Otherwise Known As: Vanessa (Her human disguise)
Premiered in: The Little Mermaid (1989)
Voiced By: Pat Carroll
Ursula the Sea-Witch is a name that most people almost immediately recognize, even those who’ve never seen The Little Mermaid though that is almost a rare possibility even now well over two decades since its premiere. There are plenty of reasons that The Little Mermaid is considered the precursor of the Disney Renaissance and Ursula is one of them. She is a villain that is neither too beautifully horrendous nor too inhumanly alluring to look at with a voice that is surprisingly devilish and deliciously hilarious to listen to whether she’s speaking matter-of-factly or singing of poor, unfortunate souls.
Ursula’s motivation as a villain is… not really arguable as it is variable by whichever point one happens to view her character both in the film and the medias outside it though not including that clone of a sequel. Overall, she wants to become the most powerful sorceress in all seven oceans, something that she accomplishes by way of her “devil-deals” in which she promises her victims a gift of their choosing (being thinner, becoming human, etc.) but they must accomplish the task set before them by Ursula at a certain time and, if not, the power of their souls becomes hers and they get turned into polyps. I say the power of their souls because it is devastatingly evident that those poor things are more than aware of their fate at the tentacles of the cecalia (or “octopid” if you’re going by the animated serie’s name for Ursula’s species).
It is only through Ariel’s foolhardy dealings with Ursula that the sea-witch tries to go above and beyond her usual power-grabbing goals by using Ariel to get to Triton or more specifically, King Triton’s trident. Here’s where things get interesting however… in original drafts for the film, and most prevalently in the Broadway show, Ursula is King Triton’s sister and thus Ariel’s aunt. While I can’t say much for the original draft, the Broadway show has it that Ursula’s little shell pendant is in fact her major source of power and one of the two treasures passed down to her and Triton upon their father’s passing. The shell has little power whence compared to the trident however and Ursula, seeking a means of becoming equal to her brother, set herself down a dark path by way of… well, as she sings, “helping poor unfortunate souls”.
Her minions, or as she calls them, her “poopsies” are a pair of twin moray eels by name of Flotsam and Jetsam and are quite easily the most successful minions to date. Why, I’d go so far as to say that they could very well be villains themselves if they didn’t devote themselves and their unique ability to Ursula. Their ability of course is their unique power to “combine” their distinctive white eyes and allow Ursula to see what they see via her crystal ball. Contrary to any minion that has come before them, and many more that would follow in their wake, Flotsam and Jetsam were successful in every task that they were ordered to do and are, ironically, what led Ursula to her downfall once she had Triton’s trident in her grasp and all the power of the seven oceans. In her cat-and-mouse game with Ariel, Ursula inadvertently ends up killing the twin eels which ticks her off pretty badly.
Well before, she was just toying with Ariel, more than likely going to turn her into a polyp like Triton, but after the death of her “poopsies?”
Oh, she was positively murderous.
In a way, she shares this trait with the wicked fairy Maleficent who didn’t really go on the attack until Merryweather had turned Maleficent’s raven Diablo to stone. Ursula was so hell-bent on killing Ariel that she failed to notice Eric making use of one the numerous shipwrecks that she had wrought up from the ocean floor and used it to impale her through the stomach and cause the trident’s power to backfire upon her, electrocuting her in the process before she sunk into the ocean depths where she promptly exploded to bits.
Needless to say, Ursula’s is one of the more graphic deaths in Disney history.
Overall, Ursula is one of the definitive Disney Villains, something that she’s more than earned by way of catchy villainous song, attitude, and blast it, a pair of minions that villains far worse than her would be lucky to covet let alone have to work for them. Honestly, though she did die in the end, I’d say that Ursula, out of the many Disney Villains that have come before her and the many that have and will continue to follow in her wake, she above all others have forever earned a place of immortality amongst the continuing generations of mankind.