"Howard": A man who changed Disney forever

Howard Ashman has written lyrics for “Ariel the Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin”. Disney + is honoring the talent of the man who was only 40 years old with a documentary.

The Disney group is now an entertainment giant with unprecedented brand power: it owns the rights to “Star Wars”, Pixar (“Toy Story”, “Finding Nemo”), the Marvel universe (“The Avengers”) and of course Classics like “The Lion King” and “The Jungle Book”. At the end of the 1980s, however, the fate of the company’s cartoon film division was on the brink – until a man with his music gave three films the magic that should shape an entire generation of animation fans to this day.

Howard Ashman has written lyrics for “Ariel the Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin”. A new documentary on the streaming service Disney + tells how Ashman never experienced the full success of his work. The man who, according to a tribute, “gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul” was only 40 years old. Ashman died of AIDS in 1991 – six months before the second of these three famous films was released.

Companion Don Hahn directed and produced the film, which has been shown on Disney + in Germany since Friday. He believes that Ashman has given the group a new direction almost single-handedly: “I think this description applies,” said Hahn in an interview with the German press agency. “Everyone will be happy to admit that Howard was the catalyst. He was the lighter in the gas tank. “

The 95-minute documentary shows Ashman’s life from his birth in Baltimore to moving to New York and the first big success with “The Little Shop of Horror” to the Oscars for “Under the Sea” from “Arielle” and the title song “Die Beauty and the beast”. In 1992, only Ashman’s former partner Bill Lauch was able to give the acceptance speech for the latter award. Private and professional life is linked to partly re-enacted scenes, and nothing is left out either, as Ashman long hid the HIV infection from his employer for fear that the family company would not tolerate gays in its ranks.

Animation fans can find out from archive drafts how dusty the first sketches of these films came across and how then finally in what is perhaps the most impressive scene by Angela Lansbury and Jerry Orbach in the song “Be our Guest” (“Be our guest” in the German version) Ashman’s rhymes come to life – one of the moments that creates the Disney magic, often invoked by marketing.

The documentary also shows how necessary decades of passion for Broadway musicals and storytelling were for moments like this – and that while Ashman and many colleagues behind the scenes were talented and obsessed with precise work, they hardly cultivated the image of crazy geniuses. Instead, they come across as rather bureaucratic in colorless clothes and without a recognizable fashion style. Coolness was actually not a prerequisite for employment, says Hahn with a laugh. “It’s a film that shows a genius, but also the need for a team.”

[Christian Fahrenbach]

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