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Waking Sleeping Beauty

7.61 h 25 min2009PG
The art of modern animation is brought to life by a perfect storm of art, business and circumstance.
Don Hahn
Roy Edward DisneyJohn LasseterDon Bluth
None Available
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Rentals include 30 days to start watching this video and 48 hours to finish once started.
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Supporting actors
John MuskerMichael Eisner
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4.7 out of 5 stars

128 global ratings

  1. 82% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 10% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 7% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 2% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 0% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United Kingdom

D. M. CentifantiReviewed in the United Kingdom on 18 January 2014
4.0 out of 5 stars
The only way to go, here in the UK
Verified purchase
I'd been wanting to see this movie since it came out, but it has become clear it will not be seeing a UK release so I went ahead and bought it. The seller got it to me VERY quickly, and it was brand new at a very low price. So, I'd definitely recommend the seller.
The movie is another thing. On its own it's merely okay, as might be expected from a movie about the Disney company...being released by the Disney company...and directed by a longtime member of the Disney company. The executive characters who were instrumental in the story at this time are still major power-players and clearly had some influence over their depiction in this documentary. Perhaps the tale would have been better told by a more independently created source, but the use of archival footage and interviews both new and old is appropriate and as accurate as might be expected.
The DVD, however, really boosts the movie with some excellent extras: there's a commentary by the director and the producer (the latter an unflattering subject in the movie); there are the lovely 'home movie' studio tours that were part of the footage used for the movie; the usual deleted scenes take on a whole new import as we see a bit of a sub-plot that was excised from the final cut and get even more insight into the goings-on of the once-languishing Disney animation department.
As a Disney fan/critic, I had hoped for more from this film. However, it does tell an essential tale about a shocking turn in the world's most powerful producer of animated features, and does hammer home the realisation that, had things gone differently during the period covered, Disney animation would have been a legacy left rather than a longstanding tradition.
One person found this helpful
Geert Van LooReviewed in the United Kingdom on 30 November 2017
5.0 out of 5 stars
Five Stars
Verified purchase
Good Deal
Mark Baker - Carstairs ConsidersReviewed in the United Kingdom on 03 May 2015
4.0 out of 5 stars
The 80's Rebirth of Disney Animation
Being the Disney Animation fan I am, there was no way I could pass up seeing Waking Sleeping Beauty. True, I was thinking about waiting until it hit DVD, but ultimately I couldn't wait that long. It was made for people like me who crave the inside scoop on the creation of some of our favorite films.

Waking Sleeping Beauty is a behind the scenes look at the revival of Disney animation that took place during the late 80's and early 90's. It was directed and narrated by Don Hahn who worked at the studio during that period and worked on such films as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.

The movie starts with a brief look at the transition going on during the early 80's. That serves as background since the film really focuses on the first half of Michael Eisner's reign as CEO of the company. We get to see him being hired and bringing in Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg to help him run the company.

The main focus is the 10 year stretch of 1984-1994. For those who aren't up on their Disney animated movie release dates, that stretch starts with the horrid Black Cauldron and concludes with The Lion King. The period also saw the release of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Quite obviously, this was one of the best periods in animation for a long stretch.

I certainly knew bits and pieces of this story, but getting to hear it from the mouths of those who were actually there was fascinating for me. We get interviews from all the major players as well as many of the big animators that became household names during that time, including people like John Musker and Glen Keane.

This isn't a talking heads movie. While some new interviews were recorded, we don't see any of them. Instead, the interviews serve as background narration to the images on the screen. The interviewee is credited with a word bubble that pops up at the bottom of the screen for a few seconds as they start to talk.

Much of the footage is old home movies taken by the people involved. The video quality suffers at times as a result, but I didn't care. We also get to see actors in their voice recording sessions and news footage from the time of the big premiers, theme park events, or news programs made.

As I already said, I found this documentary absolutely fascinating. It doesn't try to sugarcoat everything. The problems with the films and the missteps made by everyone involved are discussed. I knew the broad picture, but I felt I really got to know the details of much of what happened. I even learned that John Lasseter had worked at Disney during the time.

