In intermediate drafts of the script for the Disney Animated Feature Aladdin, Aladdin's mother was a secondary character in the film. She served partly as Aladdin's conscience and partly as his motivation. Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman even wrote a song to illustrate that motivation, a song called "Proud of Your Boy."

The song is a quiet ballad, sung by Aladdin to his sleeping mother, as he swears to do right by her, to rise above his station in life as a street rat and make something of himself. His motivation was his love for her and that he wanted her to have something to be proud of. Of course, what ends up making her proud of him, in these intermediate scripts, is when he does the right thing at the end of the movie, letting go of his own selfishness.

The song's lyrics, according to Alan Menken, were very personal for Howard Ashman. The lyricist was very close to his mother, but struggled with their relationship at times. It's possible that Ashman's homosexuality contributed to the strain on their relationship. Ashman was, at the time, dying from AIDS-related complications, and it was clear that the lyrics for "Proud of Your Boy" were more than just Aladdin speaking to his mother. The lyrics were Howard speaking to his as well.

Ashman died during the creation of Aladdin's songs. This was rough on Menken, Ashman's longtime collaborator (Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast), but there was a movie to a complete, and the show had to go on. Disney brought in Broadway lyricist Sir Tim Rice (Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar) to help Menken finish the songwriting tasks.

Development on the movie's story was continuing as well, although it was late in the process. Eventually, the decision was made to remove Aladdin's mother as a character, making Aladdin an orphan. This would tighten up the story by removing what was ultimately an unnecessary character and forcing Aladdin's pangs of conscience to come from within.

Realization of how unnecessary the character was came about when only minimal changes were needed to remove her. Aladdin's mother could be excised without losing anything -- anything, that is, except "Proud of Your Boy."

No one involved in the production wanted to delete "Proud of Your Boy" from the film. While Ashman had other songs in the movie that would be staying ("Prince Ali," "Friend Like Me," "Arabian Nights"), "Proud of Your Boy" was his song, a song they knew was written straight from his heart, and the one that reminded them most of their departed friend. How could they remove that song?

Yet they had to. Removing Aladdin's mother from the film was the right thing to do for story structure and emotional impact. Reluctantly, the team let the song go. Menken and Rice created "One Jump Ahead" to replace it as Aladdin's introductory song, and production moved forward.

On the Aladdin Special Edition 2-disc DVD, Alan Menken recounts the story of "Proud of Your Boy" and, accompanied by storyboard stills, performs it on voice and piano. Menken is no professional singer, but his still-youthful tenor suits the song perfectly. The song is melancholy and hopeful at the same time, a beautifully moving portrait of a man who wants to be somebody but isn't sure he'll have the chance -- as much Howard as Aladdin. Menken sings it with deep emotion and a slight quaver to his voice; while it suits the mood of the song, Menken was no doubt thinking of his long-departed friend.

And that is Howard Ashman's legacy.

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