Diamond Blu-ray Edition
Film review by Ed Nguyen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson
Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Jo Allen
Director: Clyde Geronimi
Audio: DTS HD 7.1, Restored Theatrical Soundtrack
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.55:1
Features: See Review
Length: 75 minutes
Release Date: October 7, 2014
in death, but just in sleep, this fateful prophecy you'll keep,
from this slumber you shall wake, when true love's kiss the spell shall break."
Disney's greatest successes in animated features have always been tied to the
world of fairy tales. Disney's
finest prewar triumph, Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs, was a film based upon a famous fairy tale.
The film was not only the number one box office hit of its day but was
also the first successful feature-length cartoon.
Disney, over the next several years, would enter his Golden Age, creating
some of the finest animated features ever.
the eventual entry of the U.S. into the world war sapped the resources available
to Disney's animators. Furthermore,
the animation department was recruited by the military to create propaganda
films. As a result, production on
feature-length cartoons dropped off almost completely, save for Donald Duck
travelogues (Saludos Amigos, The
Three Caballeros) or collections of short films or musical interludes (Make
Mine Music, Fun & Fancy Free,
etc.). In fact, Disney did not
attempt another true feature-length cartoon again until the release of his 1950
film Cinderella. It was a successful return to the realm of fairy tales for
the Disney company.
1950, bolstered and inspired by the success of Cinderella, Disney began to entertain plans for a new film based on
another fairy tale. It was around
this time that Sleeping Beauty was
first considered as a possible project. As
the decade wore on, Sleeping Beauty
would eventually become envisioned as the grandest yet of Disney's postwar
productions. It was to make
extensive use of Disney's multi-plane cameras, which had created some
spectacular visual effects in his earlier animated films (particularly Fantasia). With the
rising popularity of the decade's new widescreen process (including in Disney's
own Lady and the Tramp), it was also
decided that Sleeping Beauty should be
photographed in a new super-widescreen format, Disney's 70mm Technirama process.
Sleeping Beauty's production history
was filled with many delays and false starts.
This was partially due to Walt Disney's preoccupation with his two
television series (The Mickey Mouse Club
and Disneyland, an early variant of
the long-running Wonderful World of Disney
TV show) and a third (Zorro) on the
way. In addition, there was the top
priority of the construction work on his yet-to-be-opened Disneyland theme park.
Although completed storyboards for Sleeping
Beauty were ready by 1952, work on the film inevitably slowed down.
It was not until 1956 that animation on the project was finally resumed
in earnest until the film's eventual release in 1959.
once Walt Disney re-focused his attentions on Sleeping Beauty, he expected nothing less than perfection.
Disney even infamously demanded endless re-draw after re-draw to get the
movements of Aurora and her Prince Charming absolutely perfect.
He insisted that the human characters on-screen in Sleeping
Beauty should move as realistically as possible. To this end, Sleeping
Beauty used several live-action short films shot specifically as references
for Disney's artists during the animation process. Disney had done this before with previous animated films,
plus he had even brought in real deer during production of Bambi! No doubt such
perfectionism ultimately contributed to Sleeping
Beauty's enormous cost. By the
time of its premiere, the film had required more years to complete than any
previous Disney film and, at the scandalous cost of six million dollars, was the
most expensive animated film ever up to that point.
In comparison, consider that many 1950's musicals, which tended to be
incredibly expensive as well, cost less than $5 million to make.
all the money spent on Sleeping Beauty
is up on the screen to see, and the finished film is quite a wonder to behold.
From the visual splendor of its Technicolor images to the breath-taking
power of the widescreen format to the pitch-perfect decision to use music by
Tchaikovsky, Sleeping Beauty lived up to Walt Disney's vision of the definitive
animated fairy tale.
everyone will know the general story of Sleeping
Beauty. After all, it is a
classic story. One of the earliest
written versions, Sleeping Beauty in the
Woods, was written by Charles Perrault (1628-1703) and first published in Stories
or Tales from Times Past, with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose (1697).
However, he drew his inspiration of tales passed on by the oral tradition
and even from a fifteenth century story. Nevertheless, Perrault's publication has generally been
attributed with popularizing the relatively new literary genre of the fairy
in the case with many fairy tales, Perrault's original version of Sleeping
Beauty is considerable darker than modern, water-downed versions.
In Perrault's version, after the birth of a baby daughter to a king and
queen, the royal couple have a baptism celebration.
