Oh, what simpler times they were when Disney was trotting out movies like "The Little Mermaid" and "The Lion King" every year.
Those bright, colorful animations, arriving annually like clockwork, defined the late '80s and early '90s as much as hair bands and Madonna. It was a seemingly unstoppable run of quirky sidekicks, hummable tunes and magical candelabras.
The documentary "Waking Sleeping Beauty" is a behind-the-scenes look at Disney animation during those heady times. The streak from 1984 to 1994 also produced "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin."
Looking back now from the Pixar era, it seems a long time ago, indeed.
Made by the Walt Disney Company and directed and narrated by longtime Disney producer Don Hahn ("Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King"), "Waking Sleeping Beauty" is an unabashed bit of navel gazing.
It's surely self-aggrandizing to recall one's own glory so ardently, especially when it centers on things — glorious though they are — like a parrot voiced by Gilbert Gottfried and a crab with a Jamaican accent.
Eisner, Katzenberg and Disney, who died in December, agreed to interviews for the film and, for the most part, speak candidly — if politely — about their work together. To give some sense of objectivity, the interviews for the film were conducted by veteran journalist Patrick Pacheco.
The focus on the business side of things (fawning over the box-office for "The Lion King," for example), takes some of the fun out of "Waking Sleeping Beauty." Certainly, the leadership of these executives was critical to rebuilding Disney animation, but it's less riveting than hearing about the creation of Ariel and other indelible characters.
Much of the film does maintain the perspective of the rank-and-file animators. It's stuffed with grainy home movies of office life on the Disney lot, water cooler gripping and — best of all — caricature drawings by the animators of their bosses.
The segment of the film devoted to Howard Ashman, the musical theater playwright and lyricist recruited to craft the music for "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast," is one of the movie's best. There's a great joy in seeing him introduce his vision of "Under the Sea," imagining the musical creatures and tapping his foot to the beat.
There lies the biggest success of "Waking Sleeping Beauty": its depiction of the fraught, passionate and idiosyncratic collaborative process of animation.
There are only hints (like the digital flop "Rescuers Down Under") of the changes that will later revolutionize the medium.
The yearly comfort of animated excellence now comes from Pixar's releases, which Disney shares in, having acquired the company in 2006. Those films — from "Ratatouille" to "Toy Story 2" — constitute a higher plane of art.
One might even call it the circle of life, or something.