Douglas Mayo reviews Don Hahn’s film Howard, a film looking and the life of lyricist, writer and director Howard Ashman which is now streaming on Disney+.
Howard Ashman was a once in a lifetime talent, it’s just that his lifetime was cut short. What he managed to cram into that short time has touched, inspired and entertained millions around the world.
Howard Ashman (1950-1991) was an American playwright and lyricist whose work included God Bless You Mr Rosewater, Little Shop Of Horrors, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.
Don Hahn’s touching documentary Howard follows his 2009 documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty which looked at the Disney animated film renaissance which started when Ashman and collaborator Alan Menken worked with Disney in The Little Mermaid through to the release of The Lion King. Howard looks at Ashman’s life and his relentless pursuit of perfection.
One thing comes to mind thinking about this documentary and that is a lyric from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton “Why do you write like your running out of time?” and that comes down to the fact that few knew until the last minute that Howard had contracted AIDS which at that time was a near-certain death sentence.
Howard spent his life creating theatre and telling stories. Through the creation of the WPA Theatre Off-Off-Broadway he had a theatre that allowed him to play and through his experiences with Broadway, he developed an understanding of telling those stories and how not to lose the emotional attachment of an audience by over-sizing stories.
Menken and Ashman’s work with Disney bought musical theatre story-telling back to the forefront of the animated film. Fighting to ensure key tenants of story-telling is a key part of Howard’s story and why his legacy is so enormous. It’s hard to believe that the greatest of his film successes (Aladdin) would not be seen by audiences until his death.
If you are a fan of musical theatre or a fan of Disney animation, Howard is a must watch! You’ll most likely need a box of tissues, like me you’ll no doubt wonder just what might have poured from Howard’s mind had he lived.
To quote the dedication in the credits of Beauty and the Beast:-
To our friend, Howard,
Who gave a mermaid her voice
And a beast his soul,
We will be forever grateful.
I am grateful to Don Hahn for making this documentary, for telling Howard Ashman’s story and for celebrating his wonderful work.