Previously, Disney announced that its 2023 live-action film, The Little Mermaid, would feature new music in the form of four original songs from composer Alan Menken, in collaboration with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Now, fans are wondering just what sorts of unique musical sequences Menken and Miranda will add to the iconic classic soundtrack.
Of course, most Disney lovers know how the beautifully rendered tale of the quirky mermaid princess who trades her voice in exchange for legs to woo a human prince saved the near-bankrupt and defunct Disney Company from the grave. When the Walt Disney Studios released the film in 1989, with a Broadway-level full vocal soundtrack written by songwriting duo Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, it revolutionized the way a Disney film was made and ushered in the “Disney Renaissance” era which would go on to produce blockbusters such as Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994).
In fact, the timeless popularity of these films is still so strong today that all three received live-action remakes with extremely high production value and the addition of new musical numbers. Now, it’s princess Ariel’s turn to revisit the silver screen, and just as before, Menken has signed back on to revisit the stories of some of his most popular work.
As we know, Halle Bailey’s Ariel (of the award-winning musical group Chloe x Halle) will raise Ariel’s iconic “Part of Your World” reprise an octave. Director Rob Marshall said, “it’s the most chilling, and the most thrilling, film moment because it crystallizes not just her incredible vocal ability but the emotional passion she has in singing it.” But will Ariel receive more than one musical number?
The Little Mermaid (1989) has eight original songs on its soundtrack, though lead star Jodie Benson only performs one of them, plus the reprise. The other songs are all either group numbers or credited to Sebastian and Chef Louis. Moreover, in contrast to other Disney princes in later films, Prince Eric doesn’t sing at all! (Though he does play a mean, wistful flute.)
In 2019’s live-action Aladdin, Disney addressed a similar problem: the fact that Jasmine never received a solo song in the original film, resulting in “Speechless.” Similarly, Menken composed “Evermore” for Beauty and the Beast (2017) to give Belle’s prince the solo number he deserved! Plus, these songs came completely divorced from the original vocal numbers the characters already have in their respective Broadway productions, which Menken himself also contributed to.
In fact, in Little Mermaid’s Broadway version, Ariel sings seven songs, including a duet with Prince Eric! What’s more, Eric himself gets two solos to reveal the connection he finds with Ariel after she saves his life, and the drive he has to locate the mysterious voice he remembers, “Her Voice” and “One Step Closer.” A similar approach could serve Marshall’s goal of giving the prince emotional depth and a personality.
In addition, the film’s casting includes a mix of musical performers (Daveed Diggs, Bailey), actors (Jacob Tremblay, Jonah Hauer-King, and Javier Bardem), and comedians (Awkwafina and Melissa McCarthy) so it will be interesting to see how Disney handles adding more numbers penned by two composers with a theatrical background when it debuts in theaters May 26, 2023.