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Cherry Pop

'Waking Sleeping Beauty'
(Roy Edward Disney, John Lasseter, Michael Eisner, Tim Burton, Don Bluth, et al / DVD / NR / 2010 / Disney)

Overview: 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. These 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.

DVD Verdict: 'Waking Sleeping Beauty' is meticulously put together by director Don Hahn, who takes us through a step by step process that brought back the dormant animation department. We are immediately told that "from 1984 to 1994, a perfect storm of people and circumstances changed the face of animation forever." It then takes us to the successful opening of "The Lion King" in 1994. From then on, we go all the way to 1980, when the animation department at the Disney Studios was going downhill.

A new generation of animators, including Ron Clements, John Musker, Glen Keane, Joe Ranft, Tim Burton, and others, were working at the studios at the time, but little was generated. We see footage of them working and clowning around in their offices. We also see some of the old-timers, such as Don Bluth, Woolie Reitherman, Ollie Johnston, Eric Larson, and others.

The studio was run at the time by Ron Miller and Roy Disney, and there was trouble on the horizon. Bluth took some of the young animators with him, to form their own company, and there were threats of take-over by other big players. It was then that Michael Eisner, from Paramount Studios, and Frank Wells, from Warner Brothers, were hired by Disney to save the day. Eisner became the Chairman and Wells the Chief Operating Officer.

The film documents in detail how Eisner and Wells changed the structure of the Disney Studios, to the point that the employees referred to them as the "Hollywood Invasion," due to the business practices that they brought with them. Eisner then brought Jeffrey Katzenberg on board to run Disney's film division.

In fact, it was Katzenberg who allegedly said, "We got to wake up Sleeping Beauty." On the other hand, Peter Schneider was hired to save the animation division. With time, and after some mistakes, the team work began to pay off, with the successful releases of `The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," culminating with "The Lion King" in 1994.

Along the way, we witness how Spielberg affected the recovery process, how computer animation and Pixar began to make a name, and how songwriters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken left a huge mark with their creativity. Of course, the tension between Roy Disney, Eisner and Katzenberg, which ended with Katzenberg departing the company, is also documented.

"Waking Sleeping Beauty" is gold and a must for all film historians and Disney lovers in general. Hahn, who is one of Disney's star producers, had access to great footage and key personnel. The DVD also includes deleted scenes, a segment about Walt Disney, Studio tours, audio commentaries by Hahn and Peter Schneider, and much more. [CV] This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.35:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:

• Why Wake Sleeping Beauty? – Overview featurette
• Untold Bedtime Stories – Deleted scenes from the feature
• The Sailor, the Mountain Climber, the Artist and the Poet – Celebrating Roy Disney, Frank Wells, Joe Ranft, and Howard Ashman
• Studio Tours – Randy’s tours, Roger Rabbit studio, Oliver studio, and the tour we shot at ARL
• A Reunion – Rob Minkoff and Kirk Wise
• Walt - What would Walt do AND compare Walt’s era and this era
• 3 webisode shorts
• Gallery – Photos, caricatures, and art from the era