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“Waking Sleeping Beauty” continues to wow crowds around the country

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“Waking Sleeping Beauty” continues to wow crowds around the country

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In an age where even blockbusters have to battle for screen space (Witness what happened late last month when the studios behind “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Clash of the Titansclashed over the limited number of 3D-capable theaters that were available at that time), what chance does a dinky-little documentary have? Especially one that looks back at the feature-length cartoons that Walt Disney Animation Studios produced from the early 1980s through the mid 1990s?

Well, someone clearly forgot to tell “Waking Sleeping Beauty” that it was supposed to fall through the cracks. Because here we are – with this acclaimed documentary beginning its fourth week in theaters – and it’s still going strong. By that I mean, this Don Hahn film just completed highly successful runs in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Burbank. And starting today, this documentary began screening at theaters in Santa Barbara and Palm Springs.

Peter Schneider & Roy Disney circa 1987
Peter Schneider and Roy Disney circa 1987 when "Oliver and Company" was
still in production. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

This is kind of unheard of, folks. By that I mean: documentaries about animation and/or Disney Company history usually have a very tough row to hoe (Just ask the talented filmmakers behind “the boys:  the sherman brothers story,” “Walt & El Grupo,” “The Pixar Story” and “The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story”). In that – according to industry insiders, anyway – these sorts of films only appeal to a very small audience.

So why then – if that’s really the case – has “Waking Sleeping Beauty” been selected to be shown in the American Wing of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. as well as at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City? More importantly, why has this documentary been awarded & applauded at significant cinematic events like the Telluride Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival and – just this week – the Florida Film Festival and the Wisconsin Film Festival?

Peter Schneider & Don Hahn at the Smithsonian screening of "Waking Sleeping Beauty"
Peter Schneider and Don Hahn at the Smithsonian screening of "Waking
Sleeping Beauty."  Copyright KCB Photography. All Rights Reserved

According to Peter Schneider, the producer of “Waking Sleeping Beauty” (who – just yesterday – hosted two screenings of this film at his old alma mater, Purdue University), this motion picture's broad appeal can be traced back to the fact that it's more than just a fond look back at a few animated features.

“This isn’t an us-versus-them story, a management-versus-the-artists story. This is a story about people. The strong personalities that came together and – through their passion, dedication and (yes) heated conflict – created movies that people the world over love,” Schneider explained. “And it’s that story – the people who actually made these movies – that audiences are taking away from ‘Waking Sleeping Beauty.’ That this unlikely group of executives and young artists came together and – against overwhelmed odds -- revived a dying art form.”

Glen Keane animating Ariel from "The Little Mermaid"
Glen Keane animating Ariel from "The Little Mermaid."
Copyright Disney Enterprises, inc. All Rights Reserved

As you might expect by the above quote, “Waking Sleeping Beauty” is more than a passion project for Peter. It’s a film that he tried to get made for over 10 years .

“And then we got lucky. Don and I approached Dick Cook (i.e. the then-Chairman of Walt Disney Studios) at just the right moment. Any other time, I don’t think that he would have let production of this documentary go forward,” Schneider said. “But because Walt Disney Animation Studios was just then in the process of rebuilding, attempting to revive hand-drawn animation … I think that Dick himself wanted to know what it was about those animated features that Disney produced during that period that made them so great.”

David Friedman, Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Danny Troob at a recording session for "Beauty and the Beast"
(L to R) David Friedman, Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Danny Troob
during a recording session for "Beauty and the Beast."
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

And to Peter’s way of thinking, the main reason that movies like “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” were so successful is because they took chances back then. Not just with the kinds of films that the Studio made back then, but also with the types of people that Disney made these movies with.”

“Take – for example – Gary Trousdale. When we were working on ‘Oliver and Company,’ there were some Studio veterans who wanted Gary gone because he couldn’t draw all that well,” Schneider explained. “Well, where other people saw an artist who wasn’t cutting it, I saw a guy who was really great with story. So we took a chance. We kept Gary on staff. Which is how he wound up co-directing ‘Beast’ and 'Hunchback’ with Kirk Wise.”

Peter Schneider, Gary Trousdale, Roger Allers, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Roy Disney at a "Beauty & the Beast"
Peter Schneider, Gary Trousdale, Roger Allers, Jeffrey Katzenberg and
Roy Disney at a "Beauty & the Beast" story meeting. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

As you might imagine, this message of taking-chances-with-talented-young-people is playing very well on all the college campuses where Don & Peter have been hosting screenings of “Waking Sleeping Beauty.” Mind you, some screenings have been more special than others. Take – for example – the one that Don Hahn hosted at the Savannah College of Art and Design this past Wednesday night. Which featured a surprise appearance by Jodi Benson, Ariel's voice from “The Little Mermaid.” Who then thrilled that audience by performing a brief excerpt from "Part of Your World."

Speaking of music … When I asked Peter Schneider how yesterday’s screenings at Purdue University went, he sent me this message:

A John Musker caricature of Ron Clements, John and Howard Ashman
A John Musker caricature of Ron Clements, John and Howard Ashman.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

What a treat to return to my alma mater. The Purdue president attended as well my old professor who got me to Purdue. I love screening for this college age because -- for so many – “Little Mermaid” or “Beauty” was the first movie they ever saw. As someone said to me, “Thank you for producing the soundtrack of my youth.”

FYI: If you’d like to see “Waking Sleeping Beauty” but don’t live in New York, Burbank, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs … Tomorrow, this acclaimed documentary will be screened at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison, WI as well as at the Enzian Theater in Maitland, FL.

Jeffrey Katzenberg loos at storyboards for "Beauty and the Beast" with Roger Allers
Jeffrey Katzenberg looks at storyboards for "Beauty and the Beast" with
Roger Allers. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

And as for next weekend … “Waking Sleeping Beauty” will be shown in the Bill Cosford Cinema at the University of Miami in Florida Friday through Sunday. But if you folks want to attend an extra-special screening of this film ... Well, you may want to consider heading to Colorado next Friday or Saturday. Where – during “Waking Sleeping Beauty” ’s engagement at the Denver Film Society (April 23 – 29) at the Starz FilmCenter – Don Hahn will be appearing at the 7:30 p.m. screening on April 23rd and the 2:15 p.m. screening on April 25th.

For further information on other upcoming screenings of “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” please click here.

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  • I don't have to drive to Burbank to see this film now? Woo hoo!

  • great keep it up

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