Seven fairy godmothers are invited, but no one has remembered to invite
an eighth, older fairy. The older
fairy arrives unexpectedly and is quickly welcomed, though she feels scorned by
the oversight of a formal invitation. After
six of the other fairies have granted gifts upon the baby princess, the old
fairy declares her gift - that the princess will cut her finger on a spindle and
die. The seventh fairy, who had yet
to grant her gift, alters the horrific prophecy somewhat, declaring that the
princess will not die but will instead fall asleep for one hundred years before
being awakened by a king's son. Fifteen
years later, the princess does indeed prick her finger on a spindle and falls
into a deep sleep. The seventh
fairy re-appears once more and places an enchanted sleep spell over the
princess's servants so that they may accompany her when she ultimately awakens.
One hundred years pass, by which point the princess's castle has become
utterly over-grown by thickets and thorns.
A wandering young prince, hearing of the local legend of a sleeping
princess, fights his way to her resting place and kisses her, awakening the
sleeping beauty. All the servants
wake up as well in a grand celebration, and the prince and princess wed in a
typical re-telling ends at this point, but it is actually only half of the
story. In the original version, the
prince and princess become king and queen and have two children - a daughter
Aurora (after the dawn) and a son Day. The
young king's mother is a ogress by birth, and when he goes off to war, the
ogress in his absence orders that the queen and her children be slaughtered and
fed to her. The royal cook attempts
to deceive her by serving some farm animals instead and hiding away the Queen
and her children. The ogress mother
eventually discovers the truth, and in her fury, she schemes to murder the royal
family. Fortunately, the young king
arrives back home in time, and the ogress kills herself, instead.
Thus does Perrault's tale end.
film adaptation of the Perrault tale is not quite as graphic or disturbing.
Although it retains some of the dark themes of the original tale, the
film favors a more contemporary version and probably more resembles the
"Brier-Rose" variation of the story by the Brothers Grimm in the
nineteenth century. Disney's
version also concludes on the wedding ceremony of the prince and the princess. In the film, instead of seven fairies, there are only three.
In place of an old fairy, there is Maleficent, an evil fairy Queen with a
cold, reptilian aura. Her prophecy
is slightly different in that the princess will prick her finger on a spindle
before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday and will die.
Also, instead of an evil ogress mother-in-law (ha ha), there is King
Hubert, a cuddly, good-hearted ruler of a nearby kingdom who indulges in some
royal matchmaking on his son's behalf with King Stefan, the princess's father.
Disney's version, the princess is named Aurora. The film starts in the classic manner of Snow White, with an ornate storybook opening as the tale unfolds.
There is an impressive display of animated virtuosity as a huge
procession of people arrive at King Stefan's castle for the celebration of
Aurora's birth. The three good
fairies arrive as well and begin to bestow their gifts upon Aurora before
Maleficent suddenly appears. Angered at having been overlooked, she proclaims her dreaded
prophecy and laughs in triumph as she departs, to the horror of the King and
Queen. Merryweather, the third good
fairy, attempts to lessen Maleficent's prophecy somewhat with her gift.
However, it is soon decided that for the safety of the princess, she must
be hidden away until her sixteenth birthday, after which point she may return to
her rightful parents as princess for an arranged royal wedding with Prince
Phillip, the son of King Hubert. So,
that evening, the three good fairies take Aurora away with them to live in an
isolated forest cottage. There, she
is raised in peaceful seclusion as the lovely peasant girl Briar-Rose.
the fairies' well-intended plans go awry. Briar-Rose,
on her sixteenth birthday, has a love-at-first-sight encounter with Prince
Phillip in the woods, and it is the film's musical highlight.
As fate would have it, however, neither of them knows who the other truly
is! When Briar-Rose describes the
handsome stranger to the fairies afterwards, they insist that she never see him
again. They reveal her true name,
Princess Aurora, to her and the nature of her betrothal since birth to a certain
Prince Phillip. Later that same
evening, the fairies bring the melancholy princess back to King Stefan's castle
in preparations for the upcoming ceremony.
But, when the princess is alone, Maleficent appears and bewitches her,
beckoning her up a castle tower to a room where...a spinning spindle lies.
pricks her finger on a spindle and falls into an enchanted sleep.
The good fairies arrive too late to safe her.
Sadly, they decide to place the entire castle's company under the spell
of sleep as well to spare them the heartache of such tragic news.
