Ursula is the main antagonist of Disney's The Little Mermaid and its spin-off television series. She is voiced by Pat Carroll in all of her appearances. Over the years, Ursula has become one of the most popular and famous of all Disney villains and is one of the franchise's official members.
Ursula is based on the "sea witch" character in Hans Christian Andersen's story The Little Mermaid. In the original story, the sea witch is a neutral enabler, but for Disney's animated adaptation, the character was modified into a full-fledged antagonist and plays a larger role in the overall story. Ursula is a cecaelian sea witch who "helps" unfortunate merfolk to achieve her own goals.
Her appearance is of a plump gray and lavender-skinned, white-haired female human and from the waist down has black octopus-like tentacles. The character has been compared to Madame Medusa from The Rescuers, in terms of style, dramatics and choice of minions.
During pre-production, Ursula was not originally designed as a Cecaelia; a legendary hybrid of human and octopus. It was thought that she would be another sea creature, such as a rockfish or lionfish. The production team then saw a documentary about octopi, and decided that their multiple arms and imposing appearance would be perfect for the character they were creating. Ursula is only drawn with six tentacles, due to the studio's budget and difficulty in coordinating eight tentacles. Although Pat Carroll states that this makes her a squid, biologically she still resembles an octopus far more than any other sea-creature. Her basic look was based on the Drag performer Divine.
Pat Carroll, Ursula's voice actress, envisioned the character as "part Shakespearean actress, with all the flair, flamboyance and theatricality, and part used-car salesman with a touch of con artist". Carroll, who is a contralto, deliberately deepened her voice for the role.
Ursula is a very dark and sinister villain. Aside from this, she has a large sense a humor. Ursula is very manipulative and has a talent of making great sense and making great points when trying to strike a deal. Unlike many Disney Villains, Ursula puts her henchmen Flotsam and Jetsam before anything and everyone else. Ursula treats the eels like children and refer to them as "babies" or "poopsies". When the eels are killed accidentally by Ursula because of Ariel, she mourns and takes all of her anger and sadness out on Ariel and attempts to kill her once and for all. She is known to fill the heads of merpeople with deceptions; she feeds Ariel with the lie that men on the surface like silence in women, when in fact Prince Eric loved Ariel's voice. Despite using contracts to get her way, Ursula has little regard for following her end of the bargain. This is demonstrated when after Triton signed away his freedom for Ariel's safety, Ursula claims she'd have no qualms killing Ariel, despite being implied to have promised to not harm Ariel as a condition of the contract, and gleefully tries to in the final battle. However for a villain she expects standards in her home saying to Ariel "we mustn't lurk in doorways. It's rude"
Ursula's magical abilities, even without the Trident, were very potent. She was able to concoct various potions to create various spells, including mass-transfer (implied during the song "Poor Unfortunate Souls") as well as physically altering people's bodies, as evidenced by her transforming Ariel into a human, as well as her own transformation into Vanessa and Arsulu (although in the case of Vanessa, it was implied to be the result of her nautilus). However, in both instances that she utilized it on herself, she was incapable of altering her reflection, which is eventually how her enemies got the drop on her. She was also, capable of creating poisonous ink clouds which could absorb the energy of the Trident, and enhancing Ursula's power. Her most dangerous ability, however, was her ability to turn people into polyps should they fail to fulfill their end of the bargain via contracts, having done so multiple times under unspecified circumstances, nearly did so with Ariel, and successfully did so with Triton. It's also implied that she absorbs their souls while transforming them into polyps, making herself more powerful in the process. Likewise, once the contract is made, it is indestructible even to someone as powerful as Triton. Presumably, this arcane power is one-way, as she does not end up becoming a polyp for failing to fulfill her end of the contract. In fact, the only way to completely stop a contract short of fulfilling it is via her death, as evidenced by the aftermath of her death at the hands of Prince Eric.
When Ursula first appears in the film, she states through monologue that she once lived in the royal palace of King Triton, the king of the underwater city of Atlantica. She was banished from Atlantica and made her home in the remains of a leviathan where she waits the chance to get her revenge on Triton and become Queen of Atlantica.
