Thursday, April 22, 2010

Higgens Network: Waking Sleeping Beauty

I am not a nostalgic individual despite the fact that the title of my blog is “Nostalgia From Yesterday’s Conversations.” That title comes from a quote in Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming where a character is snarkily reacting to the idea of revisiting an old college bar. Typically I share the same belief. I don’t often look back as often as I look forward. However, there are pleasant exceptions and Waking Sleeping Beauty is one of them.

During 1984 to 1994 something special happened in the Disney Animation Studios. All of the pieces just suddenly fit together and they created hits like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. This documentary examines this time and is told from the people who were there. All of the footage seen in the film was filmed before 1995. The whole story is told through home movies and news coverage. This type of observation surprisingly does not create too much bias. For example, not everyone interviewed are the biggest fans of the three top executives: Roy E. Disney, Michael Eisner, and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Each of them obviously has passion towards the film department, but they are each flawed with how they handle it sometimes. Katzenberg, in particular, comes across as a tough person to work with. Yet each of them gave new interviews talking about what happened during this decade that are very insightful.

The film is not all about business, but is also about the spirit of Disney. There is a true joy when people talk about Disney. The animators are a talented group of people who can make some amazing things possible. When the film shows footage of key scenes, like the ballroom in Beauty and the Beast, they become more powerful when there are faces behind it. I only wish the film focused more on how they developed the stories more because the films from this time were very intelligently handled.

I grew up with these films and the film assumes these movies hold a special place in people’s hearts. So it knows exactly what it’s doing when it teases “And then they went to work on Aladdin” or a statement like that. The movie plays off those memories in a subtle way. The film knows what people think about Tim Burton so when they show footage of him looking weird, it’s fun. The same goes how they talk about John Lasster and the birth of Pixar. Every time one of these button topics was mentioned my audience warmly and verbally reacted.

The film isn’t tooting its own horn like a DVD extra. The praise is earned from critical eyes and is definitely a story worth telling. At the end of the decade though, the movie isn’t interested in continuing the story. That makes for a strong focus, but there could be more to say to figure out how Disney fell into a similar rut as in the early 80s. It is not necessarily a criticism of a well-made film to want more. It’s because this film brilliantly replicated that environment, it became addicting. Disney has never just a product for children, but for every generation and every age. It may have been an imperfect company, but it’s still a magical one.

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