Disney’s animated musical fantasy The Little Mermaid (1989) is among the 25 titles inducted this week into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. Directed by CalArts alum John Musker (Film/Video 77) and Ron Clements, the film is credited with ushering in the “Disney Renaissance” (1989-1999), which marked Walt Disney Feature Animation’s return to producing critically and commercially successful animated films as the studio had done during the ’30s and ’60s.
Drawing from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale of the same name, The Little Mermaid relates the story of Ariel, a 16-year-old mermaid princess enamored with life on land. On one of her excursions to the surface (strictly forbidden by her father King Triton), she falls in love with a human prince named Eric, and ultimately strikes a deal with the sea witch Ursula to become human in exchange for her voice. With only three days’ time to obtain true love’s kiss, Ariel (with help from friends Flounder, a fish, and Sebastian, a crab) embark on a quest to win Prince Eric’s heart—and to save her father and the kingdom of Atlantica from Ursula’s nefarious agenda.
The film earned numerous accolades, especially for its music:
- 1989 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Animation Award (awarded to Clements and Musker)
- 1990 Golden Globes for both Best Original Score – Motion Picture and Best Original Song – Motion Picture, the latter for “Under the Sea”
- 1990 Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song for “Under the Sea”
- 1991 Grammy Award for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television for “Under the Sea”
In a tweet by the Library of Congress, Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel, discussed the magic of the iconic song “Part of Your World” and the film’s enduring legacy (watch below).
Founded in 1988 by the National Film Preservation Board, the National Film Registry annually selects 25 films that showcase “the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness for its preservation.” Films become eligible for induction exactly one decade after their release.
See all 2022 National Film Registry inductees on the official Library of Congress website.