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Don Hahn
Writing Credits:
Patrick Pacheco

From 1984 to 1994 a perfect storm of people and circumstances changed the face of animation forever.

By the mid-1980s, the fabled animation studios of Walt Disney had fallen on hard times. The artists were polarized between newcomers hungry to innovate and old timers not yet ready to relinquish control. These conditions produced a series of box-office flops and pessimistic forecasts - maybe the best days of animation were over. Maybe the public didn't care. Only a miracle or a magic spell could produce a happy ending. Waking Sleeping Beauty is no fairy tale. It's the true story of how Disney regained its magic with a staggering output of hits - The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and more - over a 10-year period.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$33.115 thousand on 5 screens.
Domestic Gross
$80.172 thousand.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 85 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 11/30/2010

• Audio Commentary with Director Don Hahn, Producer Peter Schneider and Guests
• “Why Wake Sleeping Beauty?” Featurette
• “The Sailor, The Mountain Climber, The Artist and The Poet” Featurette
• “A Reunion” Featurette
• “Walt” Featurette
• Vintage Studio Tours
• Deleted Scenes
• Previews
• Collectible Litho


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 9, 2010)

After Walt’s death in 1966, the Disney studios found themselves somewhat adrift. For years, they churned out fairly subpar animated flicks that seemed less and less relevant among the modern cinematic marketplace – until 1989, when The Little Mermaid launched the studio’s rejuvenation.

2010’s Waking Sleeping Beauty takes a look at this topic via the usual array of archival materials and interviews. Narrated by producer Don Hahn, we get notes from former Walt Disney Feature Animation president Peter Schneider, former Disney executive Roy E. Disney, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, Disney Theatrical Group president Thomas Schumacher, composer Alan Menken, former Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook, and animators/filmmakers Ron Clements, Rob Minkoff, Glen Keane, Mike Gabriel, Roger Allers, Dave Pruiksma, Gary Trousdale, George Scribner, John Musker, Mark Kimball, Kirk Wise, and Lisa Keene.

Waking essentially starts in the early 1980s and shows its status at that time. The film traces various shakeups among executives and attempts to kick-start the animation division. The meat of the movie follows 1984-1994, as we trace the problematic production of 1985’s The Black Cauldron and go through elements of 1986’s Great Mouse Detective, 1988’s Oliver & Company and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

This leads to the breakthrough with Little Mermaid and moves to 1990’s Rescuers Down Under, 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, 1992’s Aladdin, and Lion King. The piece looks at executive complications along the way, and those include the problems that ensued after the sudden death of Disney COO Frank Wells in spring 1994.

Given that Waking comes from two longtime Disney employees, one might worry that it’ll offer nothing more than a Happy Happy Sunny Sunny examination of the topic. To my relief, that’s not the case. While not the most “warts and all” documentary one can imagine, it does seem determined to expose the chinks in the Disney armor.

In a weird way, I suspect the close ties shared by Hahn and Schneider – this film’s director and producer, respectively – may’ve helped make it more balanced. While someone with no connection to the studio might’ve gone whole hog after the negative material, they may have felt more compelled to keep things balanced. They avoid making the movie either a white wash or a hatchet job; it feels quite balanced in its look behind the scenes.

Waking works best when it looks at the executive politics or the atmosphere at the studio. Oh, the comments related to the creation of the various movies give us some nice info, but they rarely stretch beyond the boundaries of the supplements on those respective DVDs. Waking obviously doesn’t have enough time to investigate the different films in depth, so it just throws out some minor tidbits about how they were made. I think these are best left to those individual DVDs.

On the other hand, the material about the studio’s overall functioning provides a much more intriguing thread. That’s the kind of info that you won’t usually find on specific DVDs, and it’s pretty darned juicy. I get the feeling Waking touches only on the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a fascinating tip. The documentary’s best moments concentrate on power struggles and big boys bickering.

Waking also does nicely for itself when it looks at the day-to-day lives of the filmmakers. We get a good feel for how the executives’ problems affected labor, and we find a nice sense of the animation studio across Disney’s high and low periods.

One unusual aspect of Waking stems from its format. Rather than opt for the standard “talking head” presentation, it totally eschews any modern footage of on-screen speakers. In addition to Hahn’s narration, all of the comments come either from archival sources or from voiceover interviews.

This means we never see any new shots – we just hear them. All the visuals focus on stills, behind the scenes video footage, movie snippets or clips from TV programs. At first, this feels a little disconcerting – I’m accustomed to those talking heads – but it works, as it allows the movie to more strongly focus on all that fascinating archival material.

Really, I can come up with only two complaints about Waking. First, it ends abruptly. Katzenberg resigns around the time of Lion King’s release and that’s that! We get no sense for anything that’s happened at the studio since 1994, and the movie just kind of fizzles. I don’t think we needed anything much about Disney since 1994 – the film concentrates on the studio’s revival, and you’d probably have to call a 1995-date film The Pixar Story anyway – but I think the movie could’ve concluded on a more declarative note. As it stands, it just kind of… stops.

My second complaint? Waking is just too short! At 85 minutes, it almost feels like a tease; there’s so much good information on display that I suspect it could’ve been just as interesting at twice the length.

Even with its semi-brevity and its abrupt finale, Waking Sleeping Beauty offers a fascinating experience. It uses a wealth of insider material to deliver a consistently intriguing examination of the Disney Studios during difficult times.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C+/ Bonus B

Waking Sleeping Beauty appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film consisted entirely of stills, movie clips and archival footage, which meant it was often quite ugly – though not inappropriately so.

That was because there was only so much that could be done with the material. When allowed to look good – via the stills or movie snippets - Waking offered more than acceptable visuals. However, a great deal of the flick stemmed from 15-30-year-old videotaped material. Some of this came from TV broadcasts, while a lot of it was shot on camcorders as behind the scenes footage. Old videotaped bits aren’t a recipe for attractive visuals, so they meant a whole lot of the program was messy and muddy.

