The Little Mermaid

Vanessa is the tertiary villainess of the 1989 film of The Little Mermaid. She was the name of the human persona that Ursula transformed into leading to the climax of the second act, creating conflict in the third act, "the end" of The Little Mermaid to stop Ariel from fulfilling the deal with Eric. She was the sly fiancée of Prince Eric for a day, an attractive woman who briefly becomes the center of the plot and became a fan favorite character. She is voiced by Jodi Benson and later in the movie, Pat Carroll (after her necklace broke).

Concept And Creation[]

Vanessa's appearance in the film was inspired by the temple girl/princess from the original Danish fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen. In it, after the Little Mermaid leaves the rescued Prince on the shore, he is discovered by a nearby Shrine Maiden and having only now woken up, takes her to be his rescuer. He eventually marries her to the Little Mermaid's heartbreak.

Vanessa has been adapted and expanded from the original plot to create conflict, dramatic tension, and a stronger, more powerful, and versatile villain.


Vannessa looks like what could be considered to be a "mean girl" version of a Disney princess. She is a slim woman with an hourglass figure, and in many respects resembles Ariel (it is believed that this was deliberate, to fit in with Eric's hazy recollections of the woman on the beach). Vanessa and Ariel wear their hair in the same style, have nearly identical facial structures, and comparable body types.

Although they wear their hair styled in the same way, Vanessa's long hair is dark brown and wavy, reaching to the small of her back, in contrast to Ariel's straight fire-red long hair. Vanessa's hair also appears black when wet or when not in direct sunlight. Vanessa has a paler complexion and sharper cheekbones than Ariel does. Their eyes are also different colors; Vanessa's are violet instead of blue. Her eyebrows are highly plucked and have much higher arches than Ariel's, giving her a more mischievous expression, and she wears a deeper shade of red lipstick.

Vanessa wears three outfits during her appearance on screen, the first of which is a sleeveless blue dress under a deeper blue corset. She wears this and black shoes on the beach when hypnotizing Eric, along with a long black cloak, but is later seen without the cloak.

Her second outfit is simply the vanilla-colored slip she will later wear under her wedding dress and black flats.


Her final outfit is the aforementioned wedding dress, a long white affair with ruffles covering the front and a split skirt, revealing the slip underneath. This dress has large puffs at the sleeves, very like Ariel's. She also wears a long, opaque white veil on her head, and a pair of white high heels.

With all three outfits she wears a necklace with a golden Nautilus pendant hanging from it, which holds Ariel's voice hostage, until Scuttle destroys it at the end of the movie.


Although her appearance in the film is brief, various details of her personality are apparent. Vanessa is a good actress and very good at appearing demure, quiet, and modest in front of others (such as guests at her wedding), but when alone she talks to herself in a smug fashion, stopping often to praise her own looks or to simply admire herself. When attacked, she drops the quiet demeanor altogether, however, and doesn't hesitate to scream at whoever has earned her ire. She seems to be a fairly callous person (in particular, when she snuggles up to Eric as she watches Ariel flee in heartbreak), as well as vicious (as when she breaks objects around her in private).

Her planned role in the Broadway musical was largely similar, although a notable difference is that she directly interacts with Ariel just before the wedding and was shown to be taunting in her demo song. The lyrics for the song regarding the inevitability of how things end, also hints at Vanessa being at least morbidly cynical if not nihilistic.


Vanessa could hypnotize or at least influence other people with the stolen voice of Ariel stored in her shell necklace so long as the shell is intact. She is either a good swimmer or can teleport given her sudden arrival on the beach outside Eric’s castle. When the shell breaks, her physical beauty starts to diminish rapidly, suggesting she may have glamour abilities. Her transformation into Ursula also clearly denotes the power to transform her appearance. She is neither helpless nor weak, displaying a definite willingness to defend herself.


The Little Mermaid


  • 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!"
  • 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 while 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 bottoms 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.
  • She is the namesake of drag queen Vanessa Vanjie Mateo .
  • Her voice actress also voices Ariel. Her remake live action actress is Jessica Alexander.