The Little Mermaid 2023 ending explained: Is it faithful to the original?

Lucy-Jo Finnighan
The Little Mermaid header

The Little Mermaid’s ending is sure to hit you in the feels, but is it more true to the 1989 animated film, or the 1837 book?

As of late, Disney has been re-imagining many of their most famous animated films and transferring them into the live-action world. From Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, to Aladdin, The Little Mermaid is the next classic to be given the live-action treatment. Audiences will no doubt be piling in to see the remake, which we encourage in our review of the film.

The original first came out in 1989, became a massive hit, and is now one of the most beloved animated films of all time. So naturally, the live-action remake has a lot to live up to. Not only that, but it’s also following in the footsteps of the original Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, which means that there’s a chance that the remake could go in a different direction.

Most people know that the ending of the fairytale and the ending of the Disney animated film are wildly different, but how does the remake end? Let’s get into it, but first, a warning: major spoilers ahead!

Does The Little Mermaid remake end like the original – does Ariel become human?

Yes, the ending of the live-action Little Mermaid is very similar to the 1989 animated film, with only some slight changes.

The plot follows the cartoon, in that Ariel – who now has human legs – is tasked by Ursula to get true love’s kiss from Eric in three days, or else she’ll turn back into a mermaid, and belong to the sea witch. The remake also adds some extra spice by making it so that the spell alters Ariel’s memory: she isn’t able to ever remember that she has to get a kiss.

And thus, the work falls to Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle. They do their best to push Eric and a voiceless Ariel together, and it does seem to work, with Eric even starting to favor Ariel over the girl that saved him from the shipwreck – who also happens to be Ariel.

However, Ursula takes matters into her own hands and transforms herself into a human with Ariel’s voice, enchanting Eric so that he plans to marry her. Ariel is able to figure this out and unveil this plan to Eric, but just before the pair can kiss, the third day ends, and it seems like Ursula has won. She drags Ariel back into the ocean, with Eric chasing after them.

With Ariel in her grasp, Ursula is able to get Triton’s trident and crown, and unlike in the animated film, in which he is turned into a sea worm/plant thing, Ursula just has her eels electrocute him to death.

When Eric arrives, he and Ariel battle Ursula, killing her eels. As in the animated film, Ursula transforms herself into a giant, but where Eric is the one to kill her – by stabbing her with a shipwrecked boat – Ariel is the one to handle this manoeuvre while she is distracted by trying to kill Eric.

As she dies, her trident falls, and when it hits the ground, its power brings Triton back to life. Ariel is so relieved that the trouble she unwittingly caused is over, that she agrees to never leave her father and the ocean again. Meanwhile, Eric’s mother, the Queen, also encourages Eric to move on from Ariel, as their two worlds can never coexist.

But of course, this separation doesn’t last long. Just like in the final scenes of the animated movie, Triton watches as Ariel longs for the surface. Sebastian encourages him to let his daughter go, and he finally relents, but not without saying how much he’s going to miss her.

So, you might be wondering: Does Ariel become human in the remake? The answer is yes, she does, just like in the animated film.

This might seem obvious to some, but the live-action Pinocchio remake actually toyed with the idea that the wooden boy became human, and as we’ll get into later, Ariel doesn’t become human in the book.

After this scene, we watch Ariel and Eric reunite, and its hinted that they get married. More importantly, they both set off to travel the ocean together. See, throughout the film Eric has been a kindred spirit to Ariel; he wants to explore the ocean but his mother won’t let him, forcing him to stay on land in the castle, for fear of dangerous “Sea Gods.”

However, this has clearly changed by the end of the film. As Ariel and Eric board their boat, both humans and merfolk collect together to wish the pair well, their hatred for one another well and truly over.

Ariel gets one more goodbye with her father; the pair hug and shed tears, and as she sails off with Eric the film ends looking at the ocean, the main musical motif playing loud enough to pull at your heartstrings.

Is The Little Mermaid remake true to the original fairytale book?

Not really, at least in regards to the ending. However, the live-action movie does make some meta references to said fairy tale, including its own darker ending.

For those who don’t know, the animated film, and thus this live-action remake, is based on the 1837 fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen. While the story is still beloved to this day, it has a far more upsetting ending than the Disney film.

The original Little Mermaid was more focused on the concept of unrequited love and the soul. See, mermaids apparently have no soul, and thus her desire for the prince’s true love isn’t just to be with him or just to stay human, but to have a human soul.

However, in this version, the prince never actually falls in romantic love with her, instead loving someone else. Now the only way she can gain a soul and not face her end of the bargain should she fail – which would be being turned into sea foam – is to kill him. But since she loves him so much, she can’t do it, and accepts her sad fate. However, this fate isn’t quite as doomed as it initially appears, as her willingness to sacrifice her own life for the Prince shows her potential for a soul, and thus she is told that she will receive one after paying her penance.

Now, the Little Mermaid film obviously doesn’t have Ariel turned into sea foam at the end, and she an Eric do fall in love, but the live-action remake does call back to the fairytale in some poignant ways.

The opening film is of course the most obvious case of this, as it has the book’s quote, “Mermaids have no tears, and therefore they suffer more” plastered right on the screen. This quote comes into play as the only point we see Ariel cry is at the very end of the movie, when Triton has turned her human, and any suffering of hers is over.

But there’s also some more subtle and humorous call-backs, one being when Scuttle is asking Sebastian about the plan to get true love’s kiss from Eric. After flying into Ariel’s room, the seagull absentmindedly says, “Has she killed the prince yet?” saying “killed” instead of “kissed.” To those who don’t know the fairytale, this appears just like a funny slip of the tongue, but it’s clearly a reference to how Ariel was originally tasked with killing the prince.

Some purists may be upset that the live-action Little Mermaid ending movie doesn’t focus more on the original book, but Ariel was never going to get an unhappy end in a Disney film. That would hardly fit the brand, and if the remakes are anything to go by, Disney loves sticking to their brand identity.

The Little Mermaid is now in cinemas. To read more of our Little Mermaid coverage, click here.

About The Author

Lucy-Jo is a Movies and TV Writer at Dexerto, and has previously written for Screen Rant and Girls on Tops. After earning a Master's Degree in Film and Literature, Lucy-Jo now loves covering films, TV shows, and anime, especially if it's something by Mike Flanagan, or anything drenched in camp. You can contact her at