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"Hey, smack my big old rump if that ain't art ..."

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"Hey, smack my big old rump if that ain't art ..."

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You know, when Howard Ashman died in March of 1991, a lot of the fun seemed to go out of Disney's animated features.

Oh, sure. Howard's longtime collaborator Alan Menken still kept turning out tunes for the Mouse House. Which is why the music for motion picture like "Pocahontas," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Hercules" was still memorable ... even when the lyrics were not.

Me? I still longed for the flashes of wit that Howard Ashman would bring to Alan Menken's songs. Great lyrics like the ones Howard wrote for "Be Our Guest," which would have these rhymes within lines like:

"We'll prepare and serve with flair
A culinary cabaret ..."

Or the schmoozy sense of show business fun that Ashman brought to his "Aladdin" lyrics, with great songs like "Prince Ali." Where the citizens of Agrabah were advised to:

"Now, try your best to stay calm,
brush up your Sunday salaam."

But once Howard died, most of the laughs seemed to go out of Disney's animated films. And I -- for one -- really missed them.

Which was why -- this past weekend, when I finally got around to seeing "Home on the Range" -- I was pleased to see that this new Disney cartoon musical didn't just have a few tuneful tunes, but some really funny songs as well.

Don't believe me? Then take a look at this lyric from the film's title song:

Out in the land where the weak are target practice,
Out in the land where they shoot the mild and meek,
Out where the bad are a whole lot badder,
If you're the type with a nervous bladder,
Yip! Yow! Your saddle's gonna reek

'Cause you ain't home on the ranch,
Cowboy, you're really up the creek ...

That's some really funnt stuff, don't you think? Well, that comes courtesy of Alan Menken's new creative partner, Glenn Slater.

"And just who is Glenn Slater?" you ask. Well, Glenn Slater is guy who actually began writing for musical theatre back when he was in his teens, when he wrote the lyrics for the 1986 off-Broadway production, "How I Survived High School." Since then, Slater has penned tunes for Harvard's legendary Hasty Pudding as well as the Manhattan Theatre Club. And those of you who've been to a circus in the past five years may have heard some of the specialty songs that Glenn has written for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Of course, all of this song writing got Slater some professional recognition. In 1996, Glenn won the prestigious Kleban Award for Lyrics, followed in 2000 by the ASCAP/Richard Rogers New Horizons Award. And -- somewhere along the way -- Slater came to the attention of Alan Menken. Who invited Glen to work with him on a Disney film that was then known as "Sweating Bullets," but eventually came to be known as "Home on the Range."

Getting back to HOTR now ... perhaps the funniest number in the entire film is the one that introduces "Home on the Range"'s villain, Alameda Slim. Who has a particularly ingenious technique when it comes to stealing cattle.

Here. I'll let Alameda himself explain how he does it:

Now listen up ..

There are crooks in this here West who have claimed to be the best
And they think they wrote the book on how to rustle ...

Well, as good as they may be, not a one's as good as me,
And I barely have to move a single muscle,

They call me mean, boys, depraved and nasty too,
And they ain't seen, boys, the cruelest thing I do ...

You see, I yodel-adle-eedle-idle-oo
The sweetest way of rustlin' yet devised
Cause when I yodel-adle-eedle-idle-oo
Why, lookee how them cows get hypnotized

He don't flog. He don't yell.
Still he drives them doggies well
Which ain't easy when your chaps is labeled

Yes, if you're looking from a bovine point of view
I can sure yodel-adle-eedle-idle-yodel-adle-eedle-idle-yodel-adle-eedle-edle-oo

Okay. I'll admit that this song loses a little bit of its fun when you can't hear Randy Quaid's wonderful performance as Alameda Slim. Plus -- without Alan Menken's all-too-memorable tune (seriously, folks ... at this point -- several days after I first saw "Home on the Range" -- I still find myself spontaneously breaking into yodeling. I can't help myself) or his witty orchestration.

But it's Glenn Slater's witty lyrics that (for me, anyway) really nail this tune. "Yodel-Adle-Eddle-Idle-Oo" got huge laughs from the audience that I saw "Home on the Range" with. Not just because of the incredible visuals that the guys at Disney Feature Animation created for this sequence (You really haven't lived 'til you've seen 5000 multi-colored hypnotized longhorn steers bouncing around your movie screen. This HOTR sequence as just as memorable as "Dumbo"'s "Pink Elephants on Parade" number or "Alice in Wonderland"'s "March of the Cards"). But also because of lyrics like:

He don't rope, not a chance.
He just puts them in a trance,
He's a pioneer pied piper in 10 gallon underpants

Yes, I'm the real rip-roaring deal for those who moo,
Thanks to my yodel-adle-eedle-idle-yodel-adle-eedle-idle-
I got cattle out the old whazoo,
Cause I can yodel-adle-eedle-idle-oo

As Alameda Slim so eloquently puts it in this very same song, " ... smack my big old rump if that ain't art."

This is some funny, funny stuff, folks. Though -- to be fair -- I should also point out that Menken and Slater have also created some really heartfelt, sweet songs for "Home on the Range." Memorable numbers like "Little Patch of Heaven," "Will the Sun Ever Shine Again," "Wherever the Trail May Lead" and "Anytime You Need a Friend." Tunes that really do tug at your heart.

Which is only appropriate for a Disney film. Given that Walt Disney (when he was once asked how he put together his animated features) said that "... for every laugh, there should be a tear."

Anyway, I really can not say enough nice things about Alan Menken and Glenn Slater's songs for "Home on the Range." They were even more entertaining than the movie was ... and -- given how much I enjoyed HOTR -- that's really saying a lot.

Yeah, it looks like Menken has finally found someone to replace Howard Ashman. Which is why perhaps it's only appropriate that Alan and Glen are now working on new songs for the Broadway show that's based on Ashman and Menken's first big hit for Disney, "The Little Mermaid."

That show is slated to debut in the Big Apple sometime in 2006 or 2007 (after both "Mary Poppins" and "Tarzan" bow on Broadway). But here's hoping that the Mouse gives this talented twosome a chance to write another score for an animated film long before that.

Because it would be really be a waste if Menken and Slater didn't get the chance to write any new comic songs between now and 2006.

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