In 2001 Hallmark aired a fictionalised made-for-tv film about the life of author Hans Christian Andersen, who channelled his feelings and experiences into the many fairytales that he wrote. The three-hour movie covers Hans' life, and interspersed in it are snippets of a few of the more famous and/or relevant of his stories, of which The Little Mermaid is one of them.
This snippet is an abridged version of The Little Mermaid, lasting a little over ten minutes, and has also been reworked to directly parallel the love and devotion of Jette, was of the women in Hans’ life. In accordance with that, some plot points of the story were emphasised while many were cut out. Emily Hamilton, who plays the little mermaid, is the same actress who plays Jette, while Kieran Bew, who plays the Prince, also plays Hans.
The the way this film works, most of the fairytales Hans tells are used to give insight to his thoughts. The Little Mermaid is slightly different in that it's about Jette and seems to be wholly from her point of view. In the frame story, Jette is in love with Hans, who is sadly in love with Jenny Lind (Flora Montgomery), an opera singer. Jette and Hans are very close, but Hans' feelings aren't the same as Jette's, and he doesn't seem to see how devoted she is to him. Jette is also crippled and thus considers herself "imperfect", which lends to her desire to be "worthy" of Hans, the way the little mermaid wants to gain legs to be worthy of her prince.
This adaptation includes a mention of how merfolk don't have souls but humans do, and the mermaid's grandmother telling her that merfolk can gain a soul if a human falls in love with them. It's the only mention of a souls in the short, though the mermaid's end goal isn't to gain a soul of her own — she is more selfless than that, and only wants to love her prince and bask in his love in return.
Another change is that rival princess doesn't wake the prince up after drowning... She only appears much later for the arranged wedding, and the prince's sudden love for her isn't because she reminds him of the mysterious maiden who saved her life, but because she is so lovely that he can finally forget the maiden who saved his life. It's an interesting change made to call back onto Hans' callous rejection of Jette in order to pursue Jenny. Painful, but apropos in this case, the princess' responding smile is triumphant, almost even malicious, which ties back to Jenny's role as Jette's perceives it.
I also want to highlight that they kept the bit where the sea witch cuts off the little mermaid's tongue as payment. I know I haven't seen all the versions there are out there, but so far this is the first English-language version I've seen that they do this. With the knife that close to the tongue, the CG blood and that panicked sound the mermaid makes, the pain of her sacrifice is tangible. They then take it a step further by giving plenty of attention to the little mermaid's bleeding feet once she becomes human ("Each step will feel as though your feet are cut by a knife!") since in this version her feet are literally being cut by a knife.
"Are you still willing?" the sea witch asked.
"Yes" the little mermaid answered.
The design for this adaptation may take some getting used to and isn't sleek with realism, but I think they are gorgeous and are a wonderful callback to storybook illustrations. Like various Hallmark fantasy films there's judicious use of CGI to give it a dreamy, almost painted look, and the underwater scenes were filmed in a studio so that the characters coul speak. The little mermaid's design is also very ethereal — her skin is glittery, almost translucent, so there's no way you can forget that she isn't human.
Most of the weight in this rendition is in knowing Jette's story, and reiterating the pain of her life. If you take the little mermaid out from the context she's almost tragically obsessed with this man she barely knows and treats her like a child, but with Jette overlaid on top, the little mermaid's pain is palpable and heart-breaking.