Walt Disney Studios reportedly rejected Michael Jackson’s pitch to provide the soundtrack for the 1996 animated favorite “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” As a Slash Film oral history of the cartoon classic adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel reveals, Jackson attempted to provide songs for the movie in 1995.
But the singer/songwriter’s controversial public profile at the time, which saw child sexual abuse allegations begin to emerge in 1993, turned the studio off, as composer Alan Menken details in the story. (Via NME.) Menken won Oscars prior to the release of “Hunchback” for “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and “Pocahontas,” and most recently provided music to the 2019 reboot of “Aladdin.”
“I get a call out of nowhere from Michael’s assistant, when Michael was at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York,” Menken said. “He had to [deal with] allegations about inappropriate behavior with underage kids, and the breakup with Lisa Marie Presley. He’s looking to change the subject. And he obviously loves Disney so much. So I mentioned ‘Hunchback.’ He said he’d love to come to my studio, watch the movie and talk about it. So we got in touch with Disney Animation. They said, ‘Meet with him! If he likes it…well, see what he says.'”
But Menken said dealings with Disney surrounding Jackson took a different turn. “There’s three songs. One was ‘Out There,’ one was ‘God Help the Outcasts,’ one was ‘Someday.’ Michael said, ‘I would like to produce the songs and record some of them.’ Wow. Okay. What do we do now? Michael left. We got in touch with Disney. It was like somebody dropped a hot poker into a fragile bowl with explosives. ‘Uh, we’ll get back to you about that.'”
Menken said, “Finally, predictably, the word came back, ‘Disney doesn’t want to do this with Michael Jackson.’ I go, ‘OK, could someone tell him this?’ You can hear a pin drop, no response, and nobody did [tell him]. It fell to my late manager, Scott Shukat, to tell Michael or Michael’s attorney.”
The composer added that Jackson might have felt some relatability toward the film’s main character. “In retrospect, it was the right decision. [But] Quasimodo is a character…if you look at his relationships with his family and his father, I would think there’s a lot of identification there.”