“I wanna be where the people are…”
Those lyrics define one of the most famous “I Want” songs of the last three decades: The Little Mermaid’s “Part of Your World.” Ariel’s iconic ballad about yearning to leave her undersea existence and join the humans on land kickstarted a Disney animation and musical renaissance (alongside the Oscar-winning tune “Under the Sea”) when it hit screens in 1989 — but the song almost didn’t make the final cut.
The tune is in good company. Famously, Dorothy’s opening ballad “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in The Wizard of Oz was also saved from an ignominious fate on the cutting room floor. Now, as The Little Mermaid celebrates its 30th anniversary with a Disney Signature Blu-ray release, the song feels like an irrevocable part of our cultural fabric.
Jodi Benson, who gave voice to Ariel, says that lyricist Howard Ashman fought hard to ensure the song remained. “Basically, he’s like, ‘Uh, no, that’s not happening,’” she recalls to EW. “You can’t cut an ‘I Want’ song at the beginning of the film because you don’t have your hero or heroine to root for the whole film. You lose that piece of the puzzle, especially for Ariel losing her voice. There would be that missing storytelling device.”
Composer Alan Menken echoes this notion in the clip from the Blu-ray’s special features (which you can watch above). “You never can account for the effect of the song. There’s such a subjective thing that people invest in them,” he muses. “All of us realized that there needed to be something that was creating a dramatic arc beyond ‘This is what I want.’ Knowing that her dream is a complete anathema to everyone under the sea.”
Benson says the song was one of the most difficult parts of the recording process for her, simply because she tends to be a perfectionist. “It was wanting to control every note that was selected,” she says. “Once I finished recording the song, I had to let it go. Because I was like, ‘I don’t even really want to listen back. I don’t really want to go into the control room and hear it back because I’ll just nitpick it forever.’”
Consequently, the first time Benson heard the song was in an early screening on the Disney lot. She says Ashman prepared her for the moment, explaining that she likely would not like it because it wasn’t note-perfect. “You’re probably not going to like the way that they edited it,” she remembers him saying. “‘But it’s perfect storytelling, so just turn your ears off of waiting for perfect notes, perfect this, perfect that. Because it’s not. But it is a perfect monologue that happens to be put to pitch and turns into a song.”
Benson says she’s so grateful for Ashman’s warning because it made her ultimately thrilled with the final version that privileged acting choices over vocal perfection. Now the song is one of her favorite things about her personal Disney legacy, and Ariel.
She still sings it regularly, in concert and elsewhere, as evidenced by another Blu-ray clip (above). While some people might tire of singing the same song over and over, Benson says that’s impossible in her case.
“It’s so fulfilling to me,” she gushes. “I go back in time. It’s a trigger. I forget everyone and everything that’s going on around me, and I go into this little zone and I have Howard standing next to me. I can see everybody in the booth. It’s a wonderful memory recall that I get to do for three minutes and 40 seconds, however long the song is. It’s just pure joy for me. I never get tired singing it because I get to pay tribute to Howard.… It’s my song. It’s just a lovely little moment that I get to relive.”
And just for that moment, we’re all part of her world.
The Little Mermaid is now available on digital and Blu-ray.