The entrance to Ursula's leviathan home is lined with a garden of writhing polyps which were merfolk who had been previously gone to Ursula for help, but found themselves unable to fulfill their side of the bargain, leading Ursula to claim them as her own and added them to her collection. The garden of polyps are part of the original fairytale, but are simply guards of the way to the sea witch's home, and not condemned merfolk.
Ursula commands her minions, moray eels Flotsam and Jetsam, to watch Triton's youngest daughter Ariel, whom might be "the key to Triton's undoing". Opportunity arises when Ursula learns that Ariel has fallen in love with a human, against Triton's explicit rules. Flotsam and Jetsam lure Ariel to Ursula's lair, claiming that only Ursula can help her.
Through the song Poor Unfortunate Souls, Ursula proposes an agreement where she will transform Ariel into a human for three days, during which time, she must receive the "kiss of true love" from Eric. If Ariel succeeds, her transformation into a human will be permanent, but if she fails, she will turn back into a mermaid and be bound to Ursula for eternity. The price for the transformation is Ariel's voice. Ariel agrees and signs a magical contract, so her voice is magically pulled into Ursula's Nautilus shell necklace causing Ursula to laugh gleefully as her plans begin to unfold. Ariel's tail is split into legs. In comparison, the original fairytale involves the sea witch taking the little mermaid's voice by cutting off her tongue, and her tail was transformed into legs by a magic potion which the mermaid was to drink on the beach surface.
When Ariel comes "too close" to succeeding in her task, Ursula takes the form of a beautiful human female with Ariel's voice in order to sabotage her relationship with Eric. Ursula adopts the name of "Vanessa", and when in this form, her voice is provided by Jodi Benson, who also voices Ariel. The concept of the beautiful dark-haired rival for the prince's affections is another plot point adapted and modified from the original fairytale.
As Vanessa, Ursula bewitches Eric to marry her, but the wedding is disrupted and the Nautilus shell containing Ariel's voice is broken, breaking the enchantment and returning Ariel's voice back to its owner. However, the sun sets before Ariel and Eric can kiss and Ariel changes back into a mermaid. Ursula, restored to her normal form, grabs Ariel and jumps back into the sea, where she is confronted by King Triton. She reveals her true goal, and forces Triton to choose between his freedom and his daughter's. Triton agrees to take Ariel's place, and Ursula takes the crown and magical trident, making her the Queen of the Seven Seas. Ariel is angry at Ursula for doing this, Ursula threatens to kill her, but is hurt by Eric with a harpoon. Angry, she sent Flotsam and Jetsam to grab him, but Sebastian and Flounder free him. Ursula tends to kill him but Ariel pulls on her hair making her shot aim at her eels destroying them, making her upset. Furious, Ursula grows large and creates a storm and whirlpool. The Sea Witch then imprisons Ariel at the bottom of the whirlpool, and decides to test her new powers by killing the princess. Ursula fires multiple destructive blasts at Ariel, and the princess just barely manages to avoid them. Ursula laughs and prepares an unavoidable blast that would destroy Ariel forever. But right when she's about to fatally blast Ariel, Eric impales Ursula through her belly, and the powers of the trident backfire on her. When Ursula was defeated, all the merfolk that had been under her power, including Triton, are released from their bonds.
In the 2006 Platinum DVD, deleted scenes revealed early concept ideas where Ursula is Triton's sister, making her Ariel's aunt. This concept was not used in the final film, though it resurfaced in spin-off material.
Other materials were released as part of Disney's The Little Mermaid franchise, including books and comics, though these materials are arguably part of the animated canon.
In the first two issues of the official "The Little Mermaid" comic, Ursula appears briefly to negotiate with a race of eel-men for the carcass of a Leviathan which she would convert into the home seen in the 1989 film. Ursula frequently appears in Ariel's comics in the Disney Princess magazines, often in a villainous role. In the Disney Press book "The Villain Files", it is implied that Ursula is Ariel's aunt, a concept that is based on the abandoned story concept of the 1989 film.
