25 years ago, a little mermaid named Ariel swam onto the big screen and into the hearts of Disney fans. This past Saturday, the film’s directors, Ron Clements and John Musker, joined D23 members at the Walt Disney Studios Main Theater in Burbank, California for a screening and discussion to celebrate the anniversary of this beloved film.
While working on another film, The Great Mouse Detective, Clements and Musker were asked to come up with five ideas to pitch two weeks later. Racking his brain for an idea, Clements went to a bookstore and looked through a book of fairy tales. The Little Mermaid was a story that stuck out to him. He thought the story was very cinematic and wondered why it had not been adapted into a film. Really imagining the possibilities of the film, Clements saved the idea for the pitch meeting.
At the pitch meeting, then Disney CEO Michael Eisner requested that everyone pitch only the best idea of the five that they had prepared, so Clements pitched the story of a little mermaid trying to understand love. The Little Mermaid was immediately rejected since Splash, a live action film about a mermaid, had recently been released by the Walt Disney Studios’ Touchstone Pictures label.
Two days later, Clements and Musker received a call from then Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg that the studio wanted to develop the ‘under the sea’ story.
During the discussion, Clements and Musker credit the music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman as an important aspect of the film that has contributed to its longevity. When asked about their favorite memories in regards to the film’s music, Clements recalled the first time they heard Menken and Ashman perform “Part of Your World,” the first song written for the film.
Musker remembered how moved Ashman was by the Walt Disney World parade that coincided with the film’s release and the realization that these songs would outlive him. They also spoke about working on the storyboard for “Under the Sea” while the song was being written in the room next door.
The directors shared some fun facts and stories about the film with the audience as well. For instance, originally Sebastian was supposed to be a British crab named Clarence. Howard Ashman, however, suggested that he be the Rastafarian crab we know and love today. Imagine a British crustacean singing ‘Under The Sea’!
Also while at a dinner celebrating the film’s screening at the Cannes Film Festival, Musker was surprised to find crab being served. When asked if he liked the food Musker responded, “You served our leading man.”
Clements added that he remembered apologizing to the Queen of Denmark for changing the ending to Hans Christian Andersen’s story. She replied that he never knew how to end a story anyway.
Both Clements and Musker started as big Disney fans before working for the Mouse. When they began working at the studio, they wanted to work on films that had real lasting value. With a filmography that includes Disney classics like Aladdin, and The Princess and the Frog, it is clear that they have achieved this goal. They believe their success as a team has come from challenging themselves and supporting each other.
Be sure to check out the dynamic duo’s next sea-worthy project Moana when it comes to theaters in 2016.
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Can you believe that The Little Mermaid has been around for over two decades? What did you think of the film when it first came out/first saw it? Do you want Disney to create more of these emotional tales in animation? Comment below!