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March 29, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

In many — if not all — the theaters showing the 3D version of How to Train Your Dragon over the weekend, the coming-attractions presentation was composed exclusively of trailers for upcoming 3D animated features, signaling a new heyday for animation. At the same time, the Disney documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty opened in five theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, describing the rebirth of animation in the 1980s, after it had appeared close to extinction. Claudia Puig in USA Today, while concluding that overall, the film “offers some moving moments and an involving story about a decade that would leave an indelible mark on the history of motion pictures,” nevertheless faulted it for soft-pedaling the tumultuous personal conflicts among Disney executives at the time and among the animation staff itself — “sloughing off the conflict by attributing it to a clash of strong personalities.” Likewise Andy Klein in the Christian Science Monitor wrote that the film’s most glaring shortcoming is the “sense of untold stories and elided details lurking right beneath the surface.” Part of the problem is that the documentary has been produced by Disney itself and was directed by Don Hahn, who produced Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. As Klein put it, it’s “a documentary probing into a company’s sometimes ugly inner struggles — made by the company itself.” Stephen Holden in the New York Times, while calling it “a moderately engaging documentary,” went on to describe it as “a sly retrospective exercise in corporate self-congratulation masquerading as an insider’s tell-all.” On the other hand, Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times praised the filmmakers for putting forth “a terrific inside Hollywood sensibility plus an unblinking candor that lets the chips fall where they should. Which, given who made it, is something of a pleasant surprise.” Controversies aside, however, the New York Times‘s Holden noted that the film effectively “conveys the frantic energy of highly creative people under pressure letting off steam.” Among those creative people, the animators, seen and heard in their youth, are Don Bluth (An American Tail), John Lasseter (Up) and Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland). And Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times observed that the movie also effectively describes the hard-driving behavior of Disney executives. (He recalled that the unofficial motto of the studio at the time was, “If you didn’t come in on Saturday, don’t even bother to come in on Sunday.”) Ebert concluded: “Those years were revolutionary, and if not for them, it’s a good question whether Pixar, DreamWorks and the other animation production sources — and Disney Animation itself — would still exist.”