Concept And Creation
Vanessa's role in the film is inspired by the original Andersen tale. In that story, after the prince has been rescued by the mermaid, he is found on the beach by a shrine maiden whom he believes to have saved him. Later on, after the mermaid becomes human, she discovers that the prince will be marrying the maiden. In the end the maiden marries the prince while The Little Mermaid, who chose not to kill the prince and maiden despite the urging of her sisters, dies and ascends to a spiritual rebirth.
Vanessa's place in the film is inspired by the events that transpired in the book. Only now the witch takes the place of the maiden herself, expanding her role as the film's villain.
Vanessa's appearance is that of a slender yet voluptuous young woman, similar to Ariel in certain ways. The majority of the similarities they share is that their waists are similar sizes, and their facial structure is nearly on par to each other. The way their hair is shaped is also in an almost similar overhead fashion. It is believed that this was done to make it more believable that she saved Eric. However, Ursula distinguishes herself from Ariel in many notable ways to keep herself from arousing suspicion from Ariel and her friends, at first.
Most noticeably, their hairstyles are different; while Ariel's hair is flaming red and straight, Vanessa's hair is dark brown and wavy. Also, Vanessa's skin is paler than Ariel's, and her eyes are more almond-shaped and are a violet color instead of blue.
Vanessa wears three outfits during her short appearance on screen. The first of these outfits is a majorelle blue corset with a long light pastel purple 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.
Then, just before the wedding ceremony, Vanessa is seen again in another dress. This one is a vanilla under dress to her wedding gown. It reaches down below her neckline, yet does not have the shoulder straps that Vanessa's corset did beforehand. 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. 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. 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, until Scuttle destroys it.
Because of her very brief appearance, her personality was not fleshed out much, but a few details were apparent. Ursula, while in this form, sheds most of her diva personality and acts more spritely when alone, but puts on a convincing facade of innocence when around others. Vanessa acts much like the valuing of the 'body language' that Ursula talks about, by wearing more revealing outfits than Ariel would, while snuggling Eric sensually. The only times she talks much are either alone, or when under attack, when she will lash out angrily. Despite this, she is not entirely defenseless; when pushed she will begin to fight back brutally, as seen when she choked Scuttle (and when it's implied that she smacked around the other birds). She is also shown to be sadistic, as evidenced by her reaction to seeing Ariel upset.
Vanessa was capable of hypnotizing people with her (actually Ariel's) voice, and can do so so long as her nautilus survives. Presumably, she was also either a skilled swimmer or possessed teleportation abilities, as evidenced by her arrival at Prince Eric's castle from Ursula's grotto. She also has limited shapeshifting capabilities, which are strengthened with the nautilus.
Presumably, she also has the same abilities as Ursula, although it is not made clear either way if she does.
It's also implied that she was capable of summoning a storm when she needs to even without the nautilus, as evidenced by a storm immediately appearing the second the sunset ended on the third day, and her utilizing it to transform back into Ursula.
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.
On the night of the second day. Ursula, as Vanessa, bewitches Eric to marry her by using Ariel's voice in combination with her magic. Then, on the morning of the third day, Eric announced to Grimbsy that his wedding would be at sunset. All the while, Ariel is watching from the shadows as the mysterious dark haired girl snuggles up to Eric suggestively, until she runs away in tears. When Ariel has left, Vanessa giggles to herself and looks at the nautilus around her neck glowing brightly.
Cut forward to sunset of the third day, and the wedding ship has departed. Vanessa is in her dressing room singing for her victory, all the while, unaware that Scuttle, one of Ariel's friends, is spying on her. After a moment, Vanessa looks in a mirror and her true form is revealed. Scuttle panics and flies off to warn Ariel, and gather troops together to the stall the wedding.
When the wedding ceremony begins, Vanessa walks down a line of bowing guests arm-in-arm with a hypnotized Eric. She encounters Eric's sheepdog Max, who angrily growls at her. In retaliation, she kicks Max with an angry pout on her face before raising her head up innocently. After reaching the priest, Vanessa glances over to the setting sun to verify that her scheme is going as planned and smirks wickedly. She then turns to Eric and uses her influence to make him say "I do."
Before Vanessa can say her vows however, Scuttle comes with an attack force of various sea creatures to attack Vanessa. A brief violent scuffle ensues, played mostly for laughs as Vanessa ineffectively tries to defend herself in an increasingly shrill and vicious manner.
Vanessa gets attacked by all sorts of animals: Scuttle leads birds to divebomb her before finally flying between her legs through her skirt, pelicans drop dead fish and cold sea water on her drenching her from head to toe and ruining her hair. A lobster, dropped by one of the pelicans, gets stuck in her veil and pinches her hard on her nose and she screams before countless starfish coat themselves across her torso from the waist up including her screaming mouth. She looks dazed for a minute and stands there with starfish on her body while the priest, oblivious to the commotion, keeps reading the ceremony. She pulls the starfish off of her face and another one from her shoulder, shrieking at them, but seals start bouncing her up and down preventing her from going after more of the starfish. After bouncing her a few times the seals throw her into the wedding cake destroying it and the table. As she angrily crawls out from the ruin, covered in icing, a pod dolphins spit water on her cleaning off the icing, and finally Scuttle screams in her face blowing her hair backwards. She angrily tries to choke Scuttle, who has a tug-of-war with her over the necklace. Just then Eric's sheepdog, Max, breaks his leash and runs across the deck to take an enormous bite out of her butt. This causes the necklace to break from Vanessa's neck, and the nautilus shell containing Ariel's voice is shattered, freeing Ariel's voice. The spell placed on Eric is broken as Ariel's voice is restored to its owner. Eric dumps Vanessa and runs over to Ariel. Vanessa tries to protest, but reacts in shock at her voice now back to normal.
