What Howard would say about post-Disney Renaissance films

edited November 2011 in Disney
Hi, Sarah, I've always wondered this and since you probably knew Howard the best, I figured you could answer it for me.

What would Howard think about in regards to the films done by Disney after the "Disney Renaissance" (the last being Tarzan in 1999)? I know that since he came from theater, he brought a lot of Broadway into the films and made them much more accessible and story-driven. Would he like films like Lilo and Stitch and Brother Bear?

One more thing, how would he feel about Disney's two newest films, The Princess and the Frog and Tangled, which returned to Disney's fairy tale roots, complete with songs and everything? I would imagine he'd be very proud of Mr. Alan Menken and the standard he set with Tangled, a film that I absolutely adore.

Thanks for the great site, we all love hearing about such a marvelous man!


  • Well, I don't know that I knew Howard best in terms of theater and film. Tastes change as we age and grow, so I'd be hesitant to try to say what Howard would have thought about the Disney films that followed his own work.

    That said, I know for sure Howard would have had something to say about all the films - positive and negative. And I know the negative would have been pretty funny and pretty sharp, because it always was. Howard was deeply opinionated about things he loved and those films would have been no different.

  • edited November 2011
    I may not be the best Howard expert, but I do know that Howard, had he stayed with Disney, would have tried his best to tell a sincere, but entertaining story that did not condescend toward the audience in any way. From what I've seen of the little Howard footage there is out there, Howard had very strong convictions of what Disney animation should be like. My guess is that he would have wanted Disney to continue his legacy of employing the traditional musical theater structure in their animated films.

    While there isn't anything wrong with Brother Bear and Lilo and Stitch, they certainly aren't the first films that someone thinks of when the word "Disney" is mentioned. These two films, along with Treasure Planet and Atlantis, not only aren't musicals, but they could be said to almost touch on the realm of the bizarre. I for one didn't understand why, in Treasure Planet, the whole cast had to be a bunch of cyborgs and monsters when Jim and his mother were clearly human. What happened to the rest of the human population? The whole cohabitation between humans and aliens is a little too far from the realm of reality for me to really take seriously (unless that alien happens to be a mean green mother from outer space). When Disney tried their hand at the sci-fi genre, I think they somewhat alienated the really young child audience, and it's because of these films that Disney fell behind Dreamworks and Pixar (and others) in terms of commercial success.

    What's so great about fairy tales is that they present universal truths, and they evoke different emotional responses depending on the age and background of the audience. As one gets older, fairy tales gain texture and nuance. In the book, The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast, there's a quote by Bruno Bettelheim, that reads, “Each fairy tale is a magic mirror which reflects some aspects of our inner world, and of the steps required by our evolution from immaturity to maturity. For those who immerse themselves in what the fairy tale has to communicate, it becomes a deep, quiet pool which at first seems to reflect only our own image; but behind it we soon discover the inner turmoils of our soul – its depth, and ways to gain peace within ourselves and with the world, which is the reward of our struggles."

    This is why the best-made Disney fairy tales are received so well and remembered by children, teenagers, and adults. Fairy tales reach the universal audience that (I think) Howard was so intent on reaching. However, what made Howard particularly suitable as a Disney lyricist (more suitable than any lyricist since) was that he understood children. Howard was so right when he said, "A child audience can respond to the full gamut of human emotion, for while the child's realm of experience is somewhat different, his emotional range is identical to that of his parents." He also realized that, "Children change so quickly--from year to year, from week to week, even from day to day. Peer pressure and the halting preliminary struggle toward identity produce "stages" of development. A child's entire world view, his interests, desires, and concerns, change radically as he grows" (Snow Queen page 6).

    Since this post is getting really long, I think I'll stop here. But if you can tell, I have pretty strong convictions of what I think Howard wanted to do with his art. Maybe I'll touch on Tangled in the future. While that film is, I think, the best since Beauty and the Beast, I do wish that the lyrics were better-written.

  • To be honest, I don't know what he would've said (and I'd rather not make speculations out of fear of backlash from his biggest fans, but for this board, it's worth a shot).

    I will say, though, that Disney Animation Studios has had a long history of following Disney's method of successful and memorable story-telling:

    1) Gauge everything (i.e. story and character element) for maiximum impact,
    2) Second-guess every decision, and
    3) Third-guess every second-guess. (Because Disney believed that every idea, no matter how great it sounded, could be made better).

    Based on what I know about Howard, he had undoubtedly taken Disney's method to heart when it came to lyrics and storytelling, and the results speak for themselves. I mean, Beauty and the Beast is one of my all-time favorite Disney films and my favorite musical (side note: can't wait for it to be re-released in theaters this January. Squee! XD).

