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Concept And Creation
Vanessa's role in the film, is inspired by the original Anderson tale. In that story, after the prince has been rescued by the mermaid, he is found on the beach by a shrine maiden whom he believes to have saved him. Later on, after the mermaid becomes human, she discovers that the prince will be marrying the maiden. And in the end the maiden marries the prince, while the Little Mermaid dies and becomes sea foam.
Vanessa's place in the film is inspired by the events that transpired in the book. Only that the maiden is now Ursula in disguise, to expand the witch's role and influence as the villain.
Vanessa's appearance is that of a slender yet voluptuous young woman, similar to Ariel in certain ways. The majority of the similarities they share is that their waists are similar sizes, and their facial structure is nearly on par to each other. The way their hair is is shaped is also in an almost similar overhead fashion. It is believed that this was done to make it more believable that she saved Eric. However, Ursula distinguishes herself from Ariel in many notable ways to keep herself from arousing suspicion from Ariel and her friends, at first.
Most noticeably, their hairstyles are different, and while Ariel's hair is flaming red and straight, Vanessa's hair is dark brown and wavy. Also, Vanessa's skin is paler than Ariel's, along with her eyes being a violet color instead of blue.
Vanessa wears three outfits during her short appearance on screen. The first of these outfits is a majorelle blue corset with a long light pastel purple dress underneath without sleeves, instead using shoulder straps. She wears this on the beach when she is hypnotizing Eric, along with a long cape as well.
Then, just before the wedding ceremony, Vanessa is seen again in another dress. This one is a vanilla under dress to her wedding gown. It reaches down below her neckline, yet does not have the shoulder straps that Vanessa's corset did beforehand. She also wears a pair of black flats.
Vanessa's final dress is a long white wedding dress with ruffles covering the front of it and a split skirt. She has a long veil above her head as well, though unlike Ariel's it is not transparent. She also has shoulder puffs as well, though not as large as Ariel's. The dress ends up being destroyed over the course of Scuttle's attack though. She also wears a pair of white high heels during this time.
And with all three outfits, she wears the nautilus necklace, (holding Ariel's voice) around her neck, until Scuttle destroys it.
Because of her very brief appearance, her personality was not fleshed out much, but a few details were apparent. Ursula, while in this form, sheds most of her diva personality and acts more spritely when alone, but puts on a convincing facade of innocence when around others. Vanessa acts much like the valuing of the 'body language' that Ursula talks about, by wearing more revealing outfits than Ariel would, while snuggling Eric sensually. The only times she talks much are either alone, or when under attack, when she will lash out angrily. Despite this, she is not entirely defenseless; when pushed she will begin to fight back brutally, as seen when she choked Scuttle (and when it's implied that she smacked around the other birds). She tried to look innocent and sweet to everyone watching, but this facade wore off as she tried to defend herself from swarms of wild animals.
Vanessa was capable of hypnotizing people with her (actually Ariel's) voice, and can do so so long as her nautilus survives. Presumably, she was also either a skilled swimmer or possessed teleportation abilities, as evidenced by her arrival at Prince Eric's castle from Ursula's grotto. She also has limited shapeshifting capabilities, which are strengthened with the nautilus.
Presumably, she also has the same abilities as Ursula, although it is not made clear either way if she does.
It's also implied that she was capable of summoning a storm when she needs to even without the nautilus, as evidenced by a storm immediately appearing the second the sunset ended on the third day, and her utilizing it to transform back into Ursula.
When Ariel comes "too close" to succeeding in her task, Ursula decided to take matters into her own tentacles. She takes the form of a beautiful woman, (under the alias, "Vanessa), with Ariel's voice in order to sabotage her relationship with Eric.
On the night of the second day. Ursula, as Vanessa, bewitches Eric to marry her by using Ariel's voice in combination with her magic. Then, on the morning of the third day, Eric announced to Grimbsy that his wedding would be at sunset. All the while, Ariel is watching from the shadows as the mysterious dark haired girl snuggles up to Eric suggestively, until she runs away in tears. When Ariel has left, Vanessa giggles to herself and looks at the nautilus around her neck glowing brightly.
Cut forward to sunset of the third day, and the wedding ship has departed. Vanessa is in her dressing room singing for her victory, all the while, unaware that Scuttle, one of Ariel's friends, is spying on her. After a moment, Vanessa looks in a mirror and her true form is revealed. Scuttle panics and flies off to warn Ariel, and gather troops together to the stall the wedding.
When the wedding ceremony begins, Vanessa walks down a line of bowing guests arm-in-arm with a hypnotized Eric. She encounters Eric's sheepdog Max, who angrily growls at her. In retaliation, she kicks Max with an angry pout on her face before raising her head up innocently. After reaching the priest, Vanessa glances over to the setting sun to verify that her scheme is going as planned and smirks wickedly. She then turns to Eric and uses her influence to make him say "I do."
