As we come to the end of year, I found myself once again getting sentimental and nostalgic. I am always grateful for the incredible opportunities this show, thanks to you, has afforded me to share with you… including conversations with true legends.
So this week, I went back into the WDW Radio Archives to bring you one of my favorites. In addition to being a Disney Legend, he is the recipient of multiple Academy Awards, Golden Globes and Grammys for his work on Disney animated classics such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Enchanted and, of course, Beauty and the Beast. And as I recently discussed on our Best of the Best from the Disney Parks Around the World, he also wrote what is arguably one of, if not the, most beautiful song in a Disney Park. Legendary composer Alan Menken joined me on Show 196 back in 2010 to talk about his early career and helping to usher in the renaissance of Disney animation, as well as his work on Disney’s 50th full-length animated feature, Tangled. It’s a fascinating look into the life and music of a man who continues to make magic for generations of Disney fans.
In this episode Lou and Alan discuss his incredible journey from pre-med to composing tunes that have defined Disney’s renaissance and continue to resonate across generations. We’ll touch on the emotions that Alan’s scores evoke, his favorite works, and his crucial role as a musical dramatist in the collaborative narrative of Disney filmmaking.
Alan reflects on his partnership with the late Howard Ashman, the evolution of their work from Little Shop of Horrors to The Little Mermaid, and how their visionary storytelling reinvigorated animated classics. We’ll discuss his collaboration with Mandy Moore on Tangled, and how together they brought Rapunzel to life without losing the essence of the character to personal style.
Lou explores the emotional spectrum of Menken’s masterpieces with examples that range from the hauntingly beautiful “Pocahontas” to the soul-stirring “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Discover the musical genius’s favorite works and marvel at the unique storytelling woven through the notes of each enchanting composition.
Alan Menken reveals the secrets of his renowned collaborations with legendary lyricists and directors, and reminisces about his partnership with the late, great Howard Ashman. Hear firsthand about their groundbreaking work on “The Little Mermaid” that redefined Disney animation and sparked a renaissance that would capture the hearts of generations to come.
Take a behind-the-scenes look at Menken’s creative process, from his early off-Broadway shows to his ascent as Disney’s go-to composer, crafting the anthems that define Disney princesses and heroes alike. In an exclusive, Lou gathers insights on Menken’s role in shaping character voices, particularly the charming and talented Mandy Moore as Rapunzel, while learning about the pressures of composing music that will enchant a new generation.
This episode of WDW Radio is not just a celebration of one man’s musical contributions; it’s a heartfelt acknowledgment of the impact these tunes have on the lives of families worldwide.
Thanks to Disney Legend Alan Menken for joining me this week.
Timestamped summary of this episode:
- [05:41] Enthusiastic childhood musician and creative songwriter reminisces.
- [08:49] Howard Ashman connected with Disney for Little Mermaid.
- [11:45] Unique musical vocabulary informs and tells stories.
- [16:53] Engaging audience through music, shaping personal journey.
- [19:37] Various storytelling techniques in Disney movies engage audiences.
- [21:24] Enthusiastic recollection of wonderful movie-making experiences.
- [26:58] Took on responsibilities after partner’s illness. Found success.
- [29:00] Rapunzel brainwashed into loving her tower home.
- [31:27] Navigating pressures, debates, and preconceptions in production.
- [34:35] Mandy Moore portrayed Rapunzel professionally and cooperatively.
