TELLURIDE FILM FEST
Telluride 2009 Review: Don Hahn's Waking Sleeping Beauty
by Alex Billington
September 6, 2009
I'm not normally a documentary guy, they're just not my thing, and I don't fall in love with that many of them. However, earlier today I was encouraged to check out a documentary directed by Don Hahn called Waking Sleeping Beauty about Walt Disney Animation and the people from that side of the studio. And I fell in love it. I don't mean I just liked it a lot, I completely and thoroughly fell in love with it. I have never felt this emotional towards a documentary or another film this entire year. It's a fascinating story that's both amusing and inspiring to watch. I think it's perhaps the best movie about Disney Animation ever made.
Waking Sleeping Beauty focuses on the era between 1984 and 1994 at Walt Disney Feature Animation, during which films like The Great Mouse Detective, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Little Mermaid, Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Lion King were made. Just naming those eight great movies already brings back so many memories, but seeing the Disney magic behind them is unlike anything and quite emotional. This isn't just a "making of" featurette, it's about how the studio went from almost shutting down to a huge amount of success, before falling apart once again.
Director Don Hahn (a producer during that era) and producer Peter Schneider (an animation exec during that era) decided not to use talking heads in this and instead used only archival footage in an attempt to take us back to that time. It works. I was completely drawn in to the behind-the-scenes world of Disney Animation in an immersive, honest, and revealing way. It does also feature audio interviews from various Disney executives, like Roy Disney, then-CEO Michael Eisner, and Jeffrey Katzenberg. While it's being released by Disney, the now-CEO Dick Cook let them tell the real story, even if it wasn't always positive.
There is something that just fascinates me about the magic of Disney. Whenever I see their title sequence and hear that music at the beginning of every Disney movie, I nearly tear up; I'll admit I'm a die-hard fan of all things Disney. This documentary shows us how that magic works, without losing any of the charm that makes it magical, thanks to Don and Peter's true passion. It's incredibly inspiring to not only see everything that went into making all of those movies, but to learn about the many struggles within the company. And yet through all of those struggles, they were able to create amazing movies that will be remembered forever.
This is already one of my favorite films of the year and is hands down one of my favorite documentaries ever. That may be because I have such an admiration for Disney, but it may also be because it's so damn well-made. If you love any of those movies mentioned above, or Disney, you need to see this, and thankfully Don and Peter are doing everything they can to bring it to as many people as possible over the next year.
Telluride Rating: 10 out of 10