Monday, April 30, 2012

Menken & Ashman saved Disney

Howard Ashman (lyricist) and Alan Menken (composer) collaborated on three of the best Disney films of all time. It could be argued that they single-handedly revived Disney animation. Here's my post dedicated to them and their music.

The Little Mermaid
It was Howard Ashman's suggestion that Sebastian be changed from an uptight British butler-type, to a Rastafarian reggae-singing crab. And what a change that made! The Caribbean feel of the music is what makes TLM so fun and memorable. And Sebastian totally steals the show, with Under the Sea - hands-down (fins-down?) winner for most fish-related puns ever to be contained within one song, (not to mention a little thing called an Academy Award), and Kiss the Girl, which has one of the best intro lines ever: "Percussion! Strings! Winds! Woooords."

Also awesome: Les Poissons, the completely random yet completely appropriate French Chef Louie's ode to fish. It's one of the most hilarious scenes in the whole film, and perhaps in all Disney movies. "Perfection!" (said in a French accent, of course!)

I'd also like to mention the villain's song, Poor Unfortunate Souls. Ursula makes us realize that it's possible to be both fabulous and terrifying at the same time. Her drag queen-esque diva attitude is perfectly portrayed in this song, especially when she's shaking her octopus butt and singing about the importance of body language!

Beauty & the Beast
I've already written an entire post about B&B's music, so there's not much left to say. I do think it's significant that this was the first Disney animated movie ever to be adapted to a Broadway musical. The strength and format of its songs largely contribute to its success on the stage. The opening song, Belle, is the perfect ensemble number. Also, it's one of the rare Renaissance movies where all major characters have a singing part, and the last film until The Princess and the Frog in 2009 for which all the speaking and singing voices are the same for each character.

If you haven't guessed by now, my all-time favorite Disney song is A Whole New World. It was my fifth grade class program's closing number, and I've loved it ever since. In my humble opinion, this is Menken and Ashman's most brilliant work and the height of Disney music. Not only does the song capture the romantic mood of this scene, it's also extremely fun and an awesome duet. Some day I'll find the right singing partner for this song.:D

Let's not forget Robin Williams' portrayal of Genie, highlighted by Friend Like Me, who my friend Cindy has now ruined due to pointing out its suggestive tone ("Mr. Aladdin, sir, what will your pleasure be?"). Just kidding. But there are parts of it that are sung so fast I still can't sing along. Prince Ali shows Genie's over-the-top generosity when it comes to granting wishes. He doesn't just make Aladdin a prince, he goes all out. Parade, monkeys, peacocks, everything! Random trivia question: How many times does Genie transform during this song?

With Ashman and Menken's broadway background, these songs flow seamlessly in and out of the stories of these films. It would be hard to imagine the stories without them. They have the perfect blend of memorable melodies and witty lyrics.

I dare you to listen to one or all of these songs and not be tempted to break out singing. Or dancing. Or both. Oh crap, now you know what I do when I'm home alone.

What's your favorite Menken/Ashman song?


  1. I like all the Disney-saving movies, but I still favor their Little Shop of Horrors, especially "Somewhere That's Green". It's a song from a girl who wants to GET OUT of the trapped world she lives in. Much more pathos than Ariel's desire to live in a the world above. I also swoon at "Suddenly Seymour", once again a girl hoping for rescue from her pain.

  2. I most definitely guessed that A Whole New World was your fav, just on a wild guess. I'm partial to Circle of Life lately.

    1. i love Circle of Life! but that's Elton John/Tim Rice. :)