Ursula appears as a recurring villain on the The Little Mermaid prequel television series. The episodes she appears in are "Against the Tide", "Tail of Two Crabs", "Heroes" and "Ariel's Treasures". In all of these episodes, she executes various plans to antagonize King Triton and take over Atlantica.
In Against the Tide, Ursula has been experiencing failures in her most recent magic spells. She believes it to be the work of an odd sea creature that is said to cause bad luck whenever it's around. Ursula decides to destroy the creature, but Ariel rescues it, as she believes it to be harmless. Eventually, the creature's whereabouts have been located at Triton's palace, and Ursula invades the palace during King Triton's homecoming. She prepares to eliminate the beast by using the stolen magic of the trident, though Sebastian was clever enough to make a makeshift version of the creature, and trick Ursula into destroying it instead. With the beast supposedly gone, Ursula departs.
In Tail of Two Crabs, Ursula takes advantage of Sebastian's jealously towards his rival Zeus the Crab, by transforming into Sebastian's "Fairy God Crab". She offers him a wish if he can recover a rare artifact holding great power. Sebastian delivers, and Ursula is able to turn King Triton, Flounder, and Ariel into sea worms. Luckily, Zeus is able to subdue Ursula and revert her curse.
In Heroes, Apollo, a legendary hero who once saved Atlantica from Ursula and her army of octopuses, returns to Atlantica, just when Ursula decides to revive her old army in an attempt to dominate Atlantica once more. Like the previous battle however, Apollo prevails with the help of the fire-breathing Sea Dragon. It is also implied in this episode that the reason behind her exile was because she tried to create copies of the Trident, referred to as dark tridents, for the aforementioned army against Atlantica.
Lastly in Ariel's Treasures, Ursula enchants the human items in Ariel's grotto, in an attempt to wreak havoc on Atlantica.
Ursula doesn't appear in this direct-to-DVD film, but she is mentioned various times, mostly by her sister Morgana, also a Cecelia. She is seen as a picture in Morgana's lair. This picture sinks with Morgana when she is turned into a block of ice by King Triton at the end of the movie.
Ursula (or at least a character based on her) appears in the Hercules: Animated series as she tries to sell perfume to Hercules and Hermes.
Ursula made numerous cameos in the series often seen alone or with Ariel. In "Ask Von Drake", she was seen popping out of Ariel's giant shell during the Ludwig Von Drake Song. In "Pete's House of Villains", she replaced Daisy at her desk after Pete took over. In "Jiminy Cricket", Jiminy gives Ariel advice resulting into taking her voice back from Ursula. She was one of the lead villains in Mickey's House of Villains and seen in Mickey's Magical Christmas telling Mickey she wants his voice for Christmas. Her mode of transportation was seen as a wave vehicle. At the end of Max's Embarrassing Date, Ursula is seen in an advertisement attempting to steal the voice of Max Goof's girlfriend Roxanne. In Mickey and Minnie's Big Vacation, Ursula was one of the many guest to be annoyed when the Pink Elephants are briefly released.
Ursula is first mentioned in the saga in the third book when a cast member says Tigger was spying on her. In the fifth book, she appears at Typhoon Lagoon when King Triton is talking with Finn. She has power of the water and even creates a whirlpool where Finn almost drowns.
Ursula was one of Maleficent's followers, and assisted by lending the powers of the ocean. With Ursula's help, the Heartless entered Atlantica. Ursula tricked Princess Ariel into helping her steal the Trident from King Triton so that she could see other worlds. Ursula didn't keep her end of the deal - she did threaten Ariel to enter into the dark world of the Heartless, giving herself into darkness in the progress, but failed when Sora and company came to King Triton's palace. She disappeared in ink with the Trident in her possession. Ariel joined Sora, Donald, and Goofy to confront her in her lair to get the Trident back. Once they arrived, she, Flotsam and Jetsam battled them. In the end, Flotsam and Jetsam were defeated, and Ursula swore revenge. She disappeared once again, and Sora and friends found Ursula in a large, scary, empty trench. She used the power of the trident and darkness to become a giant, Sora and friends battled her once again. She wielded powerful Thunder magic. However, Ariel, Sora and friends defeated her and she vanished into darkness.
