After months of heated discourse about a reimagined classic, The Little Mermaid, we’re finally two days away from the film’s world premiere on May 26. While the film’s star, Halle Bailey, has reeled in some rave reviews from critics and dazzled on blue carpets for exclusive premieres, some critics have slammed the soundtrack released on May 19.
Despite breathtaking performances like the freezing 3:00 a.m. rendition of “Part of Your World” at the Disneyland Resort and Bailey’s undeniable Beyoncé-trained talent, fans have found flaws in Alan Menken and Lin Manuel-Miranda’s score.
Initial Reactions to the Soundtrack
In addition to backlash for the Manuel-Miranda classic rap stylings delivered by Scuttle (Awkwafina), critics like Brian Truitt of USA Today have taken issue with the modern take on the beloved Little Mermaid songs:
Maybe it’s because Menken and Howard Ashman’s 1989 numbers are so deeply entrenched in culture, but the new songs, while fine on their own, don’t totally jell with the original tracks. And the live-action element stymies a song like ‘Under the Sea’ – not only have the instruments been taken from the fish, a certain joyousness is missing, too. As excellent a ‘Little Mermaid’ as Bailey is, it was better down where it’s wetter the first time.
Since the promotion for The Little Mermaid began, it was clear Disney fans would be divided between two camps: classic animated loyalists and modern mermaid enthusiasts. With Menken being the original composer, the goal was to mesh his musings with Manuel-Miranda’s catchy productions.
With director Rob Marshall on board, Menken modified the lyrics to certified classics like “Kiss the Girl” to reflect cultural sensitivities to consent and Ursula’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls” to remove lyrics that didn’t empower young girls.
Related: Awkwafina’s ‘Little Mermaid’ Performance Faces Vicious Backlash
Jodi Benson Speaks Out
Unsurprisingly, changes to songs ingrained in Disney fandom would garner harsh feedback, but support for their updates recently came from a less likely source: Jodi Benson.
Although the star of 1989’s The Little Mermaid has shown up for Bailey in the media, she had yet to publicly comment on the tweaks made to songs stamped with her ethereal voice—until now.
In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Benson summarized her feelings about the live-action remake:
We’ve got to be aware of our growth as humans and what’s important now and what maybe isn’t as important. Things change. We’ve got to roll with that. I think that Rob and John have done a beautiful job of doing that, and still paying tribute and honor to our original film. But you’ve got to have growth. It’s very important to stay relevant with where we are, what’s going on around us. We need to be aware. So the adjustments and the fine-tuning that they needed to do, it was a must, but it was done in a beautiful way, and I’m very, very thrilled with it.
Related: ‘Little Mermaid’ Produce Lin-Manuel Miranda Knew His Job was to Not ‘F– it up’
With little time left before the movie swims into theaters, Benson added:
It’s been great for me to be able to just love on her and support her and her family. And to know that she was in great hands with all of the staff, and especially with Rob and John. And to know just the beautiful way that she has been able to capture Ariel and all that is part of Ariel. And just how incredibly proud I am of her, just wanting her to know that I was there for her in whatever way I could be. She did it. She has told this beautiful story, and I’m just so thrilled for her.
Worldwide audiences will be able to witness how Bailey captures Ariel, along with Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, Awkwafina as Scuttle, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, and Javier Bardem as King Triton.