The key moments in this episode are:
**Introduction to Alan Menken and His Legacy**
– Overview of Alan Menken’s career and contributions to Disney
– Recognition of Alan Menken’s awards and honours
**Lou Mongello’s Admiration for Menken’s Work**
– Reference to emotional depth in Menken’s scores
– Examples from Pocahontas and Hunchback of Notre Dame
**Alan Menken’s Favorite Works and Techniques**
– Menken’s inability to choose a definitive favorite
– Discussion on the diversity and storytelling in his compositions
**Menken on the Impact of His Music**
– Music’s resonance with adults and children
– Satisfaction in performing for young audiences
**Menken’s Role in Film Production Process**
– Involvement as a musical theater dramatist
– Collaborative songwriting with directors and writers
**WDW Radio Show Highlights**
– Mention of Evergreen episode number 763
– Recap of Alan Menken’s 2010 interview on show 196
**Menken’s Disney Renaissance Contributions**
– His role during the 1989 to 1999 Disney animation renaissance
– Notable Disney classics scored by Menken
**Menken’s Early Career and Journey in Music**
– Shift from pre-med to music composition
– Menken’s off-Broadway work and Disney collaboration history
**Collaboration on Tangled with Mandy Moore**
– Working relationship with Mandy Moore as Rapunzel
– Moore’s professional approach to the character
**Alan Menken’s Musical Performances**
– Performance for Japanese D23 fans
– First public performance of the song from the Sinbad Ride
**Collaboration with Howard Ashman**
– Background on Little Shop of Horrors
– Introduction to Disney and work on The Little Mermaid
– Success due to Ashman and Menken’s collaborative strengths
**The Little Mermaid’s Musical Direction and Impact**
– Musical vocabulary creation for the film
– Variety of musical styles, including calypso
– Audience and industry reaction to the film’s music
**The Legacy of Menken’s Music in Animated Films**
– Music’s role in defining films and engaging audiences
– Menken’s influential music career post-The Little Mermaid
**Menken’s Collaborations After Howard Ashman**
– Transition to working with different lyricists
– Collaboration with Tim Rice on Aladdin
**Inspiration and Approach to Music in Tangled**
– Rapunzel’s quest for freedom influencing the score
– Folk rock and 60s innocence as musical references
**Music for Disney Princesses and Generational Changes**
– The pressure of defining music for iconic characters
– Writing for a new generation with Tangled
– Reflecting on Alan Menken’s role as a veteran in the industry
What is your favorite Alan Menken piece of music, or film that he composed the music for?
Share your thoughts in the WDW Radio Clubhouse at WDWRadio.com/Clubhouse, or call the voicemail at 407-900-9391 (WDW1) and share your story on the show.
Lou Mongello: Hello my friend, and welcome to another episode from the WDW Radio Archives. I am Lou Mello and this is show number 763 and this, and every week I'm gonna select an Evergreen episode. from the archives to share that maybe you haven't heard before or one that you haven't heard in a long time from interviews to top tens, relevant reviews, way back machines, guides and more.
It's a great way to visit and revisit some of our favorite episodes, including ones that you have suggested I share from the archives. And as we come to the end of the year, I found myself. Once again, getting sentimental and nostalgic, I'm always so grateful for the incredible opportunities this show, thanks to you, has afforded me to share with you, including conversations like this week with true legends.
So this week I went back into the WWD archives to bring you one of my favorite interviews. Because in addition to being a Disney legend, my next guest is the recipient of multiple Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and Grammys for his work on a few Disney animated classics like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Enchanted, and of course, Beauty and the Beast.
And as I recently discussed on our Best of the Best from the Disney Parks Around the World episode, he also wrote what is arguably one of, if not the, most beautiful song in a Disney park. Legendary composer Alan Menken joined me on show 196 Back in 2010 to talk about his early career, and then also helping to usher in the Renaissance of Disney animation, as well as his work on Disney's 50th full length animated feature film tangled.
It is a fascinating look into really the life and the music of a man who continues. to make magic for generations of Disney fans. And I'd love to know from you, what's your favorite Alan Menken piece of music, or maybe Disney film that he composed the music for? Please share your thoughts over in the WW Radio Clubhouse at www.
radio. com slash clubhouse, or call the voicemail, share your story on the air at 407 900 9391. That's 407 900 WDW1, and I will play it on the show. But for now, thank you for an incredible, a remarkable and memorable 2023 as we prepare to turn the page into the new chapter in 2024. Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you. I hope that this show has brought you as much joy. To listen as it has for me to create and share with you. I love you. I appreciate you. So for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy this week's episode from the archives on the WW radio show and happy new year.
