Sleeping Beauty: 50th Anniversary Platinum Edition
R1 - America - Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum (31st December 2008).
The Film

If the classic fable-based tentpoles of Disney's extensive animation legacy ("Snow White" (1937), "Pinoccio" (1940), "Sleeping Beauty" (1959), etc.) weren't so skillyfully executed, one might be forced to wonder if these timeless stories wouldn't have been better serviced if told in a manner closer to the versions by the Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm), or (most notably) Giambattista Basile. For all of their neutered mawkishness, for all of their sanitized Americanizations, for all of their consumerist compromises, the Disney cartoons made before the 1960's or so are amazing in their achievement. In this 1959 feature, the Disney animators (lead chiefly by Eyvind Earle) are firing on all cylinders. Great mid-century production design is complimented by superbly rendered backgrounds, smoothly executed movement, and an attention to detail that has all but vanished from cell-based animation in the ensuing decades.

The story of "Sleeping Beauty" is paper-thin: Maleficent, a mean old witch with no particular motive, puts a spell on a helpless baby for no good reason. Years later, the spell takes effect and the girl is briefly in peril, but she quickly soon rescued. Fade to happily ever after. Given that there is really not much happening here, it is interesting that virtually all of the precious few important plot points are told by the narrator, who reads the story while turning the animated pages of an animated storybook. With so little plot to begin with, and with almost none of it unfolding during the major animated segments of the film, the running time is largely dominated by character vignettes and animated pyrotechnics (both literally and figuratively). To wit: the three fairies make a hash of creating a cake and a dress, two kings bumble their way through their worries, the evil witch reprimands her minions for looking for the wrong person, and Aurora (Mary Costa), the titular "Sleeping Beauty" frolics in the woods before spending a whole lot of time sleepwalking up a staircase. None of these scenes moves the plot along at all, but they all feature wonderful animation and are entirely watchable.

The characters who inhabit these moments are cut from cardboard only slightly thicker than the paper of the plot, but I suppose that fables made for families can not be too demanding in character depth. Aurora, for her part, is fifteen going on twenty-five: her corsetted waist and mature voice are that of a grown woman, not the little girl that were are told she is. She is also more or less a MacGuffin: she has absolutley nothing to do in this film, other than to be the person that everone else is worried about. The only significant action she takes during the entire film is to fatefully prick her finger at a key moment, but even this action is executed while under the enchantment of the evil sorceress Maleficent (Eleanor Audley). Thus, Aurora exists only to set events into motion that will give all of the other characters a reason to exist. Truly, the stars of this film are Aurora's three caretakers, Flora (Verna Felton), Fauna (Barbara Jo Allen), and Merryweather (Barbara Luddy). Their struggle with Maleficent is the true story here. Aurora and her prince (Bill Shirley) are merely an excuse to pit the forces of good and evil against each other.

After the significant event with the prick (no, not the prince), Aurora falls asleep for all of ten tension-free minutes of the film's running time.

Does all of this matter?

Not a bit.

This film is about the spectacle, not the story, and to that end, it delivers.

But I do prefer the classic 1634 version as told by Giambattista Basile, in which one Talia is brought forth from her slumber by two children sucking on her finger. A king takes notice. The kids are eventually condemned by a jealous queen to be served up to the king as stew. Doppelgangers are provided, the hero kids are spared, but the king gleefully if unwittingly indulges in the kidflesh of someone else's children as the queen plots further against Talia (Beauty).

Video

The aspect ratio is 2.55:1. The picture has been fully restored and completely scrubbed. There is not a speck of dirt, registration mark, or scratch to be found. The colors really pop. Contrast is high, blacks are deep, and the white point seems just about right to my eyes. However, for all of the fixes in the analog source print, the conversion to digital has its own pitfalls, and these are on display here: banding, edge enhancement, and artifacts crop up from time to time, just often enough to be noticeable. The old problems are gone, and the new problems have arrived. Welcome to the future. Running time is 1:15:13.

Audio

"Sleeping Beauty" is presented in 5.1 Surround in a mix Enhanced for Home Theaters. Spoken languages are English, Spanish, and French, with subtitles in the same languages. The audio fidelity score, which borrows liberally from the classic Tchaikovsky ballet, is not precisely up to contemporary standards, but that said it also sounds very good for a 1958 recording. The frequency response and dynamic range are both as good as can be expected from a recording from this era. Voices are clear as can be, but I was a bit distracted by the sound effects, which are spotty and inconsistent. This is not flaw of the DVD, merely limitations of the source material, possibly dictated by the available technology of the era.

Extras

Disney has included a Criterion-worthy set of supplements on this set that include an audio commentary, a music video, a series of featurettes, a documentary, a trivia track, deleted songs, an alternate opening, storyboards, reference footage, stills galleries, theatrical trailers, bonus trailers and interactive games. Below is a close look at these supplements broken down per disc.

audio commentary by Pixar's John Lasseter, Disney animator Andreas Déja and film critic/historian Leonard Maltin. This is a newly-recorded audio commentary (different from the one on the previous DVD edition of the film). Hearing the men discuss why this film is important to them personally is not very interesting, but they also discuss the characters, the film's style, the Technorama process, the voice actors, and the use of live-action reference. Their comments are enhanced with archival sound clips from Walt Disney, Eyvind Earle, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Marc Davis.