While I do admire them discussing some of the warts of that time, I felt like the movie stopped short of really telling the whole story. One of the last events of the film is Jeffrey Katzenberg leaving the studio (ultimately to help start Dreamworks). While the behind the scenes tension is discussed as a clash of egos, it still feels rather abrupt to me. And the men involved in that clash of ego seem to go out of their way to avoid pointing fingers at anyone. Instead, they all half heartedly take the blame for the falling out.

The movie starts with the premier of The Lion King, flashes back to the early 80's, then works it way forward, ending with much of the same footage and narration it started with. That works to give us a feeling of completion. Almost. Don as narrator twice says that the wheels had come off, but I was left wanting to know more. What happened next to drive to the steep decline of the Disney animated movie? I think I would have enjoyed learning more about the next six years than I did the ten years we got here.

Both of those complaints are probably more the Disney fanatic talking than the average movie goer. After all, this is supposed to be about the rebirth of hand drawn animation, and I want to learn about the rebirth and then almost death of the media. Of course, that would probably take twice as long as the 84 minutes we get here. While I'd willingly and cheerfully sit through that, how many others would?

Waking Sleeping Beauty has received a very limited release in only a handful of theaters around the country. I don't know about plans to expand the release. If you want to see it and are lucky enough to have it nearby, go. You'll enjoy it. I'm sure it will hit DVD soon, so if you miss the limited theatrical release, look for that. Every Disney fan will enjoy this documentary.
Trevor WillsmerReviewed in the United Kingdom on 27 December 2010
5.0 out of 5 stars
"Am I allowed to talk about Jeffrey Katzenberg?"
In the end title sequence of Don Hahn's excellent documentary about Walt Disney animation's troubled resurgence in the 80s and 90s, Waking Sleeping Beauty, one interviewee gruffly asks, "Before we go any further, am I allowed to talk about Jeffrey Katzenberg?" It's a pertinent question about a studio that exerts such an iron grip over how its history is presented that many key players are often removed from it altogether (how many people remember that the studio started life as the Disney Brothers studio or that Roy Sr. was a key player to the end?), and its inclusion makes it clear that, while a highly personal account, this isn't the usual studio whitewash. As such it's genuinely surprising to see Disney themselves producing and releasing a film about the clashing egos that helped rescue the Happy Kingdom from disaster - though not without casualties - before greater success and the need to be top dog turned it back into the Unhappy Kingdom.

Hahn was the producer of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, and the film is a combination of unauthorised home movie footage, TV interviews and news reports and brief extracts from the films accompanied by voice-over interviews from the principals, some new, some archive. It starts in the dark days of the late 70s, when Disney management was stuck in a rut and the animation division was losing its market and its talent, but the story really kicks off with the huge culture shock when a palace coup led to Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg entering the picture, kicking the animators out of the animation building and exiling them to a low-rent warehouse off the lot, fuelling the animators determination to fight back by making better pictures. Unfortunately the new management hadn't a clue about animation...

It's not the complete story, skirting over many key battles like the nightmarish production problems on Aladdin because Hahn wasn't directly involved, but the personal approach it takes to the management infighting and the passions of those caught in the ensuing maelstrom is genuinely revealing and even, when dealing with the death of lyricist Howard Ashman, touching. It's one of the few times the sheer physical and emotional strain of animation has been dealt with, with animators overworking themselves until they couldn't even hold a cup of coffee in their drawing hand or the hot-house pressure destroying family lives. Yet it acknowledges that the animators themselves had as much to do with it as the management in their obsessive desire to top themselves and their constant infighting over credit. It even, astonishingly for a Disney film, criticises Walt himself for not giving enough credit to others (that it's Roy Disney making the comment probably helped sneak that one through). And ultimately it's the issue of credit and ego that would destroy the team that took the animation division from being outgrossed by The Care Bears Movie to earning Best Picture Oscar nominations and $750m at the worldwide box-office with a single film.

