Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Waking Sleeping Beauty – a rambling, ranting review (since that appears to be the only kind of discourse I’m capable of creating.)

By Lauren Rasmussen, 4-14-10

The last movie review that I wrote was for The Secret of Kells. I wrote that review because Jacques told me to. This one I’m writing because I said I would.

I saw Waking Sleeping Beauty at the Lucas Theater in Savannah; the screening was sponsored by the Savannah College of Art and Design, the wonderful and expensive school I attend for 2D animation and sequential art. I went to the theater with a group – we were rather early. I stepped out to the entrance of the theater to make a phone call, when a friend poked me in the arm and said “do you see Don Hahn standing outside?”

I instantly commenced quaking in my proverbial boots (literal tennis shoes). Don Hahn? The producer of Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame? HIM? HERE??!?! Well, there he was; on the sidewalk talking to Professor Moorshead. As I continued to quake, Professor Jantze walked out to join them.

I’d only seen Mr. Hahn live (sort of) once before – a webinar that the Animation Mentor school did a year ago about the release of the Walt Stanchfield duo of books that Mr. Hahn and compiled and published. Over the webcam, he gave a presentation on the importance of gesture, clarity, and solid drawing skills that are gold to a good animator. (I took notes). All the other times I’d seen him were DVD extras. But now, here he was IN PERSON, standing outside the slightly-scruffy Lucas Theater talking to my professors. I quaked and geeked and squealed to Professor Jacques in the theater lobby, until he finally got impatient and said “so go and say hi to him!” So I did.

I must’ve acted like such a nerd; oh well. I know Don Hahn is just a normal guy, like my fiancée and my dad and everyone else. So I’m not really sure WHY I was so nervous. No matter. At some point in the short conversation I said I would write a review, so I am, starting NOW.

Waking Sleeping Beauty is about the changing state of Disney animation between 1984 and 1994. The changing state being, of course, going from a ragtag and nearly doomed department of really old and really young artists to a huge, flourishing animated movie house that the world would not be the same without.

The documentary uses nothing but archive footage, both professional and personal, to tell the story of the time; with voice-over interviews by the players. The use of only archival footage and voiceover with not one present-day “talking head” in sight was immensely refreshing and effective. It both saved a ton of screen time and effectively put the audience into the mindset of the film – a reminiscing; a looking back. The film overall also did a wonderful job of staying neutral – I think in the largest part because the views of the people who were all butting heads at the time were each allowed to say their piece, and they do so with feeling, but not with anger or animosity. I guess time is a good healer.

The film is informative in a way no DVD extra with an animated movie could be – it examines the politics of the studio throughout that 10 years, and the animated films produced serve as almost bookmarks to note what year it is as the artists just keep working and getting better. It also takes time to step back from the politics and talk about technological breakthroughs that shaped the animation department, while the whole time managing to be genuinely funny and entertaining while the people from the animation department have genuine fun themselves. (That is to say, if the artists are having fun, so are we.)

In summary, Waking Sleeping Beauty is a great memoir, documentary, drama and work of art all rolled up in a truly entertaining movie. (Be aware, this is coming from a certified Disney Geek, so I could be biased. Possibly.)

There was only one thing I wished as I was watching – as archive video and photos were shown on the screen, often the person narrating at the time and anyone they talked about would be labeled in the images, but nobody else. I’m beginning to think this is just my geekiness taking over, but I wish that the other people in the photos and video had been noted somehow – especially that photo of the first graduating class from CalArts. I just think it would be fascinating to be able to know who everyone was, because so many of them are still well-known in the industry today and it’s so fun to see where they started and know where they went. (And for recognition purposes. That 80s hair makes people look so different!) But who knows, maybe that will be an extra option on the DVD. I sure hope so.

Go see the film if you can! It’s wonderful! And shake Don Hahn’s hand if he’s there.


Jeremy Nguyen said...

great review! And great story.

Who took that photo at the bottom of the page? I'm stunned by how perfect it is. The lighting, the purple and black split right at at his head. It made me do a double... then a triple take!

Lauren Rasmussen said...

Really?!?! I didn't know the photo was that great! I guess as photos of Don Hahn goes it's pretty good.

I took that photo, when Don was talking before the film began. I took like 15 photos and that's the only one where his hands aren't blurry from gesturing. :)

Lauren Rasmussen said...

oh! Jeremy, you're the guy who updates the Seqalab website right? you're awesome! :D

Zelda Vinciguerra said...

This movie is a splendid affirmation that yes, the animators who poke fun at the higher-ups and run around the studio like madmen are the ones at the top of their field.

Now if they all had conscience-in-laws as well...