|“||In my day, we had fantastical feasts when I lived in the palace. And now, look at me–wasted away to practically nothing. Banished and exiled and practically starving! While he and his flimsy fish-folk celebrate. Well, I'll give 'em something to celebrate soon enough.||„|
|~ Ursula seeking revenge against King Triton.|
|“||Triton's daughter will be mine, and then I'll make him writhe. I'll see him wriggle like a worm on a HOOK!||„|
|~ Ursula explaining her plan to oust King Triton before she becomes Vanessa.|
|“||So much for true love!||„|
|~ Ursula's last words before she gets impaled by Prince Eric.|
Ursula, also called Ursula the Sea Witch or Vanessa in her human form, is the main antagonist of Disney's 28th full-length animated feature film The Little Mermaid (which is based on the 1837 Danish fairytale of the same name by the late Hans Christian Andersen), a major antagonist in the same name TV series, a posthumous antagonist in its sequel The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea and one of the secondary antagonists in Mickey's House of Villains.
She is Ariel and Triton's arch-nemesis and is loosely based upon the sea witch in the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale of the same name. Her fervent confidence, flamboyance and theatrics have made her one of the most popular and iconic of all of the Disney villains and she quickly became one of the franchise's primary members following her debut.
In all of her appearances, she was voiced by Pat Carroll, who also voiced her sister Morgana. In her human disguise of Vanessa, she was voiced by Jodi Benson in her first villainous Disney role, who also voiced Ariel in the same film. In the musical, she was portrayed by Sherie Rene Scott. In the TV special, she was played by Queen Latifah. In Descendants 2, she was voiced by Whoopi Goldberg.
Ursula has the upper body of an obese lavender female human, while her lower half is that of a black and purple octopus. This both connects and separates her from the average seafolk. She has white hair, gray eyes, red lips, and aqua blue eyelids.
Ursula has a really big attitude problem and a wicked sense of humor. After her banishment from Atlantica, she established herself as a physical beacon of hope towards unfortunate merpeople, allowing them to strike deals and business propositions that would supposedly result in their happiness, should they successfully fulfill their end of the bargain.
During such deals, she speaks in an extremely manipulative and sarcastic tone, as if her only concern is the pleasant satisfaction of her customers.
This makes her schemes easier to fall for, though should she feel a deal is going nowhere, she resorts to pressuring her victims into accepting her offer, additionally portraying herself as their last attempt at making their dreams come true.
However, if Ariel's deal is to be believed, Ursula sadistically ensures her customers fail at upholding their end of the deal, resulting in their souls being forever in her possessions and their bodies becoming permanent members of her living garden, as polyps.
The motivation of such practices are never revealed for any individual other than Ariel, whom Ursula uses to obtain power over the seas, implying that the sea witch simply enjoys causing havoc to the innocent, having no sense of true morality or remorse for those she torments. Apart from this, Ursula may also be acquisitive and cannibalistic, as she is seen eating some sort of tiny sea creature alive.
She is also very nasty, vengeful and acrimonious, holding a vendetta against King Triton for a prolonged period of time, spending her days spying on his relatives to eventually take advantage of them and concoct a scheme capable of ending in her favor — as the oppressive ruler of the seas. This also ties into Ursula's duplicitous, power-mad and manipulative nature, which drives her motivation throughout the film, and is greatly expressed once she finally crowns herself queen during the climax.
Despite her negative traits, Ursula also has a softer side to her personality, seen with her relationship between herself and her minions, Flotsam and Jetsam. Ursula lovingly refers to the duo as her "babies" and has been shown to treat them with affection, despite barking orders at the two from time to time when enraged. She also is very supportive towards the eels, as shown when they succeeded in sabotaging Ariel's first attempt to kiss Eric, she praises them for a job well done. Despite her villainy, she is also extremely protective and sympathetic of them, expressing huge remorse over killing them with the trident by accident before driving herself into a murderous state towards Ariel for causing it in the first place.
She is also shown to be very classy and sophisticated, as she presents herself with confidence and an eye for high standards, as evidenced by her belief that lurking in doorways is rude. In addition, she regularly flaunts her curvaceous appearance in an extremely seductive manner and spends time in her vanity, admiring her own physical appearance. She has the power to alter her appearance, but simply chooses not to, showing contentment with who she is as a person, but distaste with her social status and lack of complete power over the ocean.
