Robin's Movie Review: New Disney+ Films Emphasize Music

Aug 14, 2020

The Disney+ channel released two in-depth projects demonstrating the evolution of the company’s musical endeavors.

At first glance, a documentary about a lyricist bears little in common with an extended music video by a hairdresser’s daughter. However, superstar singer Beyoncé’s Black Is King owes some inspiration to the subject of the documentary found in Howard by Disney producer Don Hahn.

Though lacking an innovative approach, the documentary enlightens viewers about Howard Ashman’s process that helped him reinvigorate Disney’s animated features. With access to Disney archives, plus cooperation from Ashman’s friends and family, Hahn paints a detailed picture of a creative genius who won Grammys and Oscars, and probably would have added Emmys and Tonys to the mix if AIDS hadn’t killed him before he turned forty.

Ashman brought his Broadway musical sensibility to The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, plus Beauty and the Beast. These works paved the way for Disney to make The Lion King and begin a new pattern of production with the animated hit justifying a Broadway version, and ultimately a live-action remake.

The Lion King epitomizes this cycle, eventually bringing Beyoncé into the picture when she voiced the computer-generated remake last year. Spinning a riff on the story of royalty sent off in youth and returning to rule later, she weaves her own music and stunning visuals into a feature-length visual album. Her glamorous physical beauty, firm voice and graceful movements only hint at what comes next. 

Heading a huge team with a budget that could fund a couple of countries, Beyoncé expands on her previous album called The Lion King: The Gift and infuses each song with a potpourri of sound and imagery that raises each to a higher level. Surreal in its storytelling, Black Is King dispenses with dialogue, as singers, dancers, locations and costumes flow with dreamlike energy.

Both Black Is King and the documentary Howard delivers a feast for the eyes and ears.

Robin Holabird is a former film commissioner for the Nevada Film Office and a longtime KUNR entertainment reviewer. Catch her commentary Fridays during Fresh Air, between 2:37 and 2:47 p.m.