Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Year of Film part 5- Waking Sleeping Beauty

Date viewed: 1/29/11

Imagine you're out in the ocean with nothing around for miles. While out there, sharks swirling beneath you, you come across a life boat. In that life boat are several pages, and those ages tell a great story, but it seems that the wind has picked up the first half and scattered them across the sea, and the writer died of starvation before finishing the book.
These pages are pretty good, but you no context for the story or the characters.

This is "Waking Sleeping Beauty." The documentary tells the story of the Disney animation renaissance between 1989 and 1994 (or, "The Little Mermaid" through the "Lion King" for those of you who know the canon).

It tells about the people in power at that time, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, and their struggle to bring the Disney animation studio back from the edge of bankruptcy.

The movie does a fair job at this, giving us a brief history of Disney up to that point, but it's ultimately not enough. We never get the real scope of the situation. We have hearsay about the old films and how great they were and that the Disney standard is in the toilet. We have Roy Disney running around managing a company, Eisner beginning his "milk the brand for all it's worth" phase, and Katzenberg being wrong on every call he makes (cut "Part of Your World" from "The Little Mermaid"? "Pocahontas" will be bigger than "The Lion King"? Really?).

To really care about this movie we'd need a full history of Disney and the Nine Old Men who helped found the studio. We need to care about what is going on.

Personally, I think "Waking Sleeping Beauty" would have been more successful as a documentary about the history of animated film with the late 80s/early 90s as the fulcrum of the story. There is too much history before the movie begins and after the movie ends for us to care about the five-year vacuum that the movie showcases. We need to know what happened after the renaissance and what happened to our "characters."

Speaking of which, great documentaries have great characters. Christopher Guest knows this and has made a film career based on exploiting it. Even "King of Kong," which I talked about a few weeks ago, does a fantastic job setting up its characters. We know their history, we know why they do what they do, and we know what they're fighting for.

In "Waking Sleeping Beauty" we get none of this context. We are plopped down into the plot and told to care. In order to get more of the story, Lindsay Ellis's Nostalgia Chick video is almost required viewing.

"Waking Sleeping Beauty" does a decent job of telling us why this period is important in Disney animation history, but it lacks a care factor. There is nobody to cheer for because the documentary never takes the time to really introduce us to any of the people involved. The really interesting stuff happened as a result of the events in this film, so I feel like they should have at least been touched upon. Overall, "Waking Sleeping Beauty" will please those who have a deep knowledge of Disney's history, but leave those who don't wanting more.

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