Disney Collaboration 1986-1991


Disney Collaboration, 1986-1991

Also in 1986, Howard began a collaboration with the Disney Company. Working with composer Barry Mann, Howard contributed a song to Disney’s animated film, Oliver and Company (“Once Upon A Time In New York City”).

After considering many projects, Howard chose to work in animation and proposed to Disney that Alan Menken join him.

He began work on The Little Mermaid and among his other significant contributions was that Sebastian the crab have a calypso lilt and that Jodi Benson – who had starred in Smile  -- be cast as Ariel..

The Little Mermaid stunned critics and audiences alike when it premiered in November of 1989. Janet Maslin, reviewing the film in the New York Times wrote:

Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, the lyricist and composer who collaborated on ''Little Shop of Horrors,'' score the film's first musical bull's-eye with ''Part of Your World,'' a powerhouse ballad in which Ariel (with the voice of Jodi Benson) belts out her envy of ''Bright young women/Sick of swimmin'/Ready to staaaand!'' Any Broadway musical would be lucky to include a single number this good. ''The Little Mermaid'' has half a dozen of them.

Among their numerous accolades, Howard and Alan won the Academy Award for best song (Under The Sea) in 1989.

Earlier, in 1988, Howard had written for Disney a treatment for an animated film based on the tales of Aladdin. He was disappointed that the treatment was not accepted (three songs from the treatment were later used in the 1992 Disney film) but enthusiastically moved on to several new projects – a treatment and screenplay for a film based on Tina Turner’s autobiography and another animated musical to be based on the French fairy tale Beauty and The Beast.

During this period, Howard developed an unusual infection and in early 1988, he learned that he was HIV positive.

In order to allow Howard to continue working, the Beauty and The Beast creative team and others from the Disney Company set up a workspace at a Residence Inn near Beacon New York where Howard had moved with his partner, Bill Lauch. Howard’s contributions to the film - including the concept of the castle’s household objects being animated - are many and well documented.  He was intimately involved in the casting of the film as well as working directly – sometimes, if he was ill, attending recording sessions by phone -- with the film’s actors on their characters and performances.

Although he lived to see the film in rough, Howard died from complications of AIDS on March 14, 1991, before the film was completed. He was 40 years old.

Janet Maslin, reviewing the film in the New York Times, quoting from Be Our Guest, wrote:

Soup du jour, hot hors d'ouevres / Why, we only live to serve / Try the gray stuff, it's delicious / Don't believe me? / Ask the dishes! This demonstrates Mr. Ashman's gifts as an outstandingly nimble lyricist. His death from AIDS in March at age 40 cut short a brilliant career, but the jubilant energy of his work will long live on.

Indeed it has.