This is my entry for “W” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “W” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Wattstax, What Happened, Miss Simone?, Wild Africa, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, and Word Wars.
Title: Waking Sleeping Beauty
Release Date: September 6, 2009
Director: Don Hahn
Production Company: Stone Circle Pictures
Waking Sleeping Beauty is the behind-the-scenes story of the Walt Disney Animation Studios from 1984 to 1994, a period known as the Disney Renaissance. At the beginning of this time period, Disney animated films were commercial and critical flops, budgets for new movies were slashed, and the animation division had fewer than 200 employees, and the animation division was even kicked out of their traditional building at the studios. There was an uncomfortable divide between a few older animators left from the time of Walt Disney himself, younger recent graduates of the Cal Arts program who wanted to try new things, and lingering effects of Don Bluth leaving and taking several animators with him to create a competing studio. There was talk of closing the animation division for good, which may have also signaled an end to animated feature films throughout the industry.
At the end of this period, Walt Disney Animation Studios had released a string of commercially and critically successful films that equalled, and perhaps even surpassed, anything produced during Disney’s lifetime. These movies include The Little Mermaid, Beauty and Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. Music from these Broadway-style movies became part of the American songbook, awards were received, and Beauty and the Beast became the first animated feature nominated for a best picture Oscar. The animation division grew to five times as many employees, got a brand new building, and satellite studios opened in Florida and Europe. Animated feature films were once again recognized as culturally and fiscally viable for wide audiences.
Waking Sleeping Beauty documents these changes relying on archival footage, especially home videos the animators made while working in the studios. The film is also illustrated with caricatures that the animators drew of their bosses at the time, which provide a comical and insightful view of what they thought of tensions within the studio at the time. Don Hahn, who produced many successful Disney Renaissance films, directs and narrates the documentary and Hahn co-produces Waking Sleeping Beauty with Peter Schneider, who was president of Walt Disney Feature Animation from 1985 to 1999.
Key figures featured in the film include Roy E. Disney (son of Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney and Walt’s nephew who served as vice chairman and chairman of the animation department during this period), who sought to fend of corporate takeovers of Disney by bringing in Frank Wells from Warner Brothers as President, and Michael Eisner from Paramount as CEO. Eisner also brought Jeffrey Katzenberg with him from Paramount to take over the motion pictures division. Over the years tensions grew as Roy E. Disney saw Katzenberg as taking too much credit for Disney’s success, and Eisner and Katzenberg’s relationship also became strained. Wells was the peacemaker, but died in a tragic helicopter crash in 1994, and Katzenberg left Disney when Eisner refused to promote him to Wells’ position. This signaled the end of the Disney Renaissance.
The movie focuses Howard Ashman and Alan Menken who composed and wrote the music that was a key factor to the success of the Disney Renaissance film’s reinvention of animated features in the Broadway musical style. Ashman’s death from AIDS in 1991 is also a solemn and tragic moment during the film. While The Little Mermaid, Beauty and Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King are the key movies of the Disney Renaissance, other films in the period are documented for their importance to the studio’s revival. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is recognized for its innovative hybrid of animation and live action (and also was a big money-maker). The Rescuers Down Under, while not commercially successful, introduced the new CAPS system, making it the first fully computer animated feature, and the first time Disney worked with Pixar. Tim Burton, seen as a young animator at Disney early in this movie, returns to collaborate with Walt Disney Studios on his stop-motion animated film The Nightmare Before Christmas.
What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:
While not in-depth, this is an interesting glimpse into the animation process. One particularly poignant scene discusses the effects of working on hand-animated films, with Disney animators dedicating long hours to drawing, and developing carpal tunnel and other injuries.
If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:
The most obvious thing to do is watch a Walt Disney Animated Feature! Or several!
2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution
T: Titicut Follies
U: Unforgivable Blackness
If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:
- 2016: A journey through my neighborhood of Jamaica Plain in Boston.
- 2017: A spontaneous photograph each day.
- 2018: Watched and reviewed documentary movies.
And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:
- Book Reviews
- Movie Reviews
- Beer Reviews
- Music Reviews and Writing
- City Stories, expository writing about my experiences in various cities
And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.