Among Disney’s most prolific composers, eight-time Academy Award® winner Alan Menken writes from his soul. Whether it be “A Whole New World,” co-written with Tim Rice for Aladdin, or “Colors of the Wind,” co-written with Stephen Schwartz for Pocahontas, Alan’s songs speak directly to the hearts of Disney fans and music lovers alike.
He once explained, “Songs are a very familiar vocabulary to people and I’ve always believed that you should be able to understand not only the feeling, but the content of the song, by just hearing the music and not even the lyrics. What you’re trying to say should be that clear.”
Born July 22, 1949, and raised in New Rochelle, New York, Alan was more interested in creating his own tunes as a child than practicing the songs assigned to him by his piano and violin teachers. He later enrolled at New York University as a pre-med student, but ultimately graduated with a degree in music in 1971.
Soon after, Alan joined a theater workshop run by Broadway conductor Lehman Engel, where he met fellow Legend Howard Ashman. In 1987, after the success of their second collaboration, a campy adaptation of Roger Corman’s 1960 cult film Little Shop of Horrors, he and Ashman joined Disney to write songs for The Little Mermaid. The film won Alan his first two Oscars® for Best Song, “Under the Sea,” and Best Music, Original Score. Three years later, his contributions to Beauty and the Beast earned him two more Academy Awards for the film’s title song, as well as Best Music, Original Score.
The musical team was working on Aladdin at the time of Ashman’s untimely death in 1991. Subsequently, Alan went on to collaborate with lyricist Tim Rice on the Oscar-winning “A Whole New World” and took home an additional Academy Award for the film’s original score. In 1996, Alan won his seventh and eighth Oscars for Disney’s Pocahontas in the categories of Best Music, Song (“Colors of the Wind”) and Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score.
Alan went on to earn additional Oscar nominations for his work on Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Enchanted, and Tangled. Other works include scores for the 2004 animated feature Home on the Range and the 2006 live-action comedy The Shaggy Dog. He also scored the 1992 Disney live-action musical Newsies, followed by Hollywood Pictures’ Life with Mikey, starring Michael J. Fox. His small screen contributions include direct-to-video films, including The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea.
In 1994, Alan helped translate Beauty and the Beast to the Broadway stage; by the time the show closed in 2007 it had become the eighth-longest-running musical in Broadway history. In 1997, he and Rice wrote music for Disney’s stage production King David. Other Disney stage works include an adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which premiered in Germany in 1999; the Tony®-nominated The Little Mermaid, which came to Broadway in 2008; and the Tony-winning film adaptation Newsies The Musical, which debuted on Broadway in 2012. He provided music for the Tony-nominated Sister Act, based on the 1992 Touchstone film. Alan has also developed a stage adaptation of the 1992 animated hit, Aladdin.
Several of the Disney theme parks feature shows and attractions based on animated classics which include Alan’s songs. For Tokyo DisneySea he wrote an original song, “Compass of Your Heart,” for Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage, as well as an unproduced stage musical based on the story of The Snow Queen.
Outside Disney, Alan has contributed to a variety of esteemed projects including the original score for the 1992 television documentary Lincoln, as well as the Rocky V song titled “The Measure of a Man.” Among Alan’s non-Disney stage work are the original score for the off-Broadway Weird Romance in 1992 and A Christmas Carol in 1994.