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Section Header
The Little Mermaid
1989 Original

1997 Re-Pressing

2006 Special Edition

Co-Composed and Produced by:
Alan Menken

Co-Composed and Lyrics by:
Howard Ashman

Orchestrated by:
Thomas Pasatieri

Conducted by:
J.A.C. Redford

Labels and Dates:
Walt Disney Records
(November 17, 1989)

Walt Disney Records (Re-Pressing)
(October 14, 1997)

Walt Disney Records (Special Edition)
(October 3, 2006)

Also See:
Beauty and the Beast
Hunchback of Notre Dame

Audio Clips:
1. Fathoms Below (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

2. Main Titles (0:30):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (238K)
Real Audio (147K)

12. Jig (0:31):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (247K)
Real Audio (153K)

20. Happy Ending (0:28):
WMA (184K)  MP3 (224K)
Real Audio (139K)

All versions of the album are regular international releases. The 1989 album was out of print by the mid-1990's, but now sells on the used market for only $5. A re-pressing by Disney in 1997 flooded the market with an album featuring identical contents but a new cover. This album, too, is now out of print and sells used for $15. The 2006 'Special Edition' 2-CD set is the current regular release, at an economical $14 in initial new-item pricing.

  The song "Under the Sea" and the score both won Academy Awards and Golden Globes. That song also won a Grammy Award. The song "Kiss the Girl" was nominated for an Academy Award, a Grammy Award, and a Golden Globe as well. The score was also nominated for a Grammy Award.

The Little Mermaid
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Buy it... if you are one of the few remaining fans of musicals who hasn't seen this film, because it's main ballad and two calypso songs alone are worth the price.

Avoid it... if you've never been impressed with Alan Menken's arguably superior (and equally awarded) works for the subsequent Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.

The Little Mermaid: (Alan Menken) Disney had gone twenty years since The Jungle Book in 1967, the studio's last classic and popular animation film, and Universal (under the guidance of Steven Spielberg) was threatening to take control of the genre in the 1980's. It was at that time that Disney approached composers Alan Menken and Howard Ashman about a small project based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of a mermaid coming of age. Menken, whose work with Ashman was best known for 1982's Little Shop of Horrors, admits that he had never heard of the Andersen story when he agreed to become involved. Expectations for The Little Mermaid were extremely low, especially on the Disney lot, where the 1989 production of only 62 minutes in length was ignored by most in the studio. Because Ashman was one of the producers of the film, he gave himself and Menken a significant amount of creative control over the project, and with studio executives knowledgeable about the music demos thrilled about the possibility of a surprise success, the film's creation was mostly smooth sailing. The intent of the music, as well as the film as a whole, was to return to the classic days of Disney's innocence, and, as Menken said in 2006, "it's very heartfelt and it's pretty free of manipulation; it's really telling the story in a way that incorporates Howard's and my musical theater skills and a great love for the history of the Disney animated musical." There was also a concerted attempt to make The Little Mermaid "hip" enough for young audiences to accept it in the digital era, and while a longing ballad would still anchor the heart of the film, Ashman and Menken decided upon incorporating a Jamaican, calypso spirit for the character of Sebastian the crab, allowing two of the production numbers to provide that desired, exuberant spirit. Their efforts would pay off, with the film grossing $222 million worldwide and earning Menken and Ashman their first Academy Awards. The film rejuvenated the animated musical genre, leading to a renaissance of eight years that netted Menken a stunning eight Oscars in only 15 nominations. Ashman, who confided in Menken that he was HIV-positive shortly after the 1990 Oscars, would provide lyrics for Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin before his death from AIDS in 1991.

In retrospect, Menken and the other producers of the film look back fondly on The Little Mermaid, partly because of Ashman's significant role in its success and partly because of its immense influence. All of these results happened without many compromises in the production process and with a minimal level of hype. Menken recalls that one of the few debates involved in the making of The Little Mermaid was whether to cut out the song "Part of Your World" because of the possibility that youngsters wouldn't have the patience to sit through it. Luckily, that didn't happen, and this song, along with the two calypso numbers, would receive rounds of applause at test screenings that foretold Menken and Ashman of the their success. While The Little Mermaid won the Academy Awards and Golden Globes for the song "Under the Sea" and Menken's score, setting a trend that would force the Oscars to temporarily expand the music awards into two categories (with one specifically to accommodate the triumphs of Menken), the songs of the film are much more memorable than the score. Menken and Ashman wrestled over the songs at much greater lengths, working endlessly to establish the right rhythms for "Under the Sea" at Menken's Pennsylvania farm. Ashman's intelligent lyrics, especially for "Under the Sea," are outstanding. The score, conversely, was more troublesome for Menken, who did not have extensive experience with orchestral underscores for movies. He recalls that he asked a more experienced composer for advice on how to score the film and he was told not to sweat it. After all, the other composer said, "nobody takes animated films seriously." While the score for The Little Mermaid is nowhere near as accomplished as those that would follow --Menken would find his instrumental voice with great success by Aladdin-- there is no question that several the songs for the film are nothing less than classics. Menken and Ashman co-wrote seven songs for The Little Mermaid in 1988 and, unlike subsequent productions, all would appear in the film. Two decades later, Menken would team up with established Broadway writers to add twelve additional songs. A crappy straight-to-video sequel to The Little Mermaid in 2000 brought back the principal singing voices, but Menken arranger Danny Troob would adapt Menken's original material with new themes.

