The question of whether to watch Don Hahn’s new documentary about Disney Animation in the 1980s and ’90s, Waking Sleeping Beauty, is not a difficult one to answer. While the film does not directly cover Pixar, the film provides an honest portrayal of what the animators and studio heads at Walt Disney experienced during a tumultuous time in the industry. This is the time period when future Pixar figures such as John Lasseter and Joe Ranft, were coming into their own. It was an influential time that really did alter the public’s perception of animation, and is hence worth watching for fans of animation and Pixar.
Director Don Hahn meticulously poured over archival footage to include in the film, which is why there are no ‘talking heads’ (as Hahn himself says in the extras) providing interviews. The result is a treasure trove of footage, some of which has never been widely seen before. You can hear John Lasseter’s voice in some of the footage, as he walks around with a camera in his hands, recording video that may be fascinating to view today, but back then was a simple video. That is apparent throughout the documentary. Providing the audience with actual footage, rather than simply interviews, becomes the driving force behind why there is an incredible honesty to the film. Hahn did not set out to bring Disney secrets to life, but instead to provide a small window into what brought animation to where it is today.
I am sure that many animators who work at Pixar today count The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King as films that influenced their lives and their work. Waking Sleeping Beauty is the story of what helped bring animation to the level that it is now. Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, which brought notoriety and honor to a medium that had previously been viewed as directed towards children. Finally, animators and others in the industry were given some of the respectability that had been a long time coming.
Sure, Pixar has helped to take that even further, as Up became only the second animated film given a nomination for Best Picture and now there is talk of Toy Story 3 becoming the third. Animation has come a long way from the time when Walt Disney released Snow White. Do yourself a favor and check out Waking Sleeping Beauty, which was just released on DVD. As you are completely engrossed in the spectacular footage, you may just come to appreciate animation and the people that bring it to us that much more.
The limited running time for the documentary meant that a large amount of footage had to be left on the cutting room floor. The great part about the DVD is that the extras on the disc add to the already superb film. Just when you think you are done watching the 86-minute film, you wander over to the bonus features and find even more. While not necessary to view in order to ‘get’ what the film is driving home, the extras complete the viewing experience, and fans of the documentary will be ecstatic to have more. Everything presented on the disc is just so fascinating that you cannot help but want more. That speaks to the fantastic work that Hahn and producer Peter Schneider were able to put forth. Recommended? Absolutely.
For more on Waking Sleeping Beauty, The Pixar Podcast recently conducted a great interview with director Don Hahn. Click here to give it a listen.