Waking Sleeping Beauty

Entertaining documentary about Walt Disney Animation between 1984 and 1994 – from its nadir after the Black Cauldron debacle to its zenith with The Lion King – packed with information, colorful characters, and a really startling amount of rare footage.

As one might guess, the only way a documentary like this could license all those priceless clips of Disney films and behind-the-scenes antics would be if it were produced by the studio itself. But Waking Sleeping Beauty is hardly a promotional film for the Mouse House; not once does Hahn, a longtime Disney insider, tiptoe around the hard truths of the company during this crucial period, and all the egos, doubts, failures, and tragedies are right up there on the screen along with the good stuff. The story is brought to life not only by interviews with the many larger-than-life personalities involved (including the late Roy E. Disney, last of the old guard, and former Paramount execs Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who were brought in to save the company and did just that), but also with hilarious caricatures of these same people by the crafty, often beleaguered animators they oversaw.

I may have a stronger connection to this film than some, as it was right in the middle of this period when I attended the animation program at CalArts (a school built with Walt Disney's money), and I was there at a special screening for the students where Katzenberg himself introduced The Little Mermaid, after which we all knew something huge was about to happen – not just for Disney but for commercial animation itself. Still, I'm no cheerleader for the studio, and in fact after shrugging off Beauty and the Beast (unlike the rest of the world), I didn't even see any more of their "Second Golden Age" cartoons. But take it from me: Whether you were raised on these films or avoided them like the plague, Waking Sleeping Beauty is a fascinating account of how a motion picture studio turned itself around, and the players who made it happen. I recommend it to anybody who enjoys a good movie.