For a generation of children who grew up in the nineties and even many adults. Their personal soundtrack was comprised of music from Disney films and songs composed by Alan Menken. During the renaissance of Disney animation from 1989 to 1999, his work defined and was a major reason for the success of films such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and of course, Beauty and the Beast.
His work led, for the first time, to the transition of some of these and other films from the screen to the theatrical stage. And his work did not go unrecognized. Not only by the millions of Disney fans who continue to span new generations, but his peers who have honored him with eight Academy Awards, making him only second to Alfred Newman and Walt Disney for the most Oscars won by an individual.
As well as many more Oscar nominations. Plus 7 Golden Globes and 10 Grammys just to break up the mantle a little bit. He was recently awarded his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was appropriately named a Disney Legend in 2001. And now he is back with his 10th Disney musical, Tangled, based on the fairy tale Rapunzel, which also marks a milestone for the Disney company as it's the studio's 50th animated feature.
So it truly is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure that I welcome Alan Mankin to the WDW radio show. Mr. Mankin, welcome to the show. Thank you. Thank you for joining me. And as an adult who remains a kid at heart, you know, I was one of those people that I referred to in the introduction who found your music so inspirational and evocative and important.
And it remains so to me to this day. So I have to tell you from the outset, what getting the opportunity to speak with you today means to me on a personal level. Well,
Alan Menken: thank you. I appreciate that.
Lou Mongello: If we can, let's just talk a little bit about your early background, because I think your journey is a fascinating one, and growing up in New York, you know, your musical tastes weren't necessarily the norm for young kids.
Tell us a little bit about your early childhood and some of your early music musical interests.
Alan Menken: Okay. I mean, I don't know if it's totally Dr. Norm, but as I was growing up, I did love classical music. I studied piano, I studied violin, played in school orchestras, went to music camps, and I, uh, I would listen to, um, love listening to Beethoven symphonies and Brahms symphonies and Tchaikovsky, and, um, uh, and inventing scenarios, dramatic scenarios that would accompany those works.
Um, And, uh, I was never, you know, great at practicing, uh, kind of an ADD kid. And so I, um, I would, you know, hear the beginning of a piece and then I would make up my own Beethoven sonata or, you know, um, share any exercise or whatever it is. So my parents would think I was practicing, but in fact I was just, you know, writing music for an hour.
Um, and then, um, Uh, you know, with the, uh, with the Beatles and, and, uh, sixties, uh, I, I, like everyone else, I took up the guitar and, um, and began writing songs and, and, uh, and that was a, you know, a turning point for me, I guess.
Lou Mongello: Well, your, your journey was a little bit more circuitous because you, you, you start playing and then you start.
You know, writing and composing. You were moved off your path a little bit. You started studying pre med. What happened to go from med school to, uh, to writing
Alan Menken: songs? Right, well, I was, you know, I never really wanted to be a doctor. And actually, the truth is, all of the men in my family have been dentists. My father just retired.
He's nearly 90 years old. He just retired from dentistry. My father's brother was a dentist. No, he was an orthodontist. My father's Father was a dentist. My father's sister's husband is a dent dentist. My mother's sister's husband was a dentist . So this is a family that is lousy with dentists. And I guess I thought, well, I guess I'm supposed to be a dentist.
So I went to school as a, you know, as a pre-med or, um, but that didn't last very long. I, I, um, that was, you know, I'm, music is really what I think I was always meant to do. It's always what I wanted to do. Um, it's, it's where my heart was and my head was. Well,
Lou Mongello: millions of people are grateful that you didn't follow the path that you were instructed to do when you found the one that you were supposed to do.
Alan Menken: Yeah, thank you. And I think they're better off for me, for me not actually, you know, drilling their teeth into it.
Lou Mongello: Exactly. Uh, your, your off Broadway shows, we'll jump ahead a little bit, um, you, you were writing music for years, but your off Broadway shows, especially The Little Shop of Horror, really was your first, um, Major hit going from the stage to the screen, but you're starting to work with Disney Really was kind of a product of the Eisner Wells and Katzenberg team coming together and coming in really wanting to reinvigorate The animated films at the studios.
