Disney’s villains often captivate audiences with their flamboyant personalities, cunning strategies, and compelling backstories, and Ursula from ‘The Little Mermaid’ is no exception. The main antagonist of both the 1989 animation and the 2023 adaptation is based on an unlikely source, one who embodies theatricality and confidence – the iconic drag queen, Divine.
Ursula, the sea witch who craftily deals with mermaids to fulfill their dreams, only to further her own ambitions, is one of Disney’s most memorable villains. While her character is loosely based on the unnamed sea witch from Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale, her larger-than-life persona, fiery self-confidence, and theatrical flair were inspired by Divine, a drag queen whose influence has shaped many Disney villains to come.
In the 2023 adaptation, Melissa McCarthy steps into Ursula’s tentacles, and she acknowledged the importance of honoring Ursula’s drag queen roots. McCarthy admitted to using drag as an influence for her portrayal, stating, “There’s a drag queen that lives in me. I’m always right on the verge of going full-time with her.”
McCarthy’s connection to drag runs deep. She previously performed as a drag persona under the pseudonym Miss Y in various clubs, providing her with a unique background that she utilized to bring Ursula’s character to life on screen.
The prototype for Ursula, Divine (real name Harris Glenn Milstead), gained fame primarily through her role in the 1988 musical Hairspray. In addition, Divine had a successful singing career in the late ’70s, with many of her songs gaining popularity in nightclubs across the US and Europe.
Sadly, Divine passed away from a heart attack in 1988 at the age of 42, while preparing for another movie. She never had the opportunity to witness her last film or Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid,’ where her alter ego was immortalized in the character of Ursula.
A Subtle Nod to Meghan Markle and a Possible Dig at Kate Middleton
Disney’s new adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” appears to digg into real-world royal drama, according to a reviewer who attended an early screening. The critic suggests that the film subtly references the ongoing tension between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, and Kate Middleton, through its lead characters, Ariel and Prince Eric.
Ariel, who is portrayed as Black in the new version, and Prince Eric, who is white, seem to mirror Meghan and Harry in a number of plausible ways. However, the film appears to take the comparisons a step further in a specific scene, which our source described as surprisingly literal.
“In the film, Ariel has sacrificed her voice to reach the surface and meet Prince Eric. Unable to speak, Prince Eric tries to guess her name,” the critic shared. “His first guess is Diana. His second guess is Catherine, but after Ariel gives a disgusted reaction, he concludes, ‘OK, definitely not Catherine.'”
The scene leaves the viewer wondering about the mermaid’s strong response to the name Catherine, with nothing in the movie’s internal narrative to explain her reaction. The critic added, “Disney would be disingenuous to imply those name choices were coincidental.”
For those not well-versed in royal affairs, Diana is the name of Prince Harry’s late mother, while Catherine is the full name of his sister-in-law, Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales. Middleton has often been cast as Markle’s nemesis in the ongoing saga surrounding Meghan and Harry’s exit from royal duties, commonly referred to as Megxit.
As Disney’s “Little Mermaid” prepares to make waves in theaters, audiences may find themselves not just immersed in a beloved fairy tale but also drawn into a narrative echoing contemporary royal dynamics.