Vanessa is the name of the human woman that Ursula transforms into near the end of The Little Mermaid to stop Ariel from succeeding with Eric. She is the slinky, sly, seductive fiancé of Prince Eric for a day, a remarkably attractive woman who briefly becomes the center of the plot and became a fan favorite character. She is voiced by Jodi Benson.
Concept And Creation
Vanessa's appearance in the film was inspired by the original Danish fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson. 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 from the original plot point to create more dramatic tension and a more powerful villain.
Vanessa looks like a classic Disney princess given some new qualities. She is a slim and fairly small woman nonetheless with generous, voluptuous curves. In many respects she resembles Ariel (and it is believed that this was deliberate to fit in with Eric's hazy recollections); they wear their hair in same overhead style, have nearly identical facial structures, and comparable body types. She also is deeply different from Ariel's appearance in numerous ways.
Although they wear their hair the same way, Vanessa's hair is dark brown and wavy, reaching to the small of her back, a contrast to Ariel's straight red hair. Vanessa's hair also appears black when it is wet or there is no sun shining on it. Vanessa has a paler, more delicate, complexion than Ariel's which accents the red in her sharper, more slanted cheeks. They also have different colored eyes, Vanessa's being violet instead of blue. Vanessa's eyebrows are higher plucked and slanty giving her mischievous expressions at the arching of just one brow and she wears a deeper shade of red lipstick on her fuller lips.
Most importantly Vanessa looks much sexier than Ariel does. Despite Ariel's attractiveness, Vanessa wears dresses that cling, in some cases to the point of being nearly skin-tight, to her curves. This highlight on her curves brings further subtle alterations to bear: Vanessa's breasts are slightly, but impressively, larger than Ariel's and considerably more perky, high on her chest, and tucked into tight dresses that lightly bounce them. Vanessa's waist is smaller than Ariel's which makes her hips, looking as full as Ariel's, actually fuller.
Her proportions are truly almost staggering. Her tight wedding dress shows off an impressive hip to waist ratio and her breasts are large enough that it takes a full grown starfish to cover one of them individually. The starfish spread out is only slightly larger than the radius of the breast only touching the cleavage area slightly. When birds fly through her skirt, it is revealed that she has very shapely legs. Later when the wet dress is sticking to her skin her buttocks is also revealed as generously proportioned and the accurate perkiness of her breasts can be seen to be high.
Vanessa wears three outfits during her appearance on screen. The first of these outfits is a blue corset with a deep v slash tightly laced up and a long light pastel blue dress underneath without sleeves, instead using shoulder straps. She wears this on the beach when she is hypnotizing Eric, along with a long cape as well and is seen wearing it without the cape the next morning. She wears black shoes in this scene but it is not clear whether or not they are heels.
Then, just before the wedding ceremony, Vanessa is seen again in another dress in her private dressing room. This one is a vanilla under dress to her wedding gown, probably a slip. It reaches down below her neckline cutting off just north of her cleavage, yet does not have the shoulder straps that Vanessa's corset did beforehand. It is also considerably tighter than Vanessa's previous dress revealing the size and shape of both her breasts and her butt as well as her waist and stomach. She also wears a pair of black flats.
Vanessa's final dress is a long white wedding dress with ruffles covering the front of it and a split skirt revealing the slip underneath. She has a long veil above her head as well, though unlike Ariel's it is not transparent. She also has shoulder puffs as well, though not as large as Ariel's. This is the most scandalous dress as here there is the faintest depression on the skirt directly on her crotch area, implying the outline of her vagina and her already perky breasts are pushed even higher on her chest by the skintight fabric. The dress ends up being destroyed over the course of Scuttle's attack though. She also wears a pair of white high heels during this time.
And with all three outfits, she wears the nautilus necklace, (holding Ariel's voice) around her neck, either tucked between her breasts or dangling in front of them, until Scuttle destroys it.
