hunchback of notre dame michael jackson

Hollywood “almosts” are some of the most popular stories to circulate the internet. Did you know Eric Stoltz almost played Marty McFly? Etcetera, etcetera. At this point, these pieces of trivia are so readily available on the web that they’re no longer a surprise. But every now and then, a new one gets unearthed.

In /Film writer Josh Spiegel’s new oral history of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, composer Alan Menken revealed that one famous pop star almost featured in a few songs from the soundtrack for the 1996 Disney film. You heard it here first, folks: we almost got a Michael Jackson version of “God Help the Outcasts.”

Michael Jackson, one of the most famous pop stars of all time, nearly made his mark on Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and even went so far as to meet with Menken at the recording studio to talk about recording three songs for the soundtrack. Those songs were “God Help the Outcasts,” “Out There,” and “Someday.” But Disney put their foot down, and with good reason. The composer said:

I get a call out of nowhere from Michael’s assistant, when Michael was at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York. 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.” [laughing]

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.”

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.

Jackson was fielding allegations of sexual abuse of children at the time, allegations that would follow him until the mid-2000s, when he was acquitted of several charges of child molestation made against him. It’s not surprising that Disney would want to distance itself from Jackson, a decision that Menken acknowledged in retrospect “was the right decision.”

But it’s also not surprising that Jackson was drawn to The Hunchback of Notre Dame in particular, as Menken had originally approached the pop star to sing and co-write “A Whole New World” for Aladdin. Jackson was apparently a huge fan of the Victor Hugo story upon which the Disney film is based, and had even attempted to get a feature film project off the ground in which he would play the hunchback.

Menken noted Jackson’s love for the story too, concluding, “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.”

But neither the feature film that Jackson attempted to make with screenwriter Tom Hedley or Jackson recording one of the songs from Hunchback of Notre Dame would come to fruition. In the soundtrack for Hunchback of Notre Dame, Bette Midler would sing the cover version.

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