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Ariel is a fictional character and the title character of Walt Disney Pictures' 28th animated film The Little Mermaid (1989). She subsequently appears in the film's prequel television series (1992—1994), direct-to-video sequel The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000), and direct-to-video prequel The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning (2008). Ariel is voiced by Jodi Benson in all official animated appearances and merchandise. She is fourth in the Disney Princess lineup, the first nonhuman princess, and the only princess to become a mother to her own child.

Ariel is the seventh-born daughter of King Triton and Queen Athena of an underwater kingdom of Merfolk called Atlantica. She is often rebellious, and in the first film, she longs to be a part of the human world. She marries Prince Eric, whom she rescued from a shipwreck, and together they have a daughter, Melody.

The character is based on the title character of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" story but was developed into a different personality for the 1989 animated film adaptation. Ariel has received a mixed reception from critics; some publications such as Time criticize her for being too devoted to Eric whereas others, such as Empire, praise the character for her rebellious personality, a departure from previous Disney Princesses. Halle Bailey will play the live-action version of the character in the live-action adaptation of the original 1989 film.

Ariel was based on the title character of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid", but co-director and writer Ron Clements felt that the mermaid in the original story was too tragic and rewrote the character, resulting in Ariel.

Jodi Benson, who was predominantly a stage actress, was chosen to voice Ariel because the directors felt "it was really important to have the same person doing the singing and speaking voice". Clements stated that Benson's voice had a unique "sweetness" and "youthfulness". When recording the vocals for "Part of Your World", Benson asked that the lights in the studio be dimmed, to create the feeling of being deep under the sea. "Part of Your World", which was referred to by songwriter Howard Ashman as the "I Want" song, was originally going to be cut from the final film, owing to Jeffrey Katzenberg's belief that it slowed the story down, but Ashman and Keane fought to keep it in.

Ariel's original design was developed by animator Glen Keane. Her appearance was based on a number of inspirational sources, Alyssa Milano (who was 16 at the time in addition to hosting the making of the special on Disney Channel,) and model-comedian Sherri Stoner, who provided live-action references for the animators during the development of the film. The movement of Ariel's hair underwater was based on footage of astronaut Sally Ride while she was in space. Extra reference was given by filming Stoner swimming in a pool, which also helped guide Ariel's aquatic movement.

A challenge in animating Ariel for the 1989 film was the color required to show Ariel in the changing environments, both under the sea and on land, for which the animators required thirty-two color models, not including costume changes. The bluish-green color of Ariel's mermaid tail was a hue specially mixed by the Disney paint lab; the color was named "Ariel" after the character. The choice of red as Ariel's hair color was the subject of dispute between the filmmakers and studio executives who wanted the character to have blonde hair. It was noted that red hair contrasted better with Ariel's green tail, red was easier to darken than yellow, and Disney's live-action branch Touchstone Pictures had recently released Splash that had a blonde mermaid; Ariel's red hair was ultimately kept.

In an interview, Jodi Benson stated that for Ariel's Beginning, the writers revised the script multiple times to make sure Ariel retained her relevance in a more modern context. Benson complained to them that they wrote Ariel out of character and suggested they bring her back to her roots.

Ariel is the youngest of King Triton and Queen Athena's seven daughters. She is often seen in the company of Flounder, her best friend, and Sebastian, her father's advisor who is often assigned to keep an eye on her. In the television series and first film, Ariel has a fascination with the human world and often goes off to find human artifacts that she displays in a secret grotto. Ariel is often rebellious, wandering off on her own to explore her surroundings, and frequently disobeys the orders of her father or Sebastian, causing conflict between the characters. In The Little Mermaid, she is depicted as being willing to do anything to be with Prince Eric, even giving up her voice to become human. Clements described her as a typical teenager, prone to errors of judgment. She also is incredibly curious, and her curiosity often leads her into dangerous situations.

Ariel is kind and caring to others no matter what their circumstances, as depicted in the television series. In an early episode, Ariel helps an orphaned merboy who had fallen in with a bad crowd. In another episode, Ariel befriends a supposed bad luck creature and protects it from Ursula and other merfolk who wish it harm. Ariel appears as an adult in Return to the Sea and gives birth to a daughter named Melody, becoming the first, and currently, only, Disney princess to become a mother. Ariel is protective of her daughter, as Triton was of Ariel in the first film. After Morgana threatens Ariel and King Triton, Prince Eric and Ariel build a wall around the palace to protect Melody from Morgana and other terrors of the ocean. Although it protected her, it could not protect her curiosity. Ariel's Beginning depicts her personality as it was in the original film after Jodi Benson had advocated returning the character to her roots. Ariel is once again rebellious, and after her father decrees music to be banned in Atlantica she runs away with Sebastian and his band.

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