If you’re the type of person who can sing their way through most Disney soundtracks, from Cinderella to Hercules to Moana, you probably went mental when you found out that Academy Award-winning composer Alan Menken would be coming back to pen new songs for Bill Condon’s Beauty And The Beast remake.
For the director, bringing Menken back was an obvious choice. After seeing and adoring the original Beauty And The Beast in the cinema way back in 1992, it was clear to Condon that the music was just as important as the story and the characters.
“I saw [the film] as an adult, but I loved it,” Condon told us. “There’s a famous review in the New York Times by Frank Rich that said, ‘I’ve just seen the best Broadway musical of the season.’ I think that’s what appealed to me most.”
Condon believed that Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman were at least partly responsible for the film’s massive success. “They brought all this craft to this animated film,” he said.
“Let’s face it: the musical film genre had been pretty dead for a couple of decades. They actually brought it back in animated form because it was an easier way for people to accept that people could break out into singing and dancing. On that level it worked beautifully just as a musical with a great score, and just thematically it was always so resonant, it was very beautiful and it’s a perfect movie.”
As strange as it seems, the new Beauty And The Beast wasn’t always going to be a musical. When Condon first got involved with the film, the bosses at Disney wanted to take an approach similar to those for the remakes of Cinderella and The Jungle Book, in that they planned on cutting the songs down and only featuring the essentials. But, as a long-time fan of the 1991 film, Condon wasn’t having it.
“I was so adamant about the fact that music is what this version is about to the point where I don’t think there’s one song in that original movie that shouldn’t be here,” he said, “so we used them all.”
The partnership of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman has roots buried deep in the heart of the Disney Renaissance period. The pair had previously worked together on the musical adaptations of Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr Rosewater and, more memorably, Roger Corman’s Little Shop Of Horrors. They finally made the move to Disney in 1989 for The Little Mermaid, and then again a few years later for Aladdin and Beauty And The Beast.
Ashman sadly died in 1991, but Menken has been adding to the Disney songbook intermittently ever since, earning various music-related credits on Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Home On The Range and Tangled. He’s also back for Condon’s Beauty And The Beast, for which he wrote the score as well as three new songs.
“It’s so thrilling to watch somebody who, 25 years later, he’s got it in his DNA,” Condon enthused. “He sits down at the piano and suddenly you’re hearing new Beauty And The Beast music that fits in so perfectly, seamlessly, to what he’s written already. It’s exciting to watch. Getting to know him and hearing the kind of French impressionist music that inspired the score in the first place… He got excited by the opportunity to expand on that idea with the new songs.”
Beauty And The Beast is in cinemas from 17 March. Get all the latest fantasy news with every issue of SciFiNow.