Unfortunately, the disc includes a music video of "Once Upon A Dream" by Emily Osment and runs for 3 minutes 34 seconds. This generic pop song, lip-synced and intercut with scenes from the film, is doubly embarassing when heard after the Tschaikovsky score of the film. Watch it first, not last.

Fittingly, the video is followed up with a classic-era featurete, an interpretation of "Ferde Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite" which runs for 28 minutes 54 seconds. As the four movements of the piece play, footage of the canyons is presented. Images shot in the canyons complement the music. The film has been restored, and looks lovely.

The "Peter Tschaikovsky Story" TV special is next and runs for 49 minutes 23 seconds. This one begins with Disney himself bragging about all of Disney's technical innovations. Obviously, syncing picture and sound was not one of them, because the sync is rather drastically off. As his mouth and words spew forth at different times, Walt tells viewers about the Technorama 70 process, and then about Tschaikovsky's score. Skipping his supressed homosexuality (rather, he is "shy and sensitive"), Tschaikovsky's story is told. Afterwards, Disney shows us how Tschaikovsky's music was used in Sleeping Beauty. For some reason, the first 33 minutes of this feature are in color, and then it switches to black and white.

Disney song selection allows you to skip to songs from the film and you can watch them with or without on-screen lyrics, this feature runs for 7 minutes 49 seconds in total, the individual songs include:

- "Once Upon A Dream" Main Title which runs for 55 seconds.
- "Once Upon A Dream" which runs for 2 minutes 31 seconds.
- "Hail To Princess Aurora" which runs for 1 minute 21 seconds.
- "Sleeping Beauty" which runs for 1 minute 48 seconds.
- "I Wonder" which runs for 1 minute 20 seconds.

"Princess Fun Facts" trivia track is next, there is interesting info about 14th century castles, plus facts about the cast and crew. The track is not very dense with information, it is a bit sparse.

Bonus trailers for:

- "Wall-E" which runs for 2 minutes 31 seconds.
- "Disney DVD games" spot which runs for 35 seconds.
- "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" which runs for 43 seconds.
- "The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea" which runs for 1 minute 13 seconds.
- "Disney Parks" spot which runs for 30 seconds.
- "The Wizards of Waverly Place" which runs for 30 seconds.
- "Pinocchio: Platinum Edition"
- "The Princess and the Frog"
- "Tinker Bell"
- "Space Buddies"
- "Disney Movie Rewards" spot
- "Disney Blu-ray" spot

DISC TWO:

"Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty" documentary runs for 43 minutes 30 seconds; Standard contemporary making-of program, consisting of modern and vintage interviews with the key players peppered with production footage.

"Eyvind Earle: The Man and His Art" featurette runs for 7 minutes 30 seconds; Short piece about Earles's large contribution to Disney studios and to "Sleeping Beauty" in particular.

"Sequence 8" featurette runs for 5 minutes 30 seconds; Short feature about the lavish production of the sequence in which Aurora dances in the woods.

There's an alternate opening runs for 3 minutes 26 seconds; this clip features an alternate voice-over accompanied by production drawings.

Deleted songs (presented as audio over a collection of production sketches):

-"It Happens I Have A Prince" version 1 runs for 3 minutes 41 seconds.
- "It Happens I Have A Prince" version 2 runs for 2 minutes 48 seconds.
- "Riddle Diddle " runs for 2 minutes 45 seconds.
- "Go To Sleep" runs for 2 minutes 46 seconds.

Two storyboard sequences are next and feature introductions by Disney animator Andreas Déja:

- "The Fairies Put The Castle To Sleep" runs for 2 minutes 50 seconds.
- "The Capture of the Prince" which runs for 3 minutes 41 seconds.

"Live Action Reference" footage runs for 2 minutes 11 seconds; In this 1958 version of motion capture, a model who looks more or less exactly like the animated version of Aurora frolics on a stage while artists sketch her movements andposes. The prince character does the same.

8 stills galleries:

- "Visual Development" (159 images)
- "Character Design" (163 images)
- "Storyboard Art" (80 images)
- "Live Action Reference" (70 images)
- "The Sleeping Beauty Storybook" (25 images)
- "Layouts & Backgrounds" (55 images)
- "Production Photos" (51 images)
- "Publicity" (34 images)

Original "Disneyland Castle Walkthough Attraction" featurette runs for 7 minutes 29 seconds; video footage of the defunct theme park attraction including optional commentary with Tony Baxter. Another featurette offers Baxter's history of the castle "The History of the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough" which runs for 9 minutes 48 seconds.

"Four Artists Paint One Tree" runs for 16 minutes 6 seconds; In this vintage featurette, various artists and production designers collaborate to give "Sleeping Beauty" a consistent look. Then, on their day off, four artists paint the same subject (a tree) in their own styles. Observing the differences in their finished work is interesting. This short feature provides effective lessions in both painting and animation!

3 trailers are included:

- Teaser trailer runs for 1 minute 42 seconds.
- Theatrical trailer runs for 3 minutes 8 seconds.
- 1995 re-release trailer runs for 1 minute 25 seconds.

A series of two interactive games rounds out the extras and includes:

- "Sleeping Beauty Fun with Language Game"
- "Briar Rose's Enchanted Dance Game"

Packaging

This 2-disc set is packaged in an amaray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: A Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: A+ Overall: A

 


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