Ursula's Garden of Unfortunate Souls (SPOILERZ!!@)
The first Disney film I can ever remember watching in its entirety was
The Little Mermaid, based on an 1837 novel by Hands Christian
Anderson. Disney's adaptation was loaded with interesting bit characters;
the sinister moray eels, the mentally unstable seagull, singing frogs and
many others would intrigue my young imagination far more than the
merfolk themselves, and one "character" (creature? Curse?) in particular
remains my single favorite Disney creation
of all time...
THE STORY THUS FAR: Ariel, the titular Little Mermaid, has fallen so
deeply in love with a human that she would gladly leave behind her
underwater world forever, and it seems as though only the dark powers of
Ursula, the banished sea-witch, can fulfill such a fantasy. The witch
resides deep in the dark trenches of the ocean, with the rotting corpse of
some unknown, titanic creature as her "castle"....
...As Ariel enters the dead monster's throat, she finds it lined with what
appear to be writhing strands of seaweed...
Well, as revealed during a wicked-awesome musical number, the pathetic
little creatures were once merfolk just like Ariel, who sought out Ursula's
dubious favors but failed to uphold their end of the bargain.
...And as we eventually learn, they generally failed because she did
everything in her power to
make them fail. It's anyone's guess why she
doesn't just turn them into fungus as soon as they show up. I guess she
just enjoys
the game. Also, there wouldn't have been much of a movie.
Even King Triton gets in on the fun towards the end of the film. Yeah,
take that, you domineering ass! That'll teach you to meddle in your
spoiled daughter's selfish and unrealistic personal life!
Perhaps the coolest thing about these gnarled freaks is that besides the
whole "former merfolk" twist, they're actually
not one of Disney's
embellishments. Here's an excerpt from the English translation of the
original story:

Through the midst of these crushing whirlpools the little mermaid was
obliged to pass, to reach the dominions of the sea witch; and also for a
long distance the only road lay right across a quantity of warm, bubbling
mire, called by the witch her peat bog. Beyond this stood her house, in
the center of a strange forest, in which all the trees and flowers were
polyps, half animals and half plants; they looked like serpents with a
hundred heads growing out of the ground.

The branches were long slimy arms, with fingers like flexible worms,
moving limb after limb from the root to the top. All that could be reached
in the sea they seized upon, and held fast, so that it never escaped from
their clutches. The little mermaid was so alarmed at what she saw, that
she stood still, her heart beat with fear, and she was very nearly turning
back; but she thought of the prince, and of the human soul for which she
longed, and her courage returned. She fastened her long flowing hair
round her head, so that the polyps might not seize hold of it. She laid her
hands together across her bosom, and then she darted forward as a fish
shoots through the water, between the supple arms and fingers of the
ugly polyps, which were stretched out on each side of her.

She saw that each held in its grasp something it had seized with its
numerous little tentacles, as if they were iron bands. The bleached
bones of men who had perished at sea and sunk below peeped forth
from the arms of some, while others clutched rudders and sea-chests, or
the skeleton of some land animal; and most horrible of all, a little
mermaid* whom they had caught and suffocated.
*That's the one that didn't get a movie.
Before my blathering comes to a close, I'd also like to draw attention to
the wonderful little critters used by Ursula as spell components. These,
too, were as fascinating to me as a child than anything with a speaking

If only the polyps appeared on merchandise of some sort, my pathetic life
would be complete.