Thursday, May 20, 2010

Waking Sleeping Beauty Walt Disney’s New Animated Bomb

Waking Sleeping Beauty will matter only to those who grew up on Walt Disney’s animated films.

Don Hahn’s documentary focuses on a decade in which the all but moribund Disney animation department, re-energized by a handful of new movers and shakers, came out of its coma and blazed a path that would lead to “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King,” among other successes.

The film works on several levels. The judicious use of clips from those great films reminds us of why they became such an essential part of our shared film experiences. Also, this is a story of strange bedfellows and strained friendships that ultimately flew apart.

And it allows us to dwell, if only for a few moments, in the heart of Disney animation, where goofy guys and gals sit at drawing boards and decorate their walls with goofy cartoons and often star in their own goofy home movies. “Waking Sleeping Beauty” is also about one of the most influential culture-creating institutions in the world.

By the mid 80s, Disney animation was in such trouble that there was talk of shutting it down and focusing exclusively on live-action films. After all, “Splash” was a huge hit for the company, while the animated bomb “The Black Cauldron” failed to earn back half its production costs and was trounced at the box office by “The Care Bears Movie.”

Of course, Disney animation is now riding high again with ‘WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY’ as a result of its post Katzenberg acquisition of Pixar. Maybe in a decade Hahn will make a sequel and bring us up to date.


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