In August 2009 I had the privilege of being able to see an early screening of Waking Sleeping Beauty, a documentary about Walt Disney Animation during the renaissance years from 1984-1994. For those of you who don’t know, the early 80s were a dark time for The Walt Disney Company. There were corporate raiders at the gates, and animation was nearly dying. But that all began to change during the 10-years represented in this film, what some call the golden age: you know, when things like Beauty & the Beast, The Lion King, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (just to name a few) were made.
The film was still a somewhat rough cut, the sound was not final in some scenes, but it was still a great documentary to watch, especially if you have in any way a fascination with animation or Disney. It was co-directed by Don Hahn, who worked on those movies I mention above, as well as being the author of various artistic books. Don gave us a brief intro and then mostly let the film do the story telling. Which it did quite well. Having a long history going back to my childhood with Disney (like many of you, I imagine), I was fairly excited to see the stories of Animation. I have family who have worked for Disney, my first movie was a Disney movie, my first ride was a Disney ride, my career has its associations to Disney, etc. etc…so there was a fair amount I already knew, and a natural tendency to be interested in this subject matter. And it just so happens there was some footage showing a Castmember Party at Disneyland where Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner served hotdogs. And as a kid I just so happened to be one of the people that got served a hot dog by Michael Eisner. And no, I am not on camera. But it was personally amusing and nostalgic to be reminded of that moment.
The great thing about Waking Sleeping Beauty was that it was as if you were in a room full of these icons of Disney Animation and animation at large and just listening to them tell stories. I think this was certainly helped by one of the guiding rules of the documentary, as explained by Don, being that only archival footage would be used for the film. Seeing the people, in their element and in the prime of this story’s timeline, certainly helped that feeling of being in the same room with them. And additionally, having read Disney War, there were many things I could relate to and slot together like puzzle pieces from that book to this documentary.
However, I have to say what made this experience more surreal and unique for me was what happened a few days after seeing it. This early screening was invite only, and I and one of the guys on my team were invited. He couldn’t make it due to being on vacation to visit his family, but I know how much he likes Disney. So I sent Don an email (since he was kind enough to provide his email before the screening, if any of us had feedback) asking if there were any additional screenings, and in the process of writing him that simple email I began to realize that I was talking to someone who helped create so many memories of my childhood, and thus helped shaped my childhood. It then became this very surreal moment of being able to thank one of those people for what they did, for the memories they gave me, the enjoyment of seeing all those Disney masterpieces. And that, in and of itself, was quite humbling to me.
So once again I say, even though I know it wasn’t an individual effort: Don, thank you for making this great documentary, and thank you for your work on all those movies that to this day hold special memories for me and so many countless others.
For the rest of you, you should go see this documentary.
Originally written August, 2009. Posted June, 2010.