‘The Little Mermaid’s Songs Need an Update in the Live-Action Movie

Apr 19, 2023

The Little Mermaid is the next in line of the Disney live-action remakes, directed by Rob Marshall. Following in the likes of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Cinderella. With this comes the expected deeper exploration of the classic stories we know and love, as well as updating them for modern audiences. The original The Little Mermaid hit theaters in 1989, kicking off the Disney Renaissance. That means there is some updating to do in the over thirty years have passed since the original film, and that’s a good thing. One of these things is the music that made the film iconic. Two songs in particular, “Kiss the Girl” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls” have been tagged as the songs that will have updated lyrics. Thankfully, original composer Alan Menken was part of the process.

RELATED: ‘The Little Mermaid’: Release Date, Cast, Trailer, and Everything We Know so Far About the Live Action Remake

This Isn’t the First Time Disney Lyrics Have Been Updated For Live-Action

Image via Disney

Fret not about your favorite song being ruined, this is not the first time lyrics have been updated in the transition from animated film to live-action, and it will not be the last. Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin had much the same process applied to it as well. Notable lyric changes in the new rendition of “Arabian Nights” and “Prince Ali” take out a reference to slaves and the insinuation that the region is barbaric. Even the original animated home video release tweaked the lyrics to “Arabian Nights” because of backlash even back in 1992.

The other live-action remake that had tweaked songs was Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast. Similar to Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast had lyrics omitted and changed. Here though, they had the benefit of having cut lyrics from the composer Howard Ashman, who had passed away. Notable changes are the cut lyrics “and every last inch of him is covered in hair” in “Gaston.” The titular song “Beauty and the Beast” also has some minor changes and expansions, in its finale.

With these examples, it’s clear to see that changes to lyrics do not affect the overall quality of the film. Oftentimes lyric changes generally go unnoticed by most. Furthermore, these lyric changes are for the better. They give better messages, update the songs for today’s audiences, and take out any potentially offensive material that had previously been in there. These changes aren’t going to ruin the movie, they probably won’t even be very noticeable.

“Kiss the Girl” Needs to Include Consent

Image via Disney

Two songs were announced to have changes in the upcoming remake of The Little Mermaid. When it comes to “Kiss the Girl,” it is easy to see why these lyrics have been tagged to be updated. The song revolves around Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), Ariel’s (Halle Bailey) crustacean friend, who is trying to get Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) to kiss Ariel to break Ursula’s (Melissa McCarthy) curse. “Kiss the Girl” is perhaps one of the most iconic Disney love songs ever, especially from the renaissance films. What needs to change in it? They are updating the lyrics to include consent.

There is no doubt that our collective idea of consent has largely changed over the years from the first movie to now. In this song, the lyrics read “It don’t take a word. Not a single word. Go on and kiss the girl.” This is what has been highlighted by Menken, so expect changes regarding these few lines in the song. This one is not a big deal, it’s incredibly understandable and not entirely revisionist to the song itself. It is good that they are changing the original lyrics to reflect our current climate regarding the importance of consent.

Young Girls Deserve Better Than the Original “Poor Unfortunate Souls”

“Poor Unfortunate Souls,” the iconic villain song sung by Ursula to manipulate Ariel into giving up her voice is the other song explicitly tagged for some changes in Marshall’s upcoming remake. In this song, Ariel is trading her voice to become human for three days by signing Ursula’s contract. The catch: if she can’t get true love’s kiss from Prince Eric in three days, she will turn back into a mermaid and belong to Ursula forever. And she can’t talk to Eric, or anyone at all, as Ursula has already taken her voice.

The Little Mermaid has gotten a lot of criticism in general because of its story of a girl who gives up everything for a boy she meets once. But where the changes in this song lie are in Ursula’s lyrics that are used to manipulate Ariel into giving up her voice for this “opportunity.” This song is where the changes have been making the biggest splash on the internet, coming under criticism for changing a villain’s song to be a better message for girls. Does it need to have a good message if the song is directly about Ursula manipulating Ariel to give up her voice? The lyrics that are going to be changed are directly tied to that. “The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber. They think a girl who gossips is a bore,”

“On land it’s much preferred for ladies not to say a word,” and “it’s she who holds her tongue who gets a man” are all the lines referenced to be changed in the upcoming adaptation. It seems pretty clear that this is a lie from Ursula, which has made a lot of fans adverse to the changes to this one. But remember, Menken is directly involved in making the changes. And still, should we not give young girls a better message no matter what? That is who the film is for, not adults. We also do not know the extent of the changes to the song. It could be very minimal.

The Little Mermaid has always faced a lot of criticism. Ariel has been labeled as “boy-obsessed” and is the reason we have romance-adverse, book-smart Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Song changes are probably not the only changes coming with this live-action adaptation of the 1989 film. Likely a majority of the changes will revolve around Ariel’s fascination with the human world, and less so her romantic interest in Prince Eric. This is what the best live-action adaptations are meant to do, change the story for new audiences while still keeping the magic of the original alive.

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