DVD REVIEW: Waking Sleeping Beauty
Illuminating documentary on inner workings of Disney...
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When looking back at the legacy of Disney animation, it’s difficult to imagine that things were ever bad or unraveling at the seams. How could it? This is the studio that brings us animated films year after year no matter what. It’s the magic machine! But a few decades after Walt Disney’s death, the studio wasn’t in the greatest shape. In the early ‘80s, Disney’s Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron were getting beat in its own game by competitors such as the Care Bears Movie and Steven Spielberg’s An American Tale. But who could blame them? The films Disney was putting out just weren't resonating. Oliver & Company and The Great Mouse Detective soon followed and did well but it was The Little Mermaid that cried out to the world “Disney is back!”
[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyeoyRjEiUU"]Waking Sleeping Beauty[/ame]
In WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY, director Don Hahn and producing partner Peter Schneider brings us a documentary that details the people and events that lead to what is now being called “the golden renaissance of animation”. This perfect storm was conjured up by a mixture of personalities and egos that would change Disney’s culture and the face of entertainment forever with the titles The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, all blockbusters and incredible money makers for the company.
It was Roy E. Disney, nephew of Walt, who brought the shake-up at the company, bringing in Michael Eisner, an executive at Paramount, and Frank Wells, an executive at Warner Brothers to be the new heads of the Walt Disney Company. Eisner then brought in Jeffrey Katzenberg (yes, he’s the K of Dreamworks SKG) to head up the fledgling animation division. Katzenberg had no experience in animation but soon learned the faith and pushed the artists to do better. And they did. Key talent were hired after that lead to even more key people to become involved, including lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken.
Waking Sleeping Beauty is told using home movies (many shot by animator Randy Cartwright and John Lasseter), news footage, and a series of new interviews of the folks who were there during the time. This rare combination of talent (among them story artist Joe Ranft) turned the Disney Animation Studio into an incredible force. But all good things come to an end, and during the ten year period of 1984 to 1994, it all comes spiraling down just as things were looking their best to the fans and audiences outside. Lyricist Howard Ashman died during the making of Beauty and the Beast from complications with AIDS. Keeper of the peace Frank G. Wells died in a helicopter crash and the relations between Eisner, Roy Disney, and Katzenberg swelled, causing the latter to leave and start up Dreamworks Animation.
If this stunning film makes us feel like we were there to experience the joys and sorrows, that’s as it should be as both director Don Hahn and producer Peter Schneider were there for it all. It’s a rare thing to get the full scoop on the inner workings of a company, especially one like Disney, but there’s a lot that can be learned from Waking Sleeping Beauty.
Waking Sleeping Beauty is now available on Disney DVD and comes with a generous portion of bonus features.
* Bonus collectible artwork by Kirk Wise of when Howard Ashman excoriates Kirk and Gary Trousdale during a Beauty and the Beast story meeting.
* Why Wake Sleeping Beauty? - The filmmakers discuss why this movie had to be made, how they came to the structure of the film, and why they are the only folks who could have made this movie.
* Deleted Scenes - Six scenes that were cut from the film due to length: “Black Friday”, “Howard’s Lecture”, “Losing Howard”, “Recording ‘Part of Your World’”, “Research Trips”, “To Sir with Love”.
* The Sailor, The Mountain Climber, The Artist and The Poet - The film is dedicated to Roy Disney, Frank G. Wells, Joe Ranft, and Howard Ashman, talented individuals whose lives were memorialized in this documentary. This featurette tells us more about who they were.
* Studio Tours - Animator Randy Cartwright had a knack for taking home movies of the Walt Disney Studios when he wasn’t allowed to, but thankfully he did. Three of his films can be seen here.
* A Reunion - Kirk Wise, co-director of Beauty and the Beast and Rob Minkoff, co-director of The Lion King were friends in Jr. High and now reunite to share their old stories and of their animation career.
* Walt - The filmmakers and others talk about Walt Disney the man, including the age old question: “What would Walt think?”
* Audio Commentary by Director Don Hahn and Producer Peter Schneider - If the film itself wasn’t enough, the audio commentary is another resource of information and trivia. Even more interview tracks from key players are played for your listening enjoyment. This is a fascinating commentary.
Waking Sleeping Beauty
Buena Vista Home Entertainment