By Lillian Crawford
At the end of the song ‘Part of Your World’ in The Little Mermaid (2023), Halle Bailey’s Ariel perches on a rock cast in gloomy moonlight gazing at the sky. Her vocalisations add new character to Jodi Benson’s original voice performance as Ariel in the 1989 animated version, but the scene, with its desaturated colour palette, offers a contemporary spin on the Technicolor musicals of mid-century Hollywood that inspired the Disney-princess movies of the 1990s.
Before entering development, Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale had been floating around at Disney for decades, first earmarked in the 1930s by Walt himself as part of a proposed package film. The story was picked up again by directors John Clements and John Musker during production of The Great Mouse Detective (1986), although concerns around similarities to a potential sequel to Ron Howard’s mermaid romcom Splash (1984) and the limitations of a female audience, delayed Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg from signing it off. But with lyricist and producer Howard Ashman bringing composer Alan Menken onboard after collaborating on the Off-Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors (1982), Katzenberg began to believe in The Little Mermaid’s potential for success.