Next week Howard will be arriving on Disney+. This is the story of Howard Ashman, the lyricist behind the music of Disney animated classics like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Recently, DAPS MAGIC had the opportunity to sit down (via zoom) with director Don Hahn and several other news organizations to chat about Howard the documentary and also person.
First off, after walking away from this conversation with Don Hahn, it was impossible to not feel the heart that went into this project. In fact, this is what I fully expect this documentary to be full of when I watch my screener later this weekend. The story seems to be driven by the heart of Howard Ashman and it was put together by the heart of Don Hahn.
The story of Howard Ashman is told by Howard Ashman himself in this documentary. Don Hahn took the approach that he should “stay out of the way and put as much of Howard and his close circle.” The thought behind this was tell the story through the lens of the people who lived it. This was primarily done with tapes of Howard Ashman that really drives the narrative. It is supplemented by those who were close to him.
Don Hahn shared that Howard is structured like an animated movie. “Movies are about conflict and they are about characters that bump up against each other.” The movie is put together with the moments in Howard Ashman’s life where he had a conflict of one form or another throughout his life and then organized into a 90-minute documentary.
I asked if the story changed throughout the progress. Hahn shared that it did. The original approach was more Disney based. However, as Hahn dug into Howard Ashman’s story he discovered how incredible it was beyond the Disney distinction. With this new information, Hahn built the documentary about all of the interesting points of Howard Ashman’s. “I don’t think his life has to be defined just by his Disney material,” Hahn said.
“I wanted to do was let Howard be instructive,” Hahn also shared. “I could have put together a whole movie just on Howard talking about his process.” He had a unique ability to adapt and pair different genres together in brilliant ways. This was something that Hahn learned about Howard Ashman throughout the process.
I also asked about how the process of creating Howard changed him. Hahn shared how the process taught him patience. This included how it was released on Disney+ and having to hold on to it for quite some time. He shared that he was glad that it did end up on Disney+ though as so many people would get to see it this way.
Making Howard was clearly a labor of love for Don Hahn. It was an independent film that Don Hahn put together on his own so that he could do it in the way that he thought was best. It’s a movie that is a combination of both difficult moments and also is “paired with a lot of joy and amazing work.” He acknowledged that he really was the only person who could make it. A big reason for this is due to the relationships that he has with so many people that were close to Ashman. These relationships and the trust that came with them allowed Hahn access that would have been much harder for anyone else.
When asked what he hoped viewers would get out of Howard, Don Hahn had a wonderful response.
“I would love people to see Howard as an entire human being, to kind of humanize his story. So on one hand you can say yes he was a genius because he was I think. But on the other hand, you can say you know he had a lot of the struggles that you and I have. He was really insecure about his work. He was afraid of being humiliated sometimes. And we say it in the documentary, he was afraid of sending in the first two songs of Beauty and the Beast. Well, the first tape I got for Beauty and the Beast was Belle and Be Our Guest. And when we got it it was like a party because it was so wonderful and rich. But he didn’t want to send it in because he thought nobody ever asked me for a five-minute opening number and they are going to hate it. So I think he had all those insecurities that we all have about our work. And I want the audience to see that and I want people to see that we all have aspirations in our life and creative sides of our life. And if Howard can go through some of these struggles, we can too.”
He continued on sharing that “sometimes we think of artists of having the gift or not. You either have talent, or you don’t. You either control it or you can’t. But I think I want people to see that no, there’s work. There’s just plain work that goes into it. And it’s hard work and its long hours and its commitment and that’s part of genius also.” Hahn concluded saying, “Here’s a human being that we can look at his life and be inspired by it.”
When Howard arrives on Disney+ on August 7th, viewers are going to get a close look at a very special man. The story is being told by Ashman and the people that were closest to him. This will be a very special documentary about a wonderful man who had a beautifully creative spirit that eventually helped a mermaid find her voice and create magic for a generation of Disney fans.