on August 11, 2010
I was one of the folks lucky enough to see Waking Sleeping Beauty during its limited theatrical run. I must say I was bowled over by how good it is. I was not expecting a film produced by the studio that was also its subject to be unbiased, but this film does an amazing job of giving you all sides of the story. I am kind of a Disney nut. I've read many, many books on the era this film documents, including "Disney War," and this film made that period more real to me than any of them. I felt like I was a fly on the wall during those days, and that's saying a lot. Where the filmmakers found all of the great historical footage, most of which seems like someone's home movies, is something I'm sure took a lot of doing and I often wonder about. Where did it all come from? And to hear Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg's actual voices discussing that period made it that much more real for me. That is something I've NEVER seen, or rather heard, before. This film is quite an accomplishment and something I think all companies should show to their employees. It's as much about Disney in the 80's and 90's as it is about ego, internal conflict and learning how to share the credit and spotlight. I recommend this film to everyone, whether you're a Disney animation fan or not.
on November 27, 2010
"Waking Sleeping Beauty", is one of three Disney History DVD's released in November 2010, along with "The Boys, The Sherman Brothers' Story" and "Walt & El Grupo". All three are excellent chronicles of Disney History and worth a watch.
"Waking Sleeping Beauty" is about Disney Animation, from their low point right after Black Cauldron to their long string of hits from Roger Rabbit to the Lion King and ends with the resignation of Jeffery Katzenberg. It's pretty much the story of Katzenberg, Roy Disney, Frank Wells and Michael Eisner, principally told by Don Hahn and Peter Schneider, with extensive interviews by all the players during the 70's, 80's and 90's. As to why the documentary, as Schneider put it, "...there was no reason not to tell the truth."
It's not a documentary in the way you think of it. It's a story told of the revival of Disney Animation by the personalities that were actually there, with the artists and animators that never got the recognition they should have. They've been able to dig up an amazing amount of archival footage from that time that tells the story itself. As Hahn put it, "No talking heads," so the interviews are almost always over photos or archival footage, with a balloon at the bottom of the screen indicating who's talking. So instead of watching someone's face, you're watching something in context of what the person is saying. Very different, more entertaining.
If you're a Disney fan like me, you've seen bits and pieces of this documentary in the bonus features of the films involved (Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, etc.), but this movie isn't about a movie, but all the movies, events, personalities and politics of the Disney Animation Studio during that time.
The Bonus Features are as good as the movie itself, from tributes to Roy Disney, Frank Wells, Joe Ranft and Howard Ashman, to Hahn and Schneider's commentary, which is like watching the documentary with more information than is in the film itself.
I might go as far as to say to watch the first bonus feature (Why Wake Sleeping Beauty) before watching the movie itself, to know where Hahn and Schneider is coming from, and the basis for the movie itself. It's also darned funny. :-)
This isn't Disney Fluff or an electronic press kit. If the story is ugly, they show it ugly. But if it's something to celebrate, they make sure to make it shine. If you're a fan of Disney Animation, this is a must see.
on December 7, 2010
Waking Sleeping Beauty - Disney
I always enjoy a great documentary, especially if it is loaded with historical archival footage. The Disney Studios have been releasing impressive quantities of historic material through a wide variety of DVDs and Blu-rays, the most valuable -- I think --, being the DVD tin can collections. "Waking Sleeping Beauty," in a way, is part of this important trend. It is a fascinating and informative independently-made feature that tells the history of how the Disney Studios resurrected their animation movies and, once again, made them money-makers.
The film is meticulously put together by director Don Hahn, who takes us through a step by step process that brought back the dormant animation department. We are immediately told that "from 1984 to 1994, a perfect storm of people and circumstances changed the face of animation forever." It then takes us to the successful opening of "The Lion King" in 1994. From then on, we go all the way to 1980, when the animation department at the Disney Studios was going downhill. A new generation of animators, including Ron Clements, John Musker, Glen Keane, Joe Ranft, Tim Burton, and others, were working at the studios at the time, but little was generated. We see footage of them working and clowning around in their offices. We also see some of the old-timers, such as Don Bluth, Woolie Reitherman, Ollie Johnston, Eric Larson, and others. The studio was run at the time by Ron Miller and Roy Disney, and there was trouble on the horizon. Bluth took some of the young animators with him, to form their own company, and there were threats of take-over by other big players. It was then that Michael Eisner, from Paramount Studios, and Frank Wells, from Warner Brothers, were hired by Disney to save the day. Eisner became the Chairman and Wells the Chief Operating Officer.
The film documents in detail how Eisner and Wells changed the structure of the Disney Studios, to the point that the employees referred to them as the "Hollywood Invasion," due to the business practices that they brought with them. Eisner then brought Jeffrey Katzenberg on board to run Disney's film division. In fact, it was Katzenberg who allegedly said, "We got to wake up Sleeping Beauty." On the other hand, Peter Schneider was hired to save the animation division. With time, and after some mistakes, the team work began to pay off, with the successful releases of `The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," culminating with "The Lion King" in 1994. Along the way, we witness how Spielberg affected the recovery process, how computer animation and Pixar began to make a name, and how songwriters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken left a huge mark with their creativity. Of course, the tension between Roy Disney, Eisner and Katzenberg, which ended with Katzenberg departing the company, is also documented.
"Waking Sleeping Beauty" is gold and a must for all film historians and Disney lovers in general. Hahn, who is one of Disney's star producers, had access to great footage and key personnel. The DVD also includes deleted scenes, a segment about Walt Disney, Studio tours, audio commentaries by Hahn and Peter Schneider, and much more. Released November 30, 2010. (USA, 2009, color, 86 min plus additional materials)
Reviewed on December 6, 2010 by Eric Gonzalez.
on June 8, 2012
A surprisingly open, meticulous walk through the dark days of Disney's legendary animation house. Nearly two decades after Walt's death, the studio's culture was crumbling, with leadership deeply entrenched in the past and a full roster of young challengers nipping at their heels. Through a stunningly thorough collection of time-stamped home video footage and detailed interviews with every major player, (especially impressive considering how many have since passed on) we learn the private story of the studio's darkest hour and celebrate its romantic return to glory. The archival footage alone is astounding stuff, flowing beautifully as a testament to both the unique, energetic personality of the shop and dire circumstances faced by its denizens. That it captured such an important chapter in the company's - and the industry's - long, decorated history is almost too much to believe. Admirably honest, doggedly comprehensive and charmingly human, it's a real eye-opener for anyone with even a passing interest in the stories behind several of animation's watershed moments.