In spite of this, Vanessa/Ursula nonetheless succeeds in winning the deal as the sun sets before Ariel and Eric can kiss, and Ariel transforms back into a mermaid. Vanessa triumphantly unleashes her true form of Ursula in front of the guests, terrifying them before taking Ariel with her under the sea.
Ursula briefly appeared as Vanessa once on House of Mouse in the episode "House of Crime". Goofy interrogates her, asking if she has seen any disguised villains. She silently answers no, and then transforms back into Ursula when Goofy leaves her table, knowing he's a fool.
Vanessa appears in one of the scenes in Voyage of the Little Mermaid in Disney's Hollywood Studios. Rather than having a Cast Member play her on stage, it's just reused clips from the movie, detailing Vanessa hypnotizing Eric and being attacked by the animals on the Wedding Ship.
In one version of Disney on Ice, the story of The Little Mermaid plays out, along with Ursula making an appearance as Vanessa. In this version, she will transform into Vanessa on the rink and dance a solo for a short while before eventually meeting up with Eric.
The process of her hypnotizing him is shown as them doing a tango together, while Sebastian watches. Interestingly enough, when the tango occurs, an instrumental of the deleted song, "Silence is Golden" plays in the background.
Moving forward, Scuttles discovers that Vanessa is Ursula as he spies on her looking through a handsized mirror, prompting him to warn Ariel and gather the animals.
At the wedding, Vanessa's outfit is changed to a large wedding dress, and her movements are more limited as she is being chased by the animals. Scuttle then proceeds to harass her to the point where her wedding dress is in shambles and she is back to her form of Ursula. Max then proceeds to bite Vanessa, causing her to lose Ariel's voice as well.
Vanessa had a brief appearance in Kingdom Hearts II, where, in a similar fashion to the movie, she manages to brainwash Prince Eric. However, they apparently do not wed unlike the film. Sora discovers her and Eric walking down the beach nearing the sunset of the third day without any of them wearing their wedding garments. Flounder instantly identifies Vanessa as being Ursula when he notices the nautilus necklace on her, causing Sora to destroy the necklace by firing a beam from his Keyblade. While walking down the beach, Vanessa sings a very similar song to what Ariel sang to Eric in the movie after saving him the first time.
The Little Mermaid: Magic in Two Kingdoms (Gameboy Advance)
Vaness appears in this game as a boss character for level 6. In this level the player controls the sea creatures attacking Vanessa, and must help them in breaking the necklace she wears by gradually chipping away at the pieces. All while the sun begins to set in the horizon.
Interestingly enough, unlike in the movie, Vanessa in this game shall periodically use her magic to repair the necklace, by engulfing herself in a purple sheild.
In this game, Vanessa plays the same role as she does in the movie. The player first sees her in the Kiss the Girl scene, when Ursula (still in her narrator's bubble) transforms into Vanessa and hypnotizes Eric with her song, thus eliminating the beach scene from the game.
After the "Kiss the Girl" sequence, the player will be taken straight to the wedding. There Vanessa can be seen singing her song, as in the movie, before she moves to the upper deck.
Very little about her role, or even her lines differ from the movie. However, she is given two new lines especially for this game. If one were to click on her while she has Ariel's voice, she will say, "Let's get this wedding over with!" And if the player were to click on Max, he will growl at her for a moment before she calls him a, "Mangy mutt!"
Reflections of Arsulu
Although Vanessa herself doesn't appear in the short story, she is subtly referenced with Ursula's disguise of Arsulu, another alter ego she adopted to infiltrate Atlantica. She is a blonde mermaid with a red tail, and a magenta seashell bra.
She arranges an accidental meeting with Adella and flatters the latter into believing the story that she is searching for her lost boyfriend. Adella even offers Ursula a place to stay: at the palace, right where Ursula wanted. Then she begins to fill the heads of the royal family with poisonous talk, similar to what the Evil Manta did and began turning them against one another while still retaining popularity amongst all but Ariel.
Ariel was the only one who suspected Arsulu's intentions and eventually discovered her true identity. Ariel then exploits this to have a group of fish, with bright scales, show off Arsulu for who she really was.
- 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. 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 very similar manner to Homer and Bart in The Simpsons. (Coincidentally, both The Little Mermaid and the first Simpsons full length episode were released in 1989.)
- 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 twice during her brief appearance with Ariel's voice excluding her song. When she has Ariel's voice she first screams, "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 well she is in disguise just before her marriage to a hypnotized man.
- Had Melissa Fahn gotten the role of Ariel instead of Jodi Benson, she would have also provided the voice of Vanessa. In real life, Melissa strongly resembles Vanessa. Coincidentally, Melissa Fahn later ended up supplying the English voice of Kanako Urashima, a character from the Anime series Love Hina who ended up having a similar attempt at ruining a romantic relationship between two of the main characters to Vanessa's attempt at ruining Ariel's. She also is famous for voicing Gaz (short for Gazlene), an antisocial girl who doesn't have very good relationships with many people at all, romantic or otherwise, on Nickelodeon's Invader ZIM.
- One interesting bit of trivia to note, is during the wedding, when the priest is about to declare Vanessa and Eric man and wife, the blue birds that first attacked Vanessa can be seen being flung backwards, as if they were just struck by something, yet Vanessa had not been seen doing any such. However, one of the storyboards of Vanessa shows her angrily shaking her fists at the bluebirds. This implies that a scene with her fighting back was originally animated, but was left out of the final film for unknown reasons.
- 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.
- Despite Vanessa's relatively minor role in the film, she has gained a dedicated following. Being one of the few villain alter egos (aside from Grimhilde) to get merchandise based on her.