A mermaid is allowed to spend six days on land with a man whom she fell in love with while saving him from drowning.
Mermaid…. mere woman — get it?
Compare the logline with the IMDB summary: When a man is reunited with a woman who saved him from drowning as a boy, he falls in love with her, not knowing she is a mermaid.
The IMDB summary frames the story from the guy’s pov. For the purpose of mapping the basic plot, I opted to frame the logline from the mermaid’s pov.
Because she is the more assertive, more proactive character for 3/4 of the film. Until the last act when the guy, finally, mans up and rescues her.
She is proactive in saving the guy (twice); She is proactive in getting a 6 day dispensation to visit him on land. (The scene was cut from the original release. You have to see the outtakes to find that out.) She’s the one who walks ashore naked on Liberty Island in New York City. She’s the one who in almost every scene, in almost every way takes the initiative in their romantic relationship.
Purists will note that the logline doesn’t specify a concrete objective goal. (And I am second to none when it comes to obsessing about objective goals.) Well, that’s the way the script was written, the movie was shot. All that is given is a ticking clock. She has 6 days to spend with him. After that she must return to the sea. The plot establishes no hope, no expectation, no way that she can remain on land with him or that he can join her in the sea.
(The movie has a number of plot holes. And it relies on magic rules and moments thrown out without explanation– you just have to suspend disbelief and roll with the story. But who is going to notice plot holes, care about the story logic after the 1st scene with Daryl Hannah on the beach?)
The movie was a box office hit, grossing nearly $70 million against an $8 million production budget. For the next several years “Madison” was in the top 10 list of popular names for girls. Yet producer/writer Brian Glazer shopped the script around Hollywood for 7 seven years. All the major studios passed. Finally, Disney’s new production company for non-G rated films, Buena Vista, hungry for original scripts, bought the script, green lighted the movie.
Your take touches on the reason I posted a logline for the movie. In fact, your version was my original choice. But I changed my mind after listening the the commentary on the 20th anniversary DVD release of the movie. I realize that perhaps one reason it took 7 years to sell the script was because the Act 1 setup was technically flawed.
In the DVD commentary, Brian Glazer (the producer) and Ron Howard (the director) say that the original script did not have the opening scene where she rescues him when they are both kids — the one referred to in your version. That scene was added later after the script deal was made. Glazer and Howard realized realized that it didn’t make sense to have the 2nd lead, the raison d’etre for the whole movie , to not appear until some 20 minutes into the movie. She had to appear sooner.
Further, it was necessary to sell the audience on the idea of a magical instant romantic connection between the two. And that required at least two story beats in the 1st Act, the 1st to establish the premise, the 2nd to reinforce it. So they tacked on the prologue.
The original script included a scene where a witch mermaid grants the mermaid a magical wish, 6 days on land. That scene was cut from the original release. Glazer and Howard figured — quite correctly — that after the audience sees the Daryl Hannah character butt naked on the beach after rescuing the Tom Hanks character they won’t notice, won’t care about any plot holes. They will willingly, gladly suspend disbelief in all the magic required to boot up the plot.
(Also the dynamic of the romantic relationship operates on the Jungian notion of the anima archetype, the soul mate.)
Of course, you are correct that the inciting incident should be an event that upsets the status quo, the ordinary world of the main characters. I suggest that the 2nd meeting as adults fits that description. Because until they meet a 2nd time, the mermaid has no opportunity to act on the feelings she had some 20 years earlier during the 1st rescue. The inciting incident is also an “opportunity knocks” moment. And opportunity knocks for the mermaid when he finds the wallet that informs her where she lives. Her feelings as a child have been reinforced as an adult and now she has the information she needs to act on them.