Sleeping Beauty stands out as one of Disney’s finest and most daring renditions of the ‘traditional’ fairytale. The plot, in short, follows baby Princess Aurora being threatened with an eternal sleep by the wicked witch Malificent as a ‘present’ for her 16th birthday (I know, some present!), leaving our three fairy godmothers to give the film life and take on the hectic task of protecting Aurora. To make matters worse, she is endowed to marry the Prince on the same day; one whom she has never even met! Just how unlucky can a girl get?
And so, the evil forces of Malificent must once again reap havoc in the beautiful surroundings of a Medieval age in order to secure her role as a beautiful… ugly witch. There could of course also be a notion that she just wants to, ahem… reap havoc, and provide one of the best final battle sequences in animated history. I shan’t spoil you more.
One factor thats very obvious is that this film was a peak for studios animation and artwork. Stylistically, there is a very valid reason – all the animations after (Starting with 101 Dalmatians) for the next 35 years would make use of ‘Xerox’ copying machines; what was then new technology discovered by Ub Iwerks whilst working for Disney, but only used in full after the financial loss of Sleeping Beauty. The result was that although the studio saved huge amounts of money and time, the animations had to be stylised around the new rougher ‘ink’ lines that had been copied directly from pencil.
In comparison, Sleeping Beauty looks as beautiful as Princess Aurora herself. The backgrounds, researched and painted by Eyvind Earle to tap into original Medieval artwork, exceed the depth and quality of even those seen in Pinocchio, while the animation of the characters is possibly the smoothest to that date (though this also partly down to extra care taken whilst inking). Perhaps the apex of this beautiful motion can be seen when Aurora begins dancing in the woods during her Berry gathering. The ‘ripple/layered’ effect that can be seen in her swaying dress when she halts to a stop is, quite simply, mind-boggling to say the least.
A feature that few have tended to talk about is how much more the Prince takes an active role in this film than in Snow White or Cinderella before it. Although we can love these two films, I cannot escape the idea that the Prince has always appeared to be something of an emotionless, bumbling young man who had no personality. Yet in Sleeping Beauty, he appears much more human and likeable because of his active involvement in the plot. The result is that the film becomes less idealistic and more realistic, which was a nice change of pace combined with the relaxed dialogue and smooth gags. Although these are in abundance, one will always remain memorable:
King: “[Annoyed] I won’t have it… You’re a Prince, and you’re going to marry a Princess!”
Prince: “Now now father, you’re living in the past. This is the 14th Century!”
However, it is the wonderful music that puts the icing on the cake, featuring the memorable ‘Sleeping Beauty’ ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (“Once Upon a Dream”), which continues throughout the whole film. Luckily for Disney, the restoration team happened to find the original session recordings that were made in Germany during production, which combined with the fact they were printed on new Magnetic tape (seeing as everyone else in the world was so behind), meant the soundtrack could be lifted off an almost perfect source, give or take the tape hiss. It is little facts as this and more than are in abundance on the Extra Features disc – possibly the feature filled disc I’ve owned to date. It’ll take a good few days to plow through, I can assure you.
The visual restoration doesn’t require the same kind of attention that we might expect from the Golden Age of Disney, but never-the-less, the job Lowry have done into repairing the film has once again brought the film back to life. Not only is it presented back in it’s original Super Technirama aspect ratio (which is, near enough, CinemaScope), but the restoration reveals just how much the quality of cel-painting had improved over the previous two decades. Whereas the stunning restorations of Snow White, Pinocchio and Dumbo revealed all the original colour inconsistencies and brush strokes in the painting, Sleeping Beauty is testament to almost a decade of production with almost no visible inconsistencies to the eye. Ignore the horrible comments from those who call themselves ‘buffs’ (a truly laughable term for an individual who thinks they can outsmart a few friends, or what they have) whom suggest that Disney are tampering/changing these films colour timings. I’m amazed such ‘buffs’ lack the knowledge that:
(A) Its is Lowry Digital of Burbank who restore the film, not Disney.
(B) Lowry (you still with me?) compare their efforts to original production documents.
(C) What we are now seeing is how these films originally looked. Its all to easy to forget that past VHS/even DVD releases relied on 35mm film that had faded. Modern technology + original film strips = correct colours. Pretty cool, huh.
Sleeping Beauty was likely to be the last ‘traditional’ story that we’d see in Walt Disney’s life-time (unless you regard The Sword in The Stone as an accurate rendering of the Arthurian story), which is something of a shame given that the film never got the attention or financial reward that it deserved. But Sleeping Beauty was both of and ahead of it’s time – it has a style and grace that is truly timeless, but it also demonstrated the casting of a Prince and Princess whom had evolved a great deal since the more typically ‘storybook’ romp of Snow White. This maturity can be enjoyed by all the family, and is I have to say, far more optimistic and likeable than the grotesque likes of ‘Hannah Montana’, or Mr. Polar-Teeth himself, Zack Efron who optimises the importance on being a “cool and righteous dude”.
Will our children really be watching them in 2050? If so, it wouldn’t even make ‘Tin Foil Edition’.
DVD reviewed – Platinum Edition (Blu-Ray)