As a composer, Alan Menken is all about collaboration. Never was that more clear than with Disney’s animated Aladdin. After beginning with Howard Ashman, Menken had to change course to finish Ashman’s passion project after Ashman passed away. He was paired with Tim Rice who, at that point, had collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber on Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and, of course, Evita.
While listening to Rice and Webber’s work, Menken found inspiration in “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.”
“It had those parallel six [pairings],” he says, playing in the video above. “It was a stylistic thing. I thought that kind of South American, romantic, Spanish feel, it’s also Moorish,” which tied in to the Middle Eastern palette of Aladdin and inspired his melody.
Working with Rice and Disney music producer Chris Montan, the trio felt something magical with this song.
“I'm playing and you hear Chris [Montan] saying, ‘God, you could just hear the hundred strings cranking on that,’” he recalls. “ People who know Chris Montan know that he can be very critical, but when his hair stands on end on his arms he’s like, ‘Woah.’ And his hair was standing on its tippy toes.”
The tonality and flow of the song creates the feeling of gliding on that magic carpet ride. “Again, it’s physical as well as musical as well as thematic as well as lyrical,” Menken says. “It’s the physical act of that flight you’re on. When I wrote that song, I got on the magic carpet metaphysically.”
But Menken doesn’t take full credit (or even his half) for the iconic status of “A Whole New World.” “It’s just collaboration, you know? I’ll write it, the lyricist will do his part, then people will make suggestions, then the arranger, then the musical director, then the singers. By the time it gets to the finished point, it reflects a lot of process and not all process that you’ve conceived from the very beginning. Sometimes it comes in the listening.”