There are some people in life that you just wish you could have met… just once. You know that they are special because of what they’ve done or what they’ve created. Then you learn more about them and are glad your paths never crossed. Other people, you meet and realize that what you found to be special from afar was just the tip of the iceberg. This is true of Howard Ashman. And in the new documentary by Don Hahn called Howard, a little bit more of the iceberg is revealed.
Howard Ashman is a name that Disney fans may or may not know but they will definitely know his work. He was the lyricist behind The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. He also worked on Aladdin. Before all of that, he and his long time collaborator Alan Menken brought an old movie called Little Shop of Horrors to life on the stage and then as a movie musical. However, beyond the brilliance of his lyrics, Howard Ashman brought heart and leadership that brought many of these projects and characters to life.
Howard takes a look at the man behind all of these accomplishments through the lens of Howard Ashman and those closest to him. There are no industry experts. There are no analysts. Instead, this is a story that is told by Ashman himself and friends, family, and close colleagues. The storytelling behind it is beautiful as well. It peels back the curtain of Ashman’s life to see the highs and lows of Howard Ashman. He had some incredible successes and some incredible heartbreaks. The result is a look at a life that was definitely not easy but also a life that was beautiful.
The story of Howard, as told by Don Hahn, is a very real look at his life. The way it is shot adds to that realness. The footage is, or feels, decades old. The production value is beautiful but also not perfect. Really, this is because a lot of it comes from Howard’s life. This adds authenticity to the documentary. It also really helps the viewer connect with the story and Howard Ashman as it transports them back to that time. This has the effect of helping the viewer connect with Howard Ashman even more. Add to it that both the struggles, which there were a lot, and triumphs are both explored and one really gets to feel like they know Howard Ashman more.
A big part of Howard Ashman’s story is the fact that he did contract HIV and then die later due to complications of AIDS. This happened right when his career was reaching a pinnacle. He’d had some successes before but then when he entered the world of animation at Disney, his brilliance was a big part of the animation renaissance for the company. This was a very special time as The Little Mermaid became a game-changer for Disney and Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin were both in the works. And with all of these amazing things happen, Howard Ashman was fighting and then losing his battle. To say watching this unfold is heartbreaking would be an understatement. It is difficult to see the hero of a story not get the happily ever after that the viewer is rooting for. Unfortunately, that is what happens.
Howard is a documentary that could easily have become depressing. However, through the tender loving care that is given to the story, it is instead a beautiful story about a beautiful soul. Don Hahn gives a look into the life of a man that was committed to overcoming the struggles of life to tell beautiful stories. Don Hahn makes a beautiful documentary about a beautiful storyteller in Howard.
When one digs in and learns more about the life of someone they admire, there is always the risk that they won’t like what they see. Thankfully, with Howard, the story that is discovered is one of pushing through adversity to always pursue something great. Howard Ashman had a difficult life but it was a beautiful one. His efforts really did bring to life so many of the most magical Disney moments and characters of the late 80s and early 90s. With this documentary, Don Hahn gives a gift to people who want to know who gave a mermaid her voice and helped tell the tale as old as time. The result of learning more about Howard Ashman just adds to the depth for the magic of these different projects he was a part of.
Simply put, Howard is a wonderful documentary that will define this man that so many people know because of his work but maybe not so much because of his name. Hopefully, this documentary changes that. It is a beautiful film to watch that gives a very real look at a very real man. It will pull at the heartstrings in different directions and remind us that magic doesn’t just happen, it is made. I have no problem taking my hat off for it. This is a must-watch for Disney fans when it arrives on Disney+ on August 7, 2020.