Last fall saw the release of the documentary Walt & El Grupo, about Walt Disney and a team of his most talented animators trekking to Latin America in 1941 for both artistic inspiration and to act as cultural ambassadors for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was enjoyable hagiography most likely to be valued by hard-core Disney aficionados. Waking Sleeping Beauty is something else entirely. A documentary about the lucrative rebirth of Disney's animation arm between the years 1984 and 1994, it's a warts-and-all tale of clashing egos and the eternal war between art and commerce, wrapped inside Hollywood's favorite self-stroke material: the comeback. Directed by Don Hahn, a former Disney Young Gun, the film (which is distributed by Disney) teems with amazing behind-the-scenes footage (including that of a young Tim Burton at work) that illustrates everything from the animation process and the business of selling movies to the brutal fallout from the changing of the guard. Filled with enough bloodletting and male bitchiness to be endlessly entertaining, the film glides into tear-jerker territory when addressing the brilliance and loss of songwriter Howard Ashman. Tying it all together is Hahn's transparent love for the art of animation and for Disney — its history and once geek-heavy in-house culture. Hahn balances that love with a critical eye that allows him to sing the praises of unsung heroes while letting the assholes hang themselves.
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