The Walt Disney Company became one of the world’s biggest brands by working to bring myths and legends to the screen. They may have evolved into other areas of business and media, but the soul of Disney is still in the stories it creates and recreates. In the process, Disney has become a legend in its own right, a Hollywood studio filled with tremendous ups and downs.
Even though Disney movies, and the company brand as a whole, capture fairy tales, the company wasn’t always happy times, pretty smiles and bank vaults of cash. Don Hahn’s Waking Sleeping Beauty is a fascinating documentary into the Disney dark ages of the late 70s through the mid-90s where the animated feature went from being a dying art form back to Hollywood royalty. Combining honest commentary with archival footage, Waking Sleeping Beauty offers a refreshing look at a side large companies often steer clear of.
The heart and soul of Disney is animation. Cartoons built the global empire. Between Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney and, later, Michael Eisner were the public faces of the company, there was an army of largely anonymous animators working and creating and innovating in the background. It’s through their personal videos, comments and observations that create the intimate portrait of the Disney Animation studios from the struggles of the 1980s, their reinvention during the latter part of the decade through 1994′s crowning achievement, The Lion King.
The most striking part of Waking Sleeping Beauty is that it looks at Disney in a more rounded approach. This isn’t the typical propaganda you’d expect at an investors meeting. Instead it looks at the company from several perspectives, warts and all. In doing so, an amazing thing happens. By acknowledging some of the failures, it enhances the achievements. Director Don Hahn, who produced both Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, does a fantastic job of humanizing a massive corporation.
Waking Sleeping Beauty provides a solid balance as far as looking at both sides of conflict. As one might expect, Disney, who’s distributing the documentary, comes out looking good. Still, there’s enough critical introspection to help it avoid being corporate propaganda. By focusing largely on the animators who worked in the trenches through the good and the bad, Hahn is able to bring a new perspective to the story as well.
When you truly love something, you want it to be at its best. That’s the point Waking Sleeping Beauty makes. Those who speak strongly of their experiences do so because they’re proud of their role and love the company they worked for.
Waking Sleeping Beauty DVD Review
Waking Sleeping Beauty is presented with an elegant enhanced widescreen picture and 5.1 Dolby Digital English audio. It’s accompanied by a bevvy of bonus features that further enhance the production. Director Don Hahn and producer Peter Schneider provide both a feature commentary and further interviews with the eight-minute feautrette “Why Wake Sleeping Beauty?” “The Sailor, the Mountain Climber, the Artist and the Poet” offers further tributes to Roy Disney, Frank Wells, Howard Ashman and Joe Ranft. Home video footage is used for various Disney Animation studio tours. The disc also includes six deleted scenes totaling more than 30 minutes, a short piece outlining the long-standing friendship between Disney directors Rob Minkoff and Kirk Wise, and a six-minute profile on Walt Disney.
Waking Sleeping Beauty Gallery