Spotlight: Alan Menken (ARTS ’72, HON ’00)
It’s a Friday morning in North Salem, New York, and composer Alan Menken is at the piano playing a medley of his ’90s hits from Disney animated musicals. He’s been revisiting those classics in his home studio, where he’s hard at work on the upcoming live-action version of Aladdin, rearranging his original score as well as writing new songs.
He did the same for this year’s blockbuster Beauty and the Beast and will soon be collaborating with Lin-Manuel Miranda on a remake of The Little Mermaid, causing him to reflect on how his illustrious film career began.
“I laugh now when I think about how little I was being paid to do Little Mermaid,” Menken says. “But animation was not that big a deal in those days—it had gone into a huge slumber. So at that point, everybody at Disney was on a quest to essentially give rebirth to the animated musical.”
The resulting success of The Little Mermaid launched a new film era known as the Disney Renaissance. Menken and his writing partner, the late lyricist Howard Ashman, were able to revive and redefine the form by treating their Disney films just as they did their off-Broadway shows like Little Shop of Horrors.
“We were very consciously creating an animated musical that had all of the dramatic and structural intelligence that we had in our stage musicals, and that approach found a huge audience in the world,” he recalls. The influence became beyond anything I ever could have imagined.
A previous version of this article in the print version of the NYU Alumni Magazine mistakenly noted Alan Menken's school as Steinhardt. Menken received his BA from the University College of Arts and Science at the Heights campus in 1972 and an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 2000. We regret the error.