Ariel’s red hair in The Little Mermaid is iconic, but did you ever wonder why her hair is that exact shade of siren? There’s actually a fascinating story behind the hair color choice. Disney’s animators originally wanted Ariel to be a blonde, but they ended up making her a redhead so she wouldn’t look too similar to the mermaid, played by Daryl Hannah, in the film Splash, which was wildly popular and came out a just few years before The Little Mermaid (per Oh My Disney).
The animators could have picked black, or brown, or even a hue more wild like purple or blue — Ariel is a mermaid after all — but they decided to make her hair red for one simple reason: the color complemented her green tail.
While the animators of the film wanted to differentiate Ariel from the mermaid in Splash, they had no reservations when it came to her sisters. Two of them, Andrina and Arista, are shown to have blonde hair in the film.
Not everyone was happy that Ariel had red hair in The Little Mermaid
While The Little Mermaid would go on to be popular, not everyone was initially thrilled about the choice to make Ariel a redhead. The Tyco Toys company, which was manufacturing Ariel dolls to coincide with the film’s release, was horrified at the decision, as the film’s co-director, Ron Clements, told CinemaBlend. “They said, ‘All of our research,’ at that time, ‘shows that redheaded dolls have never sold. They don’t sell.’ And they’re making the dolls. And we said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, but she’s going to be a redhead.'”
The company was so worried about the dolls not selling that they made the first dolls with strawberry blonde hair. They were proven wrong, though, and ended up having to remake the dolls after people demanded the redheaded version of Ariel. “Nowadays, you see that hair color, it’s not that unusual anymore,” said Clements.
It wasn’t just the toy company that objected to Ariel’s hair color. Former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg wanted Ariel to be a blonde. “I remember him saying at the time, ‘Everybody knows all mermaids are blonde,'” said Clements. “I don’t know exactly where that came from.”
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