Review: Waking Sleeping Beauty documents Disney

Review: Waking Sleeping Beauty documents Disney

Source: AssociatedPress

By: Jake Coyle

Critic's Rating: 3/5

Friday 26 March 2010

Movie Title

Review: Waking Sleeping Beauty documents Disney


Don Hahn

Star Cast

Tim Burton, John Lasseter, Don Bluth, John Musker, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy Edward Disney, Michael Eisner, Christopher Emerson

Oh, what simpler times they were when Disney was trotting out movies like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King every year.

Those bright, colorful animations, arriving annually like clockwork, defined the late `80s and early `90s as much as hair bands and Madonna. It was a seemingly unstoppable run of quirky sidekicks, hummable tunes and magical candelabras.

The documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty is a behind-the-scenes look at Disney animation during those heady times. The streak from 1984 to 1994 also produced Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.

Looking back now from the Pixar era, it seems a long time ago, indeed.

Made by the Walt Disney Company and directed and narrated by longtime Disney producer Don Hahn (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King), Waking Sleeping Beauty is an unabashed bit of navel gazing.

It's surely self-aggrandizing to recall one's own glory so ardently, especially when it centers on things ? glorious though they are ? like a parrot voiced by Gilbert Gottfried and a crab with a Jamaican accent.

But it's also a good story and includes more insider intrigue than you might expect. There's plenty here on the feuding between the Disney executives who presided over the restoration of Disney's animation pre-eminence: Roy Disney, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. (Less quarrelsome was Frank Wells, the mountain-climbing president whose death in a helicopter crash in 1994 is depicted here as the end of this era.)

Eisner, Katzenberg and Disney, who died in December, agreed to interviews for the film and, for the most part, speak candidly ? if politely ? about their work together. To give some sense of objectivity, the interviews for the film were conducted by veteran journalist Patrick Pacheco.

The focus on the business side of things (fawning over the box-office for The Lion King, for example), takes some of the fun out of Waking Sleeping Beauty. Certainly, the leadership of these executives was critical to rebuilding Disney animation, but it's less riveting than hearing about the creation of Ariel and other indelible characters.

Much of the film does maintain the perspective of the rank-and-file animators. It's stuffed with grainy home movies of office life on the Disney lot, water cooler griping and ? best of all ? caricature drawings by the animators of their bosses. It's an eccentric, very male and undeniably geeky bunch: One video shows the animators recreating Apocalypse Now in their cubicles. Some of the video was shot by John Lasseter as a young animator. (He would go on to oversee Pixar and become chief creative officer of Disney animation.) A young Tim Burton also makes a cameo.

The segment of the film devoted to Howard Ashman, the musical theater playwright and lyricist recruited to craft the music for The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, is one of the movie's best. There's a great joy in seeing him introduce his vision of Under the Sea, imagining the musical creatures and tapping his foot to the beat. There lies the biggest success of Waking Sleeping Beauty: its depiction of the fraught, passionate and idiosyncratic collaborative process of animation.

There are only hints (like the digital flop Rescuers Down Under) of the changes that will later revolutionize the medium.

The yearly comfort of animated excellence now comes from Pixar's releases, which Disney shares in, having acquired the company in 2006. Those films ? from Ratatouille to Toy Story 2 ? constitute a higher plane of art. One might even call it the circle of life, or something.

Waking Sleeping Beauty, a Walt Disney Motion Picture Studios release, is rated PG for some thematic elements and brief mild language.

Running time: 86 minutes

Rating: Three stars out of four

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