    With that in mind, if he were here today, he'd probably comment on how Disney's method of story-telling has fallen to the wayside in terms of story-telling. In the cases of "The Princess and the Frog" and "Tangled", the same would go for musical elements and his specialty, lyrics. He'd probably have something to say about not being brought on board for "Tangled", seeing how Alan Menken composed all the music for it, and honestly, I didn't like it that much.

    But that's just my take on trying to read a man's mind. What says you?
  • The Renaissance happened solely because of Howard. The best work of that period was the one that Howard had fully control of: Beauty and the Beast. Little Mermaid was second, which was a film that Howard jumped on mid-production. And Aladdin was third, which actually was Howard's idea but was mangled with after he unfortunately passed away. The films following his were given spotlight and prominence solely due to Howard's talent and genius. I remember as a kid Pocahontas, Hunchback, Hercules, etc. were a big deal, but no one remembers them now. But more than twenty years later, people still remember Howard's films.

    I honestly think Howard would be glad that he pioneered a new art: Broadway and animation infused together. Unfortunately for all of us, he was the only one who was able to do it well. Extremely well. In regards to Beauty and the Beast the musical, I think he would be very angry that the integrity of his beautiful movie musical was destroyed by the additional songs written by Menken and Rice for the Broadway adaptation. They just don't fit.

    The Lion King is actually pretty good, but not as good as Howard's movies. Mostly because they break the form of a Broadway musical. That is, the songs are not actually sung by the characters. For example, "The Circle of Life" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" are basically song overlays sung by some non-essential "character". Moreover, you can take these songs and put them into another movie quite easily, whereas Howard songs fit perfectly into their films and moved the story forward.

    In regards to Princess and the Frog and Tangled, I think he would have enjoyed Princess but not Tangled. All of Princess's songs are quite catchy, have good lyrics, move the story forward (save the credits song by Neyo which is really terrible, out of the place, and something that corporate Disney must have pushed for). I think it's actually #4 in terms of best Disney Broadway movies above Lion King. Tangled's songs in terms of lyrics are pretty good, but the melody is not memorable at all. I don't see myself humming any of the songs, whereas all of Howard's songs are quite easy to remember. The dialogue is quite good though, and the movie is genuinely funny. Much better than all the mid 90s to mid 2000s Disney films (not including Pixar).

    You have to look at those 2 films though with a different light. Basically, Disney shut down their traditional animation department in the mid-2000s due to the terrible films they were pumping out. And with the Pixar acquisition in 2006, all the creative heads became the heads of Disney altogether. John Lasseter, now Chief Creative Officer of both Disney and Pixar, had the traditional animation department revived. He brought back all the animators and had them make Princess and the Frog and subsequently Tangled. It is definitely a step in the right direction, and I'm glad they were made. They however are not on the same genius level as Howard's films.
  • The only thing I can say in regards to this is what Alan said when asked what Howard would've done with the Beast musical: "God only knows. God only knows."

    That being said, I think he would've approved of most of the films during the Disney Renaissance (which pretty much ends with Fantasia 2000). Though I haven't seen a lot of them in years, I still have fond memories of them all. And, including songs in the Disney cannon that Howard wrote, I still consider "Circle of Life" and "Colors of the Wind" two of the best Disney songs ever written.

    Skipping all the post-Renaissance films up until Princess and Tangled (I'm still shocked that Dinosaur, Bolt, and Chicken Little are a part of the Disney cannon), I would think that Howard would overall approve of Tangled. (I have not seen Princess yet, but I'm sure Howard would approve of it to.) I'm sure he would've wanted Alan to give a bit more in terms of the score, but, overall, it is a good throwback to the classic films.

  • jetaimaster, I'm surprised at you. Alan Menken was there for "Beauty and the Beast" from the start, and Tim Rice was (and still is) a veteran musical composer who had worked with the likes of Andrew Lloyd Weber, so Walt Disney Theatrical Productions made a smart move by relying on pedigree and theatrical experience.

    As for the integrity of the musical being "destroyed" by the additional songs, does that include "Human Again," Howard's song? Also, have you considered the length of a Broadway musical? The songs in the film alone would barely cover one act in a musical. If anything, it needed the additional songs, all of which fit quite well into the context of each of those scenes in the story.

    Don't believe me? For your viewing reference:

    More to come...
  • I am aware that Menken was there from the start, but digging up the past clearly shows that it was Howard in the driver's seat. He was the one always leading in music, not only lyrically but in score as well. If Menken and Rice were so great, the Disney Renaissance would have continued after Ashman's passing, but it didn't.

