It’s difficult to overstate Alan Menken’s legacy. If you’re a twenty-something he wrote the soundtrack to your childhood. If you’ve ever seen The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tangled (the list goes on…) you’ve been moved by his music. Last night I was lucky enough to attend a special event at The Grammy Museum in celebration of Walt Disney Records’ 60th anniversary: A conversation with Alan Menken. I laughed. I cried a little bit. It was magical. Here are a few things Menken revealed about his Disney classics:
1. The melody in “Be Our Guest” was supposed to be temporary.
“I literally gave that to Howard [Ashman] as a dummy,” so he could write lyrics, Menken divulged.
2. Ursula in The Little Mermaid is partially based on a Golden Girl.
“Bea Arthur!” Menken told the audience on being asking about Ursula’s origins and inspiration.
3. Howard Ashman had to convince Angela Lansbury to sing “Beauty and the Beast.”
“Howard and I together would demo our songs playing characters, we did all our musicals pretty much with us playing the characters. And that’s the best way,” and Ashman sent Lansbury a demo of him singing the song as Mrs. Potts. “Then she said ‘Oh. I get it.’”
4. The “Riff Rat/Street Rat” reprise in Aladdin was almost spoken, not sung.
“It’s different when you say something and when you sing it, emotionally,” Menken pitched this to the Aladdin team, and they agreed.
5. Menken’s favorite Disney movie is Fantasia.
“The synchronization of animation and music. That was huge … It taught me that music is a language.”