Powers and Abilities
Ursula's abilities from her mastery of thalassomancy (ocean magic/sea magic), and even without the Trident, were very potent. She was able to concoct various potions to create sundry sorcerous 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 transfiguration into her human guise Vanessa and Ursula (although in the case of Vanessa, she needed Ariel's voice to disguise her own). However, she was incapable of altering her reflection, which is eventually how her enemies identified her. It was also implied that she was capable of generating storms and may have electrokinetic abilities even prior to gaining the Trident, since storm clouds were generated the very second the sunset on the third day, and she utilized lightning bolts from the storm clouds to transform back into her original form. When it comes to physical powers, Ursula possesses superhuman strength, though not as strong as Triton, yet strong enough to throw a mermaid towards a rock, as what she did to Ariel in the alternate ending of The Little Mermaid.
She was also capable of creating poisonous ink clouds which could absorb the magical energy of the Trident and enhance Ursula's own power. Her most dangerous gift, 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 was also implied that she absorbs their souls while turning 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 her long time enemy King 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 completing it is via her death, as evidenced when the polyps changed back into merpeople via the aftermath of her deathly demise at the hands of Prince Eric.
Ursula was once one of the most respected imperial figures in the sea, but by the time of The Little Mermaid, Princess Ariel's story, takes place, she is an exiled subject of King Triton's royal sea court. She was banished from the kingdom of Atlantica after it was rumored that she was trying to overthrow him. When Triton found this to be true, Ursula was forced to live on the abandoned outskirts of the ocean, away from the rest of the Seafolk and the Mer-Civilization.
As a way to survive, she took up the skills of dark magic and to secretly spy on Triton and his people via her magic cauldron all in efforts to one day take over his kingdom and become the ruler of the ocean. Ursula made her home in the belly of a giant dead leviathan with her "pet" seaweed-like eels called polyps, which are forever imprisoned into the ground in her underwater "garden" (which is at the entrance of her chambers).
The polyps are usually seen crying in agony, hoping others could avoid their fate and even wrapping themselves around the limbs or wrists of new visitors who are interested in making a deal with Ursula (as they did with Ariel, although Ariel managed to get free). Occasionally, they are fed dead fish by Ursula. After Ursula was killed by Prince Eric they were freed from her polyp curse.
Over the years, Ursula has become one of the most popular and iconic of all of the Disney villains, and is one of the franchise's official members. The character has been compared to Madame Medusa from the 1977 animated Disney film, The Rescuers, in terms of style, dramatics, and choice of minions. Her character is also based upon "Divine", an American performer, actor, singer, and Drag Queen, who was associated with the legendary independent filmmaker, John Waters.
The Little Mermaid
Ursula is the cunning, loathsome, and treacherous Sea Witch who makes deals with Seafolk and Mer-People. If they succeed, they get their heart's desire. If they fail, she adds them to her "Garden", which is a collection of pitiful looking humanoid sea creatures who have grown into the floor.
Via her song "Poor Unfortunate Souls", she offers Ariel the chance to be human for three days. If she can get the prince to give her "the kiss of true love" the condition would be permanent, but otherwise she would be Ursula's property. Ariel thought that Ursula was there to help her, but everything that Ursula cared about was returning to Atlantica and revenge.
Ariel accepts the deal, and Ursula, true to her word, turns her human right then and there, at the cost of her beautiful singing voice. Later in the movie, Ariel is "too close" to accomplishing her goal, so Ursula decides to "take matters into her own tentacles".
And by using her powers, she sabotaged Ariel and disguised herself as a beautiful dark-haired woman named "Vanessa", and uses her magic to put Prince Eric in a deep zombie like trance, misdirecting him into believing she saved him from the shipwreck forcing him to marry her. Ariel and her friends crash the wedding, and though they managed to stop it and release Ariel's voice from Ursula's enchanted necklace, Ariel is too late.
Ursula reverts back to her natural form and kidnaps the mermaid. Her father King Triton, who had been warned earlier by Ariel's friend Sebastian, tries to stop Ursula, but Ursula hides behind the contract, demonstrating that it is "legal", "binding", and completely unbreakable, even for someone as superior and powerful as Triton.
The heartbroken King Triton saves Ariel and agrees to take her place, and while Ariel is released and Triton is now Ursula's prisoner, Ursula finally accomplishes her goal of being the unquestioned ruler of the seas. She almost aims the trident at Eric and vaporizes him, but an angry Ariel attacks her. However, she is angered when Ariel causes her to aim the trident at Flotsam and Jetsam and vaporize them by pulling on her hair.
After mourning the loss of Flotsam and Jetsam, mourning them momentarily, she then becomes enraged and grows into a giant monster that reaches the surface and causes a big storm in the ocean, which brings lighting, rain, fierce waves and strong tides. She then traps Ariel in the bottom of a whirlpool she has made and shoots bolts of energy at the mermaid in attempts to destroy her. Luckily Ariel manages to dodge her aim twice.
