Waking Sleeping Beauty is a fascinating documentary highlighting the renaissance of Disney animation from 1984 and 1994. It goes in depth on how the perfect storm cam together to create amazing Disney films like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, and the Little Mermaid after it seemed like Disney animation was dying. The studio went from putting out box-office bombs to having Beauty and the Beast nominated for Best Picture by the Academy Awards. The film shows how the triumvirate of Roy Disney, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg were all so instrumental in the success of these movies and how the tensions between them would eventually kill the renaissance as easily as they built it. The film uses archival footage, sketches, and caricatures from the artists of the time to ground the documentary in the period to great effect. It goes to show how luck plays just as much of a part in the creation of a great film as hard work does. Amazingly insightful and extremely well-executed. I think parallels could be made with the most recent rise and fall of anime as well for a clever soul out there.
What struck me as very unique about the story of Waking Sleeping Beauty is the focus on the artists, directors, musicians, and all other manners of the creation process rather than the infamous infighting between Roy, Michael, and Jeffery that has already been well-documented. This documentary goes deeper and really shows the hard-work of all those people who rarely made it into the newspaper. The way that it is cut together with only old footage much of which is very off the cuff like home movies (the only things that are new are some of the voiceovers) really helps it to feel grounded in reality and not like some glossy corporate highlights reel. What I found truly incredible about this 10 year journey was the proof of fate, that sometimes the right people come together at the right time and it can never be duplicated because the factors were so diverse. That isn’t to say that hard-work and dedication isn’t the most important part of this project, it’s central to what these animators especially went through to perfect these films, but there is a little bit of magic in these people getting together and making it all happen. Waking Sleeping Beauty is insightful, funny, moving, and may make you believe in Disney magic.