Disney's 1989 animated movie musical The Little Mermaid, featuring songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, has been added to the U.S. National Film Registry for 2022. The program, established in 1989, selects 25 "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" movies annually to showcase the range and diversity of American filmmaking and create awareness for their preservation.
Also joining this year are John Waters' Hairspray, which served as source material for the 2002 Broadway musical; the 1950 film adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, based on the Edmond Rostand play; and home movies of swing bandleader and three-time Broadway performer Cab Calloway.
Released in 1989, The Little Mermaid began a renaissance in Disney animation, which saw a string of hand-drawn animated movies reinvigorate the studio (both artistically and at the box office) after years of stagnation following the death of Walt Disney. Fresh off the meteoric success of Little Shop of Horrors Off-Broadway and a feature film adaptation, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were brought in to provide the project's songs. Ashman would not only provide lyrics but become a producer on the film, and is largely credited with being the artistic catalyst for Disney's renewed success in animation. Ashman brought with him a rich knowledge of classic musical theatre, showing the filmmakers how songs could be more than mere entertainment and provide plot development. His work bringing classic musical theatre to animation was so successful that New York Times theatre critic famously called Beauty and the Beast, the spiritual successor to Mermaid and a 2002 inductee into the National Film Registry, "the best Broadway musical score of 1991." Both The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast would ultimately get stage adaptations on Broadway, in 2008 and 1994, respectively.
Previous inductees have included the movie adaptations of Carmen Jones, Cabaret, Show Boat (1936), West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Music Man, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Oklahoma!, Porgy and Bess, Funny Girl, My Fair Lady, and On the Town.
Nominations are being accepted for the 2023 registry and can be submitted online through August 15, 2023. For more information, click here.