Ursula makes an appearance in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories as a figment of Sora's memories.
Ursula told Ariel that she could help her find her missing friend Flounder with the trident. Ariel agreed, but wasn't sure if what she was doing was right. She told Ursula she needed more time to think about it. Sora, Donald, and Goofy arrived and told Ariel not to trust Ursula, but they'd go with her if it's the only way to get Flounder back. Once they arrived in Ursula's lair, Ariel asked her to get Flounder back first. It was revealed that Ursula kidnapped Flounder to obtain the trident. She would not let Flounder go, unless Ariel gave up the trident. Ariel handed it over to her, and Ursula remembered that Ariel also wanted to see other worlds, but it would unfortunately be "a one way trip". She used the trident to become a giant, just as she did in the first game. Sora and friends battled her and won.
Ursula also appeared in Riku's story (Reverse/Rebirth), as a figment of his memory and a representation of the darkness within him.
Revived by the powers of darkness, Ursula returned in Kingdom Hearts II without the Heartless and Maleficent on her side. She told Ariel that she could help her be with Prince Eric, by turning Ariel herself into a human (a spell that only lasted for three days). Ariel agreed, and signed a contract with Ursula which stated that: if Ariel was able to kiss Eric before the sunset of the third day, then she could stay human forever, but, if she didn't obtain a kiss, she would turn back into a mermaid and belong to Ursula. After Ariel signed the contract, Ursula took Ariel's voice (the price for Ursula's spell) and turned the princess into a human girl.
After three days had passed and Ariel still hadn't obtained a kiss, Ursula turned herself into a human girl (Vanessa) and used Ariel's voice to hypnotize Eric, taking him away from Ariel. Sora and the others saw through Ursula's disguise and broke the amulet in which Ariel's voice was being kept, thus releasing Eric from her grip and returning Ariel's voice. But it was too late, the sun had set and Ursula dragged Ariel into the sea with her. King Triton tried to stop Ursula, but not even he could break the contract, so King Triton signed over Ariel's name and took her place. This allowed Ursula to have possession over the Trident once again, and she used its power to become gigantic one more time. With the trident, Ursula turned King Triton into a lowly sea creature.
After a battle, Sora knocked the Trident off Ursula's hand and it landed on the boat which Prince Eric was on. He then threw it at Ursula and the Trident went through her chest in a beam of light, defeating her once more. The battle against Ursula in Kingdom Hearts II is a staged performance in song.
She is the first boss in the game. Following a sudden storm after Sora and Riku head out on their raft from the Destiny Islands to begin their Mark of Mastery exam, Ursula rises out of the ocean in her giant form, something that comes as a shock to both Keyblade wielders. Sent by someone who knew where Sora and Riku were, Ursula destroys their raft and battles them while her tentacles hold its remains. After a long cruciating battle Ursula is defeated, and her destruction causes a whirlpool to drag Sora and Riku underwater and towards the Keyhole to Destiny Islands and the entrance to the Sleeping Worlds.
Ursula has been prominently featured in dozens of park shows, parades and merchandise. At the Magic Kingdom, she can be seen in Celebrate a Dreams Come True Parade and in SpectroMagic. In Disneyland Paris, she appears in Mickey and his Magic Halloween Night with other villains. A massive sculpture of Ursula is one of the features of the Little Mermaid area of Disney's Art of Animation Resort.
She has been used in several promos with other characters for the Disney Halloween events and Water Parks.
The Fantasmic! show debuted in 1992 in the California park, only a few years after The Little Mermaid debuted. Ursula appears in the finale, summoning the powers of the sea to destroy Mickey Mouse, though she herself is ultimately beaten. Originally, a twenty foot Audio-Animatronic Ursula float traveled around her segment in the show on the water, but currently the character is only featured via animation projected onto water screens. Different theme parks feature variations from the original, such as in Hollywood Studios version, where Ursula has a much smaller role. In the Tokyo DisneySea version, Ursula's role is far more similar to California's.
Ursula appears as an audio animatronic living the same role as the film. After she strikes her deal with Ariel, the rest of her scenes are showcased on screen where it shows her transforming into Vanessa, becoming a giant and her death.
