Tag Archives: The Little Mermaid

Watch Howard Ashman Direct Jodie Benson in Disney’s The Little Mermaid

 

This clip is a treasure in that it really shows how Howard Ashman was able to pull the most amazing performance from Jodie Benson who plays Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid for the song “Part of Your World”.

You’ll see what a really great director can do to enhance what an Actor brings to a particular moment in time. “Part of Your World” has always been my favorite song of any Disney musical and I especially love how the song has such an intimate way about it when Ariel seems so conversational and almost whispers in spots. Now I know how they got to such a wonderful place with that song and it seems like so much work went into something that everyone takes for granted as something that just feels so right — almost a perfect little moment in time.Howard Ashman

It’s sad to me that this wonderful musical director and writer was taken way too soon at only 40 years old due to AIDS. He partnered up with Alan Menken and created Little Shop of Horrors and then went on to write songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin before dying way too young. You can see in this clip how talented he was and how passionate about the music he was. It’s easy to see here where his talent would have lead him. Ashman was nominated for 3 Tony’s and won 2 Grammys, 2 Golden Globes and 2 Oscars for the music of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast in his short time.

Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics) accept their Oscars for Best Original Song for "Under the Sea," from the film THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989). Behind them are presenters Paula Abdul and Dudley Moore. Credit: Long Photography / ©A.M.P.A.S.
Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics) accept their Oscars for Best Original Song for “Under the Sea,” from the film THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989). Behind them are presenters Paula Abdul and Dudley Moore.
Credit: Long Photography / ©A.M.P.A.S.

In 1988, while working on The Little Mermaid, Ashman pitched to Disney the idea of an animated musical adaptation of Aladdin. After he wrote a group of songs with Menken and a film treatment, a screenplay was written by Linda Woolverton, who had worked on Beauty and the Beast. Then directors John Musker and Ron Clements joined the production. The story underwent many changes and some elements of the original treatment were dropped. Out of the 16 songs written for Aladdin, three of Howard’s songs ended up in the finished film, which was released after his death.aladdin

Ashman became a driving force during the early years of the Disney Renaissance. He would hold story meetings and said the animation and musical styles were made for each other which is why Disney needed to continue making musical movies. During early production of Aladdin, Ashman and Menken were approached to help turn Beauty and the Beast into a musical, as it started out being a straight animated movie, with no musical numbers. It was at this time that his health began to decline due to his illness. Regardless, he completed lyrical work on Beauty and the Beast before succumbing to AIDS. The film was released mere months after his death and includes this dedication, “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.” beauty and the beast

With all of his films, he was involved in casting actors with strong musical theater and acting backgrounds. He was responsible for the casting of Jodie Benson, up until then a Broadway actress. Not to diminish what Jodie brings to the performance, she is simply wonderful. She was the perfect choice for Ariel. Ashman and Benson worked together first on Broadway when he cast and directed her in the musical “Smile”, with music written by Marvin Hamlisch. Ironically enough, in that play she sang one of the songs written by Ashman, called “Disneyland”. Smile is considered a “lost” musical because no official cast recording was ever made. However, there does exist a demo CD by Broadway Original cast for Samuel French Publishing.little mermaid and jodie bensonjodie benson

Kenneth Mars, Brilliant Comedic Mind

 

Most people would probably recognize Kenneth Mars as the voice of King Triton in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. My brother and I loved him in What’s Up, Doc? as the Croatian Musicologist Hugh Simon. He was a brilliant comedic mind and had a flair for strange foreign accents. He was very versatile and had great parts in the movies, on TV, on Broadway and as a voice-over actor. He racked up over 200 credits before cancer took him in 2011.

To list his “must-see” films, I would definitely go to his big 3; The Producers (1967), What’s Up, Doc? (1972) and Young Frankenstein (1974) . In the Producers, the role of Franz Liebkind was originally given to Dustin Hoffman, but he eventually declined when he got the part of Benjamin in The Graduate (1967). Brooks only allowed Hoffman the chance to go off to the audition for the film because his wife (Anne Bancroft) was in it, and Brooks was familiar enough with the role of Benjamin to know Hoffman was utterly wrong for it (as written) and would never be cast. Great bit of luck for Kenneth Mars who inherited the role and even better luck for us, who got to watch him be utterly brilliant in it.  He was so good, Gene Wilder wondered if Kenneth Mars really was crazy throughout filming and not just acting because of some of his antics.Kenneth Mars the producers

I think it takes a special director comfortable with letting the performers loose during comedy that can bring out the best in some people.  Mel Brooks definitely had that ability. Another is Peter Bogdanovich, who directed Kenneth in What’s Up, Doc?. He was given the freedom on that film to completely make up a fake foreign language.  Much of Hugh Simon’s “foreign” language was Mars’ made-up interpretation of Serbo-Croatian, director Peter Bogdanovich’s native language. He was also a brilliant improviser. According to Peter Bogdanovich on the dvd commentary, the line ” I would like to say I love your hair”, spoken by Mars was improvised.Kenneth mars and Whats up doc

He would work again with Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein as the German Inspector Kemp. The movie has so many good actors (like Cloris Leachman, Gene Hackman, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr, Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle) that nearly steal the scenes they are in, and Kenneth was no different. He’s fantastic. Interesting to note that he had strange accents in all of these movies, and after this third one, was known as the actor who could do foreign dialects, even though he made up most of the foreign languages and accents he did.kenneth mars and young frankenstein

Kenneth would go on to do over 30 years on TV and doing voices for a ton of cartoons.  In my opinion he was under-utilized over the years, even with over 200 credits. He was that good.