Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Waking Sleeping Beauty comes to Philly

I've just returned from a screening of Waking Sleeping Beauty that was held in Philly tonight. I had really been looking forward to this and it did not disappoint. The movie was briefly introduced by Peter Schneider, the producer of the documentary and many other past Disney films. He then stayed around until the end for a Q&A. This was being held at the Prince Music Theatre in Philadelphia. Nice theatre, think older and film festivals.
This was a very good movie. Documentary really. And just as advertised, it was based on the period at the Disney Studio from 1984-1994. The main theme and hearing Peter say it with pride was for him and Don Hahn to create a documentary that had no talking heads. That would be the old people you usually see looking back at a time being discussed in a documentary. None of the video used was made after 1994. There were some new audio talking about that time of course, but the meat of this was all vintage. I'm not going to repeat what's been said, so if you have not yet, please check out the trailer from the movie. Waking Sleeping Beauty Go ahead, click the link, I'll wait. But come back.
The movie actually starts earlier than 1984 in that it talks about the executive moves made at the time. With the hiring of Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg Disney was on their way. What the trailer does not speak about and what I thought really tied this entire movie together was the involvement, business sense and what turned out to be dampening effect that Frank Wells provided. There were three very intense personalities at work at this time. I mentioned Eisner and Katzenberg and add Roy E. also. Each with their ideas of what was in the best interest of the company. Frank seeemed to be there to keep everyone in check. It was truly a big loss when he died. There is a lot of information about this upper branch of management and then there was the video and stories of the animators. Peter mentioned that they got their video from any number of sources. There are some great, funny clips. Up to and including Jeffrey Katzenberg getting mauled by a Lion on stage in Vegas provided by Don Hahn's mom. We go through the history of animation at the time starting with the Black Cauldron and Basil from Baker Street, I mean the Great Mouse Detective. The collaboration of talent for Who Framed Roger Rabbit really started the flow and it did not stop for the next ten years.
This story showed how a group of about 200 people went from working 12 hours a day worrying about being fired and animation dying at the Disney Studio. And then 10 years later a group of about 5000 people working now 16 hours a day trying to keep the fame they had found. Still the trip getting there was anything but dull.
As I mentioned above the movie was followed by a Q&A with Peter Schneider. This was very rewarding because he touched on a number of topics. How Disney might have taken advantage of Tim Burton earlier on better? What did Peter think about Pixar? Could the Princess and the Frog be considered Disney's next Renaissance in animation? Some of the ideas that were discovered using the Gong Show method. And so much more. I had one small issue, though. I would have liked to hear more about the animators than we did. There was a lot of Eisner/Katzenberg/Disney and rightly so, but I can ask , can't I? There were some great clips. I am a big Jerry Orbach fan and they had a clip of Angela Landsbury and him recording for Beauty and the Beast with Howard Ashman. The animators goofing off and discussing ideas were fun to watch also.
Peter did mention that for the cities that did not get a release of this movie, that there is a DVD in the works that would probably be a compilation of this movie along with El Groupo and the Sweatbox and one other Walt Disney Company Documentary. This was truly a great opportunity to learn a little bit more about the company and how it got to where it is today. If you have the chance, see this movie. Click below for Q&A audio.


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