Home Latest blog The Little Mermaid (2023): Changes and Behind-the-Scenes Musical Magic
The Little Mermaid (2023) Changes and Behind-the-Scenes Musical Magic

The Little Mermaid (2023): Changes and Behind-the-Scenes Musical Magic

by Peter Barnes

Discover the remarkable changes in the adaptation of “The Little Mermaid (2023)” compared to the original Disney classic. The legendary duo, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who brought us the iconic songs from “Little Shop of Horrors,” joined forces once again to create the music for this new film.

In the late 1980s, when they were working on the animated version, the two songwriters found themselves in a small warehouse in Glendale, away from Disney’s main lot. They passionately discussed the storyboards and collaborated with the animators, embracing the opportunity to revive the spirit of Disney animation and movie musicals.

The Little Mermaid’s Musical Legacy: Honoring a Beloved Classic in the Highly Anticipated Live-Action Adaptation

Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King in “The Little Mermaid.”(Disney)
Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King in “The Little Mermaid.”(Disney)

“The Little Mermaid,” released in 1989, marked the beginning of the Disney renaissance, a golden era of acclaimed animated musicals like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.” The film achieved box-office success and won two Academy Awards for Best Original Score (composed by Menken) and Best Original Song (“Under the Sea”).

Described by Michael Wilmington of The Times as “impudent, grandiose, a multilevel crowd-pleaser,” the movie captured the essence of Disney’s animated features from the ’30s and ’40s.

Now, with the highly anticipated live-action adaptation starring Halle Bailey as Ariel, the production team approached the beloved classic with utmost care, particularly when it came to honoring the unforgettable music.

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Producer John DeLuca emphasized the importance of maintaining the essence of the beloved songs. “We didn’t want to disrespect them or make drastic changes. We understand that sometimes less is more. Our goal was to pay homage to the original while allowing the music to shine in a live-action context.”

To achieve their musical vision, the filmmakers collaborated with a renowned dance company, an 86-piece orchestra, and a skilled percussionist. The result is a visually spectacular and sonically sumptuous experience, whether above or below the water. Let’s dive into the details of how they accomplished this feat.

Ariel’s Captivating ‘I Want’ Moment: The Journey of ‘Part of Your World’ in the Live-Action Adaptation

Halle Bailey in “The Little Mermaid.”(Disney)
Halle Bailey in “The Little Mermaid.”(Disney)

During the creation of the animated film, Howard Ashman told the animators that a specific song should be the “I want” moment, where the audience emotionally connects with the protagonist.

In this instance, Ariel, despite her extraordinary circumstances, becomes a relatable teenage girl with normal desires. Menken composed the song to build towards a dream-like climax and then gently bring the audience back to reality, delivering pure musical drama.

Jodi Benson, the original voice of Ariel, received guidance from Ashman himself while recording the now-iconic ballad. The song almost faced elimination from the movie when Jeffrey Katzenberg, then-studio head at Disney, worried it might bore younger viewers.

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However, Benson’s flawless performance laid the foundation that has never been surpassed. Halle Bailey approached the role with the intention of matching that level of excellence while allowing herself creative freedom to bring her unique interpretation.

Bailey’s audition for director Rob Marshall included an extended version of “Part of Your World,” showcasing her vocal prowess. Marshall was captivated by the beauty of her voice, leading to the decision to include the extended crescendo in the film. This rendition of the song encapsulates Ariel’s yearning in a profound way.

The emotional impact of Bailey’s performance is heightened by the presence of an 86-piece orchestra, particularly the enchanting strings section that swells at just the right moments. Music supervisor and producer Mike Higham carefully arranged the music to start small and gradually evolve into a lush and full sound, creating a breathtaking climax.

Interestingly, Bailey’s scratch vocal, recorded on a cold day after intense stunt rehearsals, ended up being used in the film. Higham explains that there was an indescrible magic in her raw performance that couldn’t be replicated in subsequent recordings.

Dazzling Collaboration: Bringing the Ocean to Life in the Live-Action Rendition of ‘Under the Sea’

Image via The Walt Disney Company

To enhance the underwater sequences and capture the ethereal beauty of the ocean, the filmmakers collaborated with a renowned dance company known for its fluid and graceful movements. The dancers worked closely with the actors to create a seamless blend of choreography and acting, bringing a unique and mesmerizing quality to the musical numbers.

One of the standout musical moments in the film is the lively and energetic performance of “Under the Sea.” The original animated version, sung by the charismatic Sebastian the crab, became an instant classic. For the live-action adaptation, the filmmakers wanted to capture the infectious joy of the song while adding a new layer of spectacle.

They enlisted the help of a skilled percussionist who brought a dynamic rhythm section to the song. The percussive beats added a vibrant and rhythmic quality, creating an irresistible groove that will have audiences tapping their feet.

Additionally, the visual effects team worked tirelessly to create a visually stunning underwater world. Through a combination of practical sets, intricate costumes, and cutting-edge CGI, they brought the magical world of Atlantica to life. The attention to detail in the production design and visual effects immerses the audience in a vibrant and enchanting undersea realm.

A Harmonious Blend of Nostalgia and Innovation: The Highly Anticipated ‘Little Mermaid’ Adaptation Delivers a Magical Musical Experience

Melissa McCarthy in “The Little Mermaid.”(Disney)

The new adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” aims to strike a balance between honoring the original and bringing a fresh perspective to the story.

The filmmakers have approached the music with great reverence, preserving the beloved songs while infusing them with new energy and artistry.

The combination of Halle Bailey’s captivating performance, the lush orchestration, and the visually spectacular production design promises to deliver a memorable and magical movie experience.

As the release date approaches, anticipation grows for this highly anticipated adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Fans of the original will have the opportunity to revisit their favorite songs and characters in a new and immersive way, while newcomers will be enchanted by the timeless tale and its unforgettable music.


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