Songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul were each just 7 years old when Disney’s “Aladdin” hit theaters in 1992. Twenty-seven years later, after winning an Oscar, Tony and a Grammy, they’ve added their most high-pressure credit yet: writing a new song for the live-action remake of the classic family film, out Friday.
How do you top “A Whole New World” and “Arabian Nights”?
“It is scary,” Paul tells The Post. “Are we gonna screw up ‘Aladdin’ for us and our generation and everyone ever?” They haven’t. In fact, the pair helped bring the beloved story into 2019 and beyond by giving voice to a character who previously didn’t have much of one.
Pasek, 33, and Paul, 34, were brought on board the project by the movie’s original composer, Alan Menken, not only to add lyrics to “Arabian Nights,” but to write a new song for Princess Jasmine, who lacked a solo of her own in the shorter cartoon.
“She should sing!,” Pasek says of the character played by Naomi Scott. “And all the desires she has hidden inside her get to be unleashed.”
Menken knew the guys from their days as musical theater students at the University of Michigan, and they share representation today. One of the composer’s original “Aladdin” lyricists, Howard Ashman, died of complications from AIDS in 1991, and Menken only collaborated with another writer, Tim Rice, on this one film.
‘It is scary. Are we gonna screw up “Aladdin” for us and our generation and everyone ever?’
So, Menken chose Pasek and Paul — who wrote the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen” and the songs for the film “The Greatest Showman” — to help him build a whole new Jasmine. The resulting number, which the trio worked on for several months during the summer of 2017, is called “Speechless.”
“It’s inspired by something that was really hidden for us in the original animated movie,” Pasek says, referencing a line spoken by the evil Jafar to Jasmine in the cartoon: “You’re speechless, I see. A fine quality in a wife.”
“It’s this very dismissive, misogynistic statement that he makes,” Pasek adds. “So the inspiration was waiting for us.”
The sound Menken came up with is more pulsing contemporary pop than “Friend Like Me” or “Prince Ali,” and closer to Pasek and Paul’s rousing anthem of defiance, “This Is Me” from “Greatest Showman.” Like the bearded lady does in that song, Jasmine sings of oppression and not being heard in a male-dominated world. The composer, they say, let the in-demand team run free and embrace their unique lyrical style.
Still, working with the legend who wrote the songs for “Beauty and the Beast,” “Pocohantas” and more was nerve-wracking.
“He would talk about a song, play something, turn around and say, ‘What do you guys think?’,” Paul says. “And we were like, ‘Are we supposed to now weigh in?!’”
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