Can you tell us how you began to work with the Disney company? Well
Alan Menken: following Little Shop of Horrors Howard Ashman What about when we did Little Shop of Horrors, David Geffen was one of our producers and and David, um, I think, mentioned Howard to Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner as somebody they definitely should meet with.
Um, as somebody, you know, as somebody who, who really had an understanding of how music could function dramatically, either in a musical or in a, in the context of a film. So they, and they talked to him about a number of projects, one of which was The Little Mermaid, an animated musical. And I think much to their surprise, Howard said, that's the one that interests me the most.
Um. And, um, he then called me and we both, uh, started meeting with John Musker and Ron Clements, uh, and discussed The Little Mermaid. And, um, I, you know, I don't know that anybody knew what was going to come. It was just gonna be, uh, an exploratory process to see what might develop with these two young off Broadway writers, um, writing a, uh, an animated musical that's, that's supposed to sit on the shelf alongside Cinderella, and Snow White, and Pinocchio, and Peter Pan.
um, uh, it was a good marriage. It turned out to be a very good marriage. Um, I think because of our, our ability to get out of our own way, and I'm a bit of a musical chameleon, so it was a real facility in working in. In styles and vocabularies and, and, and so much because of, of Howard Ashman being able to function as an executive producer and, um, Howard's incredible, uh, ability as a, uh, um, as a, you know, as a, as a dramatic writer and a, and a lyricist and director.
He, he brought so much, um, into that process.
Lou Mongello: And we'll talk a little bit about some of that marriage and the songwriting, but coming in on a film like this, you know, you alluded to, you're almost given this added pressure. This is not just a film. This is a Disney animated film that again has to sit alongside the classics.
And again, you know, they're bringing in Ariel, the Little Mermaid, sort of that next generation of Disney princesses. And you are also the one who now has to bring The musical genre back to these animated films. Did you bring in sort of that Broadway template? When you're writing and your experience in the theater, or what was your other influences, if any, in writing films?
Well, the influences
Alan Menken: really were, you know, and it's always been our philosophy to find a unique musical vocabulary that, um, that can inform a story and you can tell a story, you know, through that vocabulary. In the case of Little Mermaid, it was pretty eclectic, but I think the choice of making the character of Sebastian Caribbean so we could have calypso music was, I think, a huge, um, A huge element that, um, uh, is very consistent with, um, with the dramatic specificity that one needs to really have a successful, uh, Disney animated musical.
Um You know, the Broadway style, all it means is, we're telling a story through songs. Um, you know, so we'll start in one place and finish in another. You want it to be consistent with the voice of the character. Um, it's gotta be plot specific, it's got to, um, comment on the character. And, um, you know, however you do that, that becomes Broadway genre.
It isn't like one Broadway genre, it isn't necessarily the sound of either Jerry Herman or Stephen Sondheim or, or, or Rodgers and Hammerstein. Um, uh, theater is welcoming to any style of music so long as it's specific to the story and tells the story.
Lou Mongello: Well, and do you realize at any point during Mermaid, or at any point during one of these renaissance films, I mean, Mermaid, you follow up with Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, and Pocahontas, and Hunchback, and Hercules, I mean, one after the other, at what point do you realize that what you're doing is worthy of being alongside those classics, and something special?
And if it's not while you're creating it, At one point, did that moment finally hit you? Well,
Alan Menken: as we're working on it, I think Howard and I had had the experience of Little Shop of Horrors and the way it exploded. And that was so wonderful. It was a great moment in both of our lives and our careers. Um, and I think, you know, we were young and we certainly felt our oaths.
Um, so I think we felt good about our work. Um, however It was with, you know, getting the reactions from the directors, from, um, the producers, from the executives, that we began to realize that we were really onto something, uh, that was communicating to people, that was really, um, catching people's fancy. And, um, uh, and that, that, you know, continued by degrees.
First, how we felt about it, then how they felt about it in house, and then Getting the audience reactions, and then, and then getting the full public reactions. Um, step by step, that was a revelation, and you know, all the way to the point where it opened up in the New York Times, and there's this, this glowing review, and serious review, um, that anointed Little Mermaid, and then, of course, the Oscars.
