New ‘Little Mermaid’ film tweaks original lyrics to include consent and female empowerment

6 April 2023, 12:19 | Updated: 26 May 2023, 09:20

Halle Bailey stars in the live-action remake of the Disney ‘Little Mermaid’ film (2023)
Halle Bailey stars in the live-action remake of the Disney ‘Little Mermaid’ film (2023). Picture: Alamy

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Composer Alan Menken has revealed that at least two songs from the original ‘The Little Mermaid’ animation have seen their lyrics modified for the upcoming remake.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

In 1989, the release of the acclaimed, animated classic The Little Mermaid marked the start of the so-called ‘Disney Renaissance’, ushering in an era of critically and commercially successful musical films for the production studio.

The music in particular found critical acclaim thanks to the work of the film’s legendary composer, Alan Menken, who won two Oscars for his soundtrack – one for Best Original Score, and the other for Best Original Song, ‘Under the Sea’.

But despite an award-winning score, the upcoming remake of the 1989 classic, starring Halle Bailey as Ariel, has not only added new songs to the live-action version but also modified the lyrics of two original songs due to changing attitudes.

Menken, who is also working on the 2023 remake alongside star composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, told Vanity Fair, “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].”

Read more: The Little Mermaid 2023: who composed the soundtrack and what songs feature?

Watch the trailer for The Little Mermaid live-action movie

Hollywood’s attitudes towards consent have changed rapidly since 1989, not least due to the ‘Me Too’ movement which sparked conversations across the industry in the early 2000s.

The original lyrics in ‘Kiss the Girl’ include the line, “Yes, you want her; Look at her, you know you do; Possible she wants you too.

“There is one way to ask her; It don’t take a word; Not a single word; Go on and kiss the girl.”

The suggestion that Eric doesn’t need to ask Ariel if she would like to be kissed, is perhaps what Menken is referencing when he says that today’s audiences are more sensitive to the intentions of the young Prince in this iconic scene.

Read more: Alan Menken: ‘I knew about Lin-Manuel Miranda as a little boy, who was obsessed with The Little Mermaid!’

The Little Mermaid | Kiss the Girl | Lyric Video | Disney Sing Along

This isn’t the first time Disney, or Menken, have adapted lyrics from an original film for a more recent adaptation.

In 2019, for Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin (which Menken also wrote the music for) the opening song ‘Arabian Nights’ went through a lyrical change too to avoid racist connotations, for which the studio had faced criticism when the original film was released 27 years prior.

As well as the changes to ‘Kiss the Girl’, the antagonist’s main number has also had a reworking of its lyrics. Sung by the Sea Witch, Ursula (played by Melissa McCarthy in the Little Mermaid remake), the song ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ has had its wording tweaked so as to encourage female empowerment.

In the original words, the villain of the film sings, “The men up there don't like a lot of blabber; They think a girl who gossips is a bore! Yet on land it’s much prefered for ladies not to say a word; And after all, dear, what is idle babble for?

“Come on, they’re not all that impressed with conversation; True gentlemen avoid it when they can; But they dote and swoon and fawn; On a lady who’s withdrawn; It’s she who holds her tongue who gets a man.”

The Little Mermaid | Poor Unfortunate Souls | Disney Sing-Along

The implication that women will only find love with a man when she is silent seems to be the concern for why the lyrics of this tune have been altered in the remake.

“We have some revisions in ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’,” Menkhen told Vanity Fair, “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.”

Read more: Pianist fights water pressure to play ‘Under the Sea’ beneath the waves

What new songs will feature in The Little Mermaid (2023)?

Four new songs were written by Menken and Miranda for the upcoming film, due to hit our screens on 25 May 2023, but only three of these have made it into the remake.

The first of the four is sung by Ariel the first time she steps foot on land. The solo song ‘For the First Time’ describes all the thoughts the young mermaid has about stepping onto the world above her own for the first time.

Prince Eric (portrayed in the remake by actor Jonah Hauer-King), also gets his own song in the remake titled, ‘Wild Unchartered Waters’, a power ballad for the young royal.

The final new song to feature in the film is ‘Scuttlebut’ is a musical rap which was inspired by the character of Scuttle (voiced by Awkwafina). This seagull protagonist is joined in duet by Sebastian the crab (voiced by Daveed Diggs) for this unlikely number.

Menken and Miranda also wrote a song for Ariel’s father King Triton, called ‘Impossible Child’, but this didn’t make it to the film as the pair decided that thematically, it wasn’t needed.

‘The Little Mermaid’ will land in cinemas on 25 May 2023 in both the UK and US.