When Does The Little Mermaid Take Place in History? (and Where?)

The Little Mermaid 1989 scaled

Disney’s The Little Mermaid is one of the studio’s most beloved adaptations. This animated rendition of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale of the same name became an instant classic and has received two direct-to-video sequels and a lesser known prequel animated series. Having the historical context of the movie in mind, when and where exactly do The Little Mermaid takes place?

Unlike some other Disney movies, The Little Mermaid doesn’t have a specified date, but we do know that it takes place sometime during the first half of the 18th century. The movie and its sequel and prequels take place in Atlantica, which is somewhere near Denmark or Norway, possibly in Denmark, where the original story’s author hails from.

The rest of this article is going to give our answer some more context. We’ll be analyzing the animated movies and tell you when and where exactly they take place, as well as how they fit in Disney’s chronology. You’re also going to find a bit more about the story that inspired Disney’s animated versions.

When Does The Little Mermaid Take Place in History?

Determining the timeline of The Little Mermaid franchise, which includes three animated movies and an animated television series, is quite difficult. Namely, unlike some other Disney animated movies, The Little Mermaid‘s setting was never fully revealed. We know that Ariel is 16 years old when the movie begins, but we don’t know when it is taking place.

Based on the fashion and the architecture of the time, we can deduce that the movie is set sometime in the 18th century, probably in the first half of the century. Now, we don’t know the exact year, so it could be anywhere from 1700 to 1750, but we think that it’s closer to the year 1700, than the latter one.

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Now, this is the setting of The Little Mermaid. Ariel was 16 back then. A sequel movie, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, was released in 2000 and is set some years after the first movie, following Ariel’s and Eric’s adventures with their daughter, Melody. This was Melody’s first and only appearance so far.

A third movie, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning, was released in 2008 but it was a prequel, set several years before the first movie – possibly even in the late 17th century – which follows Ariel as a child. The 1990s television series, The Little Mermaid, follows Ariel’s adventures before the first film, is set some time after the third (prequel) movie.

This is everything we know about the chronology of The Little Mermaid. As per our official Disney Princess movies chronology, the whole animated trilogy is set around the same time as The Beauty and the Beast, and after Pocahontas, and before Tangled. We don’t have any additional information, as Disney never disclosed the exact timeline of its movies.

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Where Does The Little Mermaid Take Place?

As for the location, we know that The Little Mermaid is set in the fictional kingdom of Atlantica and the town located directly above it, on the surface. Atlantica is based on the mythological kingdom of Atlantis but its location doesn’t seem o be the same. Namely, it is heavily theorized that Atlantica is located not far from the coast of Denmark.

This was never officially confirmed, but the original story is set in Denmark, the Little Mermaid is a symbol of Copenhagen (there is a statue of the character in the city, one of its most famous landmarks), and in one episode of the animated series, we even see Hans Christian Andersen, who was a Danish author. Another thing that corroborates this is Eric, who has a very Scandinavian name and he is a prince, and we know far too well that Denmark is a monarchy.

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But, as you might assume, this is not the only theory. Alongside Greenland (which is part of Denmark), it has been theorized that Atlantica is set beneath, possibly, Malta or the Northern coast of Africa (the architecture of Eric’s kingdom is similar to that of Malta, which has heavy influence from Italy and France, while the palm trees and weather imply a Southern Mediterranean climate, not something in Northern Europe).

Still, we know that it is accessible to the whole Atlantic Ocean, as it is revealed that Sebastian was born off the coast of Jamaica (hence the accent) in another episode of The Little Mermaid animated series. This could lead to it being somewhere near Gibraltar or else the coast of Morocco or Algeria, but certainly not in the North. If we had to pick a location other than Denmark, we’d pick Gibraltar, as we haven’t seen people of Arab heritage in Eric’s kingdom.

What Is The Little Mermaid Based On?

Disney became famous for adapting well-known fairy tales, but with a twist. The original stories were often brutal, violent and had very scary elements, which Disney’s writers would simply remove from the scripts and create a more child-friendly atmosphere. The Little Mermaid was based on the fairy tale of the same title, written by Hans Christian Andersen and published in 1837. The original story happened as follows.

The little mermaid lived under the sea with her father, the king of the sea, her grandmother and her five sisters. When a mermaid reached the age of fifteen, she was allowed to swim to the surface to contemplate the outside world. When the little mermaid finally reached that age, she made it to the surface of the sea where she saw a ship with a handsome prince of her age on board.

A storm broke, the ship capsized and the prince fell into the water. The little mermaid saved him by bringing him, unconscious, to the shore. A young woman appeared at that moment and the mermaid slipped out. The prince, when he woke up, saw the young woman and thought that the latter had saved him. Surprised to have discovered that men die very quickly, the little mermaid questioned her grandmother.

This taught him that men lived much shorter than mermaids, but that they had an eternal soul. The little mermaid also wanted to have an eternal soul. “For that,” his grandmother told him, “you must make yourself love and marry a man.” Determined to seduce the prince, the little mermaid went to find the sea witch. She handed him a potion that would turn his fish tail into human legs.

Stories from Hans Andersen Edmund Dulac color plate at page 189

For the price of this service, the witch demanded of the siren her magnificent voice and she cut off her tongue. “If you failed and the prince marries another,” said the witch, “on the eve of this marriage, your heart would break and you would be nothing but foaming on the sea.” The little mermaid swam to the shore and there, sitting on the shore, drank the beverage.

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She felt a terrible pain as if the blade of a sword went through her and passed out. When she woke up, the prince stood in front of her, took her by the hand and led her to the palace. With every step, as the witch had warned, she seemed to be walking on sharp knives. The prince, day after day, became attached to the little mermaid, but he could not forget the young girl who, he believed, had saved him and whom he had not seen since then.

One day, the prince was forced by his parents to marry a princess. He told the Little Mermaid that he would prefer to marry her but that he had to go and meet his bride. There he discovered that the princess was the maiden of the convent who had found him on the shore. The prince instantly fell in love with them and announced their marriage.

On the return ship, as the prince drunk on the princess’s love, the desperate little mermaid gazed at night. She watched in the east for the pink glow of dawn that would signify her death. Suddenly the little mermaid saw her sisters on the surface of the sea. “If you hit the prince in the heart with that knife,” they said to him, “you would become a mermaid again and could live with us.”

“But the little mermaid could not bring herself to kill the prince: she threw herself into the sea but instead of turning into foam, she joined the” girls of the air “for her good deed.”

As you can see, Disney’s writers didn’t change the original story that much, but they did make some adjustments. The names have been, of course, changed, and a lot of new characters had been added, to follow Disney’s long-lasting tradition of including new, child-friendly characters. Overall, Disney’s version didn’t have many different elements, but some of the more mature scenes were removed and the whole concept was adapted to be appropriate for younger audiences.

This is why The Little Mermaid is such a classic, both in written and cinematic form.

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