Waking Sleeping Beauty

Waking Sleeping Beauty

Directed By: Don Hahn


Disney of the mid-80s was in crisis, the glory of its past reduced to infighting and the defection or retirement of the core talent that shaped it from its earliest days. Into this environment came both an executive and creative shakeup, resulting, in part, in some of the most successful films (animated or not) of all time.

Don Hahn was at the center of this dynamic (Academy Award nominated producer of Beauty and the Beast, for starters), and he has crafted a documentary with all the wit, grace, and skill that Disney, at its best, puts into its animated masterpieces. The scope of the film is wide, yet the pace of the film is almost breezy. At 82 minutes, not a shot is wasted, and through judicious use of music and narration we’re drawn into this compelling tale of creativity, hubris, and sheer effort. This is no accident, with a film crafted by people who habitually obsess about story, pacing, and mood as they trim over a period of many years their films to the point of excellence. In short, this is a doc crafted as well as the best of their animated films.

One key to the success of this film is that Hahn consciously chose to only use period visual footage. Augmenting these images, many of which have never been seen, are frank interviews of Katzenberg, Eisner, and other key personnel. Intercut with these old elements are restored clips from Lion King, Mermaid, and other classics. Projected digitally, these clips looked absolutely glorious on the giant screen, making them the visual highlight of the entire piece.

For even a casual fan of cinema, this is a fascinating story, full of intrigue. For any fan of Animation or Disney, this is a dream come true, an authorized look at the inside of the Magic Kingdom’s sweatshop.

Grade: A+


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