The Little Mermaid without Part of Your World would be unthinkable right? That would have happened if one man hadn’t stepped in.
Howard, the new documentary directed by Don Hahn coming to Disney+, explains how former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg had been at a test screening of the animated movie and didn’t feel as if the song worked.
Howard Ashman, who the doc is based on, was clear on why they needed the song.
At the time he said: “It’s not like you stop and sing a song, you get to a point where the crab has to convince the mermaid not to go up there and change her life.
“She has to sing Part of Your World because she wants to go up on land so badly.
“Kiss the Girl is a good example because if the prince doesn’t kiss the mermaid the worst thing in the world will happen… it’s a real tense situation. Songs are always driving plot.”
Katzenberg didn’t agree.
Animator Glen Keane recalls what happened in the doc. “I remember on Part of Your World, the song I’d animated, Jeffrey sat in the movie theatre and afterwards he said ‘we have to cut that song it’s boring’.”
There are certain criteria that Disney is looking for when cutting a song. Chris Montan, former Disney chief executive, added: “If you got to a slow song without a lot of imagery guess what, especially kids, they’re going to wiggle. We were all trained wiggle detectors.”
For Katzenberg and Michael Eisner, the CEO, it meant a confrontation with Ashman that didn’t go well at all.
“Mike said to everybody I think you need to think about cutting that song out of the movie. Howard Ashman said over my dead body, I’ll strangle you.”
Ashman had come fresh from the success of The Little Shop of Horrors on Broadway, as well as the film adaptation when Katzenberg asked him to come and work with Disney. He wrote to him about The Little Mermaid, an unmade film called Dufus and a Mary Poppins sequel.
He was used to letting his creative process flow rather than be halted by a company.
“Howard loved the process and he hated when people interfered with his control,” his music partner Alan Menken, who still writes music for the House of Mouse.
Ashman argued that the song was crucial to the plot as it set up what Ariel wants, it’s the “I want” song of the film letting you know what the protagonist wishes. When Ariel (Jodi Benson) sings it she longs to walk on the shore among humans.
The team backed Ashman recalling Someday My Prince Will Come, a song Walt Disney had put in Snow White – and was essentially the “I Want” song of its time.
Luckily, Part of Your World stayed in and Ashman was proved right.
You can watch Howard on Disney+ on 7th August – as well as the original The Little Mermaid. Sign up to Disney+ for £59.99 a year and £5.99 a month.