Howard Ashman is “a part of your world” more than you may realize. The Disney+ documentary “Howard” details the life and legacy of the lyricist Howard Ashman. He worked on many animated Disney movies alongside Alan Menken.
Here are five takeaways from the Disney+ documentary “Howard”:
1. He started working for the company during the “Disney Renaissance.”
The “Disney Renaissance” is when Disney returned to making movies that were critically and commercially successful through 1989-1999. Howard Ashman wrote the lyrics for the first three animated Disney movies of this era. Additionally, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman won two Oscars for their work in “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and The Beast.”
2. He struggled with AIDS.
Howard Ashman was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1988. Despite his illness, he wanted to keep working. Many of the songs we love from our childhood were written while he was sick. “Prince Ali,” from “Aladdin,” for example, was written in his hospital bed. Ashman’s music lives on to this day because of his passion and determination.
3. His work on “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Looking for a musical that’s not about princesses? Lucky for you, Howard Ashman’s work stretches far beyond Disney. He and Alan Menken turned an old horror film into a stage musical called “Little Shop of Horrors.” While everyone else thought they were ridiculous for making a musical about a murderous plant, it became a hit on Broadway! Many adaptions of the musical have been created since.
4. He helped Jodi Benson land the role of Ariel in “The Little Mermaid.”
One of Howard Ashman’s Broadway musicals, “Smile,” starred Jodi Benson. She sang a song called “Disneyland” in the musical, which foreshadowed her future career. When the musical closed too soon, Ashman recommended Benson for the role of Ariel in “The Little Mermaid.” It’s because of him that Benson got to sing about all the thingamabobs! (By the way, she’s got twenty.)
5. You learn about the subtext of his lyrics.
Howard Ashman put his own emotions and experiences into his lyrics. His previous co-workers claim the “Mob Song” from “Beauty and the Beast” casts a light on the AIDS epidemic, conveying how people villainize the innocent when encountering a problem. While he was never trying to be political, he expressed common feelings, fears, and issues in his songs.
While watching “Howard,” we cried, smiled, and sang along to some of our favorite songs. It’s a must watch for anyone who loves Disney. Watch the documentary on Disney+ to learn more about Howard Ashman and his legacy!
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