It just continued step by step. It was, you know, it wasn't one point, it was at many, many junctures, it kept, you know, uh, the experience kept, uh, improving.
Lou Mongello: And I think the film's success was really unparalleled, and I think it, in large part, is because the music defined these films, as opposed to maybe being something that was laid on top of them.
And I think they all sort of share, all the songs seem to share this commonality of transporting the viewer and the listener to A very specific place and a very specific time. I think that's what makes these films very special. Yes,
Alan Menken: and audiences sense and know this material was written specifically for this movie.
It was specifically tailored to tell this story in a very, very clever and consistent way. And audiences were hungry for that, clearly. And they hadn't had that in a while. Um, and they embraced it.
Small to say the least, both a little scared, neither one prepared, beauty and the beast, ever just the same. I hear from people all
the time who say, you know, when I saw Little Mermaid, it was just, thank you, thank you. We're going back to a, to a, to a vocabulary and a genre that we've been hungry for.
Lou Mongello: And the music, you know, sets the tone, and Little Mermaid's a perfect example of the music setting the tone and the story from the opening scene, where you see the ship and you hear this sort of, you know, rousing sort of sea chant, you understand exactly what this film is going to be.
Obviously, same thing continues with Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast and the mix of these, these colors, I mean, you paint such a beautiful picture with the music.
Alan Menken: Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, I mean, that's the goal is in every case, in every song, you know, to have the audience fully engaged and, and understanding, you know, why, why this kind of song, it just, and it reminds the audience of other things that they know and like and informs the story and you keep the audience is fully engaged in that score and, and the score is of course constantly moving things forward.
Um, and that's, that's the key to, to these projects, I think. So it was, yes, it was, it was, it was amazing. The reaction that we got was so encouraging. And it, um, it fueled, you know, the next two decades of my life.
Lou Mongello: And, you know, as I was researching for this interview, I listened over and over again to so many of these songs and scores, and I found myself feeling that range of emotions.
And I could admit to you that I, you know, get, I was getting choked up to music that I had heard hundreds of times because And I said, well, you know, how do I define, how do I try and encapsulate this, this Alan Menken style? And I couldn't, because Pocahontas had these beautiful flutes and percussions, and Hunchback had these very deep choral sounds and violins, and the range is so different, and the span of emotions was so different.
I think that's why all these songs and these scores stand out on their own, and made these films such a success.
Alan Menken: Thank you, I appreciate that very much.
Lou Mongello: But I have to ask you, do you, and it's not asking you maybe Oh, you want me to define what my favorite is? Well, I'm gonna ask, I can't, you know, I certainly couldn't ask you, but I'm going to, what a favorite is, but is there one maybe that you enjoyed most, or enjoyed listening to most, or one that says, you know, this, this is kind of what defines Alan Menken.
Alan Menken: I wish I could, I wish I could, I get asked that question a lot, and I wish I could answer it definitively, but I can't. Um, uh, it
Lou Mongello: I know, it's like saying which of your two children is your favorite. You can't, you can't say
Alan Menken: it. Exactly, I mean, I said often that I felt that our highest accomplishment was Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Um, that I did feel that it was the most sophisticated and emotionally deep of any of them.
I who keep you, teach you, feed you, dress you. I who look upon you without fear. How can I protect you, boy,
Lou Mongello: unless you always
Alan Menken: stay in here? Away But that doesn't mean it's, you know, the one that reaches the audience most effectively, or tells the story most effectively. They all have their own technique of doing that.
And the storytelling in You know, in Aladdin, it's very different from the storytelling in Pocahontas, and which is very different from the storytelling in Newsies, or Enchanted. I mean, they all have their own raison d'etre, and what they share in common is that, you know, there's been a long gestation period of trying to figure out a smart way to tell the story through song.
That, that an audience can get. And, uh, and feel engaged in. Before you write anything. And certainly, Um, being completely willing to get out of my own way, And Howard getting out of his own way, It's the same thing with all of my collaborators. And just allowing the voice of the characters to come through, I think is, is, is huge.
