literally no experience in my life that tops, or even equals working
on a DISNEY animated musical. It really is for me, an art form that
has defined my career now." -
Tracksounds talks with composer Alan
Menken on receiving his recent star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
and his latest collaboration for the Disney animated film, TANGLED.
interview has been transcribed and edited from the original audio
CC: I want to congratulate you, first of all, on
getting your own star in the Hollywood WALK OF FAME.
ALAN MENKEN: A little bit like an out-of-body experience. [laughs] It was
a trip, I'll tell ya. It was pretty amazing.
CC: There are under 2400 total stars out there, and there are
less than 100 stars that are dedicated to composers, so that already puts
you in rarefied air. What does it mean to you know that it's a couple
ALAN MENKEN: Wow, I didn't even know those facts. That's fabulous. It makes me feel special and great. Sometimes it feels
unreal, because I just do what I do, and those moments where I get to feel
that people really like it - it's a wonderful thing. You don't always get
those moments. A lot of the times you get the critics, and the cynics,
which is just the way it goes, but it's nice that life has the other side
of people, when they really give you that kind of a moment. It's really
CC: You had composer RICHARD SHERMAN, who wrote the
unforgettable song, “It's A Small World”, speak. How did that come about? Did
you choose him?
ALAN MENKEN: I did. I thought it would be so appropriate to have Richard
be the one to give the speech, because I feel like I've got to follow in
the footsteps of the SHERMAN BROTHERS at DISNEY. It's my DISNEY work that
is primarily responsible for me having that star. Richard has been so
gracious, warm and supportive in ways that you never would've necessarily
expected. I'm very touched that he did that.
CC: Now you've had
at least a decade of a working relationship with HOWARD ASHMAN.
Had he been able to be present, what do you think he would've said about
you and to you during that ceremony?
ALAN MENKEN: I would've presumed that Howard would have had one up there
first or at the same time. I think Howard would've expressed his pride in
our accomplishments and he probably would've said something that would've
made me break down and cry, because he was so smart, perceptive about
people, and compassionate. It's a big loss in my life, losing a writing
partner. It's been about 20 years since he's been gone.
CC: It's a shame that he doesn't have a star there, but I believe he will.
ALAN MENKEN: It's true, you're right. In fact, they should do that
tomorrow. In fact I hadn't even thought about that. You keep telling me
a lot of things I haven't thought about. He should have a star and they
should do that. It's hard when you're gone; there's probably nobody
lobbying for you to have that.
CC: Yes, I believe it'll happen someday. He should be placed very close to
you, hopefully the next star right over. Second star to the right will be
Let me ask you about your most recent
project, which is TANGLED. I've listened to the soundtrack and
what amazes me is that, every time out, you're able to capture something
that makes it a totally entertaining listen; both the songs and the score. The first question that
comes to my mind is that you've been at this for a while, from THE LITTLE
MERMAID, which was the revival animated feature, now up to TANGLED, which
is a 3D-animated film. How has the process of writing music for these
DISNEY features changed for you, if at all?
ALAN MENKEN: The changes that happen aren't really linear. They're more
cyclical. You go from periods where people are very supportive of
musicals, to periods where people are very wary of musicals. You simply
have to adjust to those circumstances accordingly. I guess the main
difference is that I'm simply older and more experienced. Obviously, I
have a greater sense of what I do well, and what I should do. But with
that said, when you pair me with young directors, they might not want me
to be in my comfort zones. A lot of times people will say “let's move Alan
out of his comfort zone, because we want something different”. I love and
appreciate that. So the main difference is that when I come into the room,
I carry a lot of extra weight with me. I'm sort of the “grand old man”.
Some of these people may think to themselves: “Is Alan going to be the
800-lb. gorilla in the room?” or “Is ALAN going to be difficult?”, only
because I've done this a lot. It's often important for me to get off my
high-horse and allow people to feel that it's okay for us too be working
on their first musical; for me to be in there with them and discovering
along with them. So it's a challenge for me too.
CC: Is it becoming an increasing challenge because of your storied
career and all the awards that you've won?
ALAN MENKEN: The only increasing challenge is the fact that right now, at
the age of, dare I say, 61, I have probably more going on in my career
than almost ever had going on before. There were periods like MERMAID and
BEAUTY where I was juggling a lot of things, but now I'm juggling a lot of
things that are all going into production; mostly stage things right now.
