I’ve been doing a lot of reading and watching documentaries about Disney in the 80’s. It is a fascinating time in Disney’s History. During this period Disney studios, parks and animation were reborn. I found that “Waking Sleeping Beauty” provides the best and most interesting coverage of the Disney animation revival.
“Waking Sleeping Beauty” is a thrill story as well as a history. The corporate story includes corporate raiders, board upheavals, backstabbing and betrayals. Meanwhile Disney produced some of the it’s best animation.
What works best about Waking Sleeping Beauty
As I said, the story is fascinating and “Waking Sleeping Beauty” covers it in a take no prisoners fashion. When the story begins Disney Animation is decaying and shrinking under the post Walt Disney leadership. Roy E. Disney resigns the board and leads a coup against the corporate management. New Management of Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy E Disney (as head of Disney Animation) and Peter Schneider are installed. In the studios there is animator resistance and then capitulation. Back biting and jealousy pervades management.
There is the story of the animators themselves. Starting with the miserable failure of the Black Cauldron the studio has nowhere to go but up. But how do they get there in this dysfunctional environment? How do they moved from a sense of complacency to one of belief, desire to be the best and creativity? And, finally, how does digital animation replace the animators?
To weave their story, Waking Sleeping Beauty combines archival footage and interviews as well as current interviews. In doing so, many of the main characters speak directly to the audience. Sometimes they defend themselves, other times they admit errors. There are great moments like Howard Ashman pitching the song “Under the Sea” as well as the thoughts behind “Part of your World.” Any fan of modern Disney animation would be captivated by this.
What Does not work in Waking Sleeping Beauty
The film’s producer is Peter Schneider. Roy E Disney hired Schneider as Vice President of Disney Animation (ultimately, he became the Studio Head). As a central figure to Waking Sleeping Beauty’s story and producer there are aspects and viewpoints in the story that must be taken with a grain of salt. Schneider had no experience in animation and faced some resistance from the animators. That is natural. He also had issues with Katzenberg’s management style (as did Roy E. Disney and Michael Eisner).
As a result, the personalities are presented rather unevenly. The animators were boorish until Schneider gave them a chewing out. Frank Wells was the one who kept Disney running. Katzenberg was a lout. Eisner made ridiculous suggestions. There may be some truth to each of these thoughts but each person contributed to the greatest period in Disney Animation.
My Highlights of Waking Sleeping Beauty
The archival footage is the star of this Waking Sleeping Beauty. Footage of Roy O Disney discussing how little credit he got is used as a counterpoint to the stories of management. A tremendous segment from 60 Minutes diminishes the importance of Disney Animation and highlights the high esteem in which the parks are held. The nadir of Disney animation is identified as the moment the Black Cauldron lost to the Care Bears at the box office. A clip of those insipid bears highlights this low point. There’s footage of Robin Williams in Aladdin, and Jeremy Irons in Lion King. Each piece of footage is carefully chosen and contributes to the story.
To Disney fans the story was never in doubt. As fans we know which movies succeed. Waking Sleeping Beauty depicts the highs and lows of the animation studio. This script was better than most movies produced by Disney in the 70s. Waking Sleeping Beauty is a truly engrossing story. You can find it now on Disney+.
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