Disney Legend: Howard Ashman

Twenty-five years ago, on September 29,1991, Beauty and the Beast premiered at the New York Film Festival, no small feat considering that the film was unfinished. Not only did that first audience forgive the footage for missing the Ink & Paint Department, but they applauded as loudly as they would have applauded at a Broadway show. The film enjoyed a slum dunk release in its finished form at El Capitan Theater and was well received around the world. We were all so busy praising the film that it would have been easy to miss the dedication:

"To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul."

"Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul."Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul."

Howard Ashman, lyricist for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and posthumous contributor for Aladdin would never live to see the premier of his masterpiece. Jeffrey Katzenberg, then Walt Disney Studios Chairman, had seen the storyboards for the non-musical version of Beauty and the Beast and had decided to scrap them and start from scratch. Together with Alan Menken, Howard Ashman began to work to try to recapture the magic of The Little Mermaid, for which the pair won their first Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Under the Sea." Ashman also filled the role of Executive Producer for Beauty and the Beast.

Midway through The Little Mermaid, Ashman had been diagnosed as HIV-positive and he became very ill shortly before the first screening of Beauty and the Beast. The film's creative team set-up shop in New York in order to enable Ashman to remain with the team for as long as possible. Following the first completed rough screening of the film on March 10, 1991, the animators gathered in Ashman's hospital room to share the success of the screening with him. When asked, "who would have thought it would turn out this great?" Ashman whispered, "I would've." He passed away four days later from complications due to AIDS.

Ashman Was Honored As A Disney Legend in 2001Ashman Was Honored As A Disney Legend in 2001

Beauty and the Beast went on to become the first animated feature film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and Howard Ashman, along with Alan Menken, won for Best Original Song with "Beauty and the Beast." Menken also won for Best Original Score. Ashman and Menken were also nominated for Best original song for "Belle" and "Be Our Guest". Additionally Don Hahn was nominated for Best Director and the film was nominated for Best Sound Mixing.

Beauty and the Beast solidified that Disney's animation comeback was the real deal and Howard Ashman, with intricate lyrics, was incredibly instrumental in bringing that movie to fruition in its completed form. This year we celebrate 25 years with Beauty and the Beast and we mourn 25 years without the musical talent of Howard Ashman.

Was Beauty and the Beast one of those pivotal Disney movies for you personally? Leave a comment below and share your Beauty and the Beast story with us!

A big thanks goes out regular WDWFG Guest Author Holly L. for sharing a little bit of her knowledge of Disney History with us. If you'd like to read more about Holly's Disney Adventures, you can find her sharing on our member forum.

Kristen K. wrote on Wed, 05/11/2016 - 14:12:

Kristen K.'s picture

Another fantastic piece of Disney History Holly! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us.

alicemouse wrote on Fri, 05/13/2016 - 18:57:

alicemouse's picture

Happy to share, Kristen! I think Ashman's lyrics are some of the best ever in Disney films. He and Alan Menken were such a great team!

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