In the meantime, Maleficent ensnares Prince Phillip in a trap when he
goes to visit the forest cottage in search of Briar-Rose, his mysterious peasant
girl. With the tides of events at
their darkest, how will goodness prevail? Only
Prince Philip can defeat Maleficent and save the day.
But how will a defenseless and sword-less prince, now enslaved in
Maleficent's own dungeon, find the means to escape his captivity and to awaken
his beloved sleeping beauty? Watch
the film and find out!
worry, it's a Disney cartoon, so there will be a happy ending.
Suffice it to say that this prophecy will not last one hundred years, as
in Perrault's original version.
enough, Sleeping Beauty has long been
the black sheep of the Disney animated family.
Its design was radically different from previous animated efforts, for
the animation emphasized a more angular and formal style vaguely reminiscent of
Renaissance art. Many of the
compositions were abstract juxtapositions of geometrical patterns, usually
vertical and less so horizontal; perhaps the most illustrative example of this
radical change in style can be seen in the trees, which are...square!
Not surprisingly, there is a marked absence of the soft rolly-pollyness
of previous Disney films, with only a bare hint of the cute, fuzzy animals which
tend to crowd the typical Disney animated film.
Sleeping Beauty has some
animals but they are mute and of minor importance to the plot.
Likewise, the film lacks the strong comic supporting characters of
previous Disney efforts. There were
no seven dwarfs, conscientious crickets, or talking mice.
The three good fairies provide some amusing moments but are not true
comic relief. In short, Sleeping Beauty, for all of its graceful beauty, has little
"kiddy" factor to it and as such, may appeal more to adults than
more so than in previous animated efforts, the villains and supporting
characters are better developed and more interesting than the central characters
of Aurora or Prince Phillip. Maleficent
is one of the best Disney villainesses and every bit the equal of the Queen in Snow
White. The three good fairies
(Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather) have more screen time than Aurora and are
generally better developed. To be
fair, Aurora is quite charming but is asleep half the time, after all. As for Prince Phillip, he is actually much more charismatic
than his wooden counterparts in Snow White
or Cinderella and participates in some
tremendous action sequences in the latter half of the film.
But still, he doesn't receive much development time and in fact does not
even utter a single line in the entire second half of the film.
Aurora doesn't speak in the second half, either, but again, she is asleep
(compare this to Ariel, who doesn't speak for half of The
Little Mermaid either yet dominates the film).
catchy tunes, a staple in many Disney animated features, are in short supply
here. Although Sleeping Beauty features great music by Tchaikovsky, other than the
delightful "Once Upon a Dream" interlude which marks the initial
encounter between Aurora and Prince Phillip, there are no significant songs in
the end, these are really minor quibbles. They
are only worth mentioning because of the general expectation of what a typical
Disney animated film should be. Sleeping
Beauty is not that typical Disney film.
Its unique vision may have initially alienated fans accustomed to a
certain style from Disney, but in the prevailing years, Sleeping
Beauty has become recognized as a true animated film masterpiece.
There is not a single dull spot in the entire film, which has carefully
balanced the elements of humor and drama, song and action throughout its 75
minutes running length.
greatest asset may be that it is ultimately a showcase for the awe-inspiring
talents of the Disney animators and background artists.
Eyvind Earle's incredibly detailed background designs are gorgeous, each
requiring a week up to ten days to complete.
By comparison, most backgrounds in conventional hand-drawn animated
features may only require a day or so to complete. Not even the great films from Disney's Golden Age possessed
this level of detail in their background design.
Earle, who had contributed earlier to Disney's radical and Academy
Award-winning short "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom," brought his style
to Sleeping Beauty and was actually
entrusted by Walt Disney himself with almost full artistic control over the
design and look of the Sleeping Beauty.
To this end, it is the artistry of the film which provides its narrative
drive and breath-taking magnificence.
Sleeping Beauty marked the end of an
era in Disney animated films. The
film made a respectable $5.3 million in its initial release, a solid box office
performance but nonetheless not enough to re-coup its production costs.
After this film, the Disney animators would not venture into the realm of
fairy-tales again for nearly thirty years.
Furthermore, after Sleeping Beauty, the company began to use a Xerox process for its
animated films. This new process
preserved the original essence of the animators' drawings (previously, a virtual
army of clean-up artists was used to re-trace the original drawings for a
smoother appearance in the final product), but it also led to a disturbingly
scratchy and thick-stroke style of animation.
