Posted by: Katie Davis | February 27, 2010

Review: ‘Waking Sleeping Beauty’

Sometimes the best way to tell a story is to show it. Don Hahn, longtime Disney film producer, and Peter Schneider, ex-president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, did just that with the peel-back-the-covers documentary “Waking Sleeping Beauty.”

Made almost entirely out of archival footage, old photos and interviews with the 1984 to 1994 animation team, the film reveals the inner stumbling blocks, power grabs and eventual successes of the animation team during Disney’s Renaissance.

After the overall box office failures like “Black Cauldron” and “The Great Mouse Detective,” a number of instrumental men – Vice Chairman and legacy-holding Roy Disney, Chief Executive Officer Michael Eisner and ambitious studio chairman Jeff Katzenburg, to name a few – as well as a determined animation team devoted themselves to revitalizing Disney animation and “waking sleeping beauty.” The film looks at the bumps along the way.

Certainly, Hahn and Schneider’s insider access to the homemade and much-coveted footage helped push the film into existence.  Their recorded and more recent interviews fade in and out over the grainy and untampered footage, which include clips like the late Howard Ashman instructing Jodi Benson on how to sing “Part of Your World” with adolescent passion and a brief shot of young Tim Burton glaring at the camera.

Throughout the film, Chris Bacon‘s music is broken up with audio recordings, classic Disney songs and even excerpts of a “60 Minutesinterview with Diane Sawyer. It is clear that “Waking Sleeping Beauty” is carefully put together by Disney’s own with Hahn and Schneider seamlessly inserting different clips, songs and early sketches where appropriate.

As the film shows the rollercoaster struggles and exchanges that occurred between these crucial years, well-matched Disney music and movie scenes appear.

In one of the most beautiful and emotional scenes of the documentary, a few of the different men discuss Howard Ashman’s huge contributions to Disney music, which include lyrics to “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.” Ashman died from AIDS in 1991 before he had screened the complete “Beauty and the Beast” film or seen it nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

In clear nod to Ashman’s influential work, Hahn and Schneider pair the interviews against colorless sketches and an alarmed musical score of the last scene of “Beauty and the Beast.” The sketches change in a flip-book style as Belle cries over the fallen Beast and Ashman’s colleagues cry for their talented friend.

Overall, “Waking Sleeping Beauty” uses rediscovered video, drawings and audio to show the innermost stories of Disney’s Animation Studio from its “Black Cauldron” days to its height of success during the early ’90s.  Cleverly integrating original homemade footage with more recent and revealing interviews, the film brings light to the team’s hard-earned animation success.

Other showings for “Waking Sleeping Beauty”:

Sunday, Feb. 28 / 12:30 p.m. / Forrest Theater

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