By the mid-1980s, the fabled animation studios of Walt Disney had fallen on hard times. The artists were polarized between newcomers hungry to innovate and old timers not yet ready to relinquish control. The conditions produced a series of box office flops and pessimistic forecasts: maybe the best days of animation were over. Maybe the public didn’t care. Only a miracle or a magic spell could produce a happy ending.
"Waking Sleeping Beauty" is no fairy tale. It’s the true story of how Disney regained its magic with a staggering output of hits — "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," "The Lion King" and more — over a 10-year period.
Director Don Hahn and producer Peter Schneider bring their insider knowledge to "Waking Sleeping Beauty." Hahn was one of the Young Turks at Disney who produced some of its biggest sensations. Schneider led the animation group during this amazing renaissance and later became studio chairman. Their film offers a fascinating and candid perspective of what happened in the creative ranks set against the dynamic tensions among the top leadership, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Roy Disney (the nephew of Walt).
The process wasn’t always pretty. The filmmakers bring a refreshing candor in describing ego battles, cost overruns and failed experiments. During times of tension, the animators’ favorite form of release was to draw scathing caricatures of themselves and their bosses. Director Hahn puts several memorable ones on display and marshals a vast array of interviews, home movies, internal memos and unseen footage.