Every new live-action Disney remake comes with a few new songs complimenting the animated classic’s original score, to expand on the world of the beloved characters (and also to qualify for the Oscars Original Song category). But in next month’s “The Little Mermaid,” some of the tunes from the original 1989 animated movie will end up sounding quite different from how fans remember them.
Alan Menken, the composer of the film’s original score, revealed in a new interview with Vanity Fair that alterations were made to two songs from the original “The Little Mermaid” for the upcoming remake. Menken, who worked on the original film with the late lyricist Howard Ashman and teamed up with Lin-Manuel Miranda for the remake’s music, said the changes were made to modernize the messages portrayed in the classic numbers.
One of the songs that got altered is “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” the popular villain song delivered by the chief antagonist Ursula (played in the remake by Melissa McCarthy). During the song, Ursula attempts to convince Ariel (Halle Bailey) to give up her voice as part of a magical deal, and encourages her by singing that men on the surface “Don’t like a lot of blabber/They think a girl who gossips is a bore/Yes, on land it’s much preferred/For ladies not to say a word.”
“We have some revisions in “Poor Unfortunate Souls” regarding lines that might make young girls somehow feel that they shouldn’t speak out of turn,” Menken said. “Even though Ursula is clearly manipulating Ariel to give up her voice.”
The other song to undergo a rewrite is “Kiss the Girl,” a calypso-inspired number sung by the crab sidekick Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) as he attempts to encourage Eric (Jonah Hauer-King, in a role that nearly went to Harry Styles) to kiss Ariel. Ariel wants to kiss Eric as well — her goal is to get a smooch from the prince in order to remain human forever — but lyrics like “It don’t take a word, not a single word/Go on and kiss the girl” apparently caused the team behind the remake concern.
“People have gotten very sensitive about the idea that [Prince Eric] would, in any way, force himself on [Ariel],” Menken said. (In the film, the context behind the lyrics is that Ariel can’t say a word because she’s mute).
Elsewhere in the interview, Menken discussed the original songs he developed with Miranda, which include “Scuttlebutt” for Sebastian and Scuttle (Awkwafina) and a song for Ariel’s father King Triton (Javier Bardem) titled “Impossible Child,” which ended up cut from the final version of the movie. He also revealed that he considered using the song “Her Voice,” a ballad from Eric, that originated in the animated film’s Broadway stage adaptation, but director Rob Marshall vetoed it in favor of developing a new song, “Wild Unchartered Waters.”
“Live action films are really a director’s medium. They want to go back to what they saw in the animation and take it fresh from there,” Menken said. “Besides the fact that clearly, everybody wants a new song for the live action film for awards consideration.”
“The Little Mermaid” splashes into theaters on May 26.