This poignant and emotional doc on the lyricist will be Part of Your World.
Howard Ashman (1950-1991) was the lyricist best known for “Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast, and “Aladdin.” His lyrics won the hearts of millions, and his legacy still lives on.
Just as I reviewed “She Dies Tomorrow,” a riveting thriller about negative thoughts of dying, Disney+ released the documentary “Howard,” which not only gives us positive feelings, but also takes us on an emotional journey throughout his life. In fact, this is the best and most inspiring Disney documentary I’ve seen since “Life Animated,” which was about the autistic kid Owen Suskind watching Disney animated classics to help him see the world. And both these docs forget all the commercialism or synergies, and just really get the main protagonists to open our eyes to what human beings they are.
We see Howard entertaining his little sister Sarah Gillespie, performing on stage, finding his way in New York City, dealing with his homosexuality, having hits and bombs, and keeping his Aids disease a secret. Almost all the way through this doc, we see his ups and downs, and we really must appreciate what he has done to make the famous songs so resonating and iconic. But we also see him as a passionate and persistent character.
Some of the songs we love (like “Part of Your World”) were rejected at first, but Howard would never take “No” for an answer. He was willing to get his music on the big screen, and you all know what happens. They all become sensations.
Before their Disney teamwork, Howard and composer Alan Menken made the musical version of Kurt Vonnegut’s “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” which wasn’t commercially successful, but then, they gained more success by adapting the 1960s black comedy “Little Shop of Horrors” to stage.
Eventually, we would see them providing Jodi Benson the lyrics for her Ariel character in “The Little Mermaid,” as well as Paige O’Hara for Belle, Jerry Orbach as Lumiere, Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts, and Richard White as Gaston for “Beauty and the Beast.” It was at that time, when Howard was struggling with HIV, and couldn’t reveal his illness, on account of what the public would think, given his homosexuality.
“Howard” was written, produced, and directed by Don Hahn, the famed producer of “Beauty and the Beast,” who honors the lyricist by acknowledging his work, and for allowing the interviewees to share their perspectives of him. They don’t get those obligatory interview shots; they’re voices are recorded, archival or current.
The end credits of “Beauty and the Beast” state: “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.” We are forever grateful for what he has accomplished, and we shouldn’t see “Howard” just because we grew up on his songs, but we should also see it to know his roots-how he came to be and why he went in this direction.
“Be Our Guest,” and don’t miss “Howard.”
Available on Disney+