Tuesday 13 December 2011

The 12 Gays of Christmas

Howard Ashman (1950-1991)

One of the highlights of Christmas for me as a child was sitting down to watch “Disney Time” on tv, a compilation of clips from Disney films presented by a different celebrity each time. “Disney Time” was produced for every main Bank Holiday through the year, but the Christmas programme was extra special.

Clips from most of the animated classics were shown at these holiday times and no other. These days Disney films are on all the time and there’s nothing special about them any more.

In my opinion the last of the great animated classics were produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the Disney “revival” – “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin”. A big part in their success was the music, in particular the songs.

Howard Ashman was primarily a lyricist and playwright. His first big success was the original stage version of “The Little Shop of Horrors” in 1982. His songwriting partner was Alan Menken, with whom he continued to write songs for Disney, winning Oscars for “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast”. Unfortunately, Ashman died at the age of 40 before his final Oscar was awarded. At the awards ceremony his Oscar was accepted by his life-partner William Lauch.

Ashman was executive producer on “Beauty and the Beast” and died before it was released. He had also written lyrics for several songs for “Aladdin” which was still in production. In 2001 Ashman was name a Disney Legend.

Ashman’s lyrics moved away from the romantic, nostalgic style of earlier Disney films, creating the feel of old Hollywood musicals. Ashman brought a contemporary sound to his lyrics and made them “real”. In the words of dedication that appear at the end of “Beauty and the Beast” Ashman “gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul”, and helped to bring a little more magic to Christmas.

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