A new documentary streaming on Disney+ details the career of the queer genius who penned some of the most memorable moments for screen and stage. Howard celebrates the life of Howard Ashman, the man who wrote book for Little Shop of Horrors and helped produce and write lyrics for hits such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.
The documentary follows Ashman from his days in Baltimore as a young boy obsessed with theater to his early death in 1991 from heart failure caused by HIV/AIDS. The story is told through archival footage, photographs, and interviews with family and friends.
Howard had teamed with Alan Menken in the early 1970s and the pair soon created the surprise hit and cult classic Little Shop of Horrors. Howard paired again with Menken for The Little Mermaid, which many credit as helping save feature-length animated films at Disney.
"The animation studio was basically shutting down," Jodi Benson, the actor who voiced of Ariel recalled in 2016 according to NPR, noting there wasn't even an "animation division over at the lot" but animators instead were relegated to "these little cubicles in this run-down place" where the artists were sleeping on the floor."
Together, Ashman and Menken helped restore the Disney animated musical tradition. Their three films together were box office hits and the pair received six Academy Award nominations, winning twice.
"In animation history and in musical history, Howard's mark is indelible," a voiceover says in the trailer to the documentary.