‘The Little Mermaid’: Plunge into the details of “Under the Sea”‘s lyrics
How could we imagine the world of Disney’s enchanting 1989 classic, The Little Mermaid, without Ariel’s signature song, “Part of Your World”? This captivating number was just one of many iconic tunes to spring from the imaginative minds of the late lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, which heralded a golden age of animation that brought us classics like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.
What can we glean from the lyrics of this iconic song? Let’s take a look.
Interestingly, “Part of Your World” almost didn’t make the cut. According to Menken, it was only through a battle of wills that the song was saved from being axed after mixed test screenings.
Despite then-Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg’s initial reluctance, Menken and Ashman fought to keep Ariel’s “I want” ballad in the picture, driven by their shared belief in the narrative significance of the song. It’s what we live for, Menken affirmed, emphasizing the duo’s dedication to their craft with special attention to the lyrics.
The pair, who also scored best picture nominees Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin in the 90s, believed in creating emotionally resonant and narratively crucial songs. This spirit continues in Disney’s recent live-action remakes, with Menken collaborating with Tim Rice for Beauty and the Beast, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul for Aladdin, and Lin-Manuel Miranda for the new Little Mermaid.
With these high-profile remakes, Menken aims to honor the original films’ emotional cores while introducing fresh songs to enhance and expand the viewing experience. In the new live-action Little Mermaid, Halle Bailey steps into Ariel’s fins, delivering a heartfelt rendition of “Part of Your World,” and offering audiences a hint of nostalgia while also marking the dawn of a new era.
For this reimagined Mermaid, Miranda and Menken whipped up three new numbers with tantalizing lyrics. We get “For the First Time,” a second solo number for Ariel; “Wild Uncharted Waters,” a ballad for Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King); and the Caribbean-infused rap “The Scuttlebutt,” featuring chatty bird Scuttle (voiced by Awkwafina) and crabby crustacean Sebastian (Daveed Diggs).
Not every tune from the original made the cut. To create space for the newcomers, “Daughters of Triton” and “Les Poissons” were dropped for their poor lyrics. Director Rob Marshall felt the latter, a cartoonish sequence involving a chef chasing Sebastian with a butcher knife, didn’t fit into the live-action landscape.
Part of Our World
Despite the new additions, the film holds onto the classics. From Sebastian’s iconic “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” to Melissa McCarthy’s Ursula’s showstopping “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” the big hitters are all here with the lyrics as its fuel. And of course, “Part of Your World” shines brightly in the spotlight, reappearing later in the film with new lyrics by Miranda.
Ashman, who passed away from AIDS in 1991 at age 40, saw Ariel as a regular teenage girl existing in a fantastical world, Menken recalls. This empathetic view was at the heart of all of Ashman’s work. Menken believes Ashman would’ve been charmed by the new tunes, particularly “Scuttlebutt.”
Even though he is gone, Menken feels Ashman’s influence deeply etched in the DNA of his music. Reflecting on their close working relationship, Menken expresses a sense of enduring companionship with his late partner, describing the loss as profound yet infused with a sense of ongoing creative connection.
Fresh takes, timeless tunes
Just as the waves are ever-shifting, so too is the music of The Little Mermaid. Halle Bailey, in her role as Ariel, breathes new life into the classic melodies, proving that these timeless tunes can remain deeply resonant while being tailored to fit the spirit of the times.
In Bailey’s capable hands and voice, Ariel’s yearning comes through as palpably as ever, creating a fresh yet familiar emotional landscape for audiences old and new.