There's a lot on my plate. The challenge is trying not to get exhausted to
be honest. I haven't had a good vacation in a while, and that's upsetting
to me. But I do feel responsible I feel like I want to get my projects to
a place where they're in some form of completion before I walk away from
CC: This time you're working with GLENN SLATER as the lyricist. You've
worked with him before on THE LITTLE MERMAID, The BROADWAY production in
ALAN MENKEN: And I worked with him on HOME ON THE RANGE, SISTER ACT and
LEAP OF FAITH.
CC: How is that collaborative effort?
ALAN MENKEN: It's great. Glenn is a brilliant collaborator. He's
dramaturgically very smart. He's probably a bit younger than me. Somewhere
in the vicinity of 15-20 years younger. He's beginning to be a very
sought-after lyricist. He just worked with ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER on the
sequel to PHANTOM in London. I think he's working with DANNY ELFMAN on a
project called HOUDINI, and yet Glenn has not had his breakthrough “hit”.
As his friend and collaborator, I'm so hoping that this is a project where
he'll get the recognition he deserves. He's really smart and a good
collaborator. He's very hard on himself, like HOWARD ASHMAN and STEVEN
SCHWARTZ, two people who are very bright and very hard on themselves.
They're very intense, and Glenn is also in that mold.
CC: When the time crunch is on, and you're working on a project
like TANGLED, how do you divide your time amongst writing the songs versus
the score? I would imagine that you write the songs first because you have
to score the picture later on.
ALAN MENKEN: Yes. It's pretty much separated by year or even more. In the
case of this project, the song production took us all the way to late
spring of this year. Simultaneously were were finishing this whole
production by doing spotting sessions for the scoring sessions. One went
right into the other. This came right down to the wire, and they are very
CC: When you're working on a DISNEY feature - and this probably isn't
exclusive to DISNEY features-, is there one key that you have to nail, or
that you have to get a hold of, which opens up the door to all of the
other songs, cues and themes that you have to write?
ALAN MENKEN: The main keys to figure out are: #1, dramatically, the
mechanism by which the story will be told through song, and #2, the
dominant musical vocabulary which will be used to tell the story through
song, and why. I ask myself why that vocabulary, and how does it inform
the story? Audiences should in some ways be in on what you're doing, if
not on a conscious level, then at least on a sub-conscious level. They
should say, for example, “Ah, that reminds me of the 60's, and that kind
of energy. I understand it and it feels right for this”. And if you've
done your job well, it'll come across. If you haven't, people well say
CC: In your opinion, where does TANGLED fit amongst all of your DISNEY
ALAN MENKEN: Honestly, I can't tell you. It's too fresh. There are things
about it that put it up there with the best of them. It's the 50th
animated release. It's the 1st 3D-CGI musical. It's a very contemporary
sound, and it was maybe one of the hardest puzzles to solve as far as
making it work as a musical, because of the nature of the story. It took
so much adaptation and so much work to make a story that was compelling.
We're still on the first blush of seeing how people react to it, and so
far the reactions are pretty good. If you were to ask me 8 months ago, I
would've said “Oh my God. I don't know if this is even going to work”. But
it really came together. A lot of credit for that goes to the directors
who are just fabulously talented.
CC: And, working with MANDY MOORE and
DONNA MURPHY, how was that?
ALAN MENKEN: And ZACHARY LEVI too. They're wonderful. They're so
professional and so talented, into what they do, forth-coming with ideas,
and working with them is just great.
CC: Do you still find
the DISNEY feature a challenge, or are you looking to being involved more
in Broadway, doing more there, or are you up for more DISNEY, if they've
already offered it? Are you still game for the DISNEY feature film?
ALAN MENKEN: There's literally no experience in my life that tops, or even
equals working on a DISNEY animated musical. It really is for me, an art
form that has defined my career now. I love them. I devote as much of my
own soul and energy into these as I do to any stage musical. The door by
which they enter is our culture, and it's such a wonderful one. I love doing them and I would keep doing them forever if they
keep coming my way. That said, my career is more than just animated
features. I have lots of stage musicals and other film projects that I'm
doing, and I do want to have my career grow beyond simply being a composer
for animated films, but it is the top. It's no question. I don't think
there will ever be another medium that will be more associated with me
than animated musicals.
Transcription: Vince Chang