If you’ve ever loved a Disney song, chances are 65-year-old Alan Menken wrote it. With Oscars, Grammys, and Tonys to his name, he’s now set his sights on TV with ABC’s medieval musical comedy Galavant (which concludes Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC). EW asked the legend to recount the stories behind some of his most iconic songs.
“Part of Your World,” The Little Mermaid (1989)
“There had never really been an ‘I want’ number before in a Disney film. Subsequently everybody at Disney would ask, ‘Where’s our “I want” moment?!’ But it’s that important moment where you engage the audience in the quest of the central character so you know what you’re rooting for. We jokingly used to call this one ‘Somewhere That’s Wet,’ like ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ [from Little Shop] but underwater. My favorite part is that motif [that sounds like] water flowing, which beautifully set up the tone and became the central theme. We knew the whole score was going to a Caribbean place, so we toyed with the idea of reggae [for the rest], but we landed on calypso because it’s poppier and more interesting. Sebastian is more of a Trinidadian crab than Jamaican, certainly more of a Harry Belafonte type.”
“Belle,” Beauty and the Beast (1991)
“The story behind this is that Howard Ashman was HIV-positive and wasn’t telling anybody—he had been very quiet. And here we had written this crazy seven-minute opening number that was much more ambitious than anybody had asked for, and I remember his fear [about everything] in that moment. I remember Howard was very, very reluctant to send it out, thinking that we were going to be laughed at. He delayed sending it for two days. Finally, of course, we sent it, and Disney loved it. You didn’t open an animated movie with a seven-minute number, but it redefined the form. We wanted to keep it very classical Mozart, very She Loves Me, with a quiet opening—’Little town, it’s a quiet village…’ And then it explodes. ‘Bonjour!’” [Beauty and the Beast was dedicated to Ashman, who died eight months before the film’s release.]