If you were an adult Disney fan in the late 1980’s, then you know that Disney was in a big rut as far as animated content was concerned until 1989 when The Little Mermaid was released. It was an instant phenomenon and paved the way for another golden age of Disney animated classics. If you weren’t old enough to remember this like I was, I highly recommend you watch the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty.
Disney was unprepared for the success of The Little Mermaid in all respects, but one that really threw them for a loop was the success of the soundtrack. The songwriting duo hired for the film, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, had an odd Off-Broadway hit on their hands that was being adapted as a film by Warner Bros. called Little Shop of Horrors. They were hardly an obvious choice to write music for Disney, a company contemplating closing its animation studio at the same time.
Songs like “Part of Your World” and “Under the Sea” became instant hits. Unable to predict radio demand for both, Disney didn’t have pop versions of either song ready at the time of the film’s release. The soundtrack has continued to sell well 25 years later, having been re-released 3 times on CD prior to this release. For the fourth installment of Walt Disney Record’s The Legacy Collection, The Little Mermaid is being treated to a brand new 2-disc release.
The previous soundtrack presented all of the songs from the film at the beginning with a selection of score following those tracks. The Legacy Collection seeks to present the songs and score in film order, so the first disc in this set is quite different from the soundtrack I already owned. The entire film score is here, much of which was missing from the previous release. Listening to it on its own allows you to hear all of the details in the score that are lost when you have dialogue, sound effects and images to distract you. It also includes a reprise of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” that has been missing from all previous versions of the soundtrack.
On previous Legacy Collection releases, the second disc has featured songs not heard in the film. Mary Poppins and Sleeping Beauty featured full Lost Chords sections, while The Lion King had two deleted songs. On this set, disc 2 features 36 minutes of demos by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken spread across 12 tracks. Every song from the film is featured here, sometimes twice when multiple demos were created, as well as two score demos by Menken. It’s great to hear their creative process come along and you can hear how the late, great Howard Ashman had the characters fully fleshed out in his demos, inspiring performances from the final voice actors. It’s also great to hear the 1980’s alive in all these demos. There’s totally a ton of synthesizer in them. How very!
However, there isn’t a Lost Chords section for The Little Mermaid. This is puzzling because there are at least two deleted songs from the film, “Silence is Golden” and “One Dance.” Demos of both songs were released by Howard Ashman’s estate and should have been included here, at least in demo form if not with new Lost Chords orchestrations. But this release succeeds at presenting the entire film score and demos for all of the songs you know and love from this 25 year old classic.
Like the previous Legacy Collection releases, The Little Mermaid is housed in a digibook case with new artwork by Lorelay Bove. The book begins with a section from Alan Menken telling his story of how he became involved with this project and the impact it had on his career. This is followed by a section from director John Musker explaining why he sought out Howard Ashman for the music and how he helped shape the final story. A paragraph from President of Walt Disney Music Chris Montan is followed by more history on this project from David Watts, Disney Music Group Editor. A section of lyrics features more new artwork. The final section consists of concept art for the film and descriptions from animation producer Dave Bossert.
The Little Mermaid is a worthy fourth addition to the prestigious Walt Disney Records Legacy Collection. The booklet full of history, complete score, and song demos make this a must own for all Ashman/Menken fans. A Lost Chords section would have been a welcome inclusion, but its absence doesn’t detract from how amazing this release is.