Before Vanessa can say her vows however, Scuttle comes with an attack force of various sea creatures to attack Vanessa. A brief violent scuffle ensues, played mostly for laughs as Vanessa ineffectively tries to defend herself in an increasingly shrill and vicious manner. Eventually Scuttle gets up close to Vanessa to attack her, but she retalliates by choking him. As she tries to kill Scuttle, he attempts to break the necklace. Just then Eric's sheepdog, Max, breaks his leash and runs across the deck to take an enormous bite out of her butt, causing Vanessa to lose her grip on Scuttle and allowing him to break the chain, sending the necklace flying over the deck. The Nautilus shatters by a bystanding Ariel, and she regains her voice. The spell placed on Eric breaks and he quickly runs to Ariel. Vanessa tries to protest, but reacts in shock at her voice now back to normal.
In spite of this, Vanessa/Ursula nonetheless succeeds in winning the deal as the sun sets before Ariel and Eric can kiss, and Ariel transforms back into a mermaid. Vanessa triumphantly unleashes her true form of Ursula in front of the guests, terrifying them before taking Ariel with her under the sea.
- The name of Ursula's human disguise, "Vanessa", is derived from the Latin word "Vanitas", meaning "Vanity," "Worthlessness," "Emptiness," and "Nothingness." Interestingly enough, a character named Vanitas appears as one of the main villains of Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, but unrelated to Ursula.
- In an original draft for The Little Mermaid, Vanessa's role in the plot was quite different than in the final version. Originally, Eric proposed to Vanessa willingly after he discovered that she had the voice he was looking for, although he later had second thoughts at the actual wedding, when Vanessa intimidated him into saying "I do." Also, Vanessa was originally supposed to wear a scarf in order to ensure that her identity as Ursula was safe (as it hid her nautilus) when meeting people up close (such as Ariel). The attack on her was actually much different in the original version, as Scuttle and the various aquatic fauna did not start attacking her and the ship until just before the priest could pronounce them husband and wife and some different animals were involved. However, during this version of the attack, Eric defends her from the animals. So, for Eric to see Vanessa for who she really was, he had to be exposed to her reflection in the water the animals left. Perhaps the biggest difference is that Vanessa still kept Ariel's voice, though for some reason, she was unable to use it anymore.
- At one point while Vanessa was being harassed by Scuttle, she yells angrily "Oh why you little!" and strangles Scuttle in a similar manner to Homer and Bart in The Simpsons.
- Her name is never revealed in the film before the wedding, often in storybooks she is known as The Maiden.
- In concept arts of Vanessa which is shown on DVDs of The Little Mermaid, her name was written with an 'E', but apparently there was confusion amongst the movie staff, causing her name to appear with an 'A' on her production cel, and everything afterwards.
- Vanessa is one of four characters to possess violet or purple eyes, the other three being Aurora, Megara and Doctor Facilier. On a related note, Vanessa was also the first villain to possess purple eyes, eventually being succeeded by Facilier.
- In the official comic adaptation, Vanessa was shown multiple times singing in Ariel's voice without the necklace hanging around her neck, implying that so long as the necklace is safe, she will be able to speak with Ariel's voice.
- Vanessa speaks only three times during her brief appearance with Ariel's voice excluding her song, less than any other character. When she has Ariel's voice she first screams, “No” followed by her more famous, "Get away from me you slimy little-" and later "Oh Why You Little". Following the loss of her necklace Pat Carrol the voice of Ursula does the voice of Vanessa where she says "Eric get away from her", "Eric No!" and "You're too Late!"
- Vanessa was the second human female character to be animated with a bouncing bosom and a woman’s swaying walk, the first being Jessica Rabbit, and the first villain to be so animated. Though this is mostly implied rather than directly shown in the long shot when she walks up the aisle with Eric the way that her necklace slides between two frames on her chest clearly makes her breasts appear to bounce and her skirt moves like a sway in her hips.
- There is a split-second panel of Vanessa when the birds have dived through her dress at her wedding where there is a dark cel that can be seen in her crotch area, implying that she was not wearing any panties.
- The song Vanessa sings in her room may have been the inspiration for the song "This Day Aria" from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, were the villain also sings into a mirror well she is in disguise just before her marriage to a hypnotized man.
- Vanessa was the second human villainess to be assaulted by animals before her apparent triumph, the first being Madame Medusa from The Rescuers who shares many qualities with Ursula, Vanessa's true form. Many of the attacks themselves are similar in that both Vanessa and Medusa have their clothes, hair, faces and butts directly attacked.
- In 2013, the Little Mermaid Deluxe Doll Set was released, with dolls of Ariel, King Triton, Eric, Ursula and Vanessa. This marks the first time Vanessa had ever been released as a doll in Disney media.