In truth, I felt reluctant to give the transfer a grade simply because it was such a melange of sources. Like I mentioned, it reasonably couldn’t look good; it used too many old, poorly shot sources. Objectively, the image would get a very low mark, but I didn’t think that would be fair. A “C” felt like a good compromise. The visuals were unattractive, but they represented the source material with reasonable accuracy.

To some degree, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Waking suffered from some of the same source restrictions, but these weren’t as severe. A moderate amount of the audio came from the same crummy old videotaped origins, but those weren’t a major component, so those auditory restrictions seemed mild.

Instead, the documentary mostly revolved around interview comments and music. Effects were usually a minor factor, though they broadened on a couple of occasions. For instance, when the program mentioned an in-house tongue in cheek recreation of Apocalypse Now, all five channels blossomed into war-related activity.

That was a brief – and startling – expansion of the mix, however, as the majority remained subdued. Music showed good stereo imaging and that was about all she wrote; the rest of the time, the track tended to seem low-key.

Audio quality was fine. As I mentioned, speech varied dependent on the source, but dialogue was usually natural and concise. Effects seemed reasonably accurate, and music showed nice breadth and dimensionality. Overall, this was a perfectly acceptable mix.

When we shift to extras, we find an audio commentary from director Don Hahn and producer Peter Schneider. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific track, but we also get additional interview clips edited into the piece; these include former Disney executives Jeffrey Katzenberg and Roy E. Disney, Disney Theatrical Group president Thomas Schumacher, composer Alan Menken, and animators/filmmakers Rob Minkoff, Mike Gabriel, George Scribner, Glen Keane, Randy Cartwright, Andreas Deja, Kirk Wise, and John Musker. The commentary covers the project’s origins and the film’s format/structure as well as additional background about the movie’s participants and situations.

Those “behind the scenes” insights work the best. While it’s nice to hear more about the creation of Waking itself, the notes about the Disney Studios and their operation prove to be quite valuable. The commentary helps flesh out the movie’s topics in a positive manner and contributes a lot of worthwhile info.

Six Deleted Scenes last a total of 34 minutes, 39 seconds. We get “Black Friday” (4:41), “Howard’s Lecture” (12:33), “Losing Howard” (4:54), “Recording ‘Part of Your World’” (6:30), “Research Trips” (4:21) and “To Sir With Love” (1:40). Across these, we get notes from Hahn, former executives Thomas Schumacher and Jeffrey Katzenberg, animators/filmmakers Ed Gombert, John Musker, Eric Goldberg, Ron Clements, Roger Allers, Chris Montan, Chris Sanders, George Scribner, Glen Keane, Lisa Keene, and Mike Gabriel, Howard Ashman’s companion Bill Lauch, composer Alan Menken, and Ashman’s sister Sarah Gillespie.

“Friday” looks at problems during the production of Aladdin, and “Lecture” shows an April 28, 1987 speech composer Howard Ashman gave to the Disney animators during the production of Little Mermaid. “Losing” opines about Ashman’s death, and “Recording” shows the session for that song. “Trips” talks about prep work for Rescuers Down Under, Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, while “Love” finishes with Katzenberg’s departure from Disney. All of these are pretty good, and “Love” would’ve probably helped the movie’s ending fare a little better.

A few featurettes appear as well. Why Wake Sleeping Beauty? goes for eight minutes, 54 seconds and includes remarks from Hahn, Schneider, Menken, Minkoff, Wise, Cartwright, and writer Patrick Pacheco. “Wake” looks at the impetus behind the project and aspects of its construction. We get a basic overview of the processes, though it seems fairly redundant after the commentary.

In The Sailor, The Mountain Climber, The Artist and The Poet, we find 15 minutes, 25 seconds with Hahn, Pacheco, Schneider, Wise, Minkoff, Cartwright, and Menken. “Sailor” discusses Howard Ashman, Frank Wells, Joe Ranft, and Roy Disney, the four men to whom the film was dedicated. It acts as a nice dedication to them.

During the two-minute, 13-second A Reunion, we see Wise and Minkoff. We learn how they’ve known each other since their teens and hear about their work together over the years. It’s a quick piece but it’s nice to hear about their joint careers.

Walt runs six minutes, one second, and includes Hahn, Schneider, Pacheco, Minkoff, Wise, and Cartwright. They compare the studio under Walt to the place in their period, and they also speculate about what Disney would think of the modern studio and the film. This isn’t one of the DVD’s strongest pieces, but it offers a few interesting tidbits.

Finally, Studio Tours offers footage from three different years. We can check out 1980 (4:56), 1983 (4:17), and 1990 (4:28). Including an intro from Cartwright, these fill a total of 14 minutes, 36 seconds. They show Cartwright’s home movie/video footage shot in the listed years. We see clips from these reels during the full film, but it’s cool to see these slices of history in longer incarnations.

One non-disc-based component pops up as well. A Collectible Litho shows a cartoon rendering in which “Howard Ashman excoriates directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale during a tough story meeting for Beauty and the Beast”; that’s a story told in the film. It’s an odd addition, but kind of fun.

The disc opens with promos for The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story and Walt & El Grupo. Under Sneak Peeks, we also get ads for DisneyNature: African Cats, Fantasia/Fantasia 2000, D23.com, Bambi, and The Lion King.

With Waking Sleeping Beauty, we get a fascinating inside look at the Disney Studios during a period of transition and upheaval. The film feels frank about its subject and covers the topics well. The DVD comes with acceptable picture and audio as well as a good array of supplements. Waking will be of interest to any serious Disney fan.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.25 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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