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We rank the eight songs in the new live-action “The Little Mermaid,” from the shrimpy to the mer-mazing.

Disney’s Live-Action “Little Mermaid”: Ranking the Songs

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When I first heard that Halle Bailey had been cast as Ariel in the live-action remake ofThe Little Mermaid,” what made me most excited was knowing that I’d get to hear the iconic songs of the original 1989 film sung in her beautifully angelic voice. As a long time ChloexHalle fan, I knew – unlike many of Bailey’s detractors too often fueled by racist vitriol – that she had just the vocal chops to pull off the nostalgic ballads that made the original film the beloved classic it is today.

The live-action remake, now in theaters, boasts a soundtrack that includes four new original songs with composers that include Lin Manuel Maranda of “Hamilton” and “In the Heights” fame. Bailey is joined by other cast members Jonah Hauer-King (Prince Eric), Melissa McCarthy (Ursula the Sea Witch), Daveed Diggs (Sebastian), Jacob Tremblay (Flounder), and Awkafina (Scuttle) who also contribute vocals to various songs throughout the movie.

In this piece, I’ll be ranking the eight songs that appear in the film from shrimpy to mer-mazing (aka worst to best…I suck at fish puns.) I’ll be basing my ranking off of my own personal taste, the singer’s vocals, overall enjoyment, and the visuals that accompany the song.

8: “THE SCUTTLEBUTT” [NEW]

It’s no surprise that Lin Manuel Miranda is behind “The Scuttlebutt,” a rap song that features Awkafina and Diggs as Scuttle and Sebastian. The two characters run around a mute Ariel’s room, informing her about the “scuttlebutt,” or the gossip that’s been heard around town. Sebastian and Scuttle trade fast-paced bars in what appears to me as an attempt to infuse one of today’s most popular genres – hip hop – into the retelling of an old story to appeal to a new audience. But what the song ultimately feels like is Steve Buscemi with his skateboard and backwards cap, saying “how do you do, fellow kids?” – forced, and a little bit cringey. It also doesn’t help that Scuttle is voiced by Awkafina, an Asian-American rapper and comedian whose forced blaccent has garnered some rightful criticism in the past.

7: “PART OF YOUR WORLD”

The first song of the film and one of the most iconic from the original movie, “Part of Your World” immediately sets the tone and lets us know Ariel’s motivations and desires, establishing the main conflict of the movie. Bailey is a vocal marvel here as she switches between her regular talking voice when bantering about thing-a-ma-bobs to her singing voice with an effortless ease. But where the ballad from the original movie feels lighthearted and hopeful as Ariel fantasizes about how happy a future on land could be, Bailey’s version lingers in the sadness of being stuck underwater and feels just a little bit depressing. It is not at all helped by the dull and dark ocean visuals. Though both versions of the song are tinged with a sad longing for a life beyond reach, the new Ariel is just a bit too sorrowful to inspire any buoyancy in the audience.

Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

6. “POOR UNFORTUNATE SOULS”

In our first real introduction to Ursula the Sea Witch, we get “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” the theme dedicated to one of the most dastardly yet awe-inspiring villains that Disney has ever put onscreen. The visuals for this song are some of the most memorable of the film – with her glowing tentacles, Ursula prepares a potion that crackles and pops in neon colors, a potion that will give Ariel legs in exchange for her voice. It’s a metaphor that feels all too relevant today as we witness the emergence of AI as a method of voice modulation. McCarthy does her best Ursula impression, but the actress unfortunately isn’t known for her singing ability. She does her best and doesn’t sound bad by any means, but doesn’t blow me away in the way some of the other singers do.

5. “FOR THE FIRST TIME” [NEW]

“For the First Time” is one of the new additions to “The Little Mermaid’s” sonic universe, and what makes it a welcome one is its hilarious and surprising relatability. The song is played in the scene where Ariel makes it on land for the first time. It adds some of her internal thoughts as she encounters all of the things that people must do in the human world. As workers tighten her corset, lace her boots, and throw on her dress, loud, sweeping and discordant sounds play with each movement in a way that’s reminiscent of a horror movie jumpscare. And who could blame Ariel for being scared? — the scene made me wonder what it must feel like to discover what it means to be a woman in the 19th century when you haven’t been socialized into it. It also demonstrates how shocking it must be to know all of the asinine expectations you must adhere to. Halle is a master at making her voice mirror these feelings of fear and wonder, receding into something delicate and scared while sounding more at the forefront than ever. 

