1991 a was a landmark year for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, marking the first time an animated film ever won as Best Picture and, thanks to Jeffrey Katzenberg, the first one with an original song score. As head of Disney’s animation studios, Katzenberg mourned the loss of the old Walt Disney full-length cartoons that featured memorable songs, such as, “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” from Pinocchio, “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” from Cinderella and, “You Can Fly, You Can Fly,” from Peter Pan, to name just a few.
Menken and Ashman's first collaboration was The Little Mermaid, which earned a Best Musical or Comedy Golden Globe nomination and won for Best Score and Best Song, “Under the Sea,” in 1990. Beauty and the Beast was their second effort and undoubtedly their masterpiece. The film was also nominated for the Academy Award as Best Motion Picture and did blockbuster business grossing over $450 million. Unfortunately, Ashman died of AIDS the same year while working on Aladdin. Menken, working with other lyricists, continued providing memorable songs for Disney animated films including Aladdin, Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Ashman, who served as executive producer on Beauty and the Beast, was too sick to oversee the production in Burbank, so much of the preproduction was done near his home in upstate New York. Before he died he was shown a rough cut of the proposed film, but he never lived to see the finished product, which was dedicated to his memory.
Before Ashman came into the picture, the film had a decidedly different concept; Ashman, through his songs, introduced the characters of Gaston and the human-like inanimate objects. In a first for the studio, Linda Woolverton was hired to write the screenplay - before her, Disney's animated features had depended only on storyboarding.
The success of the film prompted Disney to mount a stage production in 1994 and it ran for many years on Broadway. In 2017 a live-action remake proved enormously successful. The other Golden Globe nominees that year in the Comedy or Musical category were City Slickers, The Commitments, The Fisher King, and Fried Green Tomatoes.
Beauty and the Beast became a landmark in the history of the studio. Thanks to it, Disney’s struggling animation business overnight became, once again, the mainstay of the studio, and, along with Marvel, LucasFilm and Pixar, it still is. Despite the ultimate dominance of Pixar, which banished the use of songs, the animated musical genre is alive and well, as has been proven most recently with the success of Coco, Frozen and Moana.