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By Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Poignant docu about Disney lyricist has mature themes.

Movie NR 2020 95 minutes
Howard Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 8+

Based on 1 parent review

age 8+

Great for adults, fine (just a little boring) for kids.

This documentary is the story of an inspiring and talented lyricist and composer, who is responsible for not only the musical version of Little Shop of Horrors but also the 90s movies that launched the Disney animation renaissance. The documentary is child appropriate, although adults will find it more interesting. In this documentary we see Howard's early years in theater and interest in directing, and then his efforts to create successful stage musicals. This is a difficult business but he perseveres in spite of some failures. He eventually works for Disney, articulates the "I Wish" song that had been a staple of animated Disney features all along, and stays true to his creative vision. And he was also gay. In the documentary this is addressed directly, through verbal references and photos of Howard with his college boyfriend and with his partner later. The most gratuitous photos are of two men leaning into each other. There no other physical contact is mentioned, or depicted in photos. These are positive relationships. And yes, Howard died of AIDS. The disease is mentioned as a "gay cancer" in the terminology of the time, and we see protest signs held by some very hateful people. Howard at times looks a bit run down, and there are verbal descriptions of white patches on his throat, but there is certainly nothing scary or graphic. Unless your child was distressed by the polio cases in "An American Girl Story - Maryellen 1955: Extraordinary Christmas," there is no reason why they can't watch this. I watched this documentary with my eight year old daughter. She was delighted by the footage of behind the scenes tapings of Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, especially when she saw Angela Lansbury and recognized her from Murder She Wrote. She liked seeing how hand-drawn animation was done, and the scenes from Little Shop of Horrors film. She's had homosexual people in her life since forever, but this film provided an opportunity to discuss the AIDS crisis in a safe way, as well as the distressing way that other people reacted to it. Some of the movie moved a little slower than she would like, but it certainly wasn't inappropriate in any way. Yes, he does die at the end, but "Anne Frank Remembered" is rated as 9+ and this is much less intense.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
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It's no easy task to tell a person's life story in an hour and a half, and filmmakers have attempted to do this in a variety of ways. In Howard, director Don Hahn uses old photos of people and places, together with archive recordings from Howard Ashman's life, to try to let the subject speak for himself. Hahn combines this archive material with a variety of interviews with the people closest to Ashman, including his sister, mother, best friend, lover, and colleagues. You definitely leave the film with a sense of who Ashman was, how he was formed, and what his life and work meant to those around him.

Interestingly, there are no talking heads in Howard, except in the archive footage. Hahn uses the interviews as voiceover narration only. This keeps the piece visually interesting and focused on the past, when Ashman was alive, though viewers may miss seeing the speakers as they are today. Hahn also takes a bit of a risk with some staged scenes, including a child's room with toys casting long shadows used to evoke Ashman's early gift as a storyteller, and an empty auditorium where Ashman gave an on-stage interview the very night he found out he was sick. These feel a little odd at first, but they turn out to be the most memorable images after the film ends, their symbolism lingering on.

Movie Details

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