Waking Sleeping Beauty Stone Circle Pictures and Red Shoes Productions, released through Buena Vista Home Entertainment, present a retrospective on eleven transformative years of Disney Feature Animation. The feature is assembled from a variety of sources, and in most cases, recomposed for the purpose of this documentary for the 16:9 frame, and is accompanied by a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound-track. Without interruption, the disc will run previews for two other Disney documentaries being released at the same time, The Boys and Walt & El Grupo. There are extensive other on-disc features, and a ‘special collectable’ reproduction caricature. Subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing are also available by the player. Some places where the audio is less than perfect from the original source are also subtitled for all. The packaging is much like many other Disney releases, with a cardboard slip-cover over a conventional DVD case. Enclosed within the plastic shell is the lithograph and, of course, the DVD itself. Suggested retail for this disc is $29.99, and will be released in North America on Tuesday, November 30, 2010. The Feature — •••• In 1984, Disney Feature Animation was practically dead — or at least on life-support. The films of the era were not doing well, morale was low, the Animation department was not understood by the rest of Disney, and, at the time, Disney Entire was not doing very well. Eleven years later, with a number of lurches, fits, and starts, the engine had caught and was running, with the release of Lion King, right on the tails of Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. This film, made largely by some of the members of Disney Feature Animation, traces that window of time, and unflinchingly looks at some of those moments when the entire process could have crashed and exploded into flaming wreckage that would have killed Disney Animation entire. Even after ten or fifteen years, some people still nurse their bruised toes and egos, even if they were ultimately proved right or wrong. The same people are both heros and villains — at the same time. Some of the major players — again, more often than not on both sides of the hero/villian fence — include Eisner, Katzenburg, R. Disney, Menken, Ashman, Wise, Bluth, Lasseter, Wells, and... and so on. The film is told through interviews shot or recorded at the time, allowing for the posthumous presence of Roy Disney, Howard Ashman, and Frank Wells. This is then supplemented by new art, old art, and some new interviews. Something that helps make this a particularly interesting view of the film industry is that this view of this particular era is not being observed and commented on by the outside “experts,” nor even in a “relaxing on the beach conversation” that one might also get from senior executives reminiscing on the period through a sufficiently deep-colored pane of rose glass. Rather, much is coming from the rank-and-file animators and the low-level supervisors who lead the teams working on the nuts-and-bolts of the films. Or to paraphrase what everyone is saying in one of the supplements, “warts and all!” The Picture — •••½ The picture is difficult to evaluate with a number. Very little of this program is ‘new’ photography for the feature, although they did photograph the interviews. Instead, the vast majority of the image content comes from period films and videos, ranging from hand-held Feature Animation Studio Tours shot in Super-8mm, to VHS and UMatic videos, to even archival film from much earlier. By modern standards, of course, much of this imagery looks— bad. But these are, essentially, home-movies. Except for when they really, truly are home-movies. That said, the important part is, the picture is generally ‘not bad.’ At least in the sense that the noise-reduction, mosquito noise, edge enhancement, and all that jazz, are not particularly noticeable. With one major caveat. In the feature-film itself, most of the in-film titles, captions, and such, have horrific vertical edge enhancement. Enough so that I wonder if it was, in fact, intentional. It is quite bizarre, and whatever the reason, that treatment is not applied to the captions and titles in the supplemental features. Thus I am left to work with the assumption that someone goofed somewhere in production and it overly sharpened just that layer. Still, very odd. The Sound — ••• The sound is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. Which is kind of odd, given that almost everything is monaural interview and voice-over type sound. With some music. Excerpts and such from the modern-era feature films expand out, but this film’s sound is very simple, and primarily front and center, which is pretty much how it should be. The interviews of dead people, such as Howard Ashman, Roy Disney, and Frank Wells, as well as period interviews, of course are not modern recordings. And sometimes they are ‘beyond hope,’ and are captioned. But for the most part, the audio is clearly intelligible. The Extras — •••• There are a lot of extras packaged with this disc; I suspect that they might have also included a kitchen sink if they could figure out the logistics. Anyway, extras include: • a 5”x7” color print on card stock. In my case, it is the aftermath of a story meeting between Howard Ashman, Kirk Wise, and Gary Trousdale during Beauty and the Beast. Draw by Mr. Wise. • Sneak Peaks: African Cats, Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 Collection on Blu, Bambi Diamond Edition on Blu, and Lion King Diamond Edition on Blu. • Why Wake Sleeping Beauty? A nine minute discussion about not only why the film was made, but the whys and hows of many of their key decisions about the making of the film. • Deleted Scenes: these represent large chunks of ‘great stuff’ that just could not fit into the film. Small bits eventually made it in, but not anything like these sometimes remarkable segments. The deleted scenes include: — Black Friday: nearly five minutes on the making of Aladdin, from the early ‘draft’ of the movie and being told, “dump it and start over.” — Howard’s Lecture: twelve and a half minutes of Howard Ashman talking to the animators about his philosophies on music, musical theatre, and animation. — Losing Howard: five minutes on the illness and eventual loss of Howard Ashman. — Recording “Part of Your World”: six and a half minutes of Howard and Jodi Benson in the recording booth, discussing how to sing the song, as well as a number of samples of the song. — Research Trips: four and a half minutes of a research trip to Australia for Rescuers Down Under. — To Sir With Love: shy of two minutes animators reflecting on the departure of Katzenburg. • Studio Tours: samples of these are shown throughout the film. Randy Cartwright (an animator,) got a Super-8mm camera, and wanted to try it out, and did a walking tour of the Feature Animation studio in 1980. And then again in 1983. And then again in 1990. These three are shown in their entirety in this section of the disc. About five minutes each. • A Reunion: slightly over two minutes of Kirk Wise and Rob Minkov talking about the fact that they had known each other since “time began.” • Walt: six minutes on the big W and the parallels between the 1930s and the 1980s. • An audio commentary by the director and the producer, with inserts from others on occasion. Fairly active, without a lot of “oh, look, here’s another excellent [fill in the blank] like some other commentaries include. In The End — •••• For the idealistic Disney fan, this is probably not a good film, as it is “warts and all.” And there are a lot of warts. It is a realistic, frank, and sometimes blunt study of a very dark time for an animation studio, the meteoric rise (which is actually a fairly strange oxymoron,) and the costs of that rise. For those interested in the mechanics of Hollywood and “comeback stories,” or even business and economic histories, Recommended.