Alan Menken may be best known for his work with Walt Disney Pictures, but before becoming linked with the Mouse House, he had established himself as a successful musical theater composer.
Though he was exposed early on to classical music and Broadway – his father, Menken has said, would sing Rodgers & Hart classics to the family – he didn’t think becoming a composer was possible.
Hailing from a long line of dentists, Menken has often said that he believed dentistry was his “fate.”
Nevertheless, Menken graduated from New York University with a degree in music and soon after attended the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop. Throughout much of the '70s, Menken scraped by performing at New York clubs or writing jingles. His career began to take a turn for the better when he met playwright-lyricist Howard Ashman in the late '70s.
Ashman was a musical director at a small theater at the time and was looking for a collaborator on a musical version of Kurt Vonnegut's “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.” The two continued to work together and in 1982 wrote and composed the off-Broadway rock musical “Little Shop of Horrors,” which eventually graduated to Broadway and the cinema.
Menken became a household name, at least among Disney connoisseurs, in the late '80s. As shown in the 2010 documentary "Waking Sleeping Beauty," which looks at the revitalization of the Disney animated feature, Ashman and Menken were recommended to then-Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg by Hollywood mogul David Geffen and began work on 1989’s “The Little Mermaid.”
"Back then there was a genuine outreach on the part of Disney, in particular, [Jeffrey] Katzenberg and [Michael] Eisner, through [director] Peter Schneider, to work with theater people," Menken told The Times in 2010. "I didn't know it at the time, but Michael Eisner was a theater major in college."
For Menken, it soon began a long love affair with Disney, as he worked on a number of the studio’s animated blockbusters, including 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast,” 1992’s “Aladdin” and 1995’s “Pocahontas.” Menken has won a number of accolades for his Disney work, including multiple Oscars for "The Little Mermaid," “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and "Pocahontas."
In 2007, Menken and his musical partner Stephen Schwartz (Ashman passed away in 1991) had a major success with Disney’s live-action musical “Enchanted.” The film dominated the Academy Awards’ original song category, taking three of the five nominations. Ultimately, however, the “Enchanted” works lost out to the song “Falling Slowly” from the film “Once.”
Menken’s 2010 Walk of Fame star ceremony, which featured “It’s a Small World” composer Richard Sherman as a guest speaker, was timed to coincide with the release of “Tangled,” his first film for Disney since “Enchanted.”
|1986||Best Original Song||"Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" from Little Shop of Horrors||Nomination*|
|1989||Best Original Score||The Little Mermaid||Win|
|1989||Best Original Song||"Kiss the Girl" from The Little Mermaid||Nomination*|
|1989||Best Original Song||"Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid||Win*|
|1991||Best Original Score||Beauty and the Beast||Win|
|1991||Best Original Song||"Beauty and the Beast" from Beauty and the Beast||Win*|
|1991||Best Original Song||"Belle" from Beauty and the Beast||Nomination*|
|1991||Best Original Song||"Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast||Nomination*|
|1992||Best Original Score||Aladdin||Win|
|1992||Best Original Song||"Friend Like Me" from Aladdin||Nomination*|
|1992||Best Original Song||"A Whole New World" from Aladdin||Win*|
|1995||Best Original Song||"Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas||Win*|
|1995||Best Original Musical or Comedy Score||Pocahontas||Win*|
|1996||Best Original Musical or Comedy Score||The Hunchback of Notre Dame||Nomination*|
|1997||Best Original Song||"Go the Distance" from Hercules||Nomination*|
|2007||Best Original Song||"So Close" from Enchanted||Nomination*|
|2007||Best Original Song||"Happy Working Song" from Enchanted||Nomination*|
|2007||Best Original Song||"That's How You Know" from Enchanted||Nomination*|