Saturday, July 09, 2016

Waking Sleeping Beauty

Directed and narrated by Don Hahn and written by Patrick Pacheco, Waking Sleeping Beauty is about the period of Walt Disney Studios in which they endured a creative decline in the late 70s and early 80s that would eventually lead to the Disney Renaissance from 1989 to 1999. Featuring numerous audio interviews from animators and those that were part of Disney during that period, the film documents a company trying to reinvent itself in the wake of a decline. The result is a fascinating and exhilarating film from Don Hahn.

In the late 1970s, Walt Disney Studios and its animation department was going through a decline under the supervision of Walt Disney’s son-in-law Ron Miller as well as the departure of animator Don Bluth who took several animators with him further delaying the production of The Fox and the Hound. Following a management shakeup in the early 80s and the commercial failure of The Black Cauldron, Roy E. Disney brought in Michael Eisner and Frank Wells as chairman and president, respectively while Jeffrey Katzenberg was brought in by Eisner to head its animation department. The film is about what Eisner, Wells, and Katzenberg did to help Disney resurrect itself following a period of decline as well as almost being bought by other forces that led to the Disney Renaissance from 1989 to the end of the 20th Century.

Using mostly archival and home video footage with some of the latter that was shot by future Pixar co-founder John Lasseter and animator Joe Ranft as well as archival audio interviews. Don Hahn, who was an animator and later a producer for some of the films that was part of the Disney Renaissance, would reveal exactly what was happening as well as some of the uneasy moments and tension that had occurred upon the arrival of Eisner leading the pack. Many of the animators as well as audio interviews from Eisner and Katzenberg revealed the state of what Disney was in as well as how slow things were. By the time The Little Mermaid turned things around where it was a massive success thanks in some part to the songwriting team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. Disney was also trying to experiment with new technology in digital animation where their first experiment in The Rescuers Down Under was a commercial failure yet it urge the animators and Katzenberg to push the boundaries more for Beauty and the Beast which became the company’s biggest success at the time.

Despite the successes that were starting to emerge that would include Aladdin and The Lion King, there was this growing tension between Eisner, Roy E. Disney, and Katzenberg over management as the peacekeeper of the group had been Frank Wells and some said the beginning of the end of this period of rebuilding was when Wells died in a helicopter crash in April of 1994. Months later after not being chosen to succeed Wells as well as getting a lot of credit for making Disney Animation successful again. Katzenberg would resign just the day after The Lion King premiered despite the fact that he had just won the trust and adulation of the animators whom he had a testy relationship with at first.

Hahn’s direction definitely says a lot into that period where he never films any new footage as a way to capture a period in time where the company was trying to find himself. With the aid of editors Ellen Keneshea, Vartan Nazarian, and John Damien Ryan as well as Sound editor Frank E. Eulner who would help compile many of the audio interviews. The film’s music by Chris P. Bacon helps play into the many different periods with its low-key approach to jazz and orchestral pieces to play into its evolution as well as create variations of music from other films.

Waking Sleeping Beauty is a marvelous film from Don Hahn. Fans of Disney Animation and Disney history will see this as essential while it is also a compelling documentary that explores some of the events that was happening as well as how some came into Disney and what led to them making great films that audiences know and love. In the end, Waking Sleeping Beauty is a sublime film from Don Hahn.

© thevoid99 2016

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