What to Watch After Howard

Howard Ashman is, hyperbole be damned, one of the most important figures in the history of animation. It’s an impressive feat considering that he never once drew a character or directed an animated feature. You may not know his name, but Howard Ashman’s words have given life to some of the most beloved characters of modern Disney animation. What’s more, his lyrical compositions and collaboration with composer Alan Menken inspired the last 30 years of mainstream American animation in one way or another.

Ashman, who would’ve turned 70 in May, is having the cinematic celebration he’s always deserved with the new documentary Howard, premiering on Disney+ this week. Directed by Don Hahn, the Academy Award-nominated producer of Beauty and the Beast, Howard goes through this brilliant man’s life, cruelly cut short by the AIDS epidemic when he passed away in the spring of 1991. Hahn has, with Howard, done a fine job of creating a love letter to Ashman with the help of family members and loved ones, as well as creative partners, without making a documentary that’s truly remarkable. (If you know Hahn’s other Disney documentary, Waking Sleeping Beauty, you’ll recognize this film’s choice to include new interviews without any talking-head visuals. Still, that 2010 documentary is much better.)

The good news, of course, is that if you watch Howard and want to learn more about the man or simply luxuriate in the wonderful lyrics that he wrote, you’ll have plenty of options to enjoy on Disney+ and beyond. Though Howard doesn’t dig deep enough into the legacy that Ashman left behind, you can essentially remind yourself of that legacy entirely through streaming options. Let’s dig into all the choices you have at your fingertips, and which song best exemplifies Ashman’s work in each title.

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howard review

“To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.”

The dedication to the lyricist behind some of Disney’s most beloved animated hits that runs in the closing credits of Beauty and the Beast is brief but beautiful — which is a fitting description of the life of Howard Ashman, whose amazing life was cut short by AIDS in 1991, right on the cusp of what would be his greatest and most lasting achievement. It’s a fitting description too for Howard, the Disney+ documentary directed by Ashman’s friend and colleague, Beauty and the Beast producer Don Hahn. Featuring never-before-seen archival footage of Ashman working on soon-to-be Disney classics like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, Howard is an all-too-fleeting snapshot of one of the greatest lyricists in musical history, the tragic circumstances of his death lending an air of melancholy and depth that is rare in a Disney-affiliated documentary.

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Howard Trailer

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know the songs from Disney’s animated classics like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid. However, you may have a harder time finding is someone who knows the name of the man who wrote those songs.

Howard Ashman is the lyricist behind such memorable tunes as “Under the Sea,” “Friend Like Me,” and “Be Our Guest,” and unfortunately, his musical genius was cut short after he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Watch the first Howard trailer for a glimpse into the life and genius of Howard Ashman below. Read More »

Howard Ashman and Wolfgang Puck documentaries

Today, I attended a Disney+ presentation in Hollywood, where we learned that the upcoming streaming service will be the home of two interesting documentaries.

Don Hahn, the producer of Disney animation movies like The Lion King and The Hunchback of Notre Dame and a talented director in his own right, directed a film about the life of Howard Ashman, the acclaimed lyricist behind films like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, and that movie will be available next year on Disney+. And filmmaker David Gelb, who directed the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, is returning to profile another famous chef in a new doc about Wolfgang Puck. Read More »

Beauty and the Beast Recording Sessions

Though you may not know Howard Ashman by name, you’re undoubtedly familiar with his work as one of the lyricists behind the original songs for Disney’s animated classics Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. Unfortunately, Ashman passed away far too young at 40 after a battle with AIDS. But his legacy will live through the Disney movies he left his stamp on, and a new documentary wants to make sure everyone remembers him.

Simply titled Howard, the film hails from Beauty and the Beast producer Don Hahn and explores the life and career of the lyricist and playwright. A new clip has debuted to show how he worked behind the scenes during recording sessions at Disney during production on Beauty and the Beast. That means we get to see rare behind the scenes footage of Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury singing the tune “Be Our Guest” as Lumiere and Mrs. Potts respectively. Read More »