Um, in terms of audiences. Um. Defining who, you know, who it is I am or we are, you know, as writers.
Lou Mongello: And I'm so happy just very quickly that you mentioned Hunchback of Notre Dame because I've always felt it is such a rich, beautiful film and may not rise to the level of, of, I don't want to even say success, but you know, The Little Mermaid or The Beauty and the Beast.
But I think the music in there is, paints such a beautiful picture, and I think Bells of Notre Dame and, and Topsy, and God Help the Outcast, is some of your best work, and it makes that movie. Uh, like you said, as, as beautiful as it really is. It
Alan Menken: was, yeah, it was, it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. But, you know, they, they, you know, I followed that with Hercules, which is just this romp, and David Zippel's, you know, just fun, clever, brilliant lyrics.
Honey, you mean HUNCULES! Woo hoo! I'd like to make some sweet music for you! Our story actually begins long before Hercules. Many eons ago. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Back when the world was new. The planet Earth was down on its luck And everywhere gigantic roots called Titans They all have their own, as I said, they all have their own spirit and their own, um, You know, uh, even poor little Home on the Range, which was pretty much a disaster.
Has its, you know, the things about it that I love. And I hope that someday it will, it will, you know, get a little more appreciation for some of those moments. Especially Will the Sun Ever Shine Again, the song that Bonnie Raitt recorded.
Lou Mongello: And I think, too, each song has its own, you know, Hercules is so heroic and it's so inspiring, every song.
And Aladdins are much more mystical. And I think what's wonderful is that you write music that isn't just for the films. I think the music has a life. Beyond the movies and in addition to just Disney fans enjoying it. I mean it your songs Hit the top of the billboard charts. Adults like it, which I think leads to a great other success.
And I said earlier, it defines many children, because I think children are able to relate to this music. They get the story, and more importantly, I think they get the message that you're trying to
Alan Menken: convey. Yeah, there's no experience, honestly, even the Oscars, there's no experience that compares with me playing my songs for a young audience.
You know, young being anywhere from little kids to even young adults. And, and, and their reactions. To hearing these songs, um, it's just deeply, deeply moving and satisfying for me. It probably is the most satisfying recognition I've ever received. And, you know, I often get the comment, you know, people would say, You wrote this soundtrack for my childhood.
Like, you know, part of me says, Well, no, I didn't really. I may have wrote some of it, I guess. It's still thrilling that they have such a feeling of ownership and investment in what we've done. It's, it makes it all worthwhile.
Lou Mongello: Yeah, it so much carries beyond the couple of hours you may spend in the theater or a few hours sitting on the couch.
Um, people do carry it with them for years and years afterwards. And I think too, you know, the film stand on their own, the music stands on their own and obviously it's married to the film. But you've, you've always been very much involved in the entire production of the films. Meaning that the producers don't just come to you and say, Okay, we need a love song here and a magic carpet song here.
Can you tell us about the songwriting process, maybe from your perspective, as the film was being
Alan Menken: developed? Well, we, um, we are not just songwriters, we're musical theater dramatists. So, you know, we get into the room with, um, the directors and the writers, and, um, and shape the story so it can be told through song.
And then we do that on a regular basis, and we collaborate, you know. They may have ideas for songs that That maybe we don't like, or maybe we think there's something in there, but we need to, you know, uh, maybe sort of negotiate what that song will be, what we want it to be, what they want it to be, and answer a lot of questions together.
Before I ever go off and, and get into the room with my collaborator. And then, once we do that, in just about every case, I really like to, to be in the room with my lyricist, and embark on writing the song together in the room. I never, you know, I don't like having either somebody say here, here's a lyric said it or I say here's a piece of music, write a lyric to it.
I, I really want it to be a process of discovery for both of us, uh, in the moment. And that tends to be what works best.
Lou Mongello: And if I could just briefly touch on that collaborative process. Um, clearly through the years you've worked with some amazing lyricists. But obviously your partnership with Howard Ashman, um, especially early on was some of the greatest successes that you've had.