The distance from the events has allowed Hahn a more philosophical historical perspective on the increasingly bitter and counter-productive power struggles. It gives the oft-overlooked Peter Schneider (who produced this documentary) and the dangerously underestimated Roy Disney their due and is surprisingly even-handed about Katzenberg in particular, dealing as much with the players' strengths as their weaknesses. Rather than looking for villains to demonise, much of the time it lets people hang themselves. The film doesn't need to underline the hypocrisies all the players display. Eisner constantly complains about Katzenberg hogging publicity and taking credit, oblivious to the plethora of footage of him taking the credit for everything from films to theme parks on TV. There's one particularly telling moment of pettiness during the memorial service for Frank Wells, the much-admired and unusually humble studio executive who kept the various egos in check, when Roy Disney won't start his eulogy until Eisner gives him a bigger introduction.

Hahn's not entirely immune to the mild bit of ego himself: while he regards Oliver and Company as a crucial step in reversing the animation department's fortunes, many regard the lacklustre effort as part of the problem rather than the solution. Similarly the lingering hatred of Don Bluth, who led a mutiny of Disney animators to start his own studio, leads to the very real role his competition had in forcing Disney to raise their game being completely ignored a little too readily: Bluth may never have lived up to his own promise, but it would take a decade for the increasingly unimaginative Disney animation to get to the level of classical artistry his Secret of NIMH displayed. But for the most part you don't get the feeling that this is about settling scores as it is about trying to make sense of how much success went so wrong.

It doesn't touch on the aftermath, assuming that it's all too well-known to animation fans. The success of The Lion King led to a massive increase in both budgets and expectations for animated features so that even a profitable $350m worldwide gross would be regarded as a disappointment that would hit the company's share price. Once again rivalry with other studios - both a resurgent Don Bluth and Katzenberg's startup rival DreamWorks Animation - would have the studio management running scared and changing their plans to compete with disastrous consequences while PIXAR and computer animation began to dominate, much to Eisner's anger, until he closed down Disney's hand-drawn animation arm completely, firing 1300 animators before losing his own job for (among other things) driving PIXAR away in a fit of pique. For a very personal - and unabashedly bitter - take on that story you need to find the non-Disney produced Dream On, Silly Dreamer, which is currently only available from

The best thing about Waking Sleeping Beauty is that Hahn manages to turn what could have been a boardroom business story into a surprisingly compelling human one, and all in a very concise 88 minutes. There's a real sense of the people involved as imperfect human beings rather than caricatures, mixing their enthusiasm and their anger in equal measure, making it a story that's as involving as it is informative. It's certainly one of the finest documentaries about filmmaking I've ever seen.

Disney's DVD is another good package: audio commentary, genuinely interesting deleted scenes and some informative featurettes that compliment some of the issues raised in the feature. On a purely technical level the captions identifying the voice-over interviewees are almost illegible on DVD, but that's the only real downside to a documentary that's not just of interest to Disney fans.
10 people found this helpful
Brawny WithedReviewed in the United Kingdom on 22 December 2011
5.0 out of 5 stars
Witnessing Disney's Renaissance
Waking Sleeping Beauty is an interesting and engaging documentary about Disney's decline in animated features in the early eighties and the animation Renaissance of the company in the early nineties with films such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.

The main characters in the documentary are the animators mainly represented by the director of this film Don Hahn and executives Michael Eisner, Roy E. Disney and Jeffrey Katzenberg. The relationships between these characters make for an interesting story with backbiting and pettiness along the way.

It's really interesting to see some of the stories behind some of Disney's recent classic's and I have watched this several times now and I'm still enjoying it.
One person found this helpful
Dyspeptic SpiritReviewed in the United Kingdom on 14 December 2011
3.0 out of 5 stars
In the land of make believe...
A watchable film that documents a period of time when the animation division of Disney was initially in decline but managed through the efforts of a new management team (and of course the animators) to reinvent itself and become highly successful again. I'm not a big fan of recent Disney films and found the subject matter less than animating. Worth a watch.
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