Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)

There's this little company called Disney, merchandising giant and manipulator of children the world over. A small subset of this behemoth is known for producing beautiful animated musicals- fun for the whole family. In the 1970's and early 80's, this animation studio was on the brink of crumbling in favor of live action movies, and it took a lot of management shifting and dedicated artists to bring it into what became known as its "renaissance". In Waking Sleeping Beauty, the trials of this motley group of animators- which at times included Tim Burton and John Lasseter- are explored in detail through interviews with employees and helpful narration from longtime Disney producer Don Hahn. There's a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage of the animators at work (much of it shot by Lasseter) and rough footage of several classic films. It all builds to the release of The Lion King, a great success for the studio that hid a lot of losses and management quarrels behind it.

As much as I hate Disney as a corporation, I do truly appreciate their significant contribution to the animation medium. I was a little kid when this "renaissance" was taking place, so I was really excited to see the grown-up take on some of my favorite childhood films. The enthusiastic Don Hahn has crafted a respectful, loving documentary with lively narration and a lot of awesome footage of storyboarding, character designs, and early versions of some well-known films. There's also attention paid to the musical score composition by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken of films like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, which was something I hadn't expected to be covered in detail. A good chunk of the interviews are pure audio, played over scenes of the films or the animators and producers in their younger days- crazy haircuts and all. It was a nice step away from constant scenes of middle-aged white dudes gabbing to the camera (as is the case with some documentaries), but also made me lose track of who some of the speakers actually were (which would have happened either way- I forget most information five seconds after hearing it).

Much of Waking Sleeping Beauty focuses on the managerial relationships and frictions between consultant Roy E. Disney, CEO Michael Eisner, President and COO Frank Wells, and Studio Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, which doesn't sound interesting on paper but translates well onscreen through the insightful interviews and old video footage. I knew very little about the inner workings of Disney as a company, so it was a lot of new information told in a digestible, but not dumbed-down, way. Sure, I was still left with some questions regarding certain people and events, but that happens with basically every documentary. Hahn chose a specific manner of presenting his tale, and by focusing on the individual people who made these classic films, he easily communicated the love for the films themselves.

It's an insanely informative and compelling documentary, and I came out with a deeper appreciation for movies that many of us may take for granted now, and even more so for the numerous hard workers behind their creation. What really depresses me is that the proclaimed "death of animation" that Disney pushed itself out of in the 90's is essentially back, with audiences and major studios almost exclusively favoring CG films. Disney did stop making cel animation for a while, and The Princess and The Frog didn't do well enough for them to push forward with many more 2-D (or openly womencentric) offerings. I know there'll always be independent artists working in non-CG animated media but without the most well-known and well-respected animation company putting out 2-D films, there's not much hope for big-budget mainstream films like those so lovingly detailed in Waking Sleeping Beauty.


Pair This Movie With: Well I walked out of there just ready to revisit all of my old Disney favorites (it's a good advertisement in that way). I'm going with Beauty and the Beast since it's the most precious to me personally, and the biggest achievement for Disney at the time.


  1. This makes me want to watch something Disney ASAP.

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