Howard Ashman songs: title song from Beauty and the Beast (lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken)
“As close to perfection as I could imagine.” - Alan Menken, The Music Behind the Magic
This song throbs at the heart of all of Ashman’s work, shining with a sparkling clarity that burns for an eternity of life and love. The tender beauty of Ashman’s most heartfelt poem is accompanied by worthy music by Alan Menken that compliments it perfectly with a bittersweet, elegant grace. And not an easy task that would have been to create. The music soars, ebbs and flows, but doesn’t overpower the truth that it is carrying; the number is the spiritual core of the film, expressing what it means to feel. It begins with a soft piano and ends in a soft “goodnight” – we witness a “tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme”, “tune as old as song, bittersweet and strange” come into being before us inside the atmospheric dome of the enchanted ballroom.
Ashman has immortalized himself and his work with this song, for which he won his posthumous Academy Award, for the hearts of all who hear it become instantly imprinted by its strange beauty and unexplainable emotive power. This song, in a way, is about transformation. Everything seems to fall into place; as beast becomes human, man becomes immortal. Fear becomes love and tear-filled joy. Everything stands still as the Beast and Belle swirl across the ballroom floor under the knowing watch of heaven’s cherub angels, and the audience’s hearts hang on to every word. A fairytale unfolds.
Howard’s raw, shaky, heartfelt rendition breaks my heart. The irony of the knowing proclamation “ever just as sure as the sun will rise” stings, as the sun set on Howard’s life before he could see his perfect creation come to full fruition. But soon enough, dawn rose upon Beauty and the Beast, glittering in its revelatory truth, its transcending beauty, and its heartbreaking romance.
This isn’t just a song. It also isn’t just theatre. It’s much more. Its emotional clarity renders everything else obsolete. This moment of suspended reality teaches what it means to love and be loved. The pure truth connects with the soul so brilliantly and so beyond cerebral understanding that it feels as though the song must have been in existence since the human heart was born. Its perfect rhyme must have been sung at the dawn of time itself, lying dormant within us until Beauty and the Beast was crafted, and this central human truth became real. Like coming home. It was fate.
“True as it can be”, Howard’s not singing about the characters, but of humanity itself. Beauty and the Beast is very real; it is pain, and it is love, and it is a dying man’s parting song. It is an absolute triumph.
Howard Ashman songs: Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast (lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken)
It’s not “show-stopping”. This is the show.
Where The Little Mermaid's “Under the Sea” is spirited, Beauty and the Beast's “Be Our Guest” is sophisticated. In the song, the beautiful young possible suitor and destined saviour Belle is serenaded by the Beast’s castle’s dining instruments, entertaining her with their extravagant, Broadway-style show. It is something that is easy to describe in its purest essence - it’s entertainment. "No-one’s frowning or complaining while the flatware’s entertaining!"
The high splendour of the “culinary cabaret” is matched with the supreme lyrical mastery of Ashman’s writing. A distinct classical musicality sets the tangible backdrop to which Ashman’s lyrics playfully exhibit their cleverness with a knowing and joyful shrill of a thousand kitchenwares. Full of clever puns and divinely delectable rhymes, the piece plays out like a wonderful flashy stage number, almost too decadent and perfect through the magic of animation than anything that could be produced on the stage.
It has a distinctively Busby Berkely feel - it is to silverware what Berkely is to the glorified chorus girl. Kaleidoscopic patterns of visual animation and of lyrical rhyme team up and dazzle. The swirling, twirling, catchy ring to the chorus-like chanting of “be our guest!” enchants the audience as they themselves are invited to wine and dine in the fantastical extravaganza of this musical fairytale.
"Be Our Guest" may not say too much about character or theme, but it is a lavish, soaring example of Ashman’s wordy lyrical genius at its most impressive and popular. To explain them would be futile - the fun of the fast rhythmic bounce and clever culinary reference of the lyrics speaks for itself. Ashman’s love for his kitchen characters bleeds with classic Disney magic. He brought such sleek (and only slightly silly) sophistication to the production with this 3.5 minutes of pure showmanship.
The acknowledgement of the song and the show itself adds to the shameless enjoyability of it all. And everyone’s showing off - the cutlery and candlesticks are showing off what they can do, the Disney animators are showing off what they can do, and Howard shows off to the world what he can do. And boy do they impress. This is how you put on a show.
Film Meme [ 6 ] Underrated or Unappreciated Films → [ 2 ] Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) "We done a lot of things we’re not proud of. Robbing graves, and plundering tombs. Double parking. But, nobody got hurt. Well, maybe somebody got hurt. But nobody we knew."