It’s hard to imagine a world without Disney animated movies, and even more so, a Walt Disney Company without animated movies. As someone who has worked for Disney for the past 20 years, the thought of Disney not producing animation is truly unfathomable to me. But there was a time not too long ago when Disney, incredibly enough, came perilously close to ending all animated feature production for good.
“Waking Sleeping Beauty,” a feature-length documentary directed by Don Hahn, tells the tale and presents a living time capsule of this pivotal period in Disney history. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important films ever released by The Walt Disney Company. It’s easy to look back on the innumerable highlights of Disney’s storied history, but “Waking Sleeping Beauty” examines a period when “the wheels were coming off the car.” The fact that Disney could step back and make this self-examination, allowing Hahn and many of his colleagues to tell their tales openly, shows the company’s real integrity.
Since Walt Disney, the man, had always been the driving force behind the company, his death in 1966 left the company shaken as it tried to move forward without Walt’s creative vision. The animation team especially lost its way, but then in the mid-1980s, something magical happened.
In order to escape a takeover attempt to sell off The Walt Disney Company to the highest bidder, Walt’s nephew, Roy E. Disney, enlisted the help of a new management team — Michael Eisner and Frank Wells. This team recognized the incredible value of animation to the company’s history and brought the company back from the brink. With new leadership in place, the seasoned veterans in the animation department joined forces with the energetic young newcomers — Glen Keene, Don Hahn, Tim Burton, John Lasseter, and Ron Clements among others — and Disney animation experienced a renaissance. What followed was an explosion of animation brilliance with films like “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” and “The Lion King.”
If you’re a fan of Disney animated films, this movie is a must-see. And if you’re not especially interested in Disney’s animated legacy, well, trust me, you will be after seeing this film.