This trio of art prints, featuring well-known scenes from the Disney animated feature The Little Mermaid, have been hand-signed by three of the film’s biggest stars: Jodi Benson (Ariel), Pat Carroll (Ursula), and Samuel E. Wright (Sebastian).
In addition to its immense popularity, The Little Mermaid, which was released on November 17, 1989, is also significant for its role in sparking the ten-year revival of Disney animation, known as the Disney Renaissance, which brought unparalleled success to the studio, after the disappointing downturn in quality and public reception of its animated features in the years following Walt Disney’s death. The film, based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, also saw a return to the traditional fairytale genre, within which Walt had initially established his animation empire. The writing, producing, and directing talents of Ron Clements and John Musker, along with the inspired animation of Disney artists such as Glen Keane, Mark Henn, and Andrea Deja, and memorable compositions by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman propelled the film to three Academy Award nominations, two of which it won.
Best-Original-Song winner “Under the Sea” was performed in the film by Samuel E. Wright, as Sebastian the Crab. Wright, who grew up acting and singing in the small South-Carolina town he called home landed his big break with a role in the 1974 Sherman Brothers’ Broadway musical Over Here! alongside the likes of the Andrews Sisters, John Travolta, Marilu Henner, Treat Williams, and Ann Reinking. In 1980, he starred with Sonny Shroyer in the short-lived Dukes of Hazzard spin-off Enos. Four years later, a return to Broadway earned him a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his performance in The Tap Dance Kid. The end of the decade brought him a turn as Dizzy Gillespie in Clint Eastwood’s Charlie-Parker biopic Bird, as well as the Disney voice-acting role for which he is most famous. His relationship with Disney continued in the years that followed, as he reprised the role of Sebastian for various film and television projects, and went on to star in the company’s hit Broadway production, The Lion King, for which he was again nominated for a Tony—this time for his role as Mufasa. In the mid-90s, he and his wife founded the Hudson Valley Conservatory of Fine Arts, where both now teach.
The art print signed by Wright features a scene from the film’s “Kiss the Girl” sequence—another Menken-Ashman hit whose music and lyrics, done justice by another incredible performance by Wright, has earned it a spot as one of the most beloved songs in the Disney canon. Wright has personalized the print, which shows Ariel and Prince Eric in a romantic moment, courtesy of Sebastian’s serenading (as Flounder and company complement the song with choreography):
“Sing wid me now”
Despite the much-deserved recognition of “Under the Sea,” perhaps the most enduring composition, in regard to the film’s legacy, is the centerpiece-track “Part of Your World,” sung by Jodi Benson as Ariel.
Benson, who grew up in Rockford, Illinois, began a successful Broadway career in 1983 with her role in Marilyn: An American Fable. A few years later, she starred in Smile, which is where she first met Howard Ashman, who co-wrote the show’s music. Though the production was largely unsuccessful on Broadway, the meeting of Benson and Ashman would have larger implications, as the two would reunite soon after on the biggest project of either of their careers. Benson’s portrayal of Ariel in The Little Mermaid has since gone down as one of the most-loved performances in Disney animated history. The fame and popularity it brought Benson led to countless more voice-acting roles from both Disney and other studios. She also returned to Broadway in 1992’s Gershwin musical, Crazy for You—a role which garnered her a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Musical—as well as a turn in the 1998 production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. In 2011, she was named a Disney Legend for her prolific voice-acting and singing career—the highlight, of course, being her starring role in The Little Mermaid.
The print signed by Benson features promotional artwork that includes the film’s main characters. Alongside the title text, Benson has inscribed the following:
With love to you – a fellow dreamer – from “The Little Mermaid”!
Another of the film’s stars, Pat Carroll, who voiced the scene-stealing sea-witch Ursula, also went on to a successful voice-acting career after her role in The Little Mermaid. Carroll began as a television actress and comedian in the 1950s, appearing for the next several decades on such programs as The Red Buttons Show, Make Room for Daddy, Ceasar’s Hour—for which she won an Emmy—The Steve Allen Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Laverne and Shirley, The Ted Knight Show, and ER. She also earned a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her work in 1956’s Catch a Star. In the late 60s, she starred alongside Brian Keith and Doris Day in the feature With Six You Get Eggroll. Even considering her remarkable seven-decades-long career, Carroll’s part in The Little Mermaid quickly became her standout role. Her performance as one of the most popular Disney villains of all time and contribution to the film’s soundtrack (“Poor Unfortunate Souls”) have been adored by audiences since the film’s release.
The art print depicting the evil sea-witch who everybody loves to hate is signed in the hand of the actress with the following inscription:
Oceans of love –
These one-of-a-kind, hand-signed prints, personalized by the stars of The Little Mermaid, represent a unique collection of memorabilia from the seminal feature which ushered in the Disney Renaissance, and the talented individuals who made it possible.