Disney Enterprises Inc.
Howard Ashman excoriates directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale (as drawn by Wise) in the documentary "Waking Sleeping Beauty."

WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY — ★★★★ — Documentary feature about Disney animation; rated PG (violence); Broadway Centre

The period in Disney animation between 1984-1994 was one of the most successful in the studio's history, both financially and creatively.

As the documentary "Waking Sleeping Beauty" shows, it wasn't necessarily an easy time for any of the people who were involved.

In fact, if even half of this documentary feature can be believed, we're probably lucky that we got such classics as "The Little Mermaid" (1989), "Beauty and the Beast" (1991) and "The Lion King" (1994) during that time period.

And speaking of those movies, the documentary shows how they did get made.

That may not be thrilling, riveting viewing for some, but for animation fans, and for aficionados of Disney, the movie is must-see.

Don Hahn, the Oscar-nominated producer of "Beauty and the Beast," was an animator and second-unit director at the studio during that time period. He pretty much had unrestricted access, and his documentary goes behind the scenes at Disney, which nearly went bankrupt at one point.

(A series of less-successful animated features and the troubled, over-budget production "The Black Cauldron" certainly didn't help.)

Two outsiders were brought in to turn things around: Paramount's Michael Eisner and Warner Bros.' Frank Wells.

They, in turn, brought in Jeffrey Katzenberg to run the animation side of the studio.

However, his hands-on management style didn't thrill either the older animators — the venerable "Nine Old Men" — or the younger, upstart animators. Not at first, at least, though ultimately these uneasy relationships did yield those '90s-era classics.

"Waking Sleeping Beauty" is all about contentious relationships. The film also looks at why Eisner and Katzenberg had a serious falling out.

It does help cement the legacy of Roy Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney, though. (He's credited here as having the foresight to bring in Eisner and Wells.)

And if nothing else, it's fun to watch younger versions of both Tim Burton (who was working at Disney as an animator part of that time) and John Lasseter (he shot quite a bit of the "home movies" used in this film).

"Waking Sleeping Beauty" is rated PG and features violent content and imagery (clips from Disney films, including animal violence and sorcerous attacks), scattered mild profanity, and some derogatory language and use of slurs. Running time: 86 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com