Although her appearance in the film is brief, various details of her personality are apparent and many others are obviously inferred. Vanessa clearly puts importance on Ursula’s earlier mentioned principle of body language. All of her dresses accentuate her sexuality, more or less modestly, always clinging to her breasts and hips. She bears more skin than any other clothed character in the film. In the presence of other characters such as Grimsby or the wedding guests, she is demure and quiet, and often very modest acting, but at the same time she will either stroke or touch Eric suggestively, always clinging to him, and standing in poses that make it easy for her to brush her breasts against him, as she does at least twice. When alone, she talks to herself in a smug and immodest fashion, stopping often to praise her looks or simply to admire herself. When not distracted by the need to defend herself she always takes advantage of the opportunity to flaunt her curves, standing next to Eric with sensual postures or snuggling or otherwise touching him suggestively and when alone dancing in an openly erotic fashion. When she attacked she tries to defend herself in a feisty fashion, often scolding her assailants and generally becoming unladylike. She also becomes shrill and screams when lashing out in anger. Despite her mostly successful attempts to appear sweet and modest, her public persona is clearly sexually confident and suggestive, and she frequently displays a callousness (as when she snuggles the whole side of her body against Eric after seeing Ariel flee in heartbreak) or viciousness (as when she destroys indiscriminate objects in privacy) that reveals her as an image conscious woman with a strong bitchy streak in her nature and an active libido.
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 arrive on the beach outside Eric’s castle. Also when the shell breaks, her physical beauty starts to diminish rapidly, implying she may have glamor abilities. Her transformation into Ursula also clearly marks transformation powers. Nor is she helpless and weak, displaying a willingness, if not great skill, to defend herself.
In addition to this she is a good actor and is implied to be skilled in sensuality.
When Ariel comes "too close" to succeeding in her task, Ursula decided to take matters into her own tentacles. She takes the form of a beautiful woman, (under the alias, "Vanessa), with Ariel's voice in order to sabotage her relationship with Eric, laughing derisively as she completes a fast transformation, a dress being transformed onto her unlike Ariel’s earlier transformation.
On the night of the second day, Eric is brooding alone outside of his castle before deciding to pursue Ariel due to a number of factors, when he hears a loud melodious voice singing down on the beach. Though the song is not the same as the one the girl that saved him sung, he thinks the voice might be and turns back around, frantically trying to get a good look at the woman walking up the beach. Though he squints, the fog is too thick for him to see many details, other than that she is a young woman with long hair and sweet pretty sounding voice wearing a dress and cape. He hair, dress and cape are all being blown around by the wind. He continues to stare at what seems to be a light shining on her (in fact Ariel’s voice being used magically from the shell necklace nestled safely between Vanessa’s breasts) without realizing that the light is going into his eyes.
Cutting to the morning of the third day, Eric rigidly announces that his wedding will be at sunset to Grimsby, also introducing Grimsby to his new fiancé. Grimsby seems surprised to meet this lovely young woman in the slinky tight low-cut dress hanging off of Eric’s arm. All the while Ariel is watching this scene from shadows on the upper staircase, having woken earlier and thinking the wedding was going to be to her. She ducks behind a pillar from the instant she sees the three of them standing below, Eric dressed up and ridged, Grimsby surprised but expressive, and this new girl who steps around from Eric’s side, giving Ariel clearly a look. Vanessa clings to Eric with a look of confident adoration on her face, one index finger gliding down his chest. Grimsby congratulates her, and as she turns to shake his hand arches her supple waist closer to Eric. From this distance and angle, however, Ariel cannot see the tell-tale clue of the shell necklace gently swaying on top of Vanessa’s cleavage, and so hearing that the seemingly genuine wedding will be the same day finally breaks down in tears and runs off. Vanessa happens to be staring at the upper landing over Eric’s shoulder and watches Ariel flee expressionlessly. Then she turns her gaze to Eric, starts to smile, and gently nuzzles herself against his side, making a point to brush a breast against his arm in the process. Eric straightens slightly as Vanessa continues to rub along him, but her adoring glance falls downwards, towards her necklace. A smug smirk quickly replaces the sweet smile as she fingers the brightly glowing necklace, one hand pressing it against her bosom, and she giggles to herself.
