ABC’s broadcast of The Wonderful World of Disney’s The Little Mermaid Live was a mixed bag of a TV special. To quote Prince Eric, it was “Really something. But the soundtrack now has a chance to live apart from the event. Before I get too far into this, it’s important that I share that The Little Mermaid was the start of my Disney obsession. I was three when it came out and I can safely say I’ve consumed just about every piece of content Disney has produced the involved Ariel, including the live show at the Hollywood Bowl on which this special was based and the Broadway show that was harvested for parts to create it.
The biggest challenge facing this soundtrack of The Little Mermaid Live is that all of these songs have been recorded and re-recorded multiple times. The songs from the original film have been covered by some big names in the music industry and have also been incorporated into an endless stream of Disney Parks shows and parades with a variety of styles and interpretations. They’re all iconic and you know them so well that when they’re done differently, it sometimes takes a few listens to get used to a new take on a treasured classic.
The special also pulled in two songs from the ill-fated Broadway show and it's even worse licensed adaptation. In addition to “Her Voice” and “If Only” being included, some of the lyrical expansions and changes have been added to songs like “Fathoms Below” and “Les Poissons.” For viewers who aren’t super fans of The Little Mermaid, this is likely their first time hearing the tracks. In terms of singability, hearing something that was previously recorded by professional theater performers now done by celebrities who can sing doesn’t have a chance of outshining the original.
The hard truth is that most of the tracks are good, not great. When they shine, it’s often because the arrangements have made these versions special. “Fathoms Below” has become an uptempo tarantella and was a lovely way to start the show. To that same end, the “Finale” that was arranged is another outstanding moment from the special and this soundtrack release.
The songs that stay too close to the original have the misfortune of being forever compared to them. “Part of Your a World,” for example, is a fine adaptation but not better than Jodi Benson’s recording. The reprise of that same song, on the other hand, is a masterpiece. It is newly expanded for this special and the arrangements alone deserve an Emmy and a Grammy.
John Stamos is the only performer from the Hollywood Bowl show who got to reprise his part for the televised version. He makes a marvelous Chef Louis, but one thing that was lost on me in the live performance is his wonderful vocal timber. I recall his memorable Elvis impersonations on Full House, but his singing voice is another treat on the album.
Some new lyrics and additions were written just for this special. The most groan-worthy comes during “Poor Unfortunate Souls” where “Girl” is rhymed with “Mer-girl” in a rhythmic talking section that was added for Queen Latifa that induces eye rolls and makes what otherwise would’ve been a fine performance into one of the album’s lowest points. The entire rap addition should’ve been scrapped. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” receives a newly written reprise (not the Vanessa version) with all new lyrics.
In the end, there are four tracks that are worth taking from The Little Mermaid Live and adding to a playlist. They are:
- “Fathoms Below”
- “Part of Your World (Reprise)”
- “Les Poissons”
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.