Of the seven songs in The Little Mermaid, the first two are weaker ensemble pieces that cannot compete with the lengthier production numbers that follow. The working voices of "Fathoms Below" are strong both in their representation of the sailors and in their recording quality. Had this song been expanded for the film as it would be for the Broadway show, it could have been a hit. The only truly intolerable song in the film is "Daughters of Triton," with a tone so trite and obnoxious in the treble that you'll be thankful for its brevity. The longing beauty of "Part of Your World" is the film's most consistent thematic idea. The theme for this song opens and closes the film and serves as the only reprised vocal song. Jodi Benson's voice is tender enough to be believable in the role while also accurately resonating at the necessary high ranges. Setting the table for songs like "Belle" and several others in the years to come, the gorgeous ballad would be a concept that Menken would attempt to infuse in each subsequent effort. This film, though, never had a rock song variant. The highlight of the film is the wild, calypso song "Under the Sea" which has, through the years, proven itself as one of the most memorable and infectious songs in the history of cinema. Vocalist Samuel E. Wright won the role of Sebastian sight unseen, his taped demo of this song the only evidence needed by the producers for his casting. The fact that "Under the Sea" hit the charts with such ferocity was a relief to Menken and Ashman, whose Jamaican style for the scene, as well as the bright colors that accompany it on screen, were met with some hesitation. The villain's song, "Poor Unfortunate Souls," is perhaps the most overrated of the lot, begging for more consistency in flow or, at the very least, a trim in length. The comedy piece "Les Poissons" mocks the French chef with an accordion and hilarious performance by Rene Auberjonois, better known for his far more stoic role as Odo in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." Rounding out the songs is "Kiss the Girl," a charming and romantic variant on the calypso spirit of "Under the Sea" and once again highlighted by Wright's performance. Both "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl" would be nominated for Oscars for "Best Song," setting some precedent for both Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin receiving multiple song nominations a piece.

Aside from the choral performance of the "Part of Your World" theme in "Main Titles" and the brief "Fanfare" cue, the orchestral underscore for The Little Mermaid is provided in the latter halves of the album releases. While this positioning irritates some fans who would rather hear all of the music in chronological order, Disney would follow this template (with perhaps a few stronger score tracks thrown in amongst the songs) in subsequent musicals. The transition from song to score is eased by the combination of "Fireworks" and "Jig" (the visual highlight of the film), the latter featuring accordion, viola, and flute performances of a distinct Celtic flavor. The remaining score material is quite sparse in many ways. It's short, lacking in thematic integration with the songs, and featuring an extremely poor depth in the ensemble. The fact that the recording group is undersized causes most of the problems with the score for The Little Mermaid; ambitiously written cues like "Tour of the Kingdom" and "Eric to the Rescue" fail to muster any real power. Thematic connections to the songs are only occasional, with the "Poor Unfortunate Souls" theme in "Flotsam and Jetsam" and the "Part of Your World" title theme saved for a couple of magnificent performances near the end of the film, including the obligatory choral finale in "Happy Ending." On album, the sound quality of The Little Mermaid has always been flat and dull (sort of like Ariel herself, but then again, she's a dimwit...). For fans with advanced editing software on their computers, the addition of some reverb is an absolute must when making your compilations of music from The Little Mermaid. Only the vocals in "Fathoms Below" and some of the percussion in "Jig" seem to exhibit a three-dimensional sound. With so many overdubs to the two calypso songs, a bragging point for the producers of the film, the incredibly flat sound quality is inexcusable. Menken claims that his role in the recording ends with the performance, so he can't be blamed for the problems on album.

