One of the most successful films of 1989, and widely credited for being the film that revived the genre of animated feature films. It was the first in a series of five Disney animated films that would win the duo of Best Original Score and Song Oscars, dominating the musical awards for several years. Following The Little Mermaid’s musical success at the Oscars, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Pocahuntas would repeat that success. All those films, with the exception of The Lion King, were scored by Alan Menken, who earned two Oscars for each of them. With eight Oscars to date, he has more than any other living person, and is second only to Alfred Newman for the most wins in the musical categories.
There have been three releases of the score – two regular releases, and one “Special Edition”. In reality, there is nothing special about it – it contains no music that could not be found on the previous albums. Instead, it contains four simply vile “cover” songs, which can be safely be avoided.
Like most of the soundtracks for Disney animations, the songs are the main attractions. Ashman’s witty and comical lyrics combined with Menken’s intelligent melodies are simply superb. Under The Sea is the best of them, with Samuel E. Wright’s vocal performances just spot on, and is probably one of the best songs ever written for a film, earning Menken and Ashman a well deserved Oscar for Best Song. Shortly after their success at the 1990 Oscars, Ashman revealed to Menken that he was HIV positive and died of AIDS the following year, but not before he had written the lyrics for Beauty and Beast and some of the lyrics for Aladdin, earning himself five posthumous Oscar nominations, winning for the title song of Beauty and the Beast.
The other songs? Part of the World and Poor Unfortunate Souls are pretty good. A variation of “Under the Sea” is heard in the song “Kiss the Girl”, which also earned an Oscar nomination, creating a tradition of multiple song nominations for Menken and his various lyrcist collaborators over the years, dominating the best song category with three out of five nominations in both 1992 (Beauty and the Beast) and 2009 (Enchanted). Avoid “Daughers of Triton” at all costs.
The waters get slightly muddier when it comes to Menken’s orchestral score. Whilst it cannot be denied that Menken’s four Best Song Oscars were fully deserved, his wins for Best Score, with the exception of Beauty and the Beast, are open to much more debate. In consideration of the fact that The Little Mermaid was up against John Williams’ Born on the Fourth of July (and considering that it was nominated when vastly superior scores that year such as Danny Elfman’s Batman and Ennio Morricone’s Cinema Paradiso were ignored), I don’t think it was a particularly deserving winner.
The orchestral portion of the score is not heard until the second half of the album, albeit a couple of choral performances in the Main Titles and the “Fanfare” cues. This being Menken’s first orchestral film score, he reportedly asked a more experienced film composer for advice on scoring the film. Although not as good as his scores to follow, such as Beauty and the Beast and Pocahuntas, it is a very functional score and contains some particularly enjoyable moments. Despite a few good cues, such as “Fireworks” and “Tour of the Kingdom”, the majority of the score, whilst it could not be described as dull, it fails, in the most part, to convey any real orchestral power.
The soundtrack is pretty much the same on all the albums you can buy it on. Disney did a re-release of the original 1989 album in the mid-90′s with no additional material, but with a different cover. The 2006 special release contains nothing new – just the horrible cover songs, which can be avoided without regret. Basically, buy it on the cheapest album you can find, because albeit some tracks on the 2006 release which have slightly better sound quality, there is very little, if any, difference between them all.
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1 – Fathoms Below
2 – Main Titles – The Little Mermaid
3 – Fanfare
4 – Daughters of Triton
5 – Part of the World
6 – Under the Sea
7 – Part of Your World (Reprise)
8 – Poor Unfortunate Souls
9 – Les Poissons
10 – Kiss the Girl
11 – Fireworks
12 – Jig
13 – The Storm
14 – Destruction of the Grotto
15 – Flotsam and Jetsam
16 – Tour of the Kingdom
17 – Bedtime
18 – Wedding Announcement
19 – Eric to the Rescue
20 – Happy Ending
1 – Kiss The Girl
2 – Poor Unfortunate Souls
3 – Part of Your World
4 – Under the Sea
Music Composed by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Orchestrations by Thomas Pasatieri
Conducted by J.A.C. Redford
Produced by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman
The special edition of the soundtrack contains lyrics to each of the songs.
All artwork and images are Copyright (C) Walt Disney Records