Thankfully, just as she is about to at last vaporize and destroy Ariel, Ursula is impaled on the bow of a sunken ship piloted by Eric, which prevents her from firing the energy blast. The shipwreck conducts a lightning strike, painfully electrocuting and killing Ursula, who disintegrates into a gelatinous mass. After Ursula is deceased, all of the merpeople she kept under her spell, including the king, were transformed into their rightful forms and released from Ursula's lair. Her spells were broken forever, and her wrath and dishonesty were put to an end for good.
The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea
Due to her death, Ursula doesn't physically appear in the sequel, but is mentioned several times and is seen in a picture. Plus, she has a sister named Morgana (also voiced by Pat Carroll), who acts as the primary antagonist of the movie. It is revealed that Ursula was far more powerful than her sister, and as such was the family favorite. Morgana has been trying to come out of Ursula's shadow her entire life. It is also shown in the deleted song, "Gonna Get My Wish Tonight", that both Ursula and Morgana disliked each other, as Morgana despises Ursula for being the favorite while Ursula considers Morgana to be an embarrassment.
Despite their strained relationship, Morgana vowed to avenge Ursula's death by claiming the trident for herself. When Morgana finally claims the trident and forced all sea creatures and merfolk (including Triton) to bow down to her as the ruler of the seas, she cries to the skies to her late mother that she is now the favored daughter. However, Ariel and Eric's daughter Melody manages to steal the trident back and tosses it back to Triton, who promptly encases Morgana in ice. As she sinks to the bottom of the ocean, the picture of Ursula (at which Morgana regularly threw darts) sinks down with her.
Ursula appeared in the TV series based on the movie (though clearly set before its events), as well. She appeared in four episodes as the primary antagonist ("Against the Tide," "Tail of Two Crabs," "Heroes," and "Ariel's Treasures"), still opposed to Ariel and her allies.
Ursula appears in Descendants 2, making only a voice over cameo, voiced by Whoopi Goldberg. She unleashes one of her tentacles on the pirate gang and begs them and Uma be quiet and tells them that these dishes are not going to have themselves washed. She often likes to stay home and watch soap operas.
Reflections of Ursula
Although Vanessa herself doesn't appear in the short story, Disney's The Little Mermaid: Reflection of Ursula, she is subtly referenced with Ursula's disguise of Arsulu, a blond mermaid with a red tail and magenta shells which she adopted to infiltrate Atlantica. Just like Vanessa, mirror reflections reveal "Arsulu's" true identity as Ursula, which Ariel later exploited.
In other media
The Little Mermaid (Broadway musical)
In the musical, Ursula remains largely the same. Her evil nature is still present, she is still a cruel sadist who delights in the suffering of her "clients", and she is a very powerful witch. However, there are some key differences as well, the largest being that she is now thin and attractive.
She is also Triton's sister, making her Ariel's aunt (an unused plotline for the movie). Her conch is no longer a necklace, but is rather kept on a stand. She still gives Ariel her human legs, still tries to sabotage her, and still seduces Eric to try and ruin her chances.
However, the Vanessa subplot was removed, and instead of crashing the wedding, Ariel dances for Eric as her entry in his singing contest. Before he decides to be with her and drop is search for "the voice", Ursula crashes the contest and attacks everyone. She obtains Triton's trident and conquers the ocean, but is destroyed when Ariel smashes her conch shell, the source of her power. Originally, in the stage show, she was portrayed by the veteran Broadway actress, Sheri Renee Scott.
Ursula was one of the Disney villains who was recruited by Maleficent.
Ursula watches Sora defeat the Guard Armor in Traverse Town from her post in Hollow Bastion. She suggests that Maleficent should turn him into a Heartless, and it'll "settle things quick enough". After the defeat of the Opposite Armor, the Hellfire Club is beginning to dwindle. Ursula is still her ally, and appears alongside Oogie Boogie and Jafar, reminding Maleficent of the Princesses of Heart.
She returns to her homeworld of Atlantica where she uses Ariel and Sora to find the world's keyhole, as well as the trident. Once she obtains it, she battles the heroes in her cave, and when she is defeated there, she grows giant like in the movie. However, she is defeated again, and destroyed for good.
As in the movies and the TV series, she was voiced by Pat Carroll.
Kingdom Hearts II
Ursula appears again in Kingdom Hearts II, revived by unknown means. Her role in the game is largely similar to her role in the movie, however, due to the fact that Atlantica is a musical based world in Kingdom Hearts II, she is defeated during the song "Ursula's Revenge". Like in the movie, she grows into a giant and attacks Ariel and Eric. Sora knocks the trident out of her hands only for Eric to throw it right through her, killing her.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
Ursula reappeared again in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. While Sora and Riku were going through the Mark of Mastery, they had to travel to sea. While they were traveling a terrible and destructive storm started to occur. Then suddenly, a whirlpool appeared, and a revived Ursula emerged from the seas. Ursula replied that someone knew where Sora and Riku were. With their combined effort, Sora and Riku were able to defeat Ursula. However, when Ursula was defeated, Sora and Riku got sucked into the whirlpool, resulted in them ending up at the keyhole to Traverse Town.