    I do not doubt Rice's talent, but his style is completely different than Howard's. Just listen to the songs.
    If I Can't Love Her - sounds like something from Les Miserables or Phantom


    No where near the level of genius of Ashman's songs. And it does not match AT ALL. Furthermore, critics loved the movie, but not the Broadway adaptation.

    I did not say that Disney made a bad choice in picking him. He was probably the best option. But I just wish they spent more love and care on matching the music to the songs in the movie. The same kind of passion that Ashman infused into his songs in which he would continually revise the song until it was perfect.

    As for Human Again, you need to listen to the original. It had another melody part to it that balanced the chorus in the Special Edition version. It was more whole and complete like an Ashman song. Except to save time, it was cut out. So the Human Again we all know now is not really an Ashman song. I still like it a lot and consider it great. But I am fine without it as well.

    Yes, I am aware that you need more songs to make it a Broadway musical. It just wasn't handled with any love and care and respect to Howard.
  • edited January 2012
    You act as if the Disney Renaissance ended with Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, immediately after Howard's death, when it really didn't; it ended nearly 10 years later with the releases of Tarzan/Fantasia 2000.

    And here's my two cents. In my humble opinion, Howard's films with Disney, or any Disney film for that matter, are incredibly hard to successfully transfer to the stage. I think Aladdin and Mary Poppins work (for the most part) because they center on mainly human characters, and things could be easily modified to make it fit. ("Supercal", "Jolly Holiday", and "Step in Time" become more essential to the plot and the children's growth as opposed to a stroll through a drawing, a fun song and dance, and a party on the roof, and the two animal characters in Aladdin were taken out all together).

    With Beast and Mermaid though, it's different. Many of the main characters of Beast are inanimate objects, as well as the main character physically transforming in the climax, and Mermaid is set mainly underwater and feature the performers wearing fins. Both are incredibly hard to do without it looking "hokey" or "tacky". (Which, I feel, Mermaid ended up looking.) Disney tried it's best, but, for me, they don't quite "work".

    As for the additional songs, I see no real problem with them. Yes, you can tell they're additions, but they still fit well in with the story and tone of the rest. (Also, the version of "Human Again" in the special edition of the film is NOT the original version. It was added to the film AFTER the musical premiered. The ORIGINAL version was cut out and replaced with "Something There." No one could figure out how to make the song work, since it was to meant show time/seasons passing while Belle and the Beast fall in love, and Maurice was lost in the woods.)

    And keep in mind that Alan still considers Howard the best collaborator he's ever worked with. I'm positive that, during the entire making of each musical, there was a voice in his head saying "What would Howard do? What would Howard want? Would he think this works?"
  • edited January 2012
    In my honest opinion, the renaissance ended with Lion King. Death of Frank Wells. The firing of Jeffrey Katzenberg and him starting Dreamworks. The reason why they pick Tarzan as the last film of the Renaissance I assume is because of Peter Schneider's leaving 2 years later.

    I totally agree. The peculiar thing about Howard's talent was that it worked most optimally with musicals in animation form. I'm not even sure if Howard intended that his Disney work would be adapted to the stage. Maybe Sarah could chime in on this.

    When I mentioned the original Human Again, I mean an original version predating the musical version. There used to be a demo with Ashman/Menken on Youtube but it was unfortunately taken off. The song was quite good.

    I should take back some of my criticisms of Menken. He brought out the best in Howard and visa versa. And most if not all of Howard's best work was with him. It is really unfortunate that there hasn't been an awesome duo like them in a long time.
  • While I can't say which have been good and which have been bad, but (and if I may take an optimist's approach) in my opinion, they've all been pretty good to a certain degree. Sure, I might like some more than others, but that's because of personal taste. All I know is, if someone comes up to me and asks if I want to watch Tarzan with them or if I want to watch Tangled with them, I'd gladly do so.

    Because Disney magic is Disney magic.
  • Hi Jetai,
    I'll chime in.
    Howard loved working in animation, no doubt about it but I think he would have wanted to flex a bit, too, and move on to other areas. I doubt he would have been thrilled about adapting his animated stuff to the stage, not because he disapproved but because I think the key word is adapting - I think he would have wanted free reign to play around with the whole thing and I am sure he would have wanted to direct.

    I can tell you that I know that when the Aladdin treatment wasn't picked up (the first time around) he questioned one of his reps about getting the rights back so he could do something like Shelly Duval's Fairie Tale Theater (check it out on Amazon or Youtube).

    But it goes without saying that I'm not Howard and none of us has any idea of what his future held.
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