Cutting forward to the sunset of the same day, the wedding ship has left the dock. Scuttle, still unknowing that Ariel is not to marry Eric, is flying carefree above the wedding ship when he hears a loud melodious voice singing from the bride’s dressing room. In curiosity he flies down and looks through the porthole. He is greeted by the sight of a young dark-haired woman, Vanessa, gracefully twirling, dancing and otherwise flouncing around the cabin wearing only her slip; presumably she is in the middle of getting dressed for the ceremony. She dances up to the boudoir mirror and fluffs her hair before spinning around and dancing away, turning back around, and pulling out a hair pin and throwing it at the mirror. It pins the wooden frame to the wall, hitting the carving of an angel right between the eyes. Scuttle gulps and Vanessa hikes up her skirt, climbing up onto the table, crushing a perfume bottle beneath her heel. Laughing in delight as she spins around she pulls the mirror closer to admire herself. Scuttle panics, recognizing the reflection of the sea witch. He quickly flies off to warn Ariel and then gathers all the available sea life in the area as part of a plan to stall the wedding.
As the wedding ceremony begins Vanessa walks down the aisle arm-in-arm with a hypnotized Eric, guests bowing on either side of them. Vanessa hears a growl in the crowd and looks down at Eric’s sheepdog, Max, glaring at her. She sneers at him with a pouty look on her face and suddenly kicks his head hard with the heel of her heels. The dog whimpers into abrupt silence and Vanessa raises her head up innocently, tightening her grip on Eric, a happy little smile on her lips. The couple reach the priest and the ceremony begins. As it does so Ariel and Flounder are bobbing up and down in the sea towards the stately barely moving wedding ship. Vanessa glances over at the setting sun at one point to assure herself that everything is going as planned and smirks wickedly. She turns a gaze of warm excitement upon the priest, subtly placing her breast against Eric’s arm and leaning a hip into his leg, and Eric intones, “I do.” The priest begins to ask her for her vows, but Vanessa hears squawking in the background and looks behind her, frowning curiously.
Scuttle arrives with an attack force of various sea creatures and immediately starts attacking the bride. Scuttle and group of bluebirds dive straight at Vanessa’s head. She screeches in a cross between shock and anger and quickly ducks, throwing her hands over her head to protect it, dropping her bouquet. The birds whizz just over her head. She straightens up looking very surprised before she starts scowl furiously at the retreating birds. Then she gasps in shock to see them coming back down. Vanessa starts to turn around but the birds are faster, diving beneath her skirt and flying through her outspread legs in a straight column. Eric stands ramrod straight and hypnotized apparently not even noticing the birds zooming through his bride’s skirt. She screams, wide-eyed, throwing her arms out and tries to pivot her weight to keep her balance. Pivoting makes her swing her hips forward so fast that she has to thrust them back and then forward a second time to just barely stay upright. Across the deck some guests are milling in confusion whilst some still apparently do not realize what’s happening as seals launch themselves onto the ship over the railing and start diving through the crowd.
Vanessa, apparently upright and unbothered, looks absolutely furious with a very nasty frown on her face. She starts to turn her back around to face the priest again, presumably to say her vows, but her face turns right into a splash of cold sea water. There is a pelican flying over her head that has dumped a beak-full of seawater on her, the volume being enough to soak her head and chest, clipping the top of her head with its beak. She cries out in protest and shock and her upper body is now dripping wet, her hair ruined. Before she can recover another one flies over her, although she sees it coming this time, and drops more water on her, splashing further down her torso this time, as well as dead fish that fall off her to the deck as she shrieks. A third one flies at her just as she starts to open her eyes hitting her on the back of the head (again she screams) and also dropping four lobsters on her. The lobsters land on different parts of her, and though one grabs playfully at her necklace and another pinches her skirt, three of them scurry off of her. The last one sits on her head and as she awkwardly tries to regain her posture reaches out its claw and pinches her hard on her nose. Vanessa throws her head down and then straightens up, arching her back with her body thrust entirely forward, screaming in pain, her eyes shut. Many starfish from an unknown location come hurtling towards the air at her and start to land on her, sticking onto her dress. She opens her eyes with an expression of shock as the first one lands on her shoulders before looking down with a little of disgust on top of the shock and pain as one starts to land on her right breast. Within a second more and more have thickly covered her until a final one comes flying towards her and slaps across her face, covering everything including her screaming mouth, except for her eyes. Her head slams backwards, her scream suddenly silenced. As her head lifts forward again she stands there for a moment looking dazed with her entire body from waist to face covered in starfish as the lobster smiles on her head. The priest in the meantime is partially deaf, and as we saw earlier, blind and tries to keep reading the ceremony while bluebirds buzz around him. One or two of them look as though they’ve been knocked backwards. Vanessa yanks the starfish on her face off of it, screaming at it to get away from her even before it’s entirely removed, a look of sheer rage on her face as she throws it to the ground. She plucks a second one off of her shoulder as she continues the tirade and her hand hovers just over her breast, perhaps in preparation to remove that one, when she simultaneously loses her balance falling backwards. She screams to find herself suddenly not on her feet, but being bounced up and down by a seal on her butt. It bounces her again and then again as she shrieks each time and bluebirds whizz around her triumphantly.
