Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Composer Alan Menken Dives Into Writing New ‘The Little Mermaid’ Songs

When Disney’s live action version of The Little Mermaid was announced one big concern for fans was the the ability to deliver new takes on the music with which generations of fans have fallen in love. Luckily, those beloved songs such as “Part of Your World,” “Kiss the Girl,” “Under the Sea,” “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” and others were in very, very good hands.

Alan Menken, the award-winning composer who worked on the original film almost 35 years ago with writing partner, lyricist Howard Ashman, returned to recreate the original songs as well and to create new ones. While Howard Ashman sadly passed away from AIDS in 1991, his music lives on in The Little Mermaid and other song created with Menken over their decade long partnership.

Since the original film is something Menken obviously holds very dearly, making him protective of it as a whole, he found a worthy fellow protector in Marshall. “I mean, in many ways,  Rob, coming out of the theater, was probably as much a keeper of the flame as I thought I would have to be. He was hanging on to, you know, that’s sacred. So it made the  lines very simple for us to go, to be a team player and then, to go back and look at what we had before.”

(L-R): Halle Bailey as Ariel and Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Due to Ashman’s loss Menken needed to work with a new partner and turned to no one other than Lin-Manuel Miranda. “It’s a group process. Rob Marshall (director), John DeLuca (producer), David Magee (writer), Lin-Manuel Miranda and me got together. We went through how the story’s being adapted by David, and how the structure is.  And then where are the potential spots? 

“So it’s simply as simple as that. Those decisions are made, first of all, by character, by moment, but also by sequence of a score, and what’s needed at a certain moment. So, we chose the moment when Prince Eric, he’s been told, “Don’t go back out there, you can’t,” and he just thinks about this girl. And it’s a love song to  her, and it’s a love song to the sea and to his uncharted waters. So his life is ahead of him. It ends up being a  real important theme throughout the movie.”  

The composer dove deeper into the process of writing new songs for the 2023 version of the story. “You set up the DNA. I have a palette of musical colors, like, you’re painting them. And then, you start to shape those colors. For instance, “A Part of Your World,” you could say that’s Ariel’s colors, but also, that figure was simply the water flowing. I was just started with [makes water noises]. It’s just that sense of motion, and it all grows out of that,” said Menken.  

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Menken continued, “Part of it comes from also experience, of just doing it a lot for many years. You let go, and you just sort of pour into that shape that you’ve created. Oh, very important. You create [laugh] a mold, a shape. Where does the song start? Where does the song end? How does the character progress dramaturgically throughout the song? Are we gonna open it for dialogue?  Everything that’s happening, the world we’re in, the  palette we’ve decided to use, and then, you just go into that mold. ” 

While some close-minded “fans” created an online uproar about the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel without even seeing her work, Menken did not share the concern. Actually he was impressed and touched by Bailey portrayal of Ariel. “The emotion is just right there on her face and in her voice. She’s just, she’s Halle Bailey. She’s a delicious person and she’s an amazing, Ariel.  You see it in levels, right? I mean, we had our recording sessions, then you allowed me to see the movie when it was just first put together very roughly. Wyatt, the editor, kept tapping to bring over boxes of  tissues for me, because when we got to “Part of Your World,”  I was just weeping. Part of it is the missing Howard kinda reaction, and also just remembering the innocence of what we put in there originally, and now look at it.”

Watch Alan Menken’s work come to life in a beautiful colorful, musical and underwater ways in The Little Mermaid, currently in theaters.


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Written by Steven Prusakowski

Steven Prusakowski has been a cinephile as far back as he can remember, literally. At the age of ten, while other kids his age were sleeping, he was up into the late hours of the night watching the Oscars. Since then, his passion for film, television, and awards has only grown. For over a decade he has reviewed and written about entertainment through publications including Awards Circuit and Screen Radar. He has conducted interviews with some of the best in the business - learning more about them, their projects and their crafts. He is a graduate of the RIT film program. You can find him on Twitter and Letterboxd as @FilmSnork – we don’t know why the name, but he seems to be sticking to it.
Email: filmsnork@gmail.com

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