Lulled to sleep by the details
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, October 1, 2010
"Waking Sleeping Beauty," a documentary about Disney cartoons, could use a little more art. Not animation art -- it's got enough of that -- but an org chart.
The movie, directed by Don Hahn (a Disney producer nominated for an Oscar for "Beauty and the Beast"), is a look behind the scenes at the Walt Disney Co. from the years 1984, when Michael Eisner was hired as CEO, to 1994, when Eisner's motion picture chief, Jeffrey Katzenberg, was forced out, essentially after demanding the job of president, an opening created by the death of Frank Wells.
Got all that? You haven't heard the half of it. This inside-baseball movie also gets into the internecine squabbles of Disney board member (and Walt's nephew) Roy Disney, who hired Eisner, and Katzenberg's right-hand man, Peter Schneider, the president of Walt Disney Feature Animation. Although it name-checks such onetime Disney animators as Tim Burton, John Lassiter and Don Bluth, the film is heavy with references to people that the average Joe has probably never heard of -- and is unlikely to care very much about, even after the closing credits.
What's worse, it's supposed to be a movie about Disney's artistic comeback, from an almost forgotten animation studio to its current heights, characterized by such movies as "The Lion King." As such, you'd think there would be a little more about, you know, the creative side of things, and less backstabbing business tales.
Not that the story is without interest. It's just that the way Hahn tells it is so dull, using mostly blurry, home-movie-caliber archival video, TV clips and still photos, and with almost no on-camera interviews, that it's hard to follow. When Roy Disney, or Eisner and others, are interviewed, it's often in voiceover. After a while, it gets confusing about whom we're listening to. Are we supposed to recognize them simply from the sound of their voices? As an animated filmmaker, Hahn may have spent a little too much time in the sound studio.
That's a shame, because there is a tale of the resurgence of the animator's art somewhere in here. It's just that "Waking Sleeping Beauty" offers no insights into how that resurgence took place. Eisner, Katzenberg and Schneider make it sound more like pure, dumb luck than talent.
Toward the end of the film, Hahn, who narrates it, says: "After all that drama, the late nights, the cold pizza, the bruised egos and all those hours away from family, in the end nobody'll remember who did what to who. But they will remember the characters who leapt from a pencil onto the screen, and into the hearts of the audience."
He's right, of course, but more Belle, more Ariel, more Simba -- and less of Eisner and Co. -- would have made a more interesting movie.
Contain brief crude language.