The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid

It started out as a few songs Howard would contribute to an animated film already in development. Excited to try some new directions in his career, Howard reached into the grab bag of projects discussed with Jeffrey Katzenberg, then the  head of Disney Animation, to pull out a film already in pre-production. The Little Mermaid, Howard said, sounded like it would be fun to work on.

In fact, Howard was intrigued with the possibilities of animation, especially in creating a musical. On film, a human being bursting into song can be jarring and movie musicals had suffered for it over the years. In animation, though, the suspension of disbelief is readily accepted - so a character bursting into song….well, why not?

Like so many of us, Howard’s first introduction to movies was through Disney animation and he was excited to bring his love of musical theater to what was a new medium for him.

Howard was originally only asked to provide six songs for the film (asked who he wanted to write the songs with, Howard quickly brought in Alan Menken, composer of Little Shop of Horrors and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater). But it was not Howard’s nature to stop at simply providing songs. Happily, directors John Musker and Ron Clements were eager to have Howard join them as they shaped the film - Howard teaching the two animators about music theater while they in turn shared their knowledge of animation.  

The film, based on Hans Christian Anderson's beloved folk tale, had its US Premiere on November 15, 1989. The protagonist, Ariel, is a headstrong young mermaid who wants something more than her life under the sea:

What would I give if I could live outta these waters
What would I pay to spend a day warm on the sand

Sacrificing her voice for legs so that she can follow handsome Prince Eric, Ariel almost loses all before true love wins out.

Eighteen years after the release of the animated film was released, The Little Mermaid musical production opened in 2008 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway.

I said, ‘Y’know, before we do this, would you do the number the way you see it and you do it?’ He did — and I said, ‘I got you, Howard. I know exactly what you want.’ He gave me that performance! Come on, I’m honest enough to say that. I got the whole attitude from him ... and his shoulders would twitch a certain way, and his eyes would go a certain way ... I got more about that character from Howard singing that song than from anything else.
— Pat Carroll, the voice of Ursula

Productions & Awards

Directed and written by
Ron Clements and John Musker
Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Co-Producers: Howard Ashman, John Musker

Broadway musical, opened in 2008 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater


Motion Picture Soundtrack
Original Broadway cast recording


Academy Award: Best Song ("Under The Sea")
Golden Globe: Best Song ("Under The Sea")
Grammy: Best Song Written for A Motion Picture ("Under The Sea")

IMDB Awards Page