The Little Mermaid director Rob Marshall explains why the live-action adaptation features a new Ariel song. The remake includes many of the beloved songs from the 1989 animated film, including “Part of Your World,” “Under the Sea,” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Among the new songs created for the 2023 Little Mermaid is “For the First Time.” Since it is after Ariel loses her voice, the song is presented through her inner narration, with Ariel expressing her feelings and observations after living on land for the first time.
While speaking with Collider, Marshall talked about working with composer Alan Menken, who also composed the music for the 1989 Little Mermaid. Marshall discussed how collaborating with Menken led to creating the song “For the First Time,” focusing on how the song is good for Ariel and the overall film. Read Marshall’s comments below:
“It’s surprising how, when you think about the animated film, you realize that Ariel had one song. There’s a series of reprises, but it’s one song. The great thing about working with Alan is that he’s so open to looking at things. He knew this was a different genre. We were doing a live-action film, so we had to figure out how to approach that. We said, “Can we find another place for Ariel?” The challenging thing was that she had, of course, lost her voice. But in film, you can create something where you’re hearing the internal thoughts through music and song. That was the key for us, in finding this piece for her. It also accomplished a lot for us too because it’s a montage of all her time on land, until she meets the prince for the first time. It helped us in so many ways. It was wonderful to have that collaboration.”
Why The New Ariel Song Works So Well
“For the First Time” provides insight into Ariel’s mind, even after she loses her literal voice in her bargain with Ursula. The Little Mermaid song shows what Ariel is thinking and feeling as she experiences living on land and among humans for the first time. Through the song, Ariel is able to convey the excitement of her newfound freedom while also conveying how she feels like a fish out of water. She is able to comment on the strangeness of human society, all while beginning to confront what she sacrificed to be among the humans and closer to Prince Eric.
Ariel’s inner conflict and its many nuances are made clearer through the song that is brought to life through Halle Bailey’s impressive vocal performance. As The Little Mermaid‘s protagonist, Ariel deserves to have more than one solo song. “For the First Time” not only gives Ariel another song, but adds to her character development and to the pacing of the story when she arrives on land, but before she “meets” Eric. In all these ways, the new song is an improvement on the 1989 film, where Ariel is not given such agency or expression so soon after losing her voice.
“For the First Time” is an example of what the Disney live-action remakes can do well. These adaptations can capture the spirit and iconic moments from the original story while still adding in something new that will make the story even better. The new song does not fundamentally change or take anything away from the story or characters that it is adapting. Instead, it builds on what already exists, and makes it stronger by creating a compelling new song that further strengthens Ariel’s journey in The Little Mermaid.