You probably know every word to every Disney song ever — There must be more than this provincial life / under the sea, darling, it’s better down where it’s wetter / can you paint with all the colors of the wind? — but here are five things you probably didn’t know about how your favorite songs came to be.
“Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid
Ariel Almost Sang Like Bob Marley: “We knew the whole score was going to a Caribbean place, so we toyed with the idea of reggae,” Menken explains. “But we landed on calypso because it’s poppier and more interesting. Sebastian is more of a Trinidadian crab than Jamaican.” We always knew that lobster had a little Nicki Minaj flair in him.
“Belle” from Beauty and the Beast
Real-Life Tragedy Inspired the Opening Number: “[Lyricist] Howard Ashman was HIV-positive and wasn’t telling anybody,” Menken recalls. “And here we had written this crazy seven-minute opening number that was much more ambitious than anybody had asked for...I remember Howard was very, very reluctant to send it out, thinking that we were going to be laughed at.” Little did he know he’d written a classic.
“Friend Like Me” from Aladdin
Robin Williams Was Not at All Who They Expected to Sing This Song: “We didn’t know who was going to play the genie when we wrote the song,” Menken admits. “We were looking at the character as black, a hipster, and I suggested a Fats Waller, Harlem stride-piano style from the ’40s. When Robin Williams was suggested, my first thought was ‘Can he sing like Fats Waller?’ Robin learned every note.” Then, Menken says, Williams put his own spin on it.
“Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas
Pocahontas Could Have Been a Comedy: “It’s a very serious song, but there was no getting humor into Pocahontas,” Menken told EW. “God knows we tried. We wrote a song for Grandmother Willow to try to add some comedy, but we just couldn’t. The only other option would have been to give a song to the pug and the raccoon, and they don’t even speak!” We don’t care. We want a Meeko and Percy duet NOW.
“Zero to Hero” from Hercules
This Song Was Meant to Take You to Church (Literally): This is one of those fun facts that makes so much sense you feel silly for not realizing it beforehand. Menken explains, “The directors, Ron Clements and John Musker, really wanted gospel because that’s what you sing when you’re singing about God—or in this case, the gods. I was reluctant because I wanted to do something very classic and Greek—a Candide approach.”
Get the entire story behind these and more songs at Entertainment Weekly.
And if you’ve ever wondered why Disney characters don’t have moms, watch this video to get the answer: