"Waking Sleeping Beauty" takes us behind the scenes of the fledgling animation department at Disney in the mid-80s and how a creative team of artists and executives raised it from the ashes. After box office flop such as "The Black Cauldron", things got so bad the department was kicked out of the animation building Walt Disney built himself.
Standing at a crossroad, instead of packing things in, they brought in Jeffrey Katzenberg to head the department and added Howard Ashman whose songs breathed new life into each and every new film.
It wasn't all roses for the animators though. The years were plagued by bitter feuds, backbiting tactics and a clash of egos that ultimately created a perfect storm that produced the some of the most successful films in the history of Disney.
Beginning with "The Great Mouse Detective" in 1988, Disney began to produce a string of films that resurrected the animation department with hits like "The Little Mermaid" and reached it peak with "Beauty and the Beast" in 1991. The film was the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.
What's so fascinating about "Waking Sleeping Beauty" is the people who were there and use vintage footage from the time tell it. Instead of talking heads sitting in front of cameras, we see the depths of joy and despair the animators went through as their vision faded and almost disappeared.
It's nice to get to know the personalities behind the trio of Katzenberg, Michael Eisner and Roy E. Disney. I was always under the impression Roy E. Disney was a player at Disney because of name alone, but his passion to keep animation at the heart is powerful and his role was more essential to its renaissance than I ever knew.
"Waking Sleeping Beauty" is an, at times, brutally honest portrayal of how things went at Disney during perhaps the most turbulent time in its history.
The disc features the bonus material "Why Wake Sleeping Beauty," "A Reunion," "Deleted Scenes" and an audio commentary with director Don Hahn and producer Peter Schneider. A few of my favorite extras are "The Sailor, The Mountain Climber, The Artist and The Poet," a featurette which pays tribute to Roy Disney, Frank Wells, Howard Ashman and Joe Ranft.
Also the "Studio Tours" that showcases the studio in the years throughout the '80s and early '90s and "Walt" which pays tribute to the innovative founder of Disney Studios.
Final Cut: It amazing how the more things change, the more they stay the same. The parallels told in "Waking Sleeping Beauty" to the early years at the studio are striking and it's as much of a cautionary tale as a tale of inspiration. Hahn and Schneider are to be commended for preserving such a intriguing and important era of one of the most successful studios in history.
5 out of 5 stars
Starring: Jeffrey Katzenberg, Michael Eisner, Roy E. Disney, Don Hahn, Peter Schneider, Howard Ashman, John Lasseter
Director: Don Hahn
Writer: Patrick Pacheco