Ursula is a central character in the annual Halloween-themed fireworks show HalloWishes at the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party "hard ticket" event along with Jafar, Oogie Boogie and Maleficent.
Ursula plays the part she did in the original film, first appearing in the ride's Poor Unfortunate Souls scene, represented by an 8-foot tall, 12 feet wide animatronic, to turn Ariel into a human. Her defeat is one of the last scenes of the attraction. Ursula's animatronic is one of the most detailed the Disney Imagineers have ever created. It was designed to move more fluidly than the average AA and gradually apart of the one of the Disney Parks greatest achievements of the year.
Ursula serves as one of the Fantasyland villains for the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game, where Hades revives her from her death and recruits her to steal the Fantasyland piece of the Crystal of the Magic Kingdom, though like Maleficent, she plots to double cross him and take the piece for herself. Once the piece is in her possessions, Ursula plots to flood the Magic Kingdom so that she may dominate the park along with the rest of the seas. Likewise, in a similar manner to her transforming into Vanessa, she also disguises herself as Ariel in order to deceive the guests into aiding her in her goal. Ursula returned at the final battle with Hades. In the end, the park guests were able to defeat Ursula and the other villains by trapping them in the Crystal of the Magic Kingdom.
A stage musical version of the 1989 film debuted in Denver for a pre-Broadway tryout, and in January 2008 opened on Broadway. Actress Sherie Rene Scott originated the live role. The role was later played by Heidi Blickenstaff and Faith Prince. the show closed on Broadway Aug.30, 2009.
In this version, Ursula is King Triton's sister. As revealed in the lyrics of Ursula's song "I Want the Good Times Back", when their father died, the pair were given equal share of the sea plus two magical items. Triton received the trident while Ursula received the magic Nautilus shell. Though the two were to rule the seas together, Ursula's greed and use of dark magic to usurp Triton led to her being banished. Her need for revenge is her motivation for the show.
Unlike the 1989 film, Ursula is depicted as being large but not obese, and the entire subplot where Ursula transforms into a human has been removed entirely. In the show's finale, Ursula is defeated by Ariel, not Eric, when the mermaid destroys Ursula's magical shell.
Ursula sings new songs in addition to the film's "Poor Unfortunate Souls". These songs are "I Want the Good Times Back", in which Ursula reminisces over her luxurious past, "Her Voice", in which Ursula anticipates the sunset of the third day, and a reprise of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" in which Ursula 'negotiates' an agreement with Triton for Ariel's soul. Ursula also sings briefly at the end of a new sequence called "The Contest", in which Ariel's voice can be heard as the sun sets, but is then merged with Ursula's own voice.
An earlier demo workshop contained different songs written for Ursula that were eventually removed from the production. Ursula's introductory song is "Wasting Away", though it was later replaced by "I Want the Good Times Back". A different reprise of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" was written for Ursula just before she transforms into Vanessa, but since the Vanessa subplot was removed, so was the reprise. Another song, "All Good Things Must End" features Ursula gloating on her victory over Ariel, but the song was removed entirely. Emily Skinner performed as Ursula in this workshop.
- Ursula is one of the very rare characters (along with Scar, Clayton, and even Jafar) whose manner of death is shown graphically (she was impaled by a ship's bow, electrocuted by lightning, along with her tentacles grabbing the ship, finally sinking down to the ocean floor, exploding, and having her pieces sink to the ocean floor all on-screen). Usually, characters (heroes/minor characters and villains alike) are either killed off-screen by a fall (such as Ratigan and Gaston) or shown dead without a scratch (Mufasa and Megara).
- As her death scene reveals, Ursula actually appears to have a skeleton, despite having an octopus (which, being mollusks, don't have bones) lower body.
- Ursula is a cecaelia (a half person, usually woman, half octopus) and she was the inspiration for Donald Duck's transformation "outfit" in Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II in the Atlantica World. In the TV Show, however, her species was referred to as Octopid.
- "Ursula" is a Latin word meaning "Little Female Bear".
