February 17, 2011

Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)

AS A CHILD OF THE ‘70S, I grew up in a time when Disney feature films, both animated and live-action, were less than magical. (Nonetheless, two Disney films from that era, Robin Hood and The Cat from Outer Space, still hold a special place in my heart.)

Cut to 1980, and Disney was still on shaky ground. In fact, it would be nearly another decade until the Mouse House roared back with their string of hits between 1989-1994. It’s this journey that is the basis for Waking Sleeping Beauty.

Walt Disney Studios veteran Don Hahn shines a light on Disney animation work during the '80s and '90s, culminating in the box office and critical triumph of The Lion King. In exploring the works of that era through home movies and archive footage, Hahn offers a peek at the careers of top animators of the time, including John Lasseter, Brad Bird, John Musker, Ron Clements, and more.


With Waking Sleeping Beauty, you really feel let in to the world of the Disney animators of the time – a world which, until this film, you only saw as the finished product on the big screen. We become privy to the good and bad times had by the studio throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s, including:
  • The animators despising the “Hollywood takeover” of Disney studios in 1983, particularly former Paramount exec Michael Eisner and his protégé, Jeffrey Katzenberg (right)
  • The millions-over-budget Black Cauldron getting trounced at the box office by The Care Bears Movie in 1985
  • Oliver and Company unfortunately opening the same day in 1988 as former Disney animator Don Bluth’s hit The Land Before Time
  • The creative process of the killer songwriting team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken
  • Behind-the-scenes recording sessions of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast, featuring the stars of each film
  • The growing animosity and dissension between Roy Disney, Eisner, and Katzenberg, which reaches a head at the red-carpet premiere of The Lion King
Hahn cleverly provides new interviews only as audio, with the person’s name in a voice bubble in the corner – avoiding then-and-now visual comparisons of the people and focusing instead on the era being shown on the screen.

One gripe: While it’s right for Hahn to cover Disney’s failures as much as its successes, it’s disappointing to see him spend a large chunk of Waking Sleeping Beauty on forgotten films like Oliver and Company while barely squeezing in The Lion King at the end (and with no coverage of its phenomenal worldwide success).

In telling the story of how Disney studios reclaimed its magical mojo, Waking Sleeping Beauty weaves some movie magic of its own: Even though you know how things turn out, you still find yourself rooting for the animators to win with every new triumph or obstacle that comes their way. It’s a fascinating (though occasionally uneven) recollection of how the Mouse House became mighty once again.

Fun fact: During creation of The Lion King, Katzenberg tells the animators that Pocahontas will be the studio’s next home-run movie; The Lion King “just isn’t working.”


Is it suitable for your kids?
Waking Sleeping Beauty is rated PG, though there’s no objectionable content. The only areas which may need parental guidance for young kids are when the film briefly (yet poignantly) deals with Ashman’s illness and death from AIDS in 1991, and Wells’ death from a helicopter crash in 1994.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she loves Disney and wants to know how they made their magic two decades ago, she’ll enjoy Waking Sleeping Beauty.

Official Trailer:

Waking Sleeping Beauty
* Director: Don Hahn
* Screenwriter: Patrick Pacheco
* Stars: Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Michael Eisner, Roy Disney, Glen Keane, Ron Clements
* MPAA Rating: PG

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Rent Waking Sleeping Beauty from Netflix >>


Retro Hound said...

Never heard of it. Sounds pretty interesting though, may have to check it out. And my kids like Oliver and Co better than The Lion King.

Luke said...

Digging the new design FilmFather!
You should check out the book DisneyWar, it covers a lot of the same ground as this documentary... it's fascinating stuff.

James (SeattleDad) said...

Hey, I like the new look. Especially the banner. Well done.

StuartOhQueue said...

I'm taking an animation course right now and might recommend this to my professor. Digging on the new look, by the way.

FilmFather said...

Thanks for all the positive comments on the new look of FilmFather!

Retro Hound - intriguing that your kids like Oliver and Company more than Lion King. I was pretty harsh on Oliver in my review; maybe I need to give it a second chance...

Luke - I've now got DisneyWar in my queue at my local library. Thanks for the tip!

Jay Amabile said...

I've been waiting to watch this, and I'm glad it's reasonably good. I have it on my queue!


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