When we profiled composer Alan Menken, we credited him with the Disney animated renaissance: he scored "The Little Mermaid", "Beauty and the Beast", and "Aladdin". But there was another man who worked alongside Menken, whose contributions are unfortunately not as widely celebrated.
That man was Howard Ashman, who wrote the lyrics to Menken's music. "Under the Sea", "Be Our Guest", "Friend Like Me"... if it's from those three movies and it's memorable, odds are that Ashman wrote it.
Ashman's contributions went beyond lyrics: he was a driving force to get those movies made. He has been called Disney's "shadow director" who turned animated movies into Broadway shows, encouraging actors to live the part. It all started with "Mermaid", which Ashman pushed to transfer into a musical. "Aladdin" came from a pitch Ashman made to the studio. And "Beauty", well, beast...
The Beast was a surrogate character for Ashman himself, who, as he was writing these songs, was dying of AIDS. The Beast's curse, the hatred felt toward him, the lack of understanding, no hope for a cure (only for a miracle?) — that was Ashman's affliction.
To us, animated Disney has never been as good as it was in those three movies... and that's thanks to Ashman.