(Dir. Don Hahn, 2009)

Veteran Disney producer Don Hahn here provides an engrossing inside look at the world of Walt Disney Feature Animation from the years 1980-1994. Years in which as an opening title tells us: “A perfect storm of people and circumstances changed the face of animation forever.”

Hahn, who narrates, takes us through the studio’s struggle in the ’80s after animator Don Bluth left taking with him half of their staff. It was incredibly difficult to compete with Bluth and Steven Spielberg’s more-Disney-than-Disney productions such as “An American Tail”, so it looked like time to step up their game.

This resulted in the “Disney Renaissance” which included such smash hit features as “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty And The Beast”, “Aladdin”, and “The Lion King”.

We hear the voice of Roy Disney (older brother of Walt) explain how in 1984 Paramount Pictures chairman Michael Eisner became chief executive officer of Disney. Also recruited from another studio (Warner Brothers) was Frank Wells who was made Disney’s President and Chief Operating Officer. In addition Eisner brings in former Paramount colleague Jeffrey Katzenberg to run the film devision of Disney.

Hahn considered this an “invasion from Hollywood” and bemoans the changes that were being made: “I remember interior decorators tearing down walls that hadn’t been touched since 1939.”

These shake-ups dishearten the animators who are relocated to their chagrin to smaller shabbier production facilities.

Newly appointed President of the Feature Animation Peter Schneider (and co-producer of this doc) causes some controversy when he changes the title “The Basil Of Baker Street” to “The Great Mouse Detective”.

The name change didn’t help the film beat the box office of “An American Tale”, but a collaboration with Spielberg on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” a few years later would do a lot to spurn on the “Disney Renaissance”.

From there we learn about the background on Disney’s home video moratoriums, the making of various projects, we see grainy video of musical recording sessions, and we get the scoop on the rise of computer graphics via a small firm that experimented with character animation that made Listerine commercials on the side. The firm’s name was Pixar.

Then there are the tragic deaths of song writer Howard Ashman who died from AIDs before he could see a final cut of his work in the smash hit “Beauty And The Beast” in 1991, and Disney President Frank Wells who died in a helicopter crash in 1994.

Wells was the glue that kept it all together, the go-between from ego to ego, so his passing made worse the friction surrounding Roy Disney, Eisner, and Katzenberg. Katzenberg wanted Wells’ job and he learned he wasn’t going to get it – he resigned.

WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY may be a bit self congratulating at times, but it’s a well told story that breezes by aided by classic film clips, sketchy yet eye-opening works-in-progress, excerpts from TV interviews, and much home movie quality film shot by Hahn over the years.

It’s a must for Disney fans as well as anybody with an interest in the juicy details of what goes on behind the scenes of a major studio from turbulent to triumphant times.

Special Features: A bevy of featurettes entitled “Why Wake Sleeping Beauty?”, “The Sailor, the Mountain Climber, the Artist and the Poet – Celebrating Roy Disney, Frank Wells, Joe Ranft, and Howard Ashman”, “Studio tours” including Randy’s tours, “Roger Rabbit” studio, “Oliver studio”, “A Reunion – Rob Minkoff and Kirk Wise”, “Walt – What Would Walt Do”, and “Compare Walt’s Era And This Era”. There’s also 3 webisode shorts, deleted scenes, and an extensive photo gallery.

More later…