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“Waking Sleeping Beauty” takes a candid look at the Second Golden Age of Disney Feature Animation

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“Waking Sleeping Beauty” takes a candid look at the Second Golden Age of Disney Feature Animation

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September is shaping up to be quite a month for Disney history buffs. First the D23 EXPO will give film fans the chance to check out two recent documentaries that relate to the Studio’s past:
Walt and El Grupo documentary poster
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

But then on Saturday, September 12th – some 2000 miles to the north – folks attending this year’s Toronto International Film Festival will get to see “Waking Sleeping Beauty.” A brand-new documentary that takes a candid look at the Second Golden Age of Disney Feature Animation (1986 – 1994).

A "Waking Sleeping Beauty" editing session with Don Hahn and Peter Schneider
An editing session with director Don Hahn (L) and producer
Peter Schneider (R) of "Waking Sleeping Beauty"
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Produced by Peter Schneider and directed by Don Hahn, “Waking Sleeping Beauty” talks about how the Mouse Factory had broken down by the mid-1980s. How – thanks to the never-ending turf wars at the Studio between the old-timers who refused to give up control and newcomers who were anxious to innovate – Disney Feature Animation was reduced to producing mild disappointments like 1981’s “The Fox and the Hound” and outright disasters like 1985’s “The Black Cauldron.”

As “Cauldron” was wrapping up production in the Fall in 1984, there was a management change at Walt Disney Productions. Walt’s son-in-law – Ron Miller – was out. And in his place were this trio of young turks: Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg. And – for one brief horrifying moment – these three seriously contemplated shutting down Disney Feature Animation entirely. In effect abandoning the production of new animated features entirely and just periodically re-releasing the toons that the Studio already had in its library.

Peter Schneider, Roy Disney and Jeffrey Katzenberg on a story retreat in the early 1990's
 
Peter Schneider, Roy Disney & Jeffrey Katzenberg on a story retreat
in the early 1990s. Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

But Roy E. Disney (i.e. the son of the Company’s co-founder who had helped stage-manage Miller’s ousting) asked to be given Disney Feature Animation. To see if he couldn’t turn this division at the Studio around.

“Waking Sleeping Beauty” puts you right in the middle of this story. Makes you realize how close the Mouse Factory really came to shutting down back then. More importantly – thanks to revealing interviews with three talented filmmakers who got chased off the lot during Disney’s bad old days of the late 1970s / early 1980s (i.e. Don Bluth, Tim Burton and John Lasseter) – you’ll finally get a sense of how personality conflicts & studio politics had really gummed up the works at Disney Feature Animation.

The 1975 graduating class of Cal Arts
The 1975 graduating class of Cal Arts including the future stars
of the animation business John Lasseter, Brad Bird and
John Musker. Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

This is a tale that’s loaded with hardship (i.e. Disney’s animators actually being booted off the lot. Thrown out of their home for the past 45 years  and then forced to set up shop in a grungy old warehouse in Glendale) and triumph (i.e. how these artists overcame these tough new working conditions and produced a string of animated smashes. Among them “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King”). A tale that I’m sure every animation fan will want to see.

As of right now, the only place where you can see “Waking Sleeping Beauty” is the Toronto International Film Festival. Where Don Hahn & Peter Schneider’s new documentary will be screened on:

A Jeffrey Katzenberg characature by Kirk Wise
As drawn by Kirk Wise, then-Disney Studio head Jeffrey
Katzenberg prepares to wake the sleeping princess.
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

  • Saturday, September 12th at 9:30 a.m. (AMC 9, press & industry only)
  • Tuesday, September 15th at 6 p.m. (AMC 7, public screening)
  • Wednesday, September 16th at 6 p.m. (AMC 9, press & industry only)
  • Thursday, September 17th at 3 p.m. (AMC 9, public screening)
  • Saturday, September 19th at 10:45 a.m. (AMC 5, public screening)

Following its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month, I’m told that “Waking Sleeping Beauty” will begin working the film festival circuit. Though no information about times, dates and venues has been released at this time.

Disney director Don Hahn looks behind the scenes in his new documentary "Waking Sleeping Beautry"
Director Don Hahn looks behind the screen at the thrilling,
contentious, successful and heartbreaking animation
renaissance that bred films like "The Little Mermaid,"
"Beauty & the Beast," "Aladdin" and "The Lion King"
in his new documentary, "Waking Sleeping Beauty."
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Know this though: There’s never been a documentary like “Waking Sleeping Beauty.” One that was put together by two insiders who really know where the bodies are buried. Hahn & Schneider share all sorts of behind-the-scenes stories – the cost over-runs, the failed experiments – that other, more timid filmmakers might have swept under the rug. They use home movies, internal memos, work-in-progress footage, even nasty caricatures of the studio brass to get across what it was really like at Disney Feature Animation back then. When – thanks to a new generation of passionate & dedicated artists and animators – the Mouse Factory began cranking out great animated features again.

So if you happen to be up in Toronto next month, make an effort to go see “Waking Sleeping Beauty.” This new documentary really sounds like it’s worth going out of your way to see.

Howard Ashman excoriates Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale during a tough story meeting on "Beauty and the Beast"
Howard Ashman excoriates Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale
during a tough story meeting on "Beauty & the Beast."
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

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