Ariel reaches the boat and starts to climb aboard at this point. On the deck the seal finally bounces Vanessa a good ways across the deck where another seal catches her and bounces her again. Screaming, she lands right on top of the wedding cake and falls into it, splitting the crumbly structure right down the middle. She hits the table, breaks it and the glasses, and falls to the floor, disappearing in a pile of icing. Ariel pulls herself up over the side and looks at the chaos with shock and a little disapproval. Vanessa staggers back to her feet with a shriek of pure rage, throwing her arms straight up and emerges from the ruins of the cake. She is completely covered in icing and stands there looking more furious than ever. A pod of dolphins jumps up at the rail behind her, squeaking, and hearing the noise, Vanessa spins around still angry and suspicious. One after the other they all spit on her. Soaking wet as if she’d been thrown under water, Vanessa’s arms are stretched out in the air as water drips off her hair and dress, looking like she’s trying to breathe. Coincidentally all the water washed the icing off. Just then, Scuttle flies in front of her and screams in her face like a horn, blowing her hair backwards and mussing it further by the improper drying, as she arches her back. Her eyes bulge with fury and while he hovers there, apparently believing her helpless, she grabs him with both hands by the neck and starts throttling him screaming angrily, “Oh why you little!” Far across the deck, Grimsby is struggling to hold Max on his leash, the dog clearly wanting to run off. After a brief standoff the leash snaps and Max bounds across the deck as the guests run around, more chaotic than ever. As Max runs forward Vanessa is still trying to strangle Scuttle, but the seagull has the cord of her necklace clenched in his beak and has pulled it taut, kicking her face with his webbed feet, trying to force her to let him go. Vanessa grunts under her breath, but keeps her grip. Max draws up behind her, neither Vanessa nor Scuttle having the attention to notice him coming, stops and opens his mouth very wide. Then he takes an enormous bite out of Vanessa’s butt. Vanessa shrieks louder than ever and starts jerking forward trying to get away from the bite. Scuttle, whom Vanessa simultaneously lost her grip on, is pulling harder at the necklace which has the effect of making her jerk forward and then back again to her greater panic and so she keeps straining forward. Finally the necklace strap snaps and the shell goes hurtling across deck to break at Ariel’s feet.
Ariel’s voice is restored and Eric reunites with her, completely ignoring Vanessa who is now lying on the opposite side of the deck, wet and disheveled. Recognizing Ariel, Vanessa pulls her upper body up, glaring loathing across the deck. She shouts at Eric to stay away from Ariel, but upon hearing that she no longer has Ariel’s dewy pretty voice, covers her mouth in shock. Despite her frantic pleas, the couple prepare to kiss, but are still a fraction too late. Cackling at her nail-biter triumph, Vanessa stands upright, now rather haggard and unattractive looking completely apart from the ruined hair, dress and makeup. Gloating, she is struck by lightning and transforms back into Ursula, exploding out of the suddenly small and ruined wedding dress.
- 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!"
- Vanessa was the second human female character to be animated with a bouncing bosom and a woman’s swaying walk, the first being Jessica Rabbit, and the first villain to be so animated. Though this is mostly implied rather than directly shown in the long shot when she walks up the aisle with Eric the way that her necklace slides between two frames on her chest clearly makes her breasts appear to bounce and her skirt moves like a sway in her hips.
- There is a split-second panel of Vanessa when the birds have dived through her dress at her wedding where there is a dark cel that can be seen in her crotch area, implying that she was not wearing any panties.
- 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 well 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 butts 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.