The new documentary “Howard,” directed by Don Hahn, is an intimate portrait of the life of lyricist Howard Ashman, who worked on the soundtracks for beloved Broadway musicals and Disney animated films.
Alan Menken wrote the music to Ashman’s songs, packed with clever punchlines and character development. Their work on “Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” and “Little Shop of Horrors” led them to work with Disney on new animated films. At the time, the company’s animation studios were looking for a hit. With Ashman and Menken’s soundtrack on “The Little Mermaid,” they finally got one.
But while he was on a press tour for “The Little Mermaid,” Ashman was diagnosed with AIDS. He hid this at first to continue working on the lyrics for “Beauty and the Beast,” even as he knew the film might be his last. Ashman was so dedicated to the craft that he phoned into the recording sessions from his hospital bed while he was dying.
Menken and Ashman started working together in the late 1970s, and continued writing together until Ashman's death.
Don Hahn was a producer on “Beauty and the Beast,” and five years ago, he realized he needed to make a documentary about his friend and collaborator. The film includes archival footage and interviews with Menken, plus Ashman’s partner and family members.