Alan Menken Plays His Hits

Posted on January 25, 2015 at 8:00 am

Alan Menken, currently composing the songs for “Galavant,” here sings some of his greatest hits, including songs from “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Enchanted,” “Pocahontas,” “Tangled,” and “Newsies.”

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Music Shorts

What Even Heroine-Led Films for Kids Get Wrong About Women

Posted on January 6, 2015 at 3:38 pm

 ©2011 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
©2011 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

I’m glad that we are seeing more spirited, strong female characters, especially in movies for kids, really I am. But we still have a long way to go, as discussed in an excellent analysis on from Emily Asher-Perrin. She notes that even movies with central characters who are girls and women surround them with men in major and minor roles.

At the very least, some of the dignitaries who stay behind with Prince Hans once Elsa runs away could have been ladies. And in a kingdom like Arendelle—where none of the subjects seem to balk even slightly at the idea of accepting a female monarch without a husband—it would have been equally compelling to see some women in their army. Both Elsa and Anna are forces to be reckoned with; we should know that the rest of the women in their kingdom are too. Otherwise the message boils down to princesses are special! Only princesses. So you better want to be a princess.

For Tangled’s part, it would have been pretty adorable if Pascal—or Maximus the war horse!—had been lady animals. Or even better, that band of gruff ruffians at the tavern? Women. Just, the whole lot of them. Why not? Or if Flynn had been pulling his heist with twin sisters. And I’m sure someone is saying “But if they were ladies, he would have flirted with them!” But you know, he could have just… not. He doesn’t have to be interested in every age-appropriate female with a pulse just because he’s a scamp.

All three of these films feature specific and wonderfully complicated relationships between women. From the misunderstandings and mutual hurt between Merida and Elinor to the emotional manipulation and continual backhanding that Mother Gothel inflicts on Rapunzel to the deep abiding bond and need that exists between Anna and Elsa—these are all relationships that we should find on screen. Not just for young girls, for all children. But when you omit other women from these worlds, you rob the entire story of its credibility. Other stories have reason built in; Mulan goes off to war to fight in place of her father, so she was never going to be training amidst an army of women. In Mulan, the reason for making that critical choice is a logical one that is explained within the context of the narrative. But Tangled, Brave, and Frozen have no narrative reasons for the absence of women. What’s Arendelle’s excuse?

When Indiewire asked me to make New Year’s Resolutions for 2015, I suggested the two steps recommended by Geena Davis:

Step 1: Go through the projects you’re already working on and change a bunch of the characters’ first names to women’s names. With one stroke you’ve created some colorful unstereotypical female characters that might turn out to be even more interesting now that they’ve had a gender switch. What if the plumber or pilot or construction foreman is a woman? What if the taxi driver or the scheming politician is a woman? What if both police officers that arrive on the scene are women — and it’s not a big deal?

Step 2: When describing a crowd scene, write in the script, “A crowd gathers, which is half female.” That may seem weird, but I promise you, somehow or other on the set that day the crowd will turn out to be 17 percent female otherwise. Maybe first ADs think women don’t gather, I don’t know.

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Commentary Gender and Diversity


Posted on March 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Disney has taken a 200-year-old story from the Brothers Grimm and made it just modern enough, sassy without being snarky, fresh and contemporary without any po-mo air quotes. It’s the classic fairy tale of the girl with the long, long hair who is locked in the tower by an evil witch.

A potion made from a special flower that could heal all injuries and bestow eternal youth given to the queen while she was in childbirth somehow transmuted it special powers to the baby’s hair. Mother Gothel (deliciously dastardly diva Donna Murphy) kidnaps Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) from the castle so that she can be young forever. She raises the baby as her own daughter, telling her that she must never leave the tower because the world is a very dangerous place for a vulnerable young woman with an extraordinary gift.

Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi of television’s “Chuck”) is a dashing adventurer and a thief. There are wanted posters with (somewhat inaccurate) drawings of his face. On the run from the palace guards, he comes across the tower and thinks it looks like a great place to hide out. Rapunzel has been kept away from the world, but the world finally comes to her.

She persuades her “mother” to go on a trip and forces Flynn to agree to take her out for one day. Every year, on her birthday, she sees mysterious floating lights.  She wants, just once, to leave the tower to find out what they are.  

They stop in a pub filled with scary villains and in a musical number reminiscent of “High School Musical’s” “Stick to the Status Quo,” the thugs launch into an hilarious song about their dreams that is one of the movie’s best moments. But Flynn’s hulking former cronies, the palace guards and their super-tracker horse, and Mother Gothel are all after them, so Rapunzel’s hair will need to be part slingshot, part bungee cord, part Tarzan’s swinging vine, and part flashlight to keep them on the way to the lanterns. Even though they are often in danger, Rapunzel learns that the world is not as terrifying as she was told. And Flynn learns that the world is not as bleak as his experience had taught him.

There are adventures and exchanges of confidences, and more encounters with the thieves, the guards, the horse (one of the movie’s wittiest additions to the story), and the witch on the way to an exquisitely beautiful release of the lanterns, one of the loveliest moments on screen all year and well worth the 3D glasses. Tuneful numbers from Alan Menken (“Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast”) with witty lyrics from Glenn Slater sound more like show tunes than boomer-friendly pop, especially when delivered by Broadway star Murphy. The classic gloss they give the story nicely frames more modern touches like the computer-enhanced animation and spunky heroine. Disney has given us another princess worthy of its canon.

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3D Animation Based on a book For the Whole Family Musical
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