Sunday, March 28, 2010

Some Thoughts on Waking Sleeping Beauty

Last night, Saturday, I saw Don Hahn's Disney Documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty with a Don Hahn Q&A afterwards. Waking Sleeping Beauty is a Documentary about the reemergence of Disney Animation from 1989 to 1994. Don Hahn (IMDB) was an important part of the animation renaissance as producer of Beauty and the Beast and the Lion King and went through Cal Arts with such talents as Henry Selick (Director of Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline), John Lasseter, and Tim Burton. Anyway Don Hahn decided now was the time to tell this story because enough time had passed that the principles bruised egos had recovered, but the events were still crystal clear.

Like all good Documentaries, and this is a good documentary, Waking Sleeping Beauty has a narrative, which catalogues Animation's low point during the Black Cauldron to the soaring heights of The Lion King, what helped it reach those heights and how the leaders of the company crumbled at the end. Hahn had complete cooperation of Roy Disney, Jeffery Katzenberg and Michael Eisner, but none required approval of the film.  During the Q&A Don mentioned that all three of them saw the documentary and all three said why did you make the other two look so good and me so bad and that is how Don knew he made a good documentary. The film uses footage exclusively from the time period in question because of the explosion of the handheld video camera, but recent interviews are used to narrate much of the film. This gives the film a sense of authenticity. Although I hungered to see all of the footage that Don Hahn combed through to create the documentary. In the Q&A Hahn also mentioned that there would me some great Extra Features on the DVD which they are putting together now including all of Jodi Benson's Little Mermaid recording session.

My favorite thing about the documentary was the way it championed Disney songwriter Howard Ashman the lyricist in his partnership with Alan Menken. Ashman and Menken together wrote all of the songs in The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast and most of the songs in Aladdin. Ashman's tragic early passing due to AIDS, in my mind, caused the end of the Disney Renaissance.

Recently I've been delving deeply into the Ashman and Menken films and the special features on the films. So I had heard a few of the stories in the film, but there are new ones especially pertaining to the day of Ashman's passing. Ultimately after the reading I've done on this period and my recent viewing of special features made this film see a little bit light on facts and depth, but it is a feature length documentary not a novel. Also I felt it was a perfect introduction to this period and quite possibly the most fair and in depth look we've had at the conflict between Roy Disney, Jeffery Katzenberg and Michael Eisner.

Something I'd never heard about was the role Roy Disney played in this "break-up" and his various inappropriate actions as he is often heralded as Walt's Golden Nephew in Disney fan circles. The interview Roy Disney gave was his last before his passing late last year.

The finale of the film once again stresses the importance of Howard Ashman which makes me happy to no end because the more I examine these films the more important he becomes. One of my goals in my life is to right a Biography of Howard Ashman that is fitting for his wondrous accomplishments.

The bottom line is if you have any interest in Disney Animation, particularly the Disney Renaissance, you must see this film. It's hilarious, touching and most importantly entertaining. GO SEE WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY

The Website is Here: See if its playing near you or at a nearby film festival, if not request it at your local independent theater!

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