Disney’s new version of The Little Mermaid starring Halle Bailey @HalleBailey in the lead role of Ariel is finally due to swim into UK cinemas on Friday.
The live-action remake is the latest in Disney’s long line of ‘reimagining’ efforts, which has already seen the studio present updated takes on Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Mulan and many others.
With The Little Mermaid for 2023 comes a fresh take on the 1989 animated classic, which is often heralded as the start of the popular Disney Renaissance era, when the company was able to produce hit after hit, including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King.
Jonah Hauer-King, Javier Bardem and Melissa McCarthy join Bailey for the new telling of a tale originally written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837, playing Prince Eric, King Triton and the sea-witch Ursula, respectively.
At the end of the new film, a tribute to Howard Ashman is shared onscreen ahead of the end credits – but who is he and why is the movie dedicated to him?
Who was Howard Ashman?
Howard Ashman was an American playwright, lyricist and director born in 1950 in Baltimore, Maryland.
He first put on plays in New York City in the 1970s before becoming the artistic director of the WPA Theatre.
After Ashman met composer Alan Menken at a workshop they first worked together on 1979’s Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr Rosewater.
In 1982 they had their first big success together with the off-off-Broadway premiere of their classic horror comedy rock musical Little Shop of horrors, for which Ashman wrote the book and lyrics and directed, and Menken composed the music.
Songs include Suddenly, Seymour and Ski Goggles (On Sale Here)d Row (Downtown), and it would later take Broadway by storm, and pick up a Grammy nomination and a Drama Desk Award for Ashman’s lyrics.
When Little Shop of horrors was adapted into a film in 1986, Ashman wrote the screenplay and two new songs with Menken; Mean Green Mother from Outer Space would garner them their first Oscar nomination.
Ashman first worked for Disney the same year on Oliver & Company, writing Once Upon a Time in New York City with Barry Mann for Huey Lewis to perform on the film’s soundtrack.
It was later nominated for best song at the Golden Globes.
While at Disney, Ashman was told about several other projects, including The Little Mermaid, which would be Disney’s first fairy tale film in 30 years (since Sleeping Beauty).
He and Menken signed up to provide the movie’s songs.
Why is the 2023 live action version of The Little Mermaid dedicated to him?
Along with Menken, Ashman’s songs for The Little Mermaid in 1989 included Part of Your World, Under the Sea, Part of Your World and Kiss the Girl.
The film was a massive success for Disney and Menken and Ashman picked up two Golden Globe nominations as well as three Academy Award nominations, winning one for best original song for Under the Sea, while Menken won best score too.
Their partnership continued to great acclaim through working on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, the latter of which came directly from a pitch by Ashman to the studio for a musical adaptation for the tale.
He was also involved in suggesting Broadway talent for voice roles in the films, including Jodi Benson.
For Beauty and the Beast, the title track, Be Our Guest and Belle were all Oscar-nominated for best song, which the first won.
Friend Like Me from Aladdin was nominated the following year, and Ashman and Menken also wrote Arabian Nights and Prince Ali together.
Tragically, Ashman was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1988 while working on The Little Mermaid.
He continued to write songs and lived long enough to see a special private screening of Beauty and the Beast after completing his lyrical work.
Ashman died in March 1991 and Sir Time Rice was drafted in to finish the lyrics for Aladdin songs One Jump Ahead and A Whole New World.
Beauty and the Beast, released in November of that year, was dedicated to Ashman.
The tribute message after the end credits reads: ‘To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice, and a beast his soul. We will be forever grateful. Howard Ashman 1950-1991.’
For The Little Mermaid in 2023, a remake of Ashman’s first full musical project while at Disney, the studio drafted in Hamilton and Encanto’s Lin-Manuel Miranda to provide the lyrics for three new songs.
At the same time, Disney decided to give Ashman very public credit once more.
A certified Disney Legend through the company’s hall of fame programme, Ashman is recognised as being one of the most important figures in the Disney Renaissance.
Disney documentary Howard was released in 2018, charting the lyricist’s untold story, and later uploaded to Disney Plus.
But in a twist of fate, it was revealed that the documentary would be part of the swathe of content removed from the streaming service as Disney undergoes drastic budget cuts, on Friday May 26.
That’s the same date as The Little Mermaid’s release, and also just ahead of Pride month.
Following a fan backlash, a Disney rep confirmed to Deadline that the documentary will remain on Disney Plus.
The Little Mermaid is released in UK cinemas on May 26. Howard is available to watch on Disney Plus now.
Got a story?
If you’ve got a celebrity story, video or pictures get in touch with the Metro.co.uk entertainment team by emailing us [email protected], calling 020 3615 2145 or by visiting our Submit Stuff page – we’d love to hear from you.
MORE : Halle Bailey @HalleBailey ‘sobbed uncontrollably’ watching young Black girls reacting to her as Ariel
MORE : Halle Berry is full of gorgeous love for her nearly name twin Halle Bailey @HalleBailey: ‘I adore you’
First appear at Who is Howard Ashman and why is The Little Mermaid dedicated to him?