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"I'm a fan of Howard Ashman"

I was seven when the Little Mermaid graced the silver screen and nine the year Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Like many others, even though I didn't know it, Howard Ashman wrote the soundtrack to my childhood.

For years after his final Disney songs played in Aladdin, I could feel that something had changed. I knew intuitively that the musical style that I enjoyed so much in the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin had changed, but I couldn't put my finger on how.

As an adult, I continued to be a fan of Disney movies from what is retrospectively called "The Disney Renaissance", especially the early works. Also as an adult, I became a fan of musical theater, but still had a lot of trouble articulating how Beauty and the Beast differed from Tarzan, both of which eventually came to Broadway, but which evoked very different emotional responses in me. This difficulty made it hard for me to identify aspects of new musical works that appealed to me, and made it very hard for me to explain why I had very little love for Disney movies in the first five years of the 2010s, even though Disney continued to make animated movies.

Then a funny thing happened. When Disney released Enchanted in 2007, I expected it to be yet another film in a long list of disappointments. But I liked it. A lot. I didn't really understand why until 2010, when, by chance, I saw Waking Sleeping Beauty. While the movie did a great job documenting an era in Disney's history that had great poignancy for me, its coverage of Howard's role in the early years resonated with me.

I watched his lecture in the extra features, and for the first time, I understood _why_ I liked those movies so much. Before long, when I talked to friends about my love for the animated musical genre, I could quote Howard's argument that animation, like the musical theater, is one of the last places where we can have enough suspension of disbelief for the characters to break out into song. I could quote his belief that in every great musical, the leading lady pines for something better in an early scene.

I finally understood why Tarzan, with no character-sung-songs, felt very different to me than the movies that came before it, which shared the belief that Disney should make animated _musicals_, not just animated movies.

I got lucky: I didn't have to live through a decade acutely aware of _why_ I didn't like the animated movies Disney put out. This year, I got to see Tangled, another Disney animated musical with character-sung music. Unfortunately, while Disney, under the leadership of John Lassetter, will continue to make animated movies, they have no animated musicals on the docket.

While I love Pixar's movies, Tangled (and Enchanted before it) made me realize that I still love the kinds of movies that Howard loved to make. These days, when people ask me why, as an adult, I still love great animated musicals, I have a simple response.

I am a fan of Howard Ashman.

Comments

  • Hi. I'm new onto this website, and I just discovered Mr. Ashman's work over two years ago, and now, like many people on this website, I'm a fan of his. I'm also a writer who'se trying out various different projects, mostly novels, short stories, and I'm trying my hand at songwriting. So, my question Ms. Ashman (if I may call you that) is this: if Mr. Ashman were still alive today, what do you think in his own words would be his advice for young artists of today? And I mean for anything from writing of any field, painting, drawing...just about anything artistic related. I figure you must get this question often so I'm sorry if it sounds a bit redundant; but irregardless, what do you think he would advice young artists of today?
  • Thanks for your question but I think I have to duck on this one. Howard was unique and as much as I'd like to believe I understood him I would never want to speak for him. So, it I may speak for myself but from years of watching a creative man work his talent, I'll try to answer.

    Howard was passionate about what he did and was interested in everything. He watched people closely, he read and listened, analyzed and studied, he worried and fretted about every word he wrote, he knew he was talented and didn't believe it either, he was stubborn about what he believed in and sometimes he was hard to work with because of that, he believed in himself but also doubted himself.

    Mostly, Howard was unique - as you are and as we all are. We all find our own paths.

    Keep writing.
  • To wycats. Loved your analysis and insights. Thanks for writing.
  • I was lucky enough to be a part of the generation that grew up during the Disney Renaissance in the 1990's. My entire childhood is litered with memories of listening to the "Beauty and the Beast" soundtrack in our car and watching "The Little Mermaid" on VHS at home, to name a few. Howard Ashman was a part of my life before I even knew his name, or that he was the force behind some of the greatest songs I'd ever heard.

    Fast forward about twelve years to my sophomore year in high school. Our winter musical that year was "Little Shop of Horrors" and for the first time in my life I was actually compelled to audition for a show. I had basically no experience at all, but it was something about that show that made me want to perform. I asked my director if I could perform the puppeteering part for Audrey II and off I went.

    To most people, being stuffed under tables, inside hot, fuzzy puppets and attempting to lip sync to a song using one's entire body might seem like torture, but to me, it was the greatest experience of my life. I could barely contain myself every night listening to the amazing score by Howard and Alan, the hilarious book and the incredible show they had created. This was the show for me, and although I've done many shows since, the experience has never been rivaled.

    From that moment on, I was an Ashman fanboy. I collected every score and libretto I could find of his. I bought all the CDs, found the demo recordings, and even read Vonnegut's "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" three times. Everything about Howard's music and his shows is so genuine. He seemed to have a spirit for musical theatre that could not be matched. My only regret is that I never had to the chance to actually know him, but I'm forever grateful that I can appreciate his genius through his musicals and films.

    Now I'm off to college, with the dream of someday becoming a Broadway playwright and lyricist. I just hope I can find my Alan Menken or Marvin Hamlisch, and hold a candle to the man who has inspired me and become such a large part of my life.

    Thank you Howard!
  • Glad you read Rosewater. I just gave a copy to my 21 year old cousin.
  • I plowed through a bunch of Vonnegut last summer (starting with Rosewater). So I guess I can thank Howard for my book choices now too :)
  • Thank you for answering my question. I'm taking your words to heart Mrs. Ashman.
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