This style worked splendidly in 101
Dalmatians but was ill-suited to most films after that.
Regardless, for many years, the Disney Company has unjustifiably treated Sleeping Beauty as one of its lesser films, even though it easily boasts some of the finest production values of any of their animated features. Is it any coincidence that in recent years, Disney has rolled out mediocre sequels to most of their 50-60's era animated films (Cinderella, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, and Jungle Book) while ignoring Sleeping Beauty?
in the end, the long wait was a true blessing in disguise.
As it turned out, the Disney folks were quietly restoring Sleeping
Beauty to its original splendor and wanted to be certain the job was done
right before releasing it at last on Blu-ray. Plus,
I'm happy that the folks at Disney have not chosen (yet) to regurgitate a vastly
inferior and pointless sequel to Sleeping
Beauty. This film should stand
alone as a timeless classic, much like Snow
White. Outside of the films of
its Golden Age, Sleeping Beauty is
truly Disney's crowning achievement.
This may be the first time in my career as a reviewer that I've wished I had a higher rating to bestow than four stars. Sleeping Beauty is a breathtakingly beautiful work of art come to life in high definition magic. The efforts at restoring this classic and making it truly ready for a Blu-ray close up are almost beyond comprehension. The colors and details are so vivid, crisp and true, you feel like you could freeze any frame and reproduce it and hang it on your wall. The famed "Sequence 8" (more on that further down) is just one jaw-dropping sight after another. Look at the colors and detail on those trees, or the fluidity of the multi-plane cameras in motion. There may not be another Disney film where the marriage of camerawork, technology, character drawing and background painting have been so perfectly married. Seriously, if you were wondering what a Disney classic on Blu-ray could be, you're in for the most unimaginable treat. This presentation is so gorgeous it quite honestly nearly moved me to tears more than once.
What can you say about a 50s classic remastered for 7.1 HD sound? Not enough, in my book. Disney has been one of the better studios as far as not being afraid to open up older mixes for modern home theatres, and with Sleeping Beauty, they've established a new bar as to how well it can be done. This is a true digital surround mix, with the beautiful classical music sounding rich, lush, and fully opened in orchestration. The big action scenes, particularly the suspenseful climax, deliver dynamic range that far exceeds expectations. The use of surround channels is full and creative. Notice how when Maleficent casts a spell or works her magic, her voice moves from the front stage to the rear, for a more eerie listening experience. You can listen to the original theatrical track if you prefer, but if you've invested in high definition home theater technology, you really owe it to yourself to hear what Disney has in store for you.
There are a number of new features this go around, including 3 deleted scenes and a featurette on Disney villains. Plus, there is a featurette on the new Festival of Fantasy Parade at Walt Disney World.
The classic Blu-ray features are also here, starting with a commentary with John Lasseter, Andreas Deja and Leonard Maltin. You can listen to it, or access a picture-in-picture track that features them with other clips, drawings, and vintage interviews with some of Disney's creative team. There's also a song selection feature, a new video for "Once Upon a Dream" sung by Disney Channel star Emily Osment. The Dragon Encounter is a cool experience that will really make the most of your high def video and sound system...it's quite loud! Rounding out the disc is "Grand Canyon", a scope ratio Oscar winning live action short that accompanied Sleeping Beauty on its original theatrical run.
There is a making-of documentary, along with an alternate opening in storyboard form, "The Peter Tchaikovsky Story" (two versions, as one was prepared for a stereo simulcast), and looks at the original Sleeping Beauty castle as designed for Disneyland. There are three deleted songs, a look at Eyvind Earle who did much of the design of the film, three trailers, a look at the sound restoration and remixing process for 7.1, two storyboard sequences, three clips of live action reference films, and "Sequence 8", which is a detailed look at Aurora and Prince Phillip in the forest; the movie's most elaborate and expensively crafted sequence!
Lastly, there are three games...one teaches you how to waltz
with Princess Aurora, one is a language game with the fairies, and the third is kind of creepy. Maleficent
challenges you to think of any common object. Answer a series of
questions, and she will identify what you're thinking of. It works more
often than not...yikes!
Sleeping Beauty ranks among the most beautiful animated films ever, and in my opinion, is unsurpassed by all subsequent Disney animated efforts since its original release. Plus, it features a great score adaptation of music by Tchaikovsky, too!