Growing up in the 90s, Disney was my life and Beauty and The Beast (1991) was no exception. The music coupled with the captivating story made for a classic that holds a special place in my heart. It’s hard for me to be excited about the new film when I have such fond memories of the original, especially the music, which I believe will be close to the exact same in the new version to be released tomorrow….
Hopefully you know Howard Ashman, the lyricist and visionary who worked with Alan Menken (Composer) to make the best moments (songs) from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast, and some from Oliver and Company and Aladdin. Howard saw the potential of making Disney movies as musicals and rallied for exactly that to happen. Here’s a Special Features clip from a documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty outlining Howard’s profound contributions to help transform and financially save Disney’s Animation Department in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Ashman was diagnosed with HIV while working on The Little Mermaid but kept his health issues a secret in order to focus on making great work. At the time Disney was struggling with Beauty and the Beast and decided it too will be a musical and wanted Howard’s help. The Beast character has a spell cast upon him that makes it very difficult for him to love and be loved. Howard was able to give emotional depth to the Beast’s character by relating his experiences of living with HIV to the character on screen.
Ashman passed away 26 years ago this Tuesday March 14th in 1991 because of AIDS related complications. Howard was never able to see a full screening of Beauty and the Beast. It of course went on to win awards and accolades mainly for its outstanding Music. Below is Alan Menken and Bill Lauch (on Howard’s behalf) accepting the Oscar for Music (Original Song) for “Beauty And The Beast” at the Oscars in 1992.
While everyone is excited about the new Beauty and The Beast with the live action and the Emma Watson, I can’t help but mourn Howard Ashman. Recently learning from that documentary that he was much more influential than just being a ‘lyricist’ I can’t help but question if he receives enough credit and exposure. I only hope that Disney will have a similar tribute to Howard that they did with the original Beauty and The Beast, to recognize the bright and beautiful person who was taken from us too soon.
Here was the message at the end of the 1991 release of Beauty and the Beast:
Here is another clip from the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)