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Waking Sleeping Beauty

Waking Sleeping Beauty

Directed by: Don Hahn Cast: Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Schneider Running Time: 1 hr 25 mins Rating: PG Release Date:  September 24, 2010 (limited)

PLOT: A documentary about the rise of Disney's animation studio, from the depths of the early '80's to the heights of the mid-'90s.

WHO'S IT FOR? Anyone who loved the Disney animation of the late '80/ early '90s, like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.  So everyone.

EXPECTATIONS: Didn't know much about the film, but everything I've heard about the power struggles between Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg sound fascinating.  Plus so many great filmmakers came out of the Disney in the early '80s, including Tim Burton, John Lasseter and Don Bluth.



Michael Eisner as himself:  I remember Eisner as the kind, fatherly man who used to the introduce the Disney Sunday Movie.  He was always hanging out with Mickey and Goofy, how could he be a bad guy?  Then he had a pretty massive falling out with Jeffrey Katzenberg, and later the rest of the Disney Company, and was portrayed as a monster.  This film falls somewhere in between.  CEO's tend to be overconfident and Eisner has that in spades, he seems to feel that he totally deserves the job and accolades.  But he doesn't seem to be the demon that he was made to be by the press in later years.  Though the filmmakers seem to have unlimited access to the Disney archives, they don't have any recent interviews with Eisner and I'd love to hear what he has to say now. Score: 7

Jeffrey Katzenberg as himself:  Katzenberg is pretty famous now as one of the three founders of Dreamworks, but he was well known in the early '90s too.  He took a lot of the credit for Disney Animation's resurgence.  The film makes a case that he probably didn't deserve all that credit, and his need for attention may have hastened the demise of the department.  We get even less of a sense of his side of the story than of Eisner's which is disappointing. Score: 6

Peter Schneider as himself: He's a less famous character than the other guys, but apparently very instrumental in the rise of the animation department, and probably the executive who was the most hands on.  We don't really get much of a sense of who he is though.  He had a rough start, and there are some amusing stories about him (with cartoon accompaniment, it must be hard to be a boss of cartoonists).  So yeah, my complaint here is the same as for everyone else.  How does he feel now? Score: 6/10

TALKING: The filmmakers do a good job of turning the film into a pretty linear story, despite the fact that there are a lot of events happening in different places at the same time.  Animators are pretty articulate people.

Score: 7/10

SIGHTS: Getting an inside look at the Disney studios, both in good times and in bad is fascinating.  And the animation is gorgeous, of course, even when it's only pencil sketches. Score: 8/10

SOUNDS: The film shows footage of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken working on early versions of the songs for The Little Mermaid, which are great.  If you're a fan of the movies, it's really just awesome to watch these scenes.  I got a little tingly. Score: 9/10


BEST SCENE:  The aforementioned scene of Ashman and Menken singing clips from "Part of Your World" is really special.

ENDING: It ends on a high, with the release of The Lion King, but unfortunately that doesn't answer why the studio has lost it's mojo in recent years and released dreck like Home on the Range and Chicken Little.  I suppose that's enough for a whole second film, but I was left wanting more.

QUESTIONS:  Why doesn't Disney make films like this anymore?  Actually, The Princess and the Frog was great, so why didn't more people go see it?  Where is the future of Disney Animation heading?

REWATCHABILITY:  I watched the film with my Dad and as soon as it was done, he asked to borrow it so he could show it to my Mom.  I wouldn't mind watching it with her, it's very entertaining and a good story.


Disney Films played a hugely important role in my childhood, their films established the fairy tales I would grow up believing in.  I grew up on Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and for better or worse, they helped make me the woman I am today.  Watching this film was like looking at a film about your parent's marriage, except without the sex (thank God).  Even though the film shows a bunch of busy hardworking people, they seem really happy because they know they're making magic.  I'm not usually so sentimental, but the films this studio made in this period were magical, despite all the arguing and money men, it looks like fun to be there.  It's a well made film about a really interesting subject and I loved it.


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