Waking Sleeping Beauty 

Mouse Appeal: Waking Sleeping Beauty acknowledges that not everything at Disney was a fairy tale.

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Over the years, no movie-industry entity has been as careful at preserving its image as Disney. So, it’s a pleasant surprise that Disney’s in-house account of the rebirth of its animation division, Waking Sleeping Beauty, acknowledges that not everything was a fairy tale.

Disney veteran Don Hahn—who produced Beauty and the Beast—directs and narrates this tale that primarily covers 1984 to 1994. The opening bracket of that time frame is the post-Black Cauldron low point that marked the hiring of Michael Eisner as Disney chairman and Jeffrey Katzenberg as head of the animation division; the closing bracket is the year The Lion King became the highest-grossing animated feature ever. We also meet the key players who changed the Disney animation culture in ways that would have lasting impact.

Hahn makes the most of his access to great archival material, including home movies shot by a young Disney animator and future Pixar boss named John Lasseter—capturing, among others, a morose-looking fellow named Tim Burton at his Disney desk. There are also priceless snippets of lyricist Howard Ashman coaching Little Mermaid’s Ariel, Jodi Benson, on her performance of “Part of Your World,” and perfecting the tempo-building finale for Beauty and the Beast’s “Be Our Guest.”

But Hahn also digs into the ego battles between Eisner, Katzenberg and Roy Disney over who deserved credit for the resurgence, generally covering most of the material from James B. Stewart’s 2005 book DisneyWar. He also explores the way success led to pushing animators to the breaking point, despite token efforts by Katzenberg to appear sympathetic. The warts-and-all approach makes the account feel more trustworthy, and while Hahn comes to too abrupt of a conclusion—failing to look at the fallout from Katzenberg’s departure—he still winds up with a solid tale of how a once-dying art form now appears ready to live happily ever after.


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Rated PG

Scott Renshaw:

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