Music Review: Disney's New THE LITTLE MERMAID Soundtrack Makes Less Out Of More… More Or Less

Let’s Not Have Any Jokes About A Mermaid’s Tale.

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Video: Josh Groban Is Full of Joy Over His Tony NominationHeigh Ho, dear lovely rainbow tribe, welcome back to Bobby’s CD sandbox where we offer our broken-down breakdowns of new music releases. So, strap in and get ready, as Bobby goes on the record ABOUT the record.

This week’s album entry in the BobbyFiles comes from The Mouse himself, as Bobby dives in on the soundtrack to Disney’s much-talked-about remake of THE LITTLE MERMAID. This new live-action/CGI version follows in what is now a long-ish line of Mickey’s attempts to milk their vintage cash cows and make more money they don’t actually need. The upside to this re-cast, retread, revamp cookie cutter is (especially with this latest endeavor) their attempt to fold in some of the much-needed ingredients of ethnic representation and social consciousness. The importance of Halle Baily’s casting was made clear by the plethora (what? Bobby knows words!) of viral videos of young African Heritage children screaming with glee, jumping up and down, and even crying with happiness that Ariel looked like them because, why?, because, my lambs, representation truly does matter. Now, on to the soundtrack - one cannot help (and, by one, we mean Bobby) getting a little misty at hearing even just a few familiar notes in the opening orchestral strains, whether, like this rainbow writer, you recall going to the cinema to see the original film in its first run, or if you are one of the LM converts that have come to these shores over the years, and over and over again. The nostalgia factor is an enormous part of Disney’s hopes for big box office, since parents taking their children to see their own childhood favorite is an “almost” sure-fire guarantee of long lines in week one. As with most of Disney’s megahits, Ariel & Co came to The Broadway 20-ish years after her movie debut, and while its 8-month run comes nowhere near the smash hit realm of BEAUTY & THE BEAST, ALADDIN, and the venerable LION KING, its production and cast album are remembered fondly - and herein lies our road into Bobby’s views on THE LITTLE MERMAID: 2023 SOUNDTRACK.

Despite the treasure trove of music that Mr. Alan Menken has penned for his fish family over the years, the powers that be in Disneyland have made this under-the-sea adventure less of a movie musical and more a movie with music, much like the original, that had a fine orchestral score married to 6 songs by Menken and the late Howard Ashman. Of the 15 cuts on the new album 5 are instrumental, 3 are reprises, 1 song from The Broadway score (FATHOMS BELOW, written by Menken with Glenn Slater) transferred over, 2 are brand new songs written by Menken, this time with the Broadway Wunderkind, Lin-Manuel Miranda, supplying the lyrics, leaving 4 of the 6 tunes from the beloved original, mostly, intact. Halle Baily’s performance of PART OF YOUR WORLD is spot on. It is an old song in a new voice with her youthful vocals at the beginning belying the power this young actor has, until the emotions take her over. She makes the song hers in its proper musical context, and with some subtle vocal decorations of her own, without OVER doing it. She is also utterly charming as she is getting her new “land legs” and sings a spirited new song, FOR THE FIRST TIME,  expressing her exhilaration over the feeling of her first-ever steps in a new world, coping with all she sees, and gravity, to boot. And, with one or two quick harmonies in other players’ songs, that is the extent of The Little Mermaid’s vocal contributions to her story. In truth, though she has her voice conned out of her by a sea witch, her first steps on land and that song, FOR THE FIRST TIME, happen after this phonic filching, so we are left to assume that, though she has no voice, she still has a voice and could sing some more. Daveed Diggs as Sebastian has a young sounding, but interesting, rasp to his voice and gives a bright vocal production to the faves UNDER THE SEA and KISS THE GIRL, but does not exude the warm charm of his Broadway and animated feature predecessors. Jonah Hauer-King’s lilting, pleasant, and, in ways, “pleading sounding” voice, on the new tune WILD UNCHARTED WATERS, elevates it above the usual Disney young juvenile anthem, and, with his fine baritone and legit British accent, still brings the youthful exuberance needed for the young hero. Legend in training, Awkwafina, plays guileless ganet, Scuttle, and has been gifted another new song, a novelty rap number that is loads of fun, SCUTTLEBUTT, in which she and Diggs transform into an old-style comedy team that has been Lin-Manuel Miranda’ed and, together, create a number that is super cute.

Finally, there is the lady herself, the Meryl Streep of Mayhem, the very Melissa McCarthy, as Ursula The Sea Witch. Everyone pretty much knows and accepts that McCarthy is magnificent in all she does. As a comic actress, she has very few peers and is one of those rare talents that does not need to be given funny things to say because she can always say things funny. For this legendary role and song, POOR UNFORTUNATE SOULS, she brings all the heightened theatricality, menace, and mirth the part needs, and hits all the highs and lows, just right and just as expected, making it a lot of fun, with her very powerful performance. She wisely did not try to overhaul and reinvent the wheel, but ads her own color to the song, without making it alien or alienating to her listeners… and that’s all she gets to do. This is where Bobby brings some raindrops with this rainbow review and adds some critic to this critique. This cast, these voices, and this movie (Directed by master musical maker Rob Marshal) had everything they needed to make a rousing MGM-style musical feature, and they did not. There was an entire Broadway musical score to pull from, and this writer, for one, knows that McCarthy would’ve eaten up I WANT THE GOOD TIMES BACK, Awkwafina would have KILLED on POSITOOVITY, and BEYOND MY WILDEST DREAMS would have been a nice addition, letting young Ms. Bailey show some other shades to Ariel. And this is all Bobby’s rainbow brain pulling from the library of established material available. The team of Menken & Miranda is an epic pairing that could have drawn from their own creative wells for entirely new musical numbers. The question then is: why didn’t this remake remake itself into something, at least a little, more different from the original? 

In the end, while Alan Menken’s orchestral music is gorgeous, this soundtrack largely amounts to an old synthetic Christmas tree with just a couple of new glass bulbs on it - at the back. The Importance of Halle Bailey’s casting, plus her talent as a singer, could have well supported an addition of more than just one other song, and Melissa McCarthy’s presence certainly warranted a greater musical contribution from her genius. Truthfully, there is a lot to enjoy, if you are unfamiliar with Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID, and even if you are, but taking all this on balance, if one listens to the original soundtrack and the Broadway cast album, this new soundtrack comes off a bit thin, given the talents involved, and so Bobby gives this one…

3 Rainbows Out Of 5

You can Stream THE LITTLE MERMAID On Your Spotifies: Click Here

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