At 16, Ariel is the youngest daughter of King Triton, the sovereign of the Mermaid Kingdom, and though she loves everything underwater, she can't help to be fascinated by the world above, so she spends her days treasure hunting - scavenging around for all type of human objects - trying to find a connection.
When she fails to show up for a concert -in which she was supposed to perform - she starts to get in trouble with her father, and in a show of rebellion, ends up going to the surface to see a display of fireworks, and that's where she sees Prince Eric for the first time, falling in love just like that.
After she saves his life, and returns him to his kingdom, Ariel is more determined than ever to be part of his world, so she strikes a bargain with the sea witch Ursula, and sets about claiming the heart of her prince.
The Little Mermaid is one of my favorite movies ever, I'm old enough that I remember when my parents took me to see it as a little kid when it was first released - must have been about five at the time - and I remember how it was the beginning of this wonderful new era of Disney that we are still enjoying.
I think that it is with Ariel that you start to see the change, the heroines - princesses - become more proactive they do the rescuing rather than waiting around for their prince, and Eric! Eric has some lines!!! I don't think any prince had had any significant amount of dialogue since Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty, honestly!
But Eric? Eric is swoony and handsome - I think he started my fixation with tall, dark and handsome - and he's kind. And he actually stops obsessing about the mythical girl he might never find a starts to see the wonderful, mute girl he has in front of him. I love him for it.
I know a lot of purists don't like the changes Disney made to the original story, and well, I've read the Hans Christian Andersen tale and I'm glad they changed it. Andersens' Little Mermaid is tragic and has it's own value because of it, but it would have broken my fragile psyche to have seen that on screen as a five year old. Sorry, but it's the truth!
Anyway, love this movie, I recommend you watch it if you haven't already - or just re-watch it, feel like a little kid again!