T-minus five minutes before Fox News and its ilk start whining about how wokeness has infected Disney yet again (which they hate anyway for standing up to Ron DeSantis’ don’t-say-gay bigotry). This time, Big Woke has sunk its claws into The Little Mermaid—specifically the lyrics of two of its best-known songs, “Kiss the Girl” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” How ever will we go on as a culture???
In a recent interview with Vanity Fair regarding the upcoming, endlessly controversial live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, composer Alan Menken revealed some key lyrical alterations:
There are some lyric changes in “Kiss the Girl” because people have gotten very sensitive about the idea that [Prince Eric] would, in any way, force himself on [Ariel]. We have some revisions in “Poor Unfortunate Souls” regarding lines that might make young girls somehow feel that they shouldn’t speak out of turn, even though Ursula is clearly manipulating Ariel to give up her voice.
It is true that the (apparently Jamaican) crab Sebastian and company sing the following words to Prince Eric, which are, strictly speaking while overlooking some context, creepy:
Yes, you want her
Look at her, you know you do
Possible she want you too, there is one way to ask her
It don’t take a word, not a single word
Go on and kiss the girl
Yes, this is out of step with the way we view consent today, which is: The one way to ask someone if she wants to be kissed is to ask her if she wants to be kissed, which takes some words. But! Keep in mind that the plot leaves no question of Ariel’s consent. She huffs and puffs through the scene as Eric swerves her. It is her entire mission, in fact, to be kissed, as it will defeat Ursula’s curse and allow her to remain permanently human. If anything, the fact that Disney is once again telling a story where a woman’s one goal in life is to receive a kiss from a man (and literally has to give up her voice for the chance to do so) is the greater issue. Sebastian is speaking to Eric on a rather toxic level, assuming it’s his language, but they’re just cogs in a misogynistic machine. Hate the game, not the player! Swapping out some lyrics without greater alterations is just playing with Band-Aids.
The targeted “Poor Unfortunate Souls” lyrics likely appear in this verse:
The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber
They think a girl who gossips is a bore!
Yet on land it’s much prefered for ladies not to say a word
And after all dear, what is idle babble for?
Come on, they’re not all that impressed with conversation
True gentlemen avoid it when they can
But they dote and swoon and fawn
On a lady who’s withdrawn
It’s she who holds her tongue who get’s a man
Of course, Ariel’s frustration in getting Eric to kiss her rebukes these claims, but again, there seems to be a lot of paranoia about what could be taken out of context.
What are these live-action remakes for but to update elements of these stories that went by unscrutinized in less enlightened times? The redundancy of making beat-for-beat recreations of still-beloved animated classic, in fact, means that we need these changes, lest the served regurgitation is exactly the same flavor. The remake of The Lion King, for example, un-pulled a punch. The original lyrics of “Hakuna Matata” went:
Pumbaa: And I got downhearted
Timon: How did ya feel?
Pumbaa: Every time that I...
Timon: Hey! Pumbaa! Not in front of the kids!
But in the 2019 CGI remake, they let it all out:
Pumbaa: And I got downhearted. Every time that I farted... are you gonna stop me?
Timon: No, I’m not. You disgust me!
See? Sometimes these changes are for the better. It’s called progress!