Original hand painted five cel key set-up of Ursula, Ariel, and Founder on matching water color production background from "The Little Mermaid," 1989
For me, Ursula is the last of the Disney Villains in which to collect. "The Little Mermaid," 1989 was the final Disney film using hand painted animation cels; so my animation collecting goes from the Evil Queen/Witch to Ursula the Sea Witch. Disney Studios, specifically Ron Clements and John Musker, adapted the Hans Christian Anderson story to give the villain a much bigger role. The first choice to voice the character was Beatrice Arthur who turned down the part. It was eventually accepted by veteran stage actress Elaine Stritch; however she clashed with the music stylist. The voice was finally given to Pat Caroll who described the role as, "part Shakespearean actress, with all the flair, flamboyance and theatricality, and part used-car salesman with a touch of con artist." Although I would have loved to have heard Arthur and Stritch sing "Pour Unfortunate Souls," Ursula is the absolute embodiment of Caroll and I think she was the best choice!
The animation of the character was initially offered to Glen Keane, however after hearing Jodi Benson sing "Part of Your World" he wanted to animate Ariel instead and so Ursula ended up going to Disney animator, Ruben Aquino. Aquino credits Ursula as his favorite character in which he has ever worked and said, "When animating Ursula, I was inspired mainly by the voice and by the story sketches, but of course, I also worked very closely with the directors (John Musker and Ron Clements) to realize their vision. Given a great voice, the scenes almost animate themselves, and that definitely was the case with Pat Carroll's amazing vocal performance. I also did a lot of research on octopus locomotion to make sure Ursula's movements were convincing."
Photo showing the full water color background with bar code
I purchased this set-up from the two photos pictured above and also with the knowledge that it was a five cel key set-up with matching production background. All this was true, however when I finally had possession of the piece and took it apart I noticed that one of the cels was under the others, and had never been photographed correctly. The white arc reflection on the bottom of the light blue orb was hidden and so I put the cels back together in correct order and have taken different photos (shown below) to show the hidden cel as well as close ups. The list of cels include, 1) Ursula, 2) Bubbles above and below the blue orb, 3) Light blue orb, 4) Ariel and Flounder, and 5) White arc reflection on the lower part of the orb.
The full set-up including the white arc bubble spot
Close up of Urusla
Close up of Ariel, Flounder, light blue orb, white bubble arc, and surrounding bubbles
Because of the thick layer of five different cels, the piece was difficult for me to photograph because, as a whole, it was functioning as a mirror. I use Museum Perfect Glass, which cuts reflections, but I still had difficulty getting non-glare images.
Framed key set-up
I remember going to see this film when it came out with my best friend at the time, Robbie in Wilmington, NC. I loved the film and I specifically loved Ursula's "Poor Unfortunate Souls" sequence. The set-up that I acquired and is pictured here is not from that scene, but rather when Ursula first appears in the film. She gives a quick history of her and King Triton, calls for her eels Flotsam and Jetsam, and states that Ariel "may be the key to Triton's undoing."
The link below shows the cels and the scene in full: