Many Disney films are set in fictional locations. For example, you have Arendelle (Frozen), Corona (Tangled), and Motunui (Moana) – three examples of places that aren’t on any world map. But just because they’re fictional area names does not mean they all have to take place in a different world. A lot of places in Disney films are actually based on real-life counterparts in the world.
One question many Disney fans continue to ask is where (and when) does the Little Mermaid take place? When Frozen came out in 2013, there was a theory that characters from Frozen, Tangled, The Little Mermaid, and Tarzan were all inter-connected. And because of that theory, it’s believed that The Little Mermaid takes place in Denmark, somewhere in the North Sea. But with the release of Frozen 2, there may be a wrench thrown into that theory. Let me explain.
The Frozen-Tangled-The Little Mermaid-Tarzan Theory
When Frozen first came out in 2013, there were a lot of scenes that helped this theory to become one of the more popular ones in all Disney film theories. Basically, it states that Anna and Elsa are Rapunzel’s cousins (with some theories even stating that Elsa and Rapunzel are siblings and Anna is the cousin because of Elsa and Rapunzel’s magical abilities). Anna and Elsa’s parents survive the shipwreck and get on a lifeboat before it ends up sinking down into the sea, which becomes the ship seen in The Little Mermaid. The King and Queen of Arendelle end up in a jungle and have a son, but they’re killed by a leopard and their son goes on to become Tarzan.
Earliest records of this theory point back to Tumblr user ercmreh. The theory is grounded on the geography of the stories, the timeline of events and the timeline in real life. Let’s start with the fact that Tangled was released in 2010. Three years later, in 2013, Frozen was released. Take note of this, because this will be important later.
At the start of Frozen, we see Anna and Elsa’s childhoods that make them the way they are. Elsa was born with magical ice powers which she could control with relative ease and confidence. However, after Elsa accidentally hurts Anna with her magic, their parents, the King and Queen of Arendelle, have Anna’s memories altered so she forgets about Elsa’s powers and then isolate Elsa from her sister and the rest of the world. Elsa, no longer confident in her ability to control her powers, no longer interacts with Anna. Even when their parents are presumed dead after they are lost at sea during a storm, Elsa refuses to open her bedroom door for Anna. The events of Frozen take place three years later, after Elsa turns 21 and is old enough to be crowned queen of Arendelle.
Take note that the parents go on a trip three years before the events of Frozen. Now, in a Disney timeline, what could have been so important that would make the King and Queen of Arendelle leave their magical daughter struggling to control her powers? This theory would argue two possibilities: the return of the long-lost princess Rapunzel of Corona or the wedding of Rapunzel to Eugene Fitzherbert (a.k.a Flynn Rider). After all, Anna mentioned that they’d only be gone for two weeks. Also, why would Frozen feel the need to add “Three Years Later” to signal the number of years between their parents’ death?
You might think that this is just a coincidence. But the connection between Frozen and Tangled goes deeper. When Anna sings “For the First Time in Forever,” she runs out the gates the moment they’re opened after years of staying closed. Take a look at who Anna almost runs into when she exits.
On the lower-right corner, you’ll see a girl with short brown hair in a light pink and violet dress accompanied by a man with long brown hair. Looks familiar?
Sure, it’s unlikely that Rapunzel’s hair would have stayed that short in three years and be wearing her everyday dress to her own cousin’s wedding, but their appearance in Frozen suggests that both stories take place in the same universe.
This Theory Suggests Where The Little Mermaid Takes Place
Now, let’s look at the geography. While Arendelle and Corona do not exist, we can pin-point where both kingdoms roughly are based on architecture, landscape, fashion, and history. Based on these, Corona would most likely be along the Baltic Sea, somewhere in northern Germany or Poland. Arendelle, on the other hand, is a bit on the nose because it’s most likely named after Arendal, Norway, a Norwegian city that exists in real life. The city is said to be a coastal city with woods and hills, just like the fictional Arendelle is.
In Frozen, Anna says goodbye to her parents, saying she’ll see them in two weeks. Given the distance between southern Norway and northern Germany, even with an early type of ship, there would be enough time in two weeks for the King and Queen of Arendelle to head to Corona, stay a few days, and then return home. However, we know that they either don’t make it to Corona or they don’t survive the trip home. Which means that they died somewhere in the sea in between these two kingdoms, but in a place that allows their ship’s remains to sink into The Little Mermaid territory.
In between Norway and Germany is Denmark, which is situated between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Given the route the ship would have had to take, it’s most likely that the ship crashed somewhere in the North Sea. In the films, it’s said that Ariel and her family lived in the Kingdom of Atlantica in the Atlantic Ocean. Given the fact that the fastest sharks can swim up to 50 miles per hour and that Ariel can outrun a shark, it’s possible that she can go exploring off to the North Sea. So, that would mean that Prince Eric’s kingdom would be somewhere along the shores of Denmark.
Or at least that’s what the theory wants you to believe.
Why Frozen 2 Destroys That Theory
After the release of Frozen 2 in 2019, theories that suggest The Little Mermaid is located in Denmark started to unravel. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t watched Frozen 2 from this point onwards.