Learn about

Aside from the original 1989 CD release of 20 tracks, Disney re-pressed the same contents in the mid-1990's with a revised cover. In 2006, to coincide with the DVD release of the film, Disney provided a "Special Edition" 2-CD set that contains no additional Menken or Ashman material. Instead, only obnoxious, totally hideous cover versions of the four most popular songs are provided (these were part of the selling point of the second 'bonus' half of the DVD as well). The first CD in the set contains the same old contents, without the courtesy of a remastering. The lack of a remix of the masters on album is surprising given the similar work done for the music in the film itself. Missing from the 2-CD product are Ashman's early and supposedly accomplished demo versions of several songs, as well as the instrumental version of "Under the Sea" that accompanied the theatrical release of the film's end titles (the DVD replaces it with the vocal version; the same happened with Aladdin). Overall, The Little Mermaid is despised by many film score fans for overshadowing several outstanding scores in a strong 1989, and if you compare the merits of scores like Batman and Glory to The Little Mermaid, they have a strong case for complaint. But The Little Mermaid is a historically important soundtrack with a lovable heart and two undeniably entertaining calypso songs. The album situation leaves much to be desired, and the "Special Edition" set doesn't offer the same kind of interesting additional material that Disney provided for the similar product for Beauty and the Beast a few years prior. For intriguing re-recordings of seven song and score cues from The Little Mermaid, investigate the Erich Kunzel and Cincinnati Pops 1995 album "The Magical Music of Disney." The instrumental arrangements aren't quite the same in those renditions, but Annie Livingstone's voice is a strong substitute for Benson, and the replacement of Wright's Sebastion with a dueling male and female chorus is creative and fun. The sound quality of those Kunzel-led performances are, of course, as strong as all of their other products. Otherwise, either of the two original pressings with Menken and Ashman's classic 20 tracks will suffice. Nothing stinks more of commercialistic exploitation than the 2006 set and its terrible pop renditions. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Songs: *****
    Score: ***
    1989/1997 Albums: ****
    2006 Album: ***
    Overall: ****

Bias Check:For Alan Menken reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.45 (in 11 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.51 (in 56,795 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 4.04 Stars
Smart Average: 3.77 Stars*
***** 7854 
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    * Smart Average only includes
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   Legacy Collection
  Stephen -- 12/18/14 (8:28 a.m.)
   Ariel rules
  Marijetos -- 6/23/09 (8:50 a.m.)
   I love Menken
  Aaron Caldera -- 2/9/07 (9:21 p.m.)
   it sucks
  Haley Jensen -- 1/28/07 (1:33 p.m.)
   well what can i say
  Danielle Duncan -- 8/7/06 (7:00 a.m.)
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 Track Listings (1989/1997 Albums): Total Time: 43:17

• 1. Fathoms Below (song) (1:41)
• 2. Main Titles (1:26)
• 3. Fanfare (0:30)
• 4. Daughters of Triton (song) (0:40)
• 5. Part of Your World (song) (3:15)
• 6. Under the Sea (song) (3:15)
• 7. Part of Your World (Reprise) (song) (2:18)
• 8. Poor Unfortunate Souls (song) (4:51)
• 9. Les Poissons (song) (1:36)
• 10. Kiss the Girl (song) (2:43)
• 11. Fireworks (0:38)
• 12. Jig (1:34)
• 13. The Storm (3:20)
• 14. Destruction of the Grotto (1:55)
• 15. Flotsam and Jetsam (1:25)
• 16. Tour of the Kingdom (1:27)
• 17. Bedtime (1:23)
• 18. Wedding Announcement (2:19)
• 19. Eric to the Rescue (3:43)
• 20. Happy Ending (3:11)

(track lengths not provided on packaging)

 Track Listings (2006 2-CD Set): Total Time: 55:53

CD 1: (43:17)

• 1. Fathoms Below (song) (1:41)
• 2. Main Titles (1:26)
• 3. Fanfare (0:30)
• 4. Daughters of Triton (song) (0:40)
• 5. Part of Your World (song) (3:15)
• 6. Under the Sea (song) (3:15)
• 7. Part of Your World (Reprise) (song) (2:18)
• 8. Poor Unfortunate Souls (song) (4:51)
• 9. Les Poissons (song) (1:36)
• 10. Kiss the Girl (song) (2:43)
• 11. Fireworks (0:38)
• 12. Jig (1:34)
• 13. The Storm (3:20)
• 14. Destruction of the Grotto (1:55)
• 15. Flotsam and Jetsam (1:25)
• 16. Tour of the Kingdom (1:27)
• 17. Bedtime (1:23)
• 18. Wedding Announcement (2:19)
• 19. Eric to the Rescue (3:43)
• 20. Happy Ending (3:11)
CD 2: (12:35)

• Kiss the Girl - performed by Ashley Tisdale (3:25)
• Poor Unfortunate Souls - performed by Jonas Brothers (2:29)
• Part of Your World - performed by Jessica Simpson (3:29)
• Under the Sea - performed by Raven-Symone (3:14)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The inserts on all versions of the soundtrack include no extra information about the music or the film. The 2006 album packaging includes complete lyrics.

  All artwork and sound clips from The Little Mermaid are Copyright © 1989, Walt Disney Records, Walt Disney Records (Re-Pressing), Walt Disney Records (Special Edition). The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 8/29/97 and last updated 12/29/07. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1997-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.