Composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda alerted us via Twitter this morning that it is the birthday of Alan Menken, composer of most of your favorite Disney songs and bazillion-time Oscar nominee. Okay, we exaggerated how many times Menken has been nominated, but it is a lot. Menken has won eight Oscars and been nominated 19 times. So, in honor of his birthday, we decided to do some reminiscing about his nominations for Best Original Song.
Nominated, 1987: "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" with Howard Ashman
Menken's first nomination came for a song written for the movie version of the musical that gave him and Ashman their big breaks. Look, Little Shop is great but "Mean Green Mother" doesn't come close to "Skid Row (Downtown)," "Somewhere That's Green," or "Suddenly Seymour." Thing was, none of those numbers were original to the film, having started their lives on the stage. But it was up against "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun, which you are already humming.
Won, 1990: "Under the Sea" with Ashman; Nominated: "Kiss the Girl" with Ashman
Menken and Ashman scored their first double nominations this year for songs from The Little Mermaid, and perhaps the biggest crime is that "Part of Your World" wasn't up for a trophy. (The other nominees? Randy Newman for his Parenthood song, Marvin Hamlisch and others for a tune from Shirley Valentine, and Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford for a song from Chances Are. Remember that one? Of course you do: Cher sang it.) The Little Mermaid revitalized the Disney animated film, thanks in no small part to the undeniably great songs Ashman and Menken. Plus, Ashman does some of lyrical wizardry on "Under the Sea." ("Nobody beat us fry us and eat us in fricassee," is a magical line.)
Won, 1992: "Beauty and the Beast" with Ashman; Nominated: "Belle" with Ashman and "Be Our Guest" with Ashman
Once again Ashman and Menken had multiple iconic songs—from a movie that was nominated for Best Picture—up against totally forgettable numbers from Hook and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. We're not really going to debate "Beauty and the Beast" winning over "Belle" or "Be Our Guest," though our sentimental choice would probably be one of the other two. Ashman's lyrics are once again miraculous in "Be Our Guest," but it's definitely arguable that "Beauty and the Beast" has Menken's most gorgeous melody. Sadly, Ashman's nominations were posthumous. He died of AIDS in March 1991.
Won, 1993: "A Whole New World" with Tim Rice; Nominated: "Friend Like Me" with Ashman
The songs from Aladdin were up against two songs both from another film The Bodyguard—"I Have Nothing" and "Run to You"—but we all know that the most memorable song from The Bodyguard was not one written for the film, "I Will Always Love You." We might have chosen "Friend Like Me" over "A Whole New World," given that Aladdin was Ashman's passion project he never got to complete.
Won, 1996: "Colors of the Wind" with Stephen Schwartz
This year was a clear case of Menken winning when he shouldn't have. The sappy ballad from Pocahontas beat "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story, and that is just wrong. Springsteen's "Dead Man Walking" from the movie of the same name would have also been a better choice, but "You've Got a Friend in Me" was robbed.
Nominated, 1998: "Go the Distance" with David Zippel
"Go the Distance" from Hercules is a lovely song, but it was never going to win. It was up against the unstoppable force that is "My Heart Will Go On" and that one, perhaps rightfully, crushed everything else in its path. The song that one could argue should have beaten "My Heart Will Go On" is Elliott Smith's "Miss Misery" from Good Will Hunting.
Nominated, 2008: "Happy Working Song," "So Close" and "That's How You Know" with Stephen Schwartz
Menken returned from a 10 year absence from the Oscars for a triple-nomination year thanks to his tunes from Enchanted. If any of these won it should have been "That's How You Know," which has something of an "Under the Sea" vibe, but it wasn't going to win because it was up against "Falling Slowly" from Once.
Nominated, 2011: "I See the Light" with Glenn Slater
Randy Newman's "We Belong Together" from the third Toy Story film won over this Tangled tune. That, honestly, was karmic payback for "Colors of the Wind" beating "You've Got a Friend in Me."