As Anna, Elsa, and Olaf continue north into the Enchanted Forest, they find the remains of their parents’ ship. They find old documents that reveal the true purpose of their departure. They weren’t heading south to Corona as the theory claimed, but up north to find Ahtohallan to find answers regarding Elsa’s powers. Elsa uses the memory of the water to see what happened in the ship, and she discovers that their parents died together in the ship when the Dark Sea’s waves got too high for their ship to handle.
This destroys nearly all the facts that connect Frozen, Tangled, The Little Mermaid, and Tarzan together. This just makes that scene of Rapunzel and Eugene arriving in Arendelle a small Easter egg. So, does that mean with all the theories debunked after Frozen 2, does that mean The Little Mermaid unlikely isn’t set in Denmark?
If you’re looking at it logically, not necessarily.
Where Does The Little Mermaid Really Take Place?
Just because the links that connect these four movies together collapsed with the answers brought by Frozen 2 does not mean there are independent hints surrounding The Little Mermaid itself that prove it actually is set in Denmark. There’s actually a lot of evidence to back this up even without this connection.
First of all, take a look at The Little Mermaid’s origins outside of Disney. The 1989 film is actually based on the 1837 fairy tale, “The Little Mermaid.” Sure, the original fairy tale is much more brutal than the Disney film, but that is the original source of the story. The author? Hans Christian Andersen — a Danish writer born in Odense, Denmark. And while it’s never explicitly stated that the kingdom in the story is set in Denmark, it was originally a fairy tale written in their local language, so it can be assumed it’s set there.
Second, look at all the characters featured in The Little Mermaid. Eric’s chef, Chef Louis, is implied to be French, but no one else shares this accent so they’re not in France. Grimsby, the majordomo, has an accent, but we can’t quite call it a British accent. His dog, Max, is an Old English Sheepdog that emerged in England. So, we can tell that Eric’s kingdom is based somewhere in western Europe. Now, look at the weddings Eric had. During his wedding with Ursula (known to him as Vanessa), he holds it on a ship. And during his real wedding with Ariel, it’s also on a ship. The practice of holding a wedding close to water and holding it on a wooden ship makes reference to the Vikings’ tradition. Also, in The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, we see that Melody meets a penguin and a walrus, which means Eric’s kingdom is a bit closer to the Arctic Circle. So, we’re looking for a western European country close to England and French culture, but also practicing Northern Viking tradition. The middle ground between these two cultures? Denmark.
So, while Disney hasn’t explicitly stated that The Little Mermaid takes place in Denmark, a lot of the evidence points to Denmark. Even if the shipwreck we see doesn’t belong to the King and Queen of Arendelle.
When Does The Little Mermaid Take Place?
We can’t really pin-point when The Little Mermaid takes place, but we can estimate based on facts and what we see in the film. Hans Christian Andersen wrote the story in the mid-19th century, but does that mean Disney made the film set at roughly the same time? Based on some of the fashion pieces, we can actually estimate roughly when The Little Mermaid does take place.
The first piece of evidence I saw was the fact that when Ariel was Prince Eric’s guest in the castle. Nightgowns go back as early as the 16th century, but the earliest nightwear was a simple rectangular shift that made one modest while they sleep. It wasn’t until the 19th century when feminine nightgowns became more distinguishable from other undergarments, but it was originally intended to be easy to wear and remove in case a person was ill. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century when nightgowns became more elaborate and decorated with lace and frills as well as colored something other than cotton white. And what do we see Ariel wearing to bed?
That’s right: a pink nightgown with frills and lace.
Next, take a look at Vanessa/Ursula and Ariel’s wedding gowns.
Remember that Eric is a prince (and based on his castle, a very wealthy prince). But prior to the mid-19th century, wearing white wedding dresses were not popular. Royalty and other wealthy families would wear gowns of varying colors, while commoners would wear dark everyday clothes as they couldn’t afford to keep light-colored clothes clean. It wasn’t until Queen Victoria wore white to her wedding in 1840 did brides from wealthy families and other royal families follow suit. Back then, wearing a white wedding gown was a status symbol for women of wealthy families because it was implied they were only going to wear that dress once to prevent it from staining. Today, however, it’s considered tradition for all brides to wear white.
Yet, in both weddings, both Ariel and Vanessa/Ursula are seen wearing white. If this took place before 1840, it would have to be a huge coincidence that both of them were wearing the same color because Queen Victoria hadn’t established the tradition yet. But if this took place after 1840, then it makes sense that both of them wore white while getting married to a prince. In fact, take a look at their colored embellishments. Queen Victoria didn’t wear a full white wedding gown, and it would be a few decades more before all-white wedding gowns became a norm. But here, you can see Vanessa/Ursula wearing white and light violet and Ariel wearing white and sea foam green. It’s as if the practice of wearing all-white is still developing, so their weddings should have taken place a few years after Queen Victoria was born.
In short, we can roughly estimate where and when The Little Mermaid takes place even without the hints from other Disney movies. Where does The Little Mermaid take place? Most likely in a kingdom located in eastern Denmark along the shores facing the North Sea. And when does The Little Mermaid take place? Most likely in the mid-19th century shortly after 1840.