I remember when The Little Mermaid first came out. I was in grade school., and like everyone else in my class I spent a few weeks with “Under the Sea” firmly entrenched in my head. It’s quite an earworm. And if you’ve somehow never seen the movie, it’s what they call a show-stopper.
And this happened to be the phase of my childhood where I compulsively memorized song lyrics (I once knew, and I am pretty sure I still know, all the lyrics to all of Billy Joel’s music), and I knew every last word of that song, even the oft-misheard “when the sardines begin the beguine”.
I like that song, I’ve always liked it, and I always look forward to it when my daughter happens to be watching The Little Mermaid (my daughter is always watching a Disney movie; right now, as you are reading this, it’s safe to assume she’s watching a Disney movie, but unfortunately it’s usually some atrocious sequel to a sequel). Yeah, it’s catchy, but there are lots of catchy songs, and I like “Under the Sea” more than most.
Well I figured out what it is about that song that gets me. The premise of the song, recall, is that Sebastian is trying to explain in mustical terms to the mermaid for whom he is serving as chaperon why he loves his homeland. He does this in an all singing, all dancing extravaganza, enlisting the help of all the other sea life. As the song goes by, he gets more and more frantic, more and more completely enthralled by his own song, and the mermaid escapes in his distraction.
What matters most is that Sebastian is an adult, a grown-up. Disney characters, though they be animals, are easily divided into grown-ups and chidlren. There are the ones with whom a child is meant to identify, and those in whom a child will see adults. Flounder is a kid, Mushu is a kid, Jacques and Gus are kids, but Sebastian is an adult. This song is born of the passion of an adult.
The passion of children is chaotic and wild, but fickle, more like whimsy than proper passion. Children will wail and stomp threaten to kill themselves in order to get some silly toy they will play with maybe once, maybe once.
But there really is nothing quite like full-grown adult passion; that has power. I spend a lot of time in coffeeshops, and I mean small-town coffeeshops, not the “trendy” joints. If you find yourself in a coffeeshop and with time at your leisure, you take my advice — you find an old guy and you ask him what he loves. And then listen.
Or if, as I do, you spend time on college campuses, and you happen to meet a professor — especially a teacher of language, but really it works with any sort of professor — and if you have a moment, you ask this person “What is your favorite book?”
You try it, and you tell me if it does not energize your spirit.