As the first major villain of the "Disney Renaissance", Ursula made a considerable impact. An official poll of the top 30 villains in Disney history put her at #5, and the Nostalgia Critic ranked her #6. Ursula was likely the inspiration for the nasty troll queen Gnorga from A Troll in Central Park.
- The name of Ursula's human disguise "Vanessa" is derived from the Latin word "Vanitas", meaning "vanity", "worthlessness", "emptiness", and "nothingness". Also, it is Greek for “butterfly”, as seen in the potion that Ursula uses to become human.
- She is ranked #5 in the Top 30 Disney Villains.
- 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).
- She is one of many villains who is an all-encompassing force.
- 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. While fighting off the animals, Vanessa also nearly hinted that she was never who she claimed she was so she faked fear at a suspicious Eric. Scuttle, in this version, also decided to exploit the fact that Vanessa's true form can be revealed from her reflection by airlifting the mirror from the bridesroom over to her and positioning it near her, but she caught on and destroyed it before he could get into position. However, her reflection was already exposed from water seeping onto the deck from the animals, thus giving away who she really was to Eric. 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 very similar manner to Homer and Bart in The Simpsons (coincidentally, both The Little Mermaid and the first Simpsons episode were released in 1989).
- Often in storybooks, she is known as "The Maiden".
- Vanessa is one of the four Disney characters to possess violet eyes, the other three being Aurora, Megara, and Dr. 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 she does not need the necklace to speak in Ariel's voice so long as the necklace is not destroyed or that this was an error on the artists' part.
- In Once Upon A Time, Ursula is the goddess of the sea who gives mermaids the ability to walk for 12 hours from high tide until high tide once a year. She never makes contact with Ariel, as the one who made a deal with Ariel was the Evil Queen masquerading as Ursula. However, she does make contact with the Evil Queen who had deeply offended her by the masquerade, and threatened to show the Queen how real she can actually be if she ever pretended to be her again.
- Ursula's death is by far one of the most cruel, brutal, violent, merciless and destructive ones in a Disney animated film, with her being impaled and electrocuted onscreen, then disintegrating as she dies. Also, what appears to be pieces of her disintegrated body after she disintegrates are shown sinking to the bottom of the sea (along with the trident) afterward.
- The animators created the character of Ursula for the late 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. Somehow in 2002, Steven Spielberg got hold of her tape and insisted to the three directors of Shrek 2 that she would be cast as the scheming Fairy Godmother. After Bea Arthur turned down the chance to voice Ursula, the late Nancy Marchand, the late Sylvia Sidney, Nancy Wilson, Roseanne Barr, the late Coral Browne, the late Charlotte Rae, and the Elaine Stritch were all then considered with the latter eventually being cast in the part. However, Stritch's style clashed with that of the late Howard Ashman, so Pat Carroll got the part.
- Ursula's physical appearance in the Disney film is based on the famous drag queen singer and actor Divine.
- Yet unconfirmed, given that Ursula said "So long, lover boy!" to Eric in a very suggestive tone and manner when she takes Ariel back to her lair, it's possible that she may have had sexual relations with him after brainwashing him. If this is true, then Ursula would be the first Disney villain to commit sexual assault as Eric was in no control of his actions.
- Ursula is pictured on one of the 10 USA non-denominated commemorative postage stamps celebrating "Disney Villains", issued as a pane of 20 stamps on July 15, 2017. The set was issued in a single sheet of 20 stamps. The price of each stamp on day of issue was 49 cents. The other villains depicted in this issue are the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Honest John from Pinocchio, Lady Tremaine from Cinderella, the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, Captain Hook, from Peter Pan, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians, Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, and Scar from The Lion King.
- It is debated by many fans if Ursula is a squid or an octopus based on the number of her tentacles. She has only six tentacles as it was less expensive to draw, but it has been suggested that her arms count as the other two.
- Ursula serves as a lesson to King Triton. If he hadn't get over with his hatred towards humans and never let Ariel be with Prince Eric, he would've been ended up like her.
- Even though Ursula is the main antagonist of the film, she has only around 18 minutes of screen-time.
- Due to the sea witch and temple princess characters being merged into one as well as being made villainous in characterization in the Disney version, Ursula or more accurately Vanessa, has a very similar role to the False Prophet from the Book of Revelations.
- Literature (A Twisted Tale Part of Your World) version of Ursula are far worse than her animated movie counterpart.