November 6, 2011

A classic that is being belittled by nonsensical complaints.

Ok, really? I can understand parents possibly worrying about the ending when Ursula becomes a giant and then how she dies, but ARIEL'S OUTFIT?! GET OVER IT... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written October 26, 2019

It's literally fine

Y'all really need to lighten up on this movie. Ariel has cleavage, but guess what? It's barely any, it's not explicit, and she's a 16 year o... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old August 15, 2017

The Little Mermaid, what a great movie

This is an AWESOME movie!!!!!! Ariel is a positive role model for everyone(even boys). She teaches us to stand up for what we believe in. Eric is a positive rol... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE LITTLE MERMAID tells the story of Ariel, a mermaid princess who collects human artifacts she finds in the sea. One day, she rescues Prince Eric, who was thrown from his ship during a storm, and Ariel falls in love. Desperate for the chance to have a life with Eric, Ariel enters into an agreement with a sea witch, Ursula. She gives up her voice and gets legs, in hopes of wining him and being part of his world. But she only has three days to woo Eric. If he doesn't kiss her in that time, she will become Ursula's slave forever.

Is it any good?

After some lackluster years, Disney came back into the top rank of animated features with this superbly entertaining musical. The story is based loosely on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen (but with a happier ending). Ariel was the first in a series of refreshingly plucky Disney heroines; instead of dreaming about the day her prince will come, or waiting for a fairy godmother or a prince's kiss, Ariel is a spirited and curious mermaid who is willing to take action in order to meet Prince Eric, the man of her dreams, though she is gullible and impetuous in agreeing to the terms demanded by the sea witch in exchange for making it possible for her to go on land.

The wonderful voice characterizations in this film include Buddy Hackett (The Music Man) as Scuttle the scavenging seagull and Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian, the calypso-singing crab. The first-class musical score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (who worked together on the off-Broadway hit, Little Shop of Horrors) ranks with the best of Broadway and won Oscars for Best Score and Best Song ("Under the Sea"). Some viewers criticize The Little Mermaid for providing yet another wasp-waisted Disney heroine whose whole world revolves around a man. But Ariel is adventuresome, rebellious, and brave. It's true that she makes the mistake of giving up her voice to the sea witch (a very strong female character, to say the least), which provides a good opportunity for family discussion.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about villains. Why is Ursula both a little scary and a little fun? 

  • Why do you think Ariel chooses to give up her voice (and her family) for Eric in The Little Mermaid? Are you troubled by the message her decision sends about women and their priorities, or is that over-thinking this kind of movie?

  • Talk about Disney princesses. How often do you see your favorite princesses on display when you're out shopping? Does watching this movie make you want to buy more Ariel stuff?

  • Why do you think Sebastian tries to help her even though he doesn't agree with what Ariel's doing?

  • How do the characters in The Little Mermaid demonstrate curiosity and perseverance? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fairy tales

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate