Alan Menken didn’t want The Little Mermaid remake to be a 'cut-and-paste of the original'
The Disney legend worked with Lin-Manuel Miranda to update the songs
Watch: Disney legend Alan Menken shares his thoughts on returning for The Little Mermaid.
With the return of The Little Mermaid to the forefront of public consciousness its original composer Alan Menken wanted to do something different that ensured the remake did not feel like an exact copy of the classic animation, which is arguably one of his most iconic works.
“I had no specific agenda for change but I know that I don't want it to feel like a cut and paste of the original,” he tells Yahoo UK.
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“So what's most important is to just get my feet wet with Rob Marshall's vision, and the team that we're working with, and get a sense of what it is and then begin to formulate how I fit into that.”
The Disney legend returned for the new version with an open mind, allowing writers like Lin-Manuel Miranda help enhance the music he and late collaborator Howard Ashman had created for the 1990 original.
“There are areas where I just go ‘you got this’,” he adds. “I'll just stand back and when you're ready I'll do an underscore of the scene or whatever needs to be done, but take the song as it is.
“But if we're going to make adjustments then I'm going to put on that hat and help with that.”
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Menken didn’t just provide a helping hand when it came to updating original songs like Under the Sea and Part of Your World, he also assisted with new songs that Miranda wrote lyrics for like Prince Eric’s song Wild Uncharted Waters, sung by Jonah Hauer-King, and the upbeat rap The Scuttlebutt performed by Awkwafina and Daveed Diggs.
The composer says he found it interesting to work with Miranda to create the fresh tracks because of how enthusiastic the creator of Hamilton is when it comes to music.
“Us working together, it was amazing. We both have our own stylistic notoriety, [so we thought] let's see what happens when you put these two together, like creating a new recipe,” Menken explains.
“It's always exciting to do that and it was fun to do it with him, he's very smart, he's very astute, he is a great multitasker, we both have gut-level ways of dealing with things and go between these two brains in the same way.
“We had a blast and the songs represent different variations of how our styles and abilities mesh.”
The original Little Mermaid was a turning point for Disney at the time it was made, and the animation ushered in a new golden era for the company. It is a period of time that Menken looks back on fondly, calling it a “magical” experience that he has begun to appreciate with time.
The composer reflects: “For me, you know that time really starts with Little Shop of Horrors because for a long time I thought The Little Mermaid was Howard Ashman's and my follow up to Little Shop of Horrors.
“To the point where we even used to call Part of Your World, Somewhere That’s Wet, and you know Little Shop of Horrors is not a fairy tale but the strengths of them are very similar.
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“And then coming to Disney, these two off-Broadway songwriters, at a time where so many new people were coming to Disney. Peter Schneider, head of animation, had been our company manager on Little Shop of Horrors, Michael Eisner was a theatre major, and of course Roy Disney was impassioned about bringing back Disney animation.
“It was a magical, incredible, unreal time, it’s just amazing and you can't really come to that perspective at that moment, it takes 40 years to go ‘what a time that was, it was amazing.’”
The Little Mermaid will be released in cinemas and IMAX on Friday, 26 May.
Watch a clip exploring the music of The Little Mermaid