Howard Parent Guide
This documentary is well crafted and should please those interested in popular culture but it's too reflective for younger viewers.
Parent Movie Review
Howard Ashman may not be a household name, but you would be hard-pressed to find a person unfamiliar with his legacy. He was the lyricist who penned most of the now-classic songs in Disney’s adaptations of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Beauty and The Beast. His contribution also restored the studio to its former glory after a terrible string of lackluster animated movies seemed likely to permanently shutter the Mouse House.
This documentary about Howard’s life is written and directed by Don Hahn, a long-time creative force at Disney, who produced the Oscar winning Beauty and The Beast in 1991. Hahn starts his retelling at Ashman’s childhood, featuring interviews with Howard’s mother and sister. Then he follows the ups and downs of his career, which include being the owner of a struggling theater company in a low-rent section of New York City and developing the hit musical Little Shop of Horrors and the flop Smile. The film eventually culminates with Ashman’s collaboration with CEO Jeffery Katzenberg, composer Alan Menken and a group of aspiring artists at Disney’s animation lot.
A core part of the story, because it was a core part of the man, is Howard’s sexual orientation. His relationships with a college roommate and his later life partner are mentioned matter-of-factly- reflecting the contemporary acceptance of homosexuality. This is presented in contrast to the prejudices of Howard’s day that are depicted using archival footage of protestors and media discussion about the AIDS crisis. Those familiar with the biography of Howard Ashman will know he succumbed to the dreaded disease himself in March of 1991, while still working on the film Aladdin.
Created for TV to run on the streaming network Disney+, Howard offers a generous tribute to a man of talent whose life was cut short just as his true potential was being revealed. As a documentary, it is well-crafted and should please those interested in this history. But younger audiences are likely to fidget through this reflective foray. Parents interested in introducing their children to the accomplishments of Howard Ashman will likely be better rewarded by sharing the fruits of his labors rather than then this film showing the seeds of his genius.Directed by Don Hahn. Starring Howard Ashman, Sarah Gillespie, Jeffrey Katzenberg. Running time: 94 minutes. Theatrical release August 7, 2020. Updated October 27, 2020
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Rating & Content Info
Why is Howard rated TV-PG? Howard is rated TV-PG by the MPAA
Violence: The AIDS crisis and deaths of gay men are discussed. Archival footage of angry protesters is shown. Prejudice toward homosexual men is mentioned. Howard Ashmen’s passing from an HIV infection is talked about by several of his friends and associates.
Sexual Content: Howard’s homosexual relationships are mentioned. His sexual orientation is the core theme of this biographical documentary.
Profanity: Terms of deity and mild profanity are used infrequently.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Archival pictures show people smoking. Chain smoking and alcohol use are mentioned.
Page last updated October 27, 2020
Howard Parents' Guide
How is homosexuality viewed today versus the way it was seen during Howard Ashman’s lifetime? Why was he afraid to share the news of his terminal illness with others? Was he right to be concerned? Do you think his plight would have been different if it happened today? Why do you think society has changed its position on issues involving sexual orientation?
Some people look at Howard Ashmen’s lyrics as allegorical and intending to be critical social commentary. Do you see them that way? What messages have you taken from his popular songs?
The Atlantic: It’s Not Just Frozen: Most Disney Movies Are Pro-Gay
The Smithsonian Magazine: “The Little Mermaid” Was Way More Subversive Than You Realized
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If you just can’t get enough of the backstory behind Disney’s classics, you can read the Mouse House’s book, The Music Behind the Magic: The Musical Artistry of Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice.
You can also play the music for yourself. The sheet music for Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid is widely available.