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10 ways ‘Highlander’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’ are actually very different films

No. 4 may be shocking, but the truth stings.


David Britton

Internet Culture

In 1986, the Cannon Film group released a mid-budget film about a Scottish antique dealer who ran around New York City cutting off people’s heads. Even though it started with a professional wrestling scene, it was not initially popular in the United States. But for some reason, they loved it in Europe. Later, when it was released on VHS, Highlander somehow pulled a reverse Jerry Lewis and America decided it was great. It went on to spawn three sequels and a television series.

Meanwhile back in 1989, Disney released an animated film that would end its run of commercial and critical flops. It was story of a bright young woman who was sick of swimming and ready to stand. It earned Disney its first Academy Award in more than 20 years and ushered in what came to be known as the “Disney Renaissance” (even though this era would contain zero beheadings). 

But that’s not the only thing these films don’t have in common.  

Yes yes—they are both action-packed ’80s fantasy epics that are still beloved by cult-like fans throughout the world. And yes they probably both should have stopped after the first movie. But it turns out that these two classic films have less in common than most people think.

The next time one of your film buff friends starts talking about how they’re “actually pretty much the same movie,” refer to this handy list to take him or her (but let’s be honest, it’s a him) down a peg!

1) Sure they both have cool underwater scenes but…

Did you know the scene where Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is underwater lasts less than a minute, whereas in the Little Mermaid nearly half the movie takes place “under the sea”?

In Highlander, Connor is training with his buddy Ramirez (Sean Connery) on a boat in the middle of a picturesque Scottish lake when he mentions he doesn’t like water and in fact doesn’t even know how to swim. Frustrated by Connor’s constant complaining and disgusted by his description of traditional Scottish foods, Ramirez unceremoniously dumps Conner into the water. Much to the Scotsman’s surprise, not only does he not drown, he finds himself actually enjoying his time underwater.

On the other hand Ariel (Jodi Benson) from The Little Mermaid, although a confident and skilled swimmer, dreams of leaving the water to walk on land. Clearly this is a case of how the grass (or seaweed) is always greener on the other guy’s (or merman’s) lawn (or ocean).

2) Yes, both main characters have long, luxurious hair they are bad at combing but…

Ariel at least attempts to groom herself with a fork at one point. In her defense she believes this to be a comb, and it almost works. Not to mention she’s been told that forks are used for combing one’s hair by her trusted crab companion that she has no reason to mistrust. Meanwhile Connor chooses to wait until the 1980s and just cut his hair short. Whether this is out of laziness or in preparation for the “Gathering,” the climactic battle immortals have waited eons to fight, remains the object of speculation. What we do know for sure is that both characters could use a few lessons from Miss Manners!

And speaking of lazy…

3) Although both films do have amazing soundtracks…

Jodi Benson actually sings several of the songs in the film even going so far as to record “Part of Your World” in a dark room so she would feel more like she was underwater, whereas Christopher Lambert doesn’t even appear as a background singer on any of the songs used in the film.

Instead he chose to leave the singing to Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara) and his band Queen. This might have actually been a good call as Mercury has often been touted one of the greatest vocalists to ever live. In fact, Rolling Stone ranked him a very respectable 18 out of 100 in its list of the greatest singers of all time. It should be noted, however, that this list was heavy on rock and pop vocalists and didn’t include any traditional opera or choral singers.

4)  While they do both have storms created by mythical beings…

The storms created by the immortals in Highlander are not really storms per se so much as powerful electrical discharges that occur when one immortal decapitates the other and absorbs his power in a phenomenon referred to as the “quickening.” The storm in the climactic scene of The Little Mermaid? Now that’s a storm!  

When Ursula the Sea Witch (Pat Carroll) gains the power of King Triton (Kenneth Mars) she grows to monstrous proportions and has the whole of the sea at her command. She uses this to create a great storm, apparently hoping to kill both Ariel and her lover Prince Eric (Christopher Barnes). I won’t spoil the ending for you, but suffice to say Eric and Ariel will need all their bravery and cunning to get out of this one!

5) Both films have great animation but…

Again, much like the underwater scenes, the percentage of screen time allotted to animation is very different in these two films and, if anything, is even more pronounced in this case. In Highlander the animation is pretty much limited to the final quickening when Connor MacLeod—spoiler alert—defeats his lifelong enemy the Kurgan (Clancy Brown) and receives the sought-after prize that is spoken of throughout the movie.

On the other hand, it’s well known in Hollywood that 100 percent of The Little Mermaid was animated with no actual actors appearing in the film! (Although it was rumored that Ariel’s body was based on actress Alyssa Milano’s, best known at the time for playing the part of Samantha in the Tony Danza fueled sitcom Who’s the Boss?)

6) Famous people did turn down major roles in both films but…

Patrick Stewart turned down Disney’s offer to play Triton in order to concentrate on Star Trek. Likewise Hulk Hogan has publicly stated that he was offered the role of Connor MacLeod but turned it down in order to concentrate on professional wrestling. The difference here being that Star Trek is completely fictitious.

7) Both leading characters had trouble speaking English but…

In Ariel’s case this is due to a Faustian bargain she enters into with Ursula the Sea Witch. Before this, although perhaps a tad naive, her English seems sufficient to not only communicate with her family and friends, but to express some fairly strong emotions in the form of song.

In Highlander, Connor has several fewer lines by comparison, and perhaps this is because he is a quiet and brooding type typical of the film noir genre. Still, it’s worth noting that this was only Christopher Lambert’s second film in English, so maybe the writers were just taking it easy on him.

8) Both films were later made into live-action musicals but…

The Little Mermaid musical was made by Disney and thus had a huge budget, was produced on Broadway and, later, internationally in countries as diverse as Japan, the Philippines, and Russia. The Highlander musical was produced by Rooftop Theater company and looks like this:

9) Sure, both were made into TV series but…

The Little Mermaid animated series was actually a prequel showing what Ariel’s life was like before she left the ocean—you know, because people were curious about that; whereas in Highlander: The Series we are taken into a future where Connor MacLeod’s fellow clansman Duncan is the main character and Connor only shows up in the first episode to be like, “Hey stop dicking around running some antique shop and start chopping people’s heads off again.”

10) They both had some fairly badass dialog but…

From Highlander:

Priest: This is a house of God. People are trying to pray. You’re disturbing them.

The Kurgan: He cares about these helpless mortals?

Priest: Of course He cares. He died for our sins.

The Kurgan: That shall be his undoing.

From The Little Mermaid:

Sebastian:  Somebody’s got to nail that girl’s fins to the floor.

OK admittedly Sebastian gets a little Joe Pesci there, but at no point does he actually imply he’s going to beat up God.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s important to keep in mind this list only highlights some of the major differences between the two films. I didn’t mention how Disney chose to make Ariel a redhead so nobody would think she was too much like Daryl Hannah’s character from Splash, while that probably never even occurred to the people making Highlander; or how my neice can watch The Little Mermaid three times in a single day but refuses to sit through even the first 15 minutes of Highlander. You’ve never even seen the first beheading, Katelyn. Jesus. 

Also there were zero penises on the cover of the Highlander VHS box, but then again, no one ever said it was a perfect film.

Screengrab via Walt Disney Animation Studios/YouTube | Screengrab via Nick B./YouTube

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