The Little Mermaid, one of Disney's most beloved animated treasures, like the majority of the studio's feature-length cartoons is a rosier retelling of a classic fairy tale. The undersea story sees the rebellious mermaid princess Ariel fall head over fishtail for a royal human, Prince Eric. In her desperation to be part of his world, she makes a bargain with the evil sea witch Ursula, trading her beautiful voice for a pair of legs. Despite being rendered mute - and contending with Ursula's meddling - Ariel eventually gets her happy ending with Eric, choosing to live the rest of her life on land with him.
Since its release in 1989, The Little Mermaid has been subject to no end of fan speculation, from filling in missing character backstories to connecting the stand-alone movie to others in the Disney canon. Is the ship Ariel explores the one that carried Elsa and Anna's parents in Frozen? Does Ursula have a tragic hidden past that adds an extra dimension to her villainy? These theorists seem to think so.
One of the most convincing Disney cross-universe links is one fans have suggested between Ariel and the heroic demigod Hercules - titular star of his own animated Disney movie. The familial connection is straightforward for anyone familiar with ancient Greek mythology.
Ariel's father is King Triton, while Hercules's birth father is Zeus. Triton is the son of Poseiden, the god of the sea, hence his title and magical trident.
Triton and Hercules are thus first cousins, and Ariel and Hercules first cousins once removed.
In 2008's The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning, we learn how Triton became a single father: Ariel's mother, Queen Athena, was terminated by pirates. (No wonder her father overreacts to the idea of his daughter interacting with humans.)
The visual similarities between Ariel and a red-headed, unnamed mermaid in Peter Pan are also undeniable. Knowing Athena perished at the hands of seafaring swine, and remembering how scared the group of mermaids Peter befriends in Neverland are of Captain Hook, it's not hard to put two and two together and single out Hook as the one responsible for the queen's demise.
Ursula's relationship to Triton is never made clear in The Little Mermaid, though the film does make sure to heavily hint at some kind of shared history between the King of the Sea and the Sea Witch. Some have argued that Ursula is a scorned ex-lover of Triton's, while others are convinced she's his secret sister, which would make her Ariel's aunt. This point is backed up by bonus material from the 2006 DVD rerelease of the film, revealing that early drafts of The Little Mermaid included such a connection between the pair.
While the brother-sister link never made it into the final version of the animated movie, the Broadway adaptation does refer to the family connection.
Vanessa is the raven-haired, human form Ursula takes to lure Eric from Ariel. But could this disguise actually be an insight into the Sea Witch's mysterious backstory? After all, why bother to create such a drastically different persona when Ursula could have just conjured up a two-legged version of herself matching Ariel's human form? One theory posits that Vanessa is actually Ursula's true mermaid form, with her octopus one being a form of punishment for a past crime.
This would also explain why Triton has such disdain for her - seemingly for no real reason - and why she lives outside the rest of the mermaid community.