When Howard Ashman died, he and composer Alan Menken were part way through Aladdin, their third score for Disney. Tim Rice took over the lyric-writing duties and, according to Menken, did a fine job of adapting his style to sound more like Ashman’s, so the score wouldn’t contain abrupt changes in tone.
One of Rice’s lyrics was for the magical carpet-riding song A Whole New World:
Aladdin: I can show you the world
Shining, shimmering, splendid
Tell me, princess, now when did
You last let your heart decide?
One could quibble at this point, because not many street urchins use the word ‘splendid’, but let’s be charitable, and say that because Aladdin has been turned into a Prince by the Genie, his vocabulary has expanded. What’s matters more is the hidden trap in the two syllable rhyme of ‘splendid’ with ‘when did’. If other verses follow, a lyricist has two choices:
- Drop the two-syllable rhyme, like a total wuss, or:
- Keep it up, with the risk of making all the characters sound like Cole Porter.
How does Rice do?
Take you wonder by wonder
Over, sideways and under
On a magic carpet ride
That’s OK. What about when it’s Jasmine’s turn?
Jasmine: Unbelievable sights
Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling
Through an endless diamond sky
Nice. Nicely done. Challenge met, and no-one sounds like they’re in a Harvard revue. What about the backing lines in the chorus?
Jasmine: A whole new world
(Aladdin: Don’t you dare close your eyes)
Jasmine: A hundred thousand things to see
(Aladdin: Hold your breath – it gets better)
So now the words to rhyme are ‘eyes’ and ‘better’
Aladdin: A whole new world
(Jasmine: Every turn a surprise)
Aladdin: With new horizons to pursue
(Jasmine: Every moment red-letter)
Wait. What? Come again? Every moment red-letter? What the hell is a red-letter moment? A red-letter day is fine, that would look like this:
M T W Th F Sa Su
Ooh, look, a special visitor on Wednesday! But what does a red-letter moment look like? What would the letter be? The letter M?
A moment ago This Moment Next Sunday
I’m baffled. I can’t work it out. Maybe Jasmine has a rush of nitrogen to the brain and doesn’t know what she’s singing, but I think the song was written, storyboarded, outlined, filled-in, inked, animated, recorded, re-recorded, covered, covered again, and no-one, no-one said, “Oi. Tim. What letter?”
Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle sang the lyric as written, but when those titans of the larynx, Peter Andre and Katie Price – then married – covered the song, they resolved the problem by having Price sing ‘every moment gets better’. Who says she’s dumb?