Howard Ashman may not necessarily be a household name but many a Disney fan know that the esteemed lyricist and playwright is responsible for significant contributions to the Disney legacy and pop culture zeitgeist thanks to the few short years he worked for the Mouse.
Almost inextricably linked with collaborative partner and renowned composer Alan Menken, the duo are responsible for the lyrics and music of THE LITTLE MERMAID — which kicked off the ’90s “Disney Renaissance” of animation and music — and subsequently BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and ALADDIN. Tragically, Ashman died in 1991 due to complications from AIDS and would not witness the success of his later projects.
Before landing his big gig with Disney Animation, Ashman built acclaim and clout as not just a lyricist but also a playwright with various projects under his built including fan-favorite LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS which he adapted as both a successful stage musical and later as the popular 1986 film.
The documentary, simply titled HOWARD, actually first premiered in 2018 at the Tribeca Film Festival but makes its debut on the popular Disney+ streaming platform this Friday. Seemingly for the first time ever we get a good honest look at the life of the prodigious creator who would help form lasting childhood memories and define the soundtrack of several generations.
While the documentary understandably somewhat glazes over non-Disney career moments, it does not shy away from showing both the light and the dark of his professional and personal life. With a lot of input from Alan Menken plus Bill Lauch (Ashman’s Partner), Jodi Benson (voice of Ariel), Paige O’Hara (voice of Belle), Sarah Gillespie (Ashman’s Sister), and even archival audio of Ashman himself, we get a rounded look at the immense genius and talent that came with an equally passionate personality and temper.
The film also features some great archival footage and personal family photographs to help paint the picture of a life we know so little about.
The tragedy of the story comes from what we already know: Ashman was not even near the pinnacle of the heights he could climb when his life met its untimely end. The most gripping part of the documentary actually comes right when the credits start to roll; We hear Ashman singing in a reference track for one of his most cherished songs (we won’t spoil which). Hearing the words of that song in a new way with the context of Ashman’s life behind it is brilliant and at the same time absolutely crushing. The appreciation for everything we’ve learned about his life comes together in a moving crescendo. It really was the perfect cherry on top.
The film is directed by Don Hahn (“Beauty and the Beast”) who also produced with Lori Korngiebel at Stone Circle Pictures,
See it for Yourself
HOWARD premieres on Disney+ streaming service Friday, August 7, 2020.
MORE INFO: Howard now streaming on Disney+