Prince Eric's Expanded Backstory In The Little Mermaid Is One Of The Film's More Pleasant Surprises

One of the ways "The Little Mermaid" live-action improves on the original is the development of Prince Eric's character. In the animated film, Eric has a lot more personality than the previous princes in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Cinderella," and "Sleeping Beauty" — he actually has interests like sailing, playing the flute, and walking on the beach with his adorable sheepdog named Max. Grimsby, Eric's royal advisor, is desperate to find him a wife, but the prince would rather rough it up with his shipmates. 

But in the latter half of 1989's "The Little Mermaid," Prince Eric makes his obsession with the girl who rescues him from a boat wreck his whole personality. Eric instantly falls in love with her beautiful voice and wants to marry her. His relationship with Ariel, who he believes is a shipwreck victim, is more of a distraction from holing himself up in the castle and pining after his angel-voiced savior. 

Director Rob Marshall and writer David Magee expand on Eric's backstory in their reimagining of "The Little Mermaid." Along with Jonah Hauer-King's dashing performance, Eric becomes a more well-rounded character that has a stronger emotional connection to Ariel. 

He wants to be wandering free

One addition to Eric's story is that he is adopted by Queen Selina, a stern but caring mother. Eric's biological parents died in a shipwreck, which adds more tension between humans and mermaids because Queen Selina believes the evil gods of the sea are purposefully murdering sailors, causing her to try to confine Eric to the castle for his safety. The intense storms are also damaging the financial livelihood of their coastal kingdom.

Eric and Ariel in the new "Little Mermaid" are mirror images of one another. The prince also craves freedom and independence, and his passion for maritime exploration is just as intense as hers for the human world. In the sweeping ballad "Wild Uncharted Waters" by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Prince Eric belts out his love of sailing on the open sea and sky. Like Ariel, he is a collector with a room full of oceanic treasures.

In the animated film, Grimsby is the one that pushes Ariel and Eric to explore the kingdom together. In the live-action version, Eric is not as lovesick over the mysterious girl who saved him — he takes a genuine interest in Ariel and wants to spend more time with her. The two bond over their mutual sense of adventure and fascination with the world around them, eagerly exploring his world maps and stargazing. These additional scenes allow their relationship to develop in a more natural and deeper way. They are the ones to decide to sneak off the castle grounds, and they have a blast together on the island dancing, shopping, and laughing over Eric's big hat.

Jonah Hauer-King brings to life a kind-hearted and ambitious Eric that is not just a paint-by-numbers love interest but truly someone Ariel would want to be with.