To the surprise of absolutely no one, Disney has revealed that their upcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid will change the lyrics to a pair of songs from the animated original which they feel have become problematic in recent years.
This unfortunate-but-not-in-the-least-unexpected news was first made public by legendary Disney composer Alan Menken, himself was responsible for creating the soundtrack to the 1989 animated version of Ariel’s story, during a recent interview given to Vanity Fair.
In light of his being tapped to once again provide his talents to the live-action The Little Mermaid, Menken was eventually asked by outlet contributor Leigh Scheps for insight into his time working on the film, to which he first recalled the circumstances that led to him working on a number of new songs alongside Hamilton creator Lin Manuel Miranda.
“What happened was Lin gave a lot of interviews about just that. Sean Bailey, head of film production at the studio, heard or read one of those interviews,” Menken told Scheps. “He didn’t even ask me. He just went to Lin and asked him to work on the movie. I’m used to that. Sometimes I actually find out something of mine is happening in a press release. So this was a case where I heard I’m going to be working with Lin, I guess.”
“We had a great time,” he continued. “He’s really smart. He understands theater really well. He understands a lot of things really well. He’s got this, as you know, stylistic brilliance that brings in hip hop and rap, and all old musical forms that help. Even though it’s a composer, me, and the lyricist, Lin—when we were in the room, all those influences came to band.
From there, Schep pressed Menken for details on the film’s new tunes, to which he explained that he and Miranda started their process by having first “discussed with [director] Rob Marshall what he wanted.”
“One was the Prince Eric song, called ‘Wild Unchartered Waters,'” he said. “Then, there was the song for Ariel when she has her legs (doesn’t have a voice), and she’s singing her thoughts about all the firsts she is noticing for the first time. Then, there was a number called “Scuttlebutt” for Scuttle and Sebastian. It’s this harebrained [song for them] trying to figure out what’s going on because they hear rumors that the prince has decided to marry. They think it must be Ariel but of course it’s Ursela in the form of Vanessa. It’s all this delicious imagination. Lin’s lyrics are to die for.”
“We wrote a fourth song called ‘Impossible Child’ for King Triton,” continued the composer. “It didn’t remain in the film only because dramaturgically we didn’t really need it. It was so great to work with Javier Bardem on that song and people will hear it as a DVD outtake, I guess.”
However, when asked whether the film would take any hints from the Broadway adaptation of the animated classic, Menken digressed, “It’s not like a wheel that goes from animation through Broadway to film.”
“It goes from animation to Broadway, then from animation to film,” he elaborated. “It seems like the animateds are the Rosetta Stone and each iteration becomes a new adaptation from that starting point.”
Returning to the topic at hand, Menken noted, “There was a song, ‘Her Voice’ for the Broadway show. But Rob really wanted a new song for this moment of waves and all the wildness of what’s out there in the ocean. [Ariel] represented that to [Prince Eric]; she being the girl who saved his life. 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.”
“That seems to be the pattern and I go along with it,” he then admitted. “Besides the fact that clearly, everybody wants a new song for the live action film for awards consideration.”
It was at this point in their conversation that Menken would confirm what many had feared when the film was first announced.
Met with an inquiry of “Was there anything from the original that you redid, or something about it needed to change?”, Menken disclosed, “There are some lyric changes in ‘Kiss the Girl’ because people have gotten very sensitive about the idea that [Prince Eric] would, in any way, force himself on [Ariel].”
“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, even though Ursula is clearly manipulating Ariel to give up her voice,” he bafflingly added.
Disney’s live-action The Little Mermaid is currently charting a course to land in theaters on May 26th.