How different and maybe even difficult was it for you having to go beyond that relationship and working with others, especially because I think the two of you had that, you know, forgive the comparisons, but that magical sort of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sherman Brothers esque like magic to whatever you worked on.
Alan Menken: Yeah. Um, well, what was, I think there was a number of transitions that were, I mean, Howard was a very, um, a very strong, um, uh, very strong collaborator and, and a very smart man. And, and of all my collaborations, Howard was clearly the boss. Um, that, that, that relationship was established from our earliest show, God Bless You, Mr.
Rosewater, through Little Shop, because he was also the director. And so, and, and on, on Mermaid, he was the executive producer. So Howard. With the only collaboration I've been involved in where I really considered myself to be, as a composer, to be sort of a catalyst. And he was very much, um, in the foreground as the dramatic voice.
Um, as Howard became ill, I began to assume more and more responsibility for For the songs, for producing the sessions, for the arrangements, for every aspect of what we did, because he lost his strength, he lost his, literally lost his voice, and then lost his life. And, um, so I had to step up. And, first of all, take on more responsibility, and second of all, face the fact that I was afraid that he was the key to my success, and would I ever have success again.
And of course, what happened was, after he died, the first collaboration I had was with Tim Rice. And, um, and the song, you know, we wrote a number of songs for Aladdin, but among them was A Whole New World, which is The most successful song I've ever, I've ever written, and he'd ever written. It was the number one single, it won Grammy Song of the Year, it won the Oscar, it was just huge.
So You know, number one, certainly I found my own voice and my own confidence, and number two, I began to take on a much stronger leadership role. Also, you know, in my collaboration with Howard Ashman, it's the only collaboration in which his name comes first. It's Ashman Menken. In all the other cases, my name as a composer has been coming first.
So it was a real transition for me. And a real, you know, growth experience in, in going through Howard's illness and then passing. And it was, you know, emotionally devastating, um, and professionally kind of empowering. At the same time. Let's,
Lou Mongello: um, let's look forward and let's talk about Tangled and maybe a little bit about what your inspiration was for the music in this film because it's very different from the other tale of a main character that's trapped in a tower with the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Alan Menken: Yes it is. And, and, and one of my big concerns, um, with this project was, oh my god, how do we deal with this, um, you know, somebody in the tower who wants, who needs to get out of the tower. And one fundamental difference is Quasimoto looked out over the over Paris and said, I, I, I, I wish I could be part of that.
Whereas Rapunzel looked out of her tower and said, I, I really can't leave here. It's too dangerous. Um, she's, she's, you know, she is, she's been, um, completely brainwashed by Mother Gothel into believing that. That the world is too dangerous for her to go out into and she must stay in this tower. And, um, so the trick there was to write a number where She would think about how great everything is in the tower.
You know, and we would have, we would fill in for her. She has to get out of this tower, polish, do laundry and BPP and shine up, sweep again and buy. Then it's like seven 15 and so I'll up, or maybe two or three.
And the, the mu the musical, uh, inspiration. I, I looked at Rapunzel and her hair and her quest for freedom, and I thought about folk rock. I thought about on a gut level. I went to a Joni Mitchell song called Chelsea Morning, and, and I went to Kat Stevens and I thought about that musical vocabulary in wanting to.
To write a score that, that kind of captured that feeling of freedom in the 60s. And the innocence.
Lou Mongello: And it's interesting, and especially talking about that innocence, because again, you're asked to write for what you know is going to be the next Disney princess. And that's a big deal. You've done it for Ariel, and Belle, and Jasmine, even Giselle in Enchanted.
Now you have to do it for Rapunzel. And when you compose a song like When will my life begin? Is there any sort of added pressure or thought that comes to your mind because the music from this film is going to define who this princess is?
Alan Menken: Yeah, um, well it's I guess it's a pressure, I wouldn't call it pressure but there's definitely a debate that ensues um, among everybody involved with the production which the same thing happened with Enchanted and True Love's Kiss Um Defining that genre and defining the tone is, is so much a matter of dealing with everybody's pre preconceptions about what they would like the opening to be, or, um, everyone's judgment about, about whether this is the right thing.
