Screening Room

Part of Your World

How the Disney animated movie became practically synonymous with Broadway.

The “Disney Renaissance” that spanned the late ’80s and lasted throughout the ’90s is a well-chronicled period in cinematic history. The behind-the-scenes stories are readily accessible to anyone with a passing interest in the legendary animation studio—the various box-office records and successes have been meticulously tallied, the Oscar nominations and wins notably recounted. But there’s another side of Disney’s spectacular run that hasn’t been as fully examined: the aesthetic effects of Broadway on the animation studio’s cinematic output.

Alan Menken noted in a recent Entertainment Weekly interview that with “Part of Your World” in The Little Mermaid, Disney embarked on its first full-on “I want” musical number—“that important moment where you engage the audience in the quest of the central character so you know what you’re rooting for.” Here, we’ll take a look at the significance of this Broadway-ification of Disney, as well as the many other musical theater influences that found their way into subsequent films like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Pocahontas.