4 stars, (NR)
Pixar won its fifth Best
Animated Film Oscar last year. In this time when animated films are winning
countless awards and receiving more critical praise than most live action
pictures, it's difficult to imagine that animation was once a struggling enterprise.
Even harder to accept is the fact that Disney (Pixar's former partner)
experienced the brunt of that struggle. The documentary, Waking
Sleeping Beauty is a rich, refreshingly adult look at Disney from
1984-1994, exposing the harsh realities behind its movie magic. Fortunately,
director Don Hahn keeps cynicism in check and shows that good can come from an
industry scarred by ego clashes and power struggles.
The most significant
revelation of the film is that the Disney animation department is not the fairy
tale landscape we all imagined it to be. In reality, it consisted of nerdy guys
running around shabby offices wondering if they still had a job to go to the
next day. The reason for this concern was studio chairman, Jeffrey Katzenberg's
view that animated films were an albatross around Disney's neck. At the time,
they cost the studio more money than they made. Obviously, Katzenberg didn't
care about the films' artistic merits (In his words, he aimed for the "Bank of
America Awards, not the Academy Awards").
This brutally honest,
critical depiction of Katzenberg is only a small part of this warts-and-all
expose. The film mainly revolves around the irony that making children's films
is a very adult business with real, sometimes harsh consequences - long hours,
cold dinners, financial failures or worse yet, artistic ones. The animators
confess their frustrations and studio heads reveal their resentments toward
each other. (Tensions rise particularly when CEO Michael Eisner announces the
building of a new animation department without Katzenberg's approval.)
Director Don Hahn also
reveals that Disney was not without tragedies. The untimely deaths of Disney president Frank Wells and songwriter Howard Ashman give the film a looming
melancholy, reminding us once again that life unfortunately isn't a Disney
Fortunately, Disney rose up
from the rubble caused by these deaths and tense business atmosphere.
The studio returned in the '90s with what may very well be its best animated
films: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the
Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King.
Director Don Hahn does not
overstate these triumphs or tribulations. The film is what few documentaries
are - fair and balanced. Even Jeffrey Katzenberg is shown seeking redemption
for his greed and ignorance regarding the work of animators.
To learn even more about the
hard truth of Disney animation, join the Q and A session with the film's
producer and former Disney studio chief, Peter Schneider. Schneider, a Purdue
alumnus, will host two screenings of the film at Purdue's Fowler Hall on
Thursday, April 15 at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. This event is free and open to the
public. Do not miss this inspiring, emotional documentary about the films you
loved as a child and the people who made them.