LOS ANGELES - In a legendary career, musical theater and film score composer Alan Menken has won 8 Academy Awards, 7 Golden Globes, 11 Grammys and a Tony Award for his work as a composer.
In it's ranking of the "25 Greatest Movie Musicals," Menken's Little Shop Of Horrors was nominated, as were three Disney animated musicals he did the score for: The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Only one film, however, made the cut, and that is the film Menken is most known for - and which many considered the best animated musical of all-time - 1991's Beauty and the Beast.
So the composer said he found it fun returning to beloved songs like "Be My Guest" for the live-action version - and a challenge to add something new.
"When I first got to Disney, I have to say I thought of Little Mermaid first..as my follow-up to Little Shop of Horrors...I was one of these musical theater, Broadway guys coming and bringing our skills to Disney," said Menken at a press conference for Beast. "We don't calculate beyond the story and serving the characters and trying to give each of these projects it's own musical stamp. Beyond that, it's just storytelling."
"There's no more collaborative form than musicals," Menken continued. "You know? They call it a musical and I'm the composer, but the truth is, it's (also) a director, a choreographer, a lyricist, a book writer, an orchestrator, an arranger...It's everything put together. So, in the end, being surrounded by extremely talented people in all of those positions, I've benefitted enormously from my Disney association, obviously."
Menken said his job was both helped and hurt by the fact that the animated Beauty and the Beast has become such a part of American culture over the past quarter-century.
"In the Broadway show (of Beauty and the Beast) there was a song called, 'If I Can't Love Her' that was in the stage adaptation but not the animated film)," Menken said. "Each iteration of Beauty and the Beast is a different medium, in a way. There's an animated musical, there's a stage musical and now there's this - and they all have sort of different shapes"
"The stage musical is definitely a two-act structure," Menken explained. "So we wrote that song for the Beast, because at that act break is the moment where the Beast, out of anger, has driven Belle away - and it was important for the Beast to sort of howl for redemption or just say, 'I've given up."
"But in the structure of a live-action film, which is more of a three act structure, Bill (Condon, the new film's director) felt - and I agree with him - that the more satisfying moment is the moment when the Beast lets Belle go because she's no longer his prisoner. He loves her - and the spell will not be broken now - but at least he knows what love is."
In the end, Menken said, that is the message of the movie. As for Menken's message to himself, he shared what was going through his mind updating his most famous film and a tale that has been told for over 300 years now.
"My mantra throughout the whole thing was not to screw it up," he laughed.