Disney gone into its vaults and brought out the Diamond edition of “Sleeping Beauty” and it’s worth getting, to remind you of the legacy of Disney, and as an education in the art of animation and story telling.
The 1959 animated feature “Sleeping Beauty” brought together the French story by Charles Perrault of “The Sleeping Beauty” and the Brothers Grimm story “Little Briar Rose.” This was the 16th movie in the Walt Disney Animated Classic series and was considered a failure due to its initial box office gross. Disney didn’t return to animation until after Walt Disney had died (1966). “The Little Mermaid” in 1989 was a success and began another tradition.
Yet the current Disney company has capitalized on the American fascination with royalty and the little girl (and sometime big girl) fantasy of being a princess. Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, named Aurora, is one of the classic Disney princesses.
There were problems with both “The Sleeping Beauty” and “Little Briar Rose.”
Perrault’s tale involved a hundred year interval between when the princess pricks her finger and falls asleep and the prince comes and awakens her with a kiss. This is references in the Disney animation, but only because Disney’s version added something that made the romance more socially acceptable: In the Disney version the prince and princess have met before–twice. The first time, he is a smirking toddler and the second time, they fall in love at first sight. Love at first sight is one of those fairy tales we’d like to believe in today as well as that notion of The One who is mean to be.
The second problem is that the prince keeps her a secret from his mother who is an ogress. She is jealous of her daughter-in-law, imagine the kind of fun this gave future psychologists, and wants to have her daughter-in-law, her grandson and her granddaughter cooked up and served for dinner. In this case, separate meals and the queen leaves to dirty work to her cook. The good cook refuses and slaughter a lamb instead. However, the queen soon discovers this trickery and sets up another deadly means of ridding herself of her daughter-in-law and grandchildren, but in the end gets poetic justice.
In the more modern urban setting, one can’t tell children about cannibalism and slaughtering lambs. Then there’s that whole modern sentiment against arranged marriages and not actually choosing your significant other.
In the Brothers Grimm version, “Little Briar-Rose,” there are 13 fairies and only 12 fairies are invited. Disney makes it only four fairies with three good and motherly plump and one bad, who is slinky and tall. Again in the Brothers Grimm version, the whole court sleeps for 100 years and the prince just happens to be the lucky one who enters the castle 100 years later. He kisses her and she awakens and they marry.
The Disney version adds comic relief using the three good fairies who have different faces and personalities, but if that wasn’t enough they are different colors: Red, green and blue.
The good fairy threesome (Flora, Fauna and Merryweather) are guests at a grand feast the King Stefan (voiced by Taylor Holmes) and Queen Leah have given to present their daughter, Aurora, to their subjects and also to make an official betrothal between Aurora and the son of their friend King Hubert (Bill Thompson), Prince Philip. The three are giving the princess blessings but before Merryweather (Barbara Luddy) can give her blessing, the evil fairy Maleficent (Eleanor Audley) enters and curses the infant princess. On her 16th birthday she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. Merryweather softens the curse and transforms the endless sleep of death into a deep sleep that will end with true love’s kiss.
King Stefan (voiced by Taylor Holmes) has all the spinning wheels burned and the three fairies take the infant away and hide her in a cabin in the woods where they raise her as a peasant girl. Of course, her life as a peasant seems exceedingly pleasant. She isn’t working on the farm for some king or doing any sort of menial labor. She’s only a faux peasant. In the woods while playing with her woodland friends–the owl, birds and squirrels, she sings and gathers berries. Her woodland friends spy the prince, or at least his cap and cape and conspire in having the two meet.
In love, Prince Philip (Bill Shirley) asks to meet her again and they make a promise to meet at the cottage that evening, but the fairies have other plans. They take her to the castle of her parents because she’s supposed to meet the man she’s already betrothed to. During the excitement Aurora (Mary Costa) is lured away from her protectors and Maleficent provides the spinning wheel that completes her own curse. She also finds the young prince and kidnaps him. She plans to keep him until he is old and inform and then allow him to kiss his beloved Aurora who will have remained young.
But this being Disney, he is found, released, ultimately battles Maleficent and defeats her with the help of the fairies and kisses his Aurora. Aurora and her prince marry and then dance. There’s a cute bit a magic where her dress changes colors between blue and pink. That gives girls a chance to choose either dress in their princess dreams.
The animation is high stylized and there is no comic-relief companion as later Disney animated features now require. Maleficent has her own companion, a crow, and he, too, is defeated by a good fairy. Maleficent has become an iconic character, including her transformation into a dragon for the final scene. The feature has aged well and rightfully deserves a place as a Disney masterpiece.
As a someone who loves musicals, I appreciate the care the animators took using live action references from Bill Shirley and Mary Costa. The animators drew the lips based on the action of Shirley and Cost recording the songs and dialogue. Before the film was released, Shirley and Costa performed together at the Disney-themed Hollywood Bowl Concert. You might not realize that the song “Once Upon a Dream” came from this animated feature because it has become so much a part of American culture and, of course, Disney culture. Here you get a chance to see it as it was meant to be seen, but better. Shirley and Costa’s voices meld wonderfully and it is a treat to hear the clarity that this cleaned up soundtrack gives their magnificent voices.
The new bonus features include three deleted scenes. We get to see the new story boards and the new voice overs take us through these three segments: “The Curse,” “The Arrival of Maleficent” and “The Fair.” You can consider for yourself if these would have helped the plot or not.
Some of the new bonuses are really commercials in a Disney disguise such as the “Once Upon a Parade” which tells how a young peasant girl saves a Disney parade from Maleficent. Fans of “Modern Family” will recognize Sarah Hyland in this parade teaser.
Another bonus feature, “The Art of Evil: Generations of Disney Villains,” highlights the creator of Maleficent, Marc Davis, and discusses the role of villains in Disney’s classic films. After all, Maleficent is so special, she got her own live-action movie and is played by Angelina Jolie.
Then there’s a short “@DisneyAnimation: Artist in Motion” which shows Development Artist Brittney Lee creating Maleficent out of paper.
And since the world has become karake crazy, there’s a sing-along music for kids and adults who love the theme song “Once Upon a Dream.”
Bonus features that were included on previous DVD releases are “The Sound of Beauty: Restoring a Class,” “Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty” and “Eyvind Earle: A Man and his Art.”
“The Sound of Beauty” is about how Disney sound engineers went back to the original multi-channel recorded elements and made a new mix which brings the sound effects and dialogue up to today’s standards.
“Picture Perfect” is about all aspects of production, from the concept to the voice casting to the art design and story development.
“Eyvind Earle” was an American artist (1916-2000) whose work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He was born in New York, moved to Hollywood in 1918. He began to paint when he was 10 and had his first solo exhibition in France at 14. His Disney work can be seen in “Paul Bunyan,” “Lady and the Tramp” and “Sleeping Beauty.”