Friday, June 17, 2011

Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)

I can't remember where it came from, but a few weeks ago I decided to rekindle some old childhood memories when I decided to watch what I've always thought were Disney's finest movies. Yes, Snow White and the old Disney Classics were spectacular. But I'm an 80s child, so, for me, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King were by far the most influential and memorable for me.

While reconnecting with my younger self, I also did some reading up about those movies as I watched. It turns out, that these movies were collectively part of the "Disney Renaissance" when the magic factory moved out of it's rut and produced some of the company's greatest hits, both critically and financially. Then I discovered Waking Sleeping Beauty, a 2009 documentary by Disney producer Don Hahn. The film documents the rebirth of the animation company all the way up to the 1994 release of The Lion King (the movie I've always considered as Disney's last properly good animation feature, in the traditional sense).

It wasn't like any documentary I've ever seen. The film was based on a series of home videos, stock footage and behind the scenes takes with some of the key players of the time. The film gave me an unprecedented insight into the workings, the politics, the strife and eventual return to the world stage of one of the world's most influential movie companies. The film, narrated by Hahn, starts off with a home video in the 80s of the artists at Disney, and within 10 minutes, you can already learn that young John Lasseter (of Pixar fame) was the cameraman for that particular video, and an even younger and sullen looking Tim Burton behind the drawing board.

The dynamics of several strong egos in the company's management and how they tried to balance out the artists from the businessmen was at the heart of this film. Everyone had passion for each of their areas, and so much more so than anything else I've seen, but, together, they eventually brought a company with an amazing history back from the brinks.

One scene showed one of the animators explaining why he chose to take up on drawing the lead character, Ariel, for The Little Mermaid after he heard the hauntingly beautiful title song, Part of Your World, sung by Jodi Benson. The shear passion exhibited by the animator was amazing. It really shows how good music and good soundtracks can add such an emotional level to movies.

Its really great to take a walk down memory lane again, and it couldn't have been better time for that. These newer Disney Classics told, not just a great story, but it contained a moral in each of the stories. At a time of general strife and uncertainty in the world we currently live in, not only is it nice to take a break from it all and immerse oneself in something truly meaningful, but also to relearn some old fashioned values that may have been lost in this fast moving world.

Since those days, I think the Disney/Pixar collaboration has been tremendous. Even though we are no longer talking about painstakingly drawing frame by frame, this new CGI medium is still capable of teaching great values to children and adult alike. How can I forget when Lightning McQueen pushed Mr The King across the finish line. And how WALL-E risked everything to save humanity's last hope in a tiny weed, also to show his affection for EVE.

How can we forget, though, the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast. The magic carpet ride in Aladdin. And the epic opening scene of The Lion King.

In my journey of re-discovery, I also discovered a chap on YouTube who recorded several of the theme songs from the Disney Renaissance. He played and recorded these piano instrumental versions of some of my all-time favourite Disney tunes, and I found them truly addictive. It's really worth listening to, over and over again. Below are direct links to pianomusiclovr's YouTube recordings.

Part of Your World (The Little Mermaid, 1989)

A Whole New World (Aladdin, 1992)

Can You Feel the Love Tonight (The Lion King, 1994)

- Coming straight from my iPad

Image source: Walt Disney Company
Audio source: pianomusiclovr on YouTube

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