Disney’s Aladdin has become a classic for all ages as it sits on the popular shelves of adults and children, even today. But little did we know that behind the scenes of this joyful film, was a devastating story.
Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were “hired to reinvent animation” for Disney in what was an incredible, and scary, opportunity.
Their assignment was simple, “create works that could sit on the shelf with classics.” Menken recounts. And they certainly succeeded having created works that no doubt once sat on your shelf at home and are likely now situated somewhere in your iTunes library – titles such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.
Their partnership was what many would call an artistic delight as they created some of the most memorable songs ever to appear in film. Ashman would write the incredible lyrics to match Menken’s delightful sounds.
Their meeting came about when Menken, who was the artistic director of WPA theatre in New York City, was looking for someone to work with for a new musical. It was a recommendation from a local composer that caused their meeting as Menken was quit to get on a train and meet Ashman.
Whilst at first he was unsure, Menken and Ashman developed a unique partnership that ended up being very successful. They worked on a stage adaptation for Little Shop of Horrors running on Broadway for five years before they were approached by Disney’s Michael Eisner in 1986.
It was here that their true and well-known success came about, however, it is also the beginning of a terrible ending.
Together, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken would write the music for The Little Mermaid in 1989 followed by Beauty and the Beast in 1991 and finally Aladdin in 1992.
They were up for Oscar’s in 1990 and managed to win Best Original Song and Best Original Score for The Little Mermaid, however, it must now be remembered as a sour night. Ashman told Menken that he needed to speak to him when they returned home to New York. It was then, in his New York apartment that Ashman told Menken that he was, in fact, HIV positive.
It was then in Howard Ashman’s hospital room that they wrote songs for Aladdin before Ashman passed in 1991.
Menken said that he now still has “dreams where we get together and he says, ‘Hey, let’s do something new.’”