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In her introductory scene in The Little Mermaid, Ursula speaks of having once lived in Triton's palace before being exiled from it. Is there any material that details her time there and the reason for her banishment?

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    The Disney Villains: Essential Guide says that she was a favourite of Triton's before her exile.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 17:43

3 Answers 3

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There are different answers according to the source you consider.

In the original extended script of the 1989 movie, it is said that Ursula is Triton's sister and that she was banished because she turned to dark magic. The musical and the novel "Poor Unfortunate Soul" by Serena Valentino support this theory and I will not indulge in further explanations since there are already comments abundantly clear on the matter.

The novel "Vanessa" by Lorie Langdon does not mention relations between Ursula and Triton, only that they are the only ones with magic in Atlantica but she is developing an interest in dark magic and overthrowing the rightful young king (it is set before her banishment).

There is also a comic book series "Ursula and the seven seas" that is supposed to come out eventually and it also will probably provide another explanation.

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    Hi, welcome to the site. You could improve this answer by editing it to include one or more relevant quotes. Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 7:45
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According to the song "I Want the Good Times Back" from the Broadway musical version of The Little Mermaid, Ursula is Triton's sister. On their father's death, he divided the kingdom equally amongst his two children:

When daddy dear was floating on his deathbed
He divvied up the kingdom into two
I got his magic shell
And half the sea as well
His trident went to--

(Spoken)
You know who his trident went to--don't you, babies!

However, Ursula turned to dark magic, and would "mutilate, maim and destroy" - for this reason, she was banished.

My reign--why, it was blissfully delicious!
And glamour, glitz and style were au courante
Did I use some black magic?
Well, oopsie--my bad!
Did I mutilate, maim and destroy?
Just a tad!
And for that, I get banished!

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  • This raises the question of who could banish the ruler of the kingdom without first conquering said kingdom. If their father's kingdom was split evenly, then neither one would have the ability to banish the other...
    – Bobson
    Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 19:48
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    Annoyed subjects. This is, after all, a fairy tale. Wars that are not needed as plot devices to devastate tend to be remarkably low on consequences.
    – Mary
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 0:57
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    @Bobson - Triton got the trident, which made him much more powerful, so Ursula couldn't hope to stand against him alone. Add to that the fact that all that mutilating, maiming, and destroying probably left Ursula without too many loyal soldiers, and she probably was banished without much trouble. I assume she knew when to cut her losses.
    – Adamant
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 2:01
  • @Bobsoon Just because their father divided the kingdom while on* his deathbed, doesn't mean that he promptly died; he might have hung around for a couple of months, too ill to leave his bed or rule, but still officially the King, and able to rescind his earlier ruling to split stewardship of the sea, and banish her. Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 13:44
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    Was the song initially developed for the animated movie, then cut for some reasons and "restored" for the musical (something similar happened with the song Human again in Beauty and the Beast), or specifically created for the musical?
    – lfurini
    Commented Aug 4, 2022 at 18:41
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The Disney Press story Poor Unfortunate Soul: A Tale of the Sea Witch gives us a version of Ursula's back-story which includes her childhood and time at court prior to her expulsion.

In brief, Ursula is Triton's older sister. At an early age she ended up on the shores of the human town of Ipswich, having been intentionally marooned by her brother. She was taken in by a fisherman who concealed her until young adulthood until she 'felt the call of the sea' and jumped into the ocean. She was observed returning to shore and accused of being a witch. Her adoptive father defended her from being burned at the pyre and was killed by a mob of villagers. In rage, Ursula used her magic to kill the villagers and reduced the town's buildings to rubble and ash.

At this stage she re-entered the ocean and was approached by Triton, who advised her of their shared parentage and that she could live in Atlantica but that she would need to use her magic to conceal herself as a mermaid in order to do so. After several relatively happy years she came to realise that Triton had likely caused her magic to activate when it did because he needed her to return to Atlantica in order to secure his place on the throne. As the younger sibling, he needed to present her as unhinged and unworthy of becoming the (rightful) ruler and basically goaded her using her magic, knowing how the villagers would react.

Eventually her arguments with Triton, her realisation that he had caused the death of her father (by activating her magic) and her refusal to conceal her true nature resulted in her being exiled from the Royal Court by Triton, with the destruction of Ipswich as the pretext.

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    @lfurini - A very good question. She doesn't have a well-defined backstory in any of the films and what info there is about her (from the books, TV show, factbooks, etc) is highly contradictory.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 19:28
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    Wow. The cartoon depicts Triton as good and Ursula as evil, but after reading this I'm no longer sure. Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 9:01
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    @FabiosaysReinstateMonica - You'd love My Side of the Story. It has Ursula giving her version of events.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 10:05
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    @Valorum Disney villains all seem to acquire revisionist narratives. I wonder if there's a retelling of Bambi from the POV of the hunter...
    – Sneftel
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 12:20
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    @Sneftel - Historical Revisionism is all the rage these days. Every hero needs to be torn down and every villain needs to be rehabilitated
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 13:13

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