Telluride 2009 Review: Don Hahn's Waking Sleeping Beauty

September 6, 2009

Waking Sleeping Beauty

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

Find more posts: Opinions, Telluride 09



Fantastic Fantastic Fantastic! Every single one of those films built my childhood. I can even go back and watch the Rescuers Down Under and be blown away but the animation. Its BRILLIANT! (Although if I believe correctly, it was the first Disney film to use computers to aid the animation, but its still mind-blowing. If that was that then I knew I would hit the cinema to see it, but the fact that you gave it 10/10... Fuck yeah!

Marcus on Sep 6, 2009


That period in Disney Animation is a good era for them to study. Disney as a company was almost in trouble around that time, not just their animation. Little Mermaid was the beginning of a string of massive hits for them (I wouldn't count The Great Mouse Detective, or Rescuers Down Under as part of this movement though....even though I love both of those movies) that carried them into the Pixar era. I'm sure this documentary is great, but someone needs to do a documentary on the different era's of Disney Animation because there really are about 8 distinct era's of Disney animation. (The parenthesis are my own headings) The 1st (classics) - Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasic, Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty. The 2nd (uninspired classics) - 101 Dalmations, Sword and the Stone, Mary Poppins, Jungle Book The 3rd (Formulaic and unoriginal classics) - Aristocats, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Robin Hood, The Rescuers, Pete's Dragon, The Fox and the Hound The 4th (Rebuilding) - The Great Mouse Detective, Roger Rabbit, Oliver and Company, Rescuers Down Under The 5th (New Classics) - The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King The 6th (Overindulgent classics) - Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan The 7th (Aimless) - Fantasia 2000, Emperor's New Groove, Dinosaur, Atlantis, Lilo and Stitch, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Home on the Range (Brother and Bear and Lilo and Stitch almost deserve their own category because they're like diamonds in the rough in this era) The 8th (Today and the Future) Chicken Little, Meet the Robinson's, Bolt, Enchanted, Princess and the Frog I didn't include Pixar in this list because they kind of weave through era's 6, 7 and 8, and for the most part were a company unto themselves. Out of all of Disney's films there are really only 2, maybe 3 era's that really put out fantastic films. The rest rely on the Disney touch to pass mediocrity. I'm not knocking Disney at all. I'm actually a disturbingly huge Disney fan (how else would I know all of this useless trivia?) But I'd love to see a documentary about how Disney went from putting out amazing films, to losing that creativity, to copying their own formula's, then back to making amazing films....and then basically making a bunch of fragmented garbage. I was working for Disney at MGM Studio's in the Animation building when Lilo and Stitch and Brother Bear came out, and was there when they announced that they were closing the studio....after putting out Disney's only 2 successful animated films of this decade. Disney Animation is a fascinating company and a fascinating story. Thanks for pointing this documentary out. It probably won't make it into theaters where I live now, but I'll be looking for it online!

ImaginaryVisionary on Sep 6, 2009


The book Disney War was great (even if Eisner came across as a massive asshole, which he probably is), so this film should be more than interesting.

snickers on Sep 7, 2009


where is the trailer? Is it out yet?

Danny on Sep 8, 2009


if you haven't seen the documentary about pixar's rise I highly recommend it. It could almost go hand in hand with this feature.

indyjack on Sep 8, 2009


For those that don't know what documentary indyjack is talking about it's "The Pixar Story." It can be found on the WALL-E 2-Disc and 3-Disc DVD and Blu-ray. And, Alex, you owe it to yourself to try to see more documentaries. Science-fiction books aren't my thing, yet my favorite book of all time is Ender's Game - go figure. Sometimes we just get too wrapped up in new releases that we don't take the time to watch films from yesteryear or revisit classics we've only seen maybe only once. Therefore, you should take the time to see some of these docs. The Up Series Murderball Spellbound Capturing the Friedmans Man on Wire One Day in September When We Were Kings Tokyo Olympiad The Kid Stays in the Picture American Movie Hoop Dreams Koyaanisqatsi - Life Out of Balance Powaqqatsi - Life in Transformation Naqoyqatsi Planet Earth The World at War The works of Errol Morris The works of Ken Burns The works of the Albert Maysles and David Maysles

Travis on Sep 9, 2009


Any word on a widespread release...? Or when it will be available for rent/purchase...? I think this will be a fascinating piece.

Brent on Sep 17, 2009


Hi have u ever meet the real Don Hahn?cuz i got to ask him a really big question

Amy godfrey on Sep 21, 2009

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