- Despite being half-octopus, Ursula only has six tentacles. However, if you count her arms as limbs as well, then she actually does have eight limbs altogether.
- The Nostalgia Critic listed Ursula as Number 6 on his "Top 11 Disney Villians" list with her song, "Poor Unfortunate Souls" was listed as Number 5 on his "Top 11 Villain Songs". His female counterpart, The Nostalgia Chick, listed Ursula as Number Four on her "Top 11 Nostalgic Villainesses" despite hating the movie she originated from.
- Although Ursula is usually depicted with purple skin, her appearance as a child in both the family photo and the song "Gonna Get My Wish" indicated that her natural skin color was actually teal colored similar to Morgana and their mother.
- Saleen, a villainess from the Aladdin TV series had her design based on Ursula's old film concept art.
- Strangely, in Kingdom Hearts II, Ursula does not seem to recognize Sora, Donald, and Goofy, and Sora's group and Ariel make no mention of her death or revival, though during the "Ursula's Revenge" song, Ursula says that she is "back" and Sora shouts that she "got what [she] deserved". In fact, when Ariel makes the deal with Ursula, the former reacts as though she has seen the latter for the first time.
- Ursula's blood's color is dark blue like cephelopods, as shown briefly when Eric's Harpoon scratches her arm, but appears black due to how dark it was.
- The final battle with Ursula was intended to play out very differently than in the final film. First, Ariel initially succeeds in getting herself out of Ursula's grip, only for Flotsam and Jetsam to retrieve her. Also, she was to have accidentally killed Flotsam and Jetsam without any feelings of remorse or horror at what she had done, and her manner of death involved being impaled with the Trident by Eric before he passes out. On a related note, Ariel's voice was to be released to her after she was killed. Her death in Kingdom Hearts II was based on this original concept.
- The animators created the character of Ursula for Bea Arthur, who declined as she was occupied with The Golden Girls. Jennifer Saunders then auditioned for the role of Ursula but was turned down. Then Nancy Marchand, Nancy Wilson, Roseanne, Charlotte Rae and Elaine Stritch were all then considered with the latter eventually being cast in the part. However, Stritch's style clashed with that of lyricist Howard Ashman so Pat Carroll got the part.
- Ursula's physical appearance was actually based on that of the drag queen Divine's, who died while the film was still in production.
- Ursula is the second of three Disney Villains to tempt a princess to obey her using an offer to make her dreams come true, the first being the Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the third being Doctor Facilier from The Princess and the Frog; and yet, she is the last one whose offer really works.
- As mentioned several times in this article, an original draft of the film was actually going to make Ursula King Triton's sister, which would make her Ariel's aunt.
- In one of the Little Mermaid stories; Reflections of Arsulu, Ursula disguises herself as Arsulu (an anagram of her original name) a beautiful Blonde mermaid with a red tail and magenta shells. She does this in order to gain entry to Atlantica, where she causes a great deal of discord. Ariel found out about her whole plan and used a mirror and a flock of goldfish to foil Ursula's plan by showing her family Arsulu's real reflection
- Ursula is the last female villain with a female protagonist until Mother Gothel in 2010.
- Ursula's death scene in Kingdom Hearts II was actually the original storyboarded version for The Little Mermaid, but was changed to Eric ramming a wrecked ship's splintered bowsprit through Ursula's abdomen.
- Ursula is the second Disney villain to disguise themselves in order to trick the protagonist of their respective movies'. The first being The Evil Queen, who disguised herself as an old hag to trick Snow White and the third being Jafar, who disguised himself as an old begger to trick Aladdin.
- Ursula is the second Disney villain to undergo a size alteration in order to destroy her enemies. The first being Maleficent, the third being Jafar, and the fourth being King Candy.
- Ursula is the only female Disney Princess Villain who tries to become "romantically" involved with the main male protagonist. The first two male Disney Princess Villains (Gaston and Jafar) both tried to become "romantically" involved with the main female protagonist.
- Ursula's body gestures are modeled after Nora Desmond from Sunset Boulevard.
- Ursula is the first Disney villainess to sport a beauty mark, with the second being Helga Sinclair.