tek's rating: ¼

Waking Sleeping Beauty (PG)
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(Named, obviously, for 1959's Sleeping Beauty.) Despite my general disinterest in documentaries, I thought this movie was reasonably well made, and I didn't find any of it boring... though any of the moments I truly loved were moments that featured clips from Disney animated films, which I already adore. So I can't give this movie credit for those moments. And btw, watching this movie made me want to rewatch a bunch of those movies (including ones deemed financial and/or artistic failures, which I nevertheless like).

Anyway, the film is about the so-called Disney Renaissance (which Wikipedia says was from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, but this movie describes it as being from 1984 to 1994). The movie actually starts earlier than that, though, to explain how Disney's animation division was declining in the late 70s/early 80s, the end of a downward path that had apparently started a few decades earlier, with Disney moving more into live-action films, theme parks, etc. (Of course, I think of some of the older Disney live-action movies as classics just as much as their animated films, and while the live-action movies they were making by the 1980s may have been practically the only things keeping the company afloat, I tend to think of them as nowhere near as good as some of the early classics like Mary Poppins.) Anyway, one animated film that pretty much was the culmination of the studio's decline was The Black Cauldron (released in 1985). In 1986, Disney released The Great Mouse Detective, which was critically better-received than The Black Cauldron, but which was beaten out at the box office by An American Tail, made by Don Bluth (who had quit Disney in 1979 to start his own animation studio).

Well... the movie mostly focuses on Michael Eisner and Frank Wells having become executives at Disney in 1984, along with Jeffrey Katzenberg. And Roy E. Disney (Walt's nephew) also plays an important part, even after having resigned as an executive before bringing in Eisner and Wells. The movie also mentions tons of other people, some of whom I'd heard of and some I hadn't. And apparently there was conflict between various executives (with Wells apparently being a peacemaker between them, until his death in 1994). There are also a lot of movies mentioned; apparently the renaissance more or less began with Oliver & Company in 1988, which was to be the first film in a new policy of releasing one animated feature per year. (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which is a mix of live-action and animation, also came out in 1988, and was sort of part of the renaissance, I guess.) But the film that really started the immense critical, artistic, and financial turnaround (and award-winning) for Disney animation was The Little Mermaid, in 1989. It was followed in 1990 by The Rescuers Down Under, which was considered a failure, but it was the first movie to utilize CAPS (Computer Animated Production System), and began Disney's association with Pixar (which would of course later be wildly successful, beginning with Toy Story). As for Disney's traditional animation, there was Beauty and the Beast in 1991, Aladdin in '92, and The Lion King in '94. (I guess they skipped '93, which can be forgiven, since it's not like a movie takes one year to make... many of these movies were concurrently in production for several years, as well as other things being done by the company, which meant everyone was spread pretty thin, and working way overtime.) It would be reasonable (IMHO) to consider the renaissance as continuing for the next few years, or at the very least including 1995's Pocahontas (which was mentioned briefly in the documentary as being in a pre-production stage, at the time of The Lion King's release). But the documentary basically ends with "The Lion King," apparently because that movie represented the end of an era, partly because of Wells's death, and partly because of Katzenberg's subsequent attempt (and failure) to obtain the job left behind by Wells, which led to him resigning the position he already had at the company after Lion King's release.

I should probably say there's no actual new footage in this movie. There may be some new audio interviews, but the visual footage is all older stuff (home movies, news and media clips, etc.) shot mostly within the years detailed by the documentary. I suppose the movie provides plenty of information I didn't really know before, but I doubt I'll retain any of it, and even while watching it, I didn't necessarily grasp everything that was being explained. Still, I'm glad to have seen the movie, and I may well watch it again someday. It was made, I think, in 2009 (or maybe that was just when it debuted at a film festival), and wasn't released on DVD til late 2010 (I didn't get it and watch it until 2012). But I've been wanting to see it since I first heard of it, because I've long been a fan of the whole renaissance period of Disney animated films (no matter what years or which films you consider to have represented the beginning and end of that era). Of course, even after that era, I still think Disney has continued to make good animated films, and probably always will. In any event... actually watching such movies is surely far more entertaining than watching a documentary about the studio that made them... but... I'm rambling now. Um, basically, "Waking Sleeping Beauty" is worth watching if you're a Disney fan. I dunno what else to say.

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