Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Disney Opera: The Little Mermaid Soundtrack!

The Good: Easily listenable, (Mostly) Tells a story, Amusing
The Bad: Story seems incomplete, Liner notes are incomplete
The Basics: Surprisingly enjoyable, The Little Mermaid Soundtrack is deficient in the latter half sufficiently to not be able to recommend it.

It seems of late that I'm beginning most of my reviews with disclaimers of sorts. Thus, allow me to begin this review by saying that I've never seen the film of Disney's The Little Mermaid. Some years ago, I was attending a Star Trek convention and the guest was Rene Auberjonois and when a little girl asked him to sing "Les Poissons," he belted it out with great vigor and good humor. It was easily one of the most purely amusing moments of my life; seeing the actor who played such a stern character I so respected breaking out into a Disney song about slaughtering fish. I found myself smiling, probably ridiculously.

Recently, I discovered one of my friends actually owned the soundtrack and I decided to borrow it, if for nothing else than to hear "Les Poissons" again.

So, The Little Mermaid Soundtrack is an attempt to make opera accessible to children and as someone just beginning to learn about opera, I have to say, the soundtrack does a lot right. The story in lyrics is about a spoiled young mermaid, who desires nothing more than to be able to go out on land and live under the sun as opposed to under the sea. So, after her mentor advises her to enjoy the surroundings she has, she makes a pact with a sorceress who grants her her wish at the cost of her voice. The mermaid then goes topside, has a run in with a French chef and sees someone who is entranced by her beauty and silence and desires to kiss her.

Unfortunately, that's where the opera falls apart. On my first listen, I was irked because the lyrics stopped, but then I realized that the lyrics end because the protagonist is having attention paid to her, but she has no voice. I liked that. Except that her voice never returns. That's fine for an adult story and I'd truly be impressed if the little mermaid actually never received her voice back. However, the last two tracks, then would seem to be contradictory: track 19 "Eric to the Rescue" is a violent, chaotic piece, evoking images of imminent danger. Now, if the protagonist never receives her voice back, I'd interpret that as Eric didn't quite make it to her rescue; it fits the music and the story up until that point. Eric (who, we assume is the one advised to "Kiss the Girl" in track 10) has fallen in love with our silent protagonist, who finds herself in need of rescue, and (because her voice is never heard again) attempts to rescue her from whatever she danger awaits her. And he fails.

Works for me.

The problem with this interpretation is that the final track is entitled "Happy Ending." So, I'd take this to mean that Eric rescues the protagonist, but she's caught with the consequences of her decision to live on land and never speaks again. If the film is that good, I might actually watch it!

The lyrics are competent for a children's opera; they tell a simple story well, without much flair. Unfortunately, after "Kiss the Girl" through the end of "Wedding Announcement" the pieces are entirely instrumental and often quite short. Without the track titles to guide one, the story that was begun is almost completely lost; there's a reason the protagonists in operas aren't silent.

As a musical work, the album is mostly cohesive, if occasionally unimaginative.

I was severely disappointed that the compact disc did not mention who the vocalists were. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman give themselves plenty of credit for writing the music and lyrics, but nothing to those who actually sing the lyrics. The disc is listenable, even repeatably, but it doesn't do much after its attempt to tell a story is over and that's frustrating; it's not like the music between track ten and seventeen is particularly evocative of images like great classical music is, either. It FEELS like music for a soundtrack, attempting to fit to specific visual images.

Too bad; when it started, I got into it quicker than I suspected I would.

This c.d. is best suited for children or others who enjoyed the film; not those who are looking for a comprehensive piece of music. The strongest track is still "Les Poissons" and the weakest link is "Fireworks."

For other soundtrack reviews, please visit my takes on:
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier Soundtrack
Music From And Inspired By I Am Sam
Watchmen 2-track single


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all my music reviews!

© 2014, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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