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June 22, 2011

Waking Sleeping Beauty

by Franz Patrick


Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

I grew up on Disney’s late 1980s to mid-1990s animated movies like Ron Clements and John Musker’s “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin,” Hendel Butoy and Mike Gabriel’s lesser-known “The Rescuers Down Under,” and Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff’s “The Lion King,” but I don’t know much about the history of the team behind such hits so I just had to watch this film. With their successes, it’s difficult to imagine, let alone appreciate, the hardships the artists went through to release commercially-pleasing projects and at the same time ward off their competitors (Steven Spielberg, working for a different company at the time, was actually one of them). And that’s exactly what this film was about: To tell the story of the behind-the-scenes struggles the writers, artists, and leaders in the company who had no choice but to live up to Walt Disney’s many profound accomplishments. I thought it was fascinating in the way it explored the collision of vastly different ideas in how to launch a story and how those ideas cost millions of dollars, while only a minute amount ended up on screen. When the documentary showed us how much of the sketches ended up in recycling, the voice inside my head couldn’t help but yell out a resounding, “No! Don’t throw all of that hard work in the trash!” I learned a whole lot from the film and, in a way, it changed the way I saw the animated movies I cherished as a child. I didn’t know that “The Rescuers Down Under” (a box-office flop upon its release and, to this day, highly underrated) was Disney’s first ever animated film made digitally. I thought that each frame was drawn by hand but looking back on it, the images looked sharper and more defined than its predecessors. I almost wanted to see the movie again so I could observe the risks that the animators took in order to release movies at a much faster rate. The documentary also tackled the issue of the workers’ debilitating health. Since the animation studios’ projects were hit-and-miss, at some point the workers were not properly compensated; they had to draw all night and come to work in the morning with uncontrollable shaking of the hands, while some suffered long-term carpal tunnel syndrome. I thought the company’s goal of releasing one Disney movie per year was unrealistic considering the amount work the team had to inject in each project. “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” directed by Don Hahn, is a required viewing for those who love classic Disney animated films and are children at heart. There were some fun and touching appearances from Tim Burton, Howard Ashman, and John Lasseter, but watching it should make us appreciate the talent behind the art we feel like we have a deep connection with.

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