As a musical theatre fan, the name Howard Ashman is very familiar but it has to be said that outside of the Disney renaissance this viewer is not hugely familiar with his work (his song writing partner Alan Menken on the other hand has done a metric tonne of work since Ashman’s passing.) This documentary is a slick, engaging and very loving tribute to a man of huge talent who passed away far too young. It feels like watching the cliff notes version of this story at 95 minutes. This is not a huge issue and the film may encourage those that are interested to do more research into Ashman.
It is one of the better Disney + original offerings but nothing that rises beyond “solid.” This is in part due to the presentation. The does not possess a traditional talking head structure instead opting for a collage of mixed media with a mixture of archival material and specifically recorded audio interviews over the top of the visuals. It offers a good enough implementation of this style but it pales in comparison to the work of someone like British documentarian Asif Kapadia who uses this method incredibly effectively and with much greater emotional impact with Amy and Diego Maradona (Senna is on the watch list.) The other comparison Is with Peter Jacksons They Shall Not Grow Old but given this is one of the best films of the past few years documentary or otherwise this comparison is somewhat unfair. That said if a watcher sees Howard and enjoys it, they should be pointed in the direction of these films for next steps/ further watching to see the films style utilised to its full potential.
Howard is an engaging whistle stop tool through the life of a man with huge talent and who’s death resulted in the extinguishing of a fiercely creative voice far too early. It is worth a watch for musical fans or those that want a strong introduction to the man’s work. The decision to cram everything into a relatively brief runtime and the fact viewers can see this films presentation employed more effectively in other works means like the subject himself it’s a film that never gets to utilise its full promise. It is worth a watch for the cost of subscriber’s monthly fee but nothing exceptional.