4. “KISS THE GIRL”

Part of the magic of “Kiss the Girl” is the song’s ability to balance the romantic and the humourous, making audiences laugh while also chanting alongside Sebastian that Prince Eric finally kiss the damn girl! Like the original song, Disney’s new version achieves the same tranquil and funny mood. The visuals shown during the song can be described as enchanting, luminous, pretty. The film recreates the scene from the original in which Eric and Ariel take a nighttime boat ride through a blue lagoon, the former unbeknownst to the pressure he is receiving from some pretty sly sea creatures to kiss Ariel. If there’s one area of the song that leaves me wanting less, it’s the inclusion of Awkwafina’s voice. While she delivers some laughs, the song feels grating during the harmonies between Sebastian and Flounder, no matter how much the composers try to layer over it.

3. “UNDER THE SEA”

It’s hard not to love this groovy and feel-good song whose catchy hook has remained in my memories since early childhood in a way which I’m sure this newer version will for younger audiences who may not have seen the original. With its calypso-driven beat and bouncy rhythm, it’s an instant earworm that is done justice in this live action film. It’s no surprise that Daveed Diggs, also of “Hamilton fame,” easily slides through the rap-like cadences that the song requires. And as a plus, his Caribbean accent isn’t nearly as insufferable as I expected and many on social media predicted. Bailey’s occasional adlibs feel like the cherry on top of the colorful cake. What I remember most about this song, though, were the visuals that accompanied it. With large and vibrant schools of fish, translucent yellow sea blobs with shells as hats, and even breakdancing turtles, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” is at its most vibrant in a way that had me longing for more in later – i.e. darker – parts of the film. The song succeeds in its effort to convince me that the ocean is pretty cool, even if Sebastian fails in that regard when it comes to Ariel. 

Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

2. “WILD UNCHARTED WATERS” [NEW]

“Wild Uncharted Waters” is a much-needed addition that gives Prince Eric a voice in the film’s central conflict. The song explains more directly how his journey parallels that of Ariel — how he too longs for a life that is different from the one his parents imagined for him. Not knowing much about Jonah Hauer-King prior to the film, I wasn’t sure if he was someone that could lead a song on his own. But it became obvious with each note and each line of this song that the actor has a beautiful voice that makes this song entirely memorable. Eric’s anguish is felt through Hauer-King’s unique vocal timbre that is guttural just as it is soft. The song changes my view of Eric from a thoughtless himbo, there but not really there, to a genuine person going through a conflict that anyone who’s defied their parents can relate to. It feels like a bit of a misstep that we don’t hear much more from Eric vocally after that. It’s my greatest hope that audiences will get a ballad between him and his co-star Halle before promotions for the film are over.

 1. “PART OF YOUR WORLD” (REPRISE)

After some significant time passes, “Part of Your World” picks up again as Ariel saves Prince Eric from his sinking ship. As they wash up on a beach’s shore, Ariel sings to him, willing him to wake up and imagining what their life would be like together if she was a part of his world. This is “Part of Your World (Reprise),” and what makes it so good is the breathtaking emotion and power that Bailey is able to channel into her voice. In one of the most iconic moments of the original film, and the climax of the song, Bailey’s Ariel perches upon a rock, sea water splashing behind her as she belts out the final, “a part of your world.” The note that she manages to hit is truly jaw dropping here. It was one of the moments in the theater where I could feel people next to me itching to applaud, hearing their hesitant shifting as they struggled to decide if clapping in a movie theater was appropriate or not, seeing their hands twitch with the effort to keep their enthusiasm at bay. It was a part of the movie that I will never forget and a moment that truly stamps Bailey as the rightful successor to Jodi Benson’s 1989 Ariel.

The full soundtrack to Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” is now available on all streaming platforms.

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