Under Review: ‘Waking Sleeping Beauty’


Don’t be thinking that this doc even mentions “Sleeping Beauty” – ever. But do believe in the metaphorical illusion. This is a documentary on saving an institution that helped shape us in our youth, developing our nascent sense of hope, virtue and courage. This is a doc on saving, what became by the 1980s, Disney’s comatose animation division.

It is in the description of its ultimate come-back that writer Patrick Pacheco shows a parallel between Disney’s “Lion King” message and its own experience as a company. As Jeffrey Katzenberg, then head of the animation division stated, “It was really about that moment in each of our lives that we have to sort of grow up and take responsibility – we have to take our place in the circle of life.”

Roy Disney explained, “Allegorically, a young person is born with a future that has to be fulfilled. He has to go through a lot of difficulties to get there. Most especially, he has to learn to believe in himself before he can become what he is fated to be.”

The proverbial Disney message is that persevering through challenges and the seemingly impossible, through believing in ourselves, our values and in our dreams, we mature and experience success.

Pacheco notes “Lion King” became a Shakespearean tale about the responsibility of leadership and in that way was almost autobiographical for the Disney animation department itself if not the entire competitive Disney conglomerate.

Sometimes failing, sometimes not staying true to the mission or the product, and sometimes not getting along, the Disney animation wing had been challenged by renegade employees and rival industries. Management conflicts abounded.

Interesting are the struggles documented between Roy Disney, nephew of Walt, and the three arms of Disney Productions, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Frank Wells. Of the four Disney principals, Frank Wells was identified as the most selfless, being a peacemaker and mediator. He carried in his pocket a card with the quote, “Humility is the ultimate virtue.” When he died in a plane crash in 1994, Disney was in the process of releasing “Lion King,” its greatest box office success of all time.

Sadly, in the process of reaching this pinnacle of artistic glory, the animators worked long hours, and at some point were even required to attend 8 a.m. Sunday meetings. Shots of them sleeping on the floor curled up amongst papers, show the inhumane pacing of the business under the direction of Katzenberg. At times, the artists couldn’t hold coffee cups because of shaking hands and carpel tunnel was epidemic.

The message behind Disney’s artistic, commercial and internal peril and revival, aptly named for “Sleeping Beauty,” is known to those of us entertained by Disney in our formative years. It is our fervent Disney-instilled belief that through hard work, perseverance and following our true dream that we can be led to what our hearts most desire.

After a run in several film festivals, “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” a documentary including entertaining archival animation and interesting footage of life behind the scenes of our most beloved movies, opens Sept. 24 at the historic Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Ore.


Directed: Don Hahn
Produced: Peter Schneider, Don Hah
Written by and Interviews Conducted by: Patrick Pacheco
Music: Chris Bacon
Filmed by: John Lasseter, Joe Ranft
Awards: 2009 Official Selectiof Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals
Winner: 2009 Hamptons International Film Festival Audience Prize
Winner: 2009 Heartland Film Festival Truly Moving Picture Award
Release: March, 2010
Running time: 86 minutes
Rating: PG
Hollywood Theater:

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2 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Adam Poynter #

    I actually heard about this documentary last year and it looked really interesting, I love Disney and really hope I get to see it soon!

  2. Stephanie #

    I caught this at the Florida Film Festival earlier this year in a packed theater. Definitely one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

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