I need to apologize to my readers right up front. I must confess that I have an extremely biased opinion towards Sleeping Beauty because it is one of my all time favorite Disney films. It’s easily in my top five. If I had to pick just one of the golden age Disney fairy tale films to be superior in terms of art, animation, and story, I would have to give it to this one. Yes, I would choose it over my personal favorite, Snow White, but this is a choice of pure logic, not of sentimentality. It was also Walt’s favorite of his fairy tales and for good reason.
First of all, have you seen this movie? Like literally, have you ever watched it on mute? When you’ve done that, are you surprised that you were never bored? Someone said on the Platinum Edition documentary that if you paused on any frame of this film, you would be faced with a perfectly composed piece of artwork. I’ve tried this experiment, and I have to say that they were indeed correct. Sleeping Beauty is possibly the most perfect film as far as pure aesthetics go.
That’s due in no small part to the influence of background artist, Eyvind Earle, who did a small amount of work on Lady and the Tramp for the date night scene. Walt Disney had been lamenting that they had such talented artists working at the studio, like Earle and Mary Blair, but their artwork barely made it into the final film in its original form. In a bold move never before attempted, Disney decided to have one artist’s vision decide every aspect of the film’s look, from character designs, to color, and especially in backgrounds (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053285/trivia).
When I was a kid watching Disney flicks, I didn’t pay much heed to the backgrounds. As an adult watching Sleeping Beauty, it’s hard to notice anything else. It doesn’t matter what scene it is, each one is so detailed that it’s hard to say if they were leaning towards photo-realism or renaissance artwork. The forest scenes are a particular standout for me. The incredible amount of detail on the tree bark alone was breathtaking. Everything felt as though there was a texture to it, as if you could run your hands over the painted background and it would feel like wood instead of dry paint.
Her beauty is due in no small part to two people: Marc Davis, Aurora’s animator, and Mary Costa, Aurora’s voice. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Costa, it’s clear to see that Mr. Davis was inspired in large part by her face when he designed Aurora. Costa’s voice was absolutely astonishing. When she spoke, she had such a rich, vivacious voice that was feminine while still managing to be elegant. But the greatest thing Costa brought to the role was her un-freaking-believable singing voice.
Adrianna Caselotti was Disney’s first use of opera singers when she voiced Snow White, but Mary Costa could just belt the most beautiful melodies with the drop of a hat. Just listen to the way she sings simply when she walks through the forest. She’s not even singing a song and it’s one of the most beautiful sounds ever recorded for a Disney film. About the only thing that could top it was Costa’s rendition of “Once Upon a Dream,” another one of the great Disney love songs.
In grand tradition of the Disney princess, Aurora does not simply walk from point a to point b. She dances and sashays with the grace of a prima ballerina. This film made use of live action reference possibly more than any other Disney film. Walt wanted the movements to be as close to real life as possible, so he utilized the talents of one Helene Stanley to perform as Aurora (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleeping_Beauty_(1959_film)). In fact, one of the first jobs Alice Davis, Marc Davis’ wife, did for the Disney Company was to create a fully realized version of Aurora’s peasant dress for Helene Stanley to wear as she posed for reference.
Though Aurora definitely leaves an impression, she actually has the notorious distinction of having second place for a title character with the least amount of speaking lines (Dumbo, who doesn’t speak at all during his film, is in first). Because of this, a lot of people allege that Aurora does not have as much personality as the other Disney princesses might. To those people, I say the film is called Sleeping Beauty. The plot hinges a great deal on the title character being asleep for a large amount of the film’s running time.
Sleeping Beauty doesn’t suffer from the lack of time spent with the film’s heroine; the movie is fortunate to have arguably one of the best supporting casts in all of the Disney films. This is especially true for the film’s hero, Prince Phillip. Now if there are any golden age characters that receive huge amounts of harsh criticism from fans and casual moviegoers alike, it is most definitely the fairy tales’ princes. In Snow White, he was simply known as the Prince and appeared only at the beginning and at the end. In Cinderella, he is given the generic prince name, Prince Charming, even though he is never called by name in the film and he leaves the duty of finding the maiden who fits the one shoe to the Duke; he doesn’t even bother himself.
But if you know what