And traditionally, I don't know if it's, it's probably true of a lot of, a lot of forms, but certainly animation directors love their choices. So, you know, what else you got? What else you got? Well, wait, can we hear something? What about something more like this? What about something more like that? And after a while, it sort of begins to obliterate.
You know, that, that initial gut level confidence. And at a certain point I said, you know what? I really wanna go back to that first song I wrote. 'cause that felt most right to me. And I, I stuck to that pretty strongly. And that ended up being where we went. Um, but it's a, it, I wouldn't call it pressure, but I call it a a, a, definitely a, a strong collaborative, um, process.
Mother knows best. Listen to your mother. It's a scary world out there. Mother knows best. One way or another, something will go wrong, I swear! Ruffians, thugs, poison ivy, quicksand, cannibals and snakes, the plague! Yes, also large bugs, men with pointy teeth and Stop! No more, you'll just
Lou Mongello: And to that end, when you write a song in 2010, you're writing for a different generation, a different audience with different tastes and popular musical styles. Do you approach the film with that in mind, or do you approach it as like, Hey, I'm going to write the next Disney classic that's going to be timeless, and This is how I want to go about doing
Alan Menken: it.
Really, all I think is I'm going to write, you know, the story of Rapunzel. And the way we're telling the story, but that's what I'm going to do. I don't really think the next Disney classic, I don't really think, um, you know, awards. I don't think a generational. Now, that said, the directors of this are considerably younger than Me, and considerably younger than other directors I've worked with.
So naturally, um, there is that dynamic in the room. I'm, you know, the more I go on, the more I'm kind of the old man in the room. Um, which is a funny position to be in because I still think of myself as, you know, a kid in this business. But, um, that's, that's a dynamic that I, I've accepted. I'm, you know, I'm, I'm very much the older guy in the room and a bit of the gorilla in the room too, you know.
um, not, not intentionally, but just because of things I've done.
Lou Mongello: Well, real quick then, when you're, you're working on this film with Mandy Moore, who unlike maybe a Jodi Benson or a Paige O'Hara or Lias Longa, she's a major pop star and she has a certain style to her singing and a, and a large and loyal following of fans.
What was working with Mandy like? Oh, she was totally
Alan Menken: cooperative. And, it was, and, and, um, and professional, and she knew, from the beginning that her job in this was to be Rapunzel. And, and frankly, Mandy Moore, you know, as Mandy Moore didn't, uh, Define anything any of what we did any more than Alan Menken being Alan Menken defined what we did It's our job to tell this story and you know and get out of the way and she was great She was totally professional.
It's a wonderful instrument as a singer and and She was every in every way in every way as Professional and Theatrically savvy as anyone else I've worked with. Stay in, but tell me, when will you? Mr. Mankin, again, undoubtedly one of the greatest melody writers
Lou Mongello: of our time. So much responsible for the Renaissance in animation. Excited to see Tangled. It opens November 24th in theaters everywhere. The soundtrack is available, uh, online. So grateful for all your time and working on a personal level. Yours are the songs I keep on my iPod, I sing to myself in the car, and I'm able to enjoy and share with my kids, so, um, on behalf of my family and all the families that you continue to touch with what's clearly not just your work, but your passion, I want to say thank you very much.
Well, thank you for your
Alan Menken: time, too. Take care. Take care. Bye bye bye.
Lou Mongello: One song I've
Alan Menken: never performed in public before, ever. It's a song just for you, Japanese D23 fans. From the Sinbad Ride. Lift
your sails to the heavens and fly On the
horizon to seek brand new seas Life's awaiting you out there Sail through the vines
May it turn you into Toss you in stormy
sand in the path where your destiny is
stray And the compass of your great adventure There is no map of charge But if you seek life's great treasures Fossil Life is the greatest adventure There is no map
There's no charge, but if you seek life's great,
follow the compass of your heart...