Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dear Disney, Make Mine a Magical Menken Musical

When I was growing up, I loved to escape into the fantasy worlds of Disney animated features. There were Heroes and Magical Creatures, Princesses and Villains, Talking Animals and Enchanted Puppets, and lots and lots of singing and dancing.

Then there was a long stretch of time when Disney animated films seemed passé, and going to horror films and serious drama was all the rage. I began to think of Disney as kid’s stuff and didn’t care about seeing those G-rated movies any more. After all, I was in college and wouldn’t be caught dead at a kiddie film.

Then "The Little Mermaid" hit the scene in 1989, and ushered in a new era of Disney animated films, featuring the music of Alan Menken and the lyrics of Howard Ashman. Finally, after decades of tuneless toons, characters were singing and dancing once again. In fact, with the emergence of “Beauty and the Beast” a few years later, musically enhanced cutlery replaced talking animals as the Toon Du Jour. And I found myself loving these movies. They again allowed me to escape into a fantasy world that was safe and happy and musical. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Then Mr. Ashman died in 1991, leaving Menken to work with other lyricists. He finished the musical elements for the movie “Aladdin” with the help of Tim Rice, and then worked with Stephen Schwartz on “Pocahontas” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” My personal favorite was the technically brilliant “Hercules,” which has a wonderfully upbeat score that I find myself singing even today.

And what was really cool is that the openings of these movies became major events. “Pocahontas” premiered in Central Park, “The Lion King” premiered at Radio City Music Hall, and “Hercules” premiered at the newly renovated New Amsterdam Theater, along with a huge electrical light parade and live stage show. The Disney animated cartoon had suddenly become the trendiest ticket in town. Everybody was going to see them.

But then it all of a sudden it stopped, and the Disney cartoon suffered a backlash. People complained of formula scripts that catered to singing and technical wizardry rather than the story and characters. And, of course, computer animation suddenly became the rage, and people began looking at Disney’s 2-Dimensional offerings as archaic.

So Alan Menken went on to write other things, and Disney stopped making musicals. Other than a few songs for the easily forgotten “Home on the Range,” there hasn’t been a big Disney-Menken effort in over a decade. And that is much too long.

I guess all this rambling leads to one thing: I want another big splashy Disney animated movie with a score by Alan Menken and lots and lots of singing and dancing furniture. Or whatever the latest inanimate object to come to life might be. An iPod? A Gameboy? A Blackberry? I don’t care what it is, as long as they burst into song for the big “Be Our Guest” type number, and shoot pixels fireworks all over their keypads.

Okay, enough rambling. Anyone else out there agree with me?

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