In the decade between 1984 and 1994, the animators at the Walt Disney Studio created an unprecedented string of critical and box-office hits that included The Little Mermaid, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. The documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty offers a rare inside look at the studio’s renaissance–and at the internal tensions that led to its subsequent decline. In 1984 a stockholders’ revolt brought in a new management team that included Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Roy E. Disney (Walt’s nephew). In the years after Walt’s death, the studio seemed to be sleepwalking, producing well-animated but dull films like The Aristocats and Robin Hood. Instead of asking “What would Walt have done,” the new team and their young artists set out to reclaim the Disney legacy of making films that represented the cutting edge of animation, technology, and filmmaking. But the films’ success led to quarrels among the executives over who deserved the credit. The death of chief operating officer Frank Wells in 1994 exacerbated these problems. Director Don Hahn (the producer of Roger Rabbit, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King) and Peter Schneider (who headed feature animation) combine clips from the films, behind-the-scenes footage, home movies, and interviews with Eisner, Katzenberg, and Disney to present a fascinating portrait of the rise and fall of an entertainment empire. In addition to its obvious appeal to animation fans, Waking Sleeping Beauty offers object lessons in sensible management and the dangers of corporate gigantism.

Studio: New Line Cinema
Year: 2010
Release Date: October 5, 2010
Run time: 95 minutes
Rating: R

Audio: DTS-HD MA lossless 5.1 mix
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Disc Spec: 1 BD50 / 1 DVD
Region: A

“Waking Sleeping Beauty”, is one of three Disney History DVD’s released in November 2010, along with “The Boys, The Sherman Brothers’ Story” and “Walt & El Grupo”. All three are excellent chronicles of Disney History and worth a watch.

“Waking Sleeping Beauty” is about Disney Animation, from their low point right after Black Cauldron to their long string of hits from Roger Rabbit to the Lion King and ends with the resignation of Jeffery Katzenberg. It’s pretty much the story of Katzenberg, Roy Disney, Frank Wells and Michael Eisner, principally told by Don Hahn and Peter Schneider, with extensive interviews by all the players during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. As to why the documentary, as Schneider put it, “…there was no reason not to tell the truth.”

It’s not a documentary in the way you think of it. It’s a story told of the revival of Disney Animation by the personalities that were actually there, with the artists and animators that never got the recognition they should have. They’ve been able to dig up an amazing amount of archival footage from that time that tells the story itself. As Hahn put it, “No talking heads,” so the interviews are almost always over photos or archival footage, with a balloon at the bottom of the screen indicating who’s talking. So instead of watching someone’s face, you’re watching something in context of what the person is saying. Very different, more entertaining.

If you’re a Disney fan like me, you’ve seen bits and pieces of this documentary in the bonus features of the films involved (Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, etc.), but this movie isn’t about a movie, but all the movies, events, personalities and politics of the Disney Animation Studio during that time.

Movie Content: 9/10

Special Features

  • Why Wake Sleeping Beauty? – Overview featurette
  • Untold Bedtime Stories – Deleted scenes from the feature
  • The Sailor, the Mountain Climber, the Artist and the Poet – Celebrating Roy Disney, Frank Wells, Joe Ranft, and Howard Ashman
  • Studio Tours – Randy’s tours, Roger Rabbit studio, Oliver studio, and the tour we shot at ARL
  • A Reunion – Rob Minkoff and Kirk Wise
  • Walt – What would Walt do AND compare Walt’s era and this era
  • 3 webisode shorts
  • Gallery – Photos, caricatures, and art from the era

Special Features: 3/10

Final Thoughts

This is definite a must-have for anyone even remotely interested in the Disney Studios. Don Hahn does a great job covering the slow rise and slow fall of Animation at Disney. I think he was very fortunate to get frank and honest comments from Eisner and Katzenberg.
Overall Rating: 8/10