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Waking Sleeping Beauty DVD Review

Editor: Don’t forget to enter our giveaway contest for three Disney Documentary DVDs before December 13th.

Every once in awhile, you see a Disney movie that is really special. Now, I’m not saying that every Disney movie doesn’t have a unique place in our lives. I enjoy every one a little more than the last! However, there are always a few that really touches your heart in such a way that it makes it hard for others to truly understand.

While on the surface it doesn’t feature a princess, musical numbers, or a dastardly villain, Waking Sleeping Beauty is the latest Disney film that I really connected with. Director Don Hahn and Producer Peter Schneider have crafted a wonderful portrait of what life was like as a Disney animator from the early 80s to the mid 90s. Both of them experienced it first hand, so who better to tell this story?

Disney is known for being notoriously guarded when talking about its internal struggles, so it was refreshing to see this documentary lay it all out on the table, without an ounce of sugar coating covering the bad times. Being an animator was tough in the early 80s, as Walt Disney Productions wasn’t exactly on the top of their game back then. For a company that was built on the back of strong, animated features, their string of financial flops was taking its toll on business.

The film opens with home video footage of the studio during the 80s, showing off a cast of unique characters that look like they should be in a Disney film rather than animating them. No matter how much time we spend with each, all of the animators come off as a wacky, fun group that you definitely wouldn’t mind hanging out with. You can tell by their enthusiasm that each knows how incredibly lucky they are to be working at Disney and that they truly do enjoy their jobs. These rare, behind the scenes looks at the animation department may just be the highlights of the entire film. So much so that three separate tours are included in their entirety the special features (my personal favorite is a look at a very young AND very confused looking Tim Burton!).

As any Disney fan will know, there was major animosity between Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Roy Disney. I won’t get into too much detail here, but I will let you know that the film does an amazing job of providing new insight into their trials and tribulations, and will definitely provide some new insights into the major shakeup we are all so familiar with.

Another fantastic thing the film does is show what a major impact the song writing & composing team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken had on the Walt Disney Company during that time. They both had a significant influence in the direction the films took, bringing the enchantment of the musical animated feature back to Walt Disney Productions.

I mentioned before that on the surface, this isn’t your typical Disney film. However, if you really look into it, you can definitely find pieces that fit into the Disney formula. While not exactly a princess, the entire animation department can be seen as the damsel in distress, not knowing if their jobs would still be there tomorrow. Some of the musical numbers from the various movies of that time can provide an interesting insight into what exactly was going on at the studio. As for a villain, you can definitely label Eisner or Katzenberg for that role, depending on the situation.

Hahn, in his directorial debut, makes an incredibly interesting choice with the interviews provided. Unlike most documentaries, which show the person speaking on screen about the past, Hahn never shows that footage at all. Instead, he overlays their audio over stills and archival footage from that time, often depicting the event they are speaking about. This adds an extra layer of authenticity to the film, allowing us to actually SEE the events unfold before us, rather than just listen to a bunch of talking heads tell us about it.

I really must mention again how there is no sugar coating here at all. Everyone interviewed is extremely candid, especially about topics they were known to not want to speak of before. Having Eisner and Katzenberg actually tell their own stories definitely give the film an air it otherwise might not have had.
This is probably the most in-depth film we will ever have about what really goes on behind the scenes at the Walt Disney Animation department. Not only that, but this is one of the most comprehensive films about movie making, period. Major kudos to Hahn & Schneider for pulling it off, and for Disney in general for allowing them to tell this masterpiece the way they did.

I cannot recommend Waking Sleeping Beauty enough, for Disney fans, and for fans of animation & film in general. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and go watch it today.

Editor: Don’t forget to enter our giveaway contest for three Disney Documentary DVDs before December 13th.

5 thoughts on “Waking Sleeping Beauty DVD Review”

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  4. I, too, could not even BEGIN to recommend this film enough — I’ve always been an avid fan of Disney and animation but the amount of detail in this documentary is astonishing. Not to mention how even-handed it is, telling ALL sides of the story (really something that is rarely seen). Thanks for a great article — more points to give my friends when convincing them to watch it with me!

  5. Thanks to the generosity of a friend, my kids and I were able to view a screening of this documentary at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum last March. The screening was followed by a Q&A with Don Hahn and Peter Schneider that was even more fascinating than the film; a real treat to be in the presence of Disney-level creative talent. My eldest even got Don’s autograph on her ticket.

    If you are at all interested in Disney film making and the film making process, as well as the turbulence going on between Eisner, Katzenberg, and Roy, you need to see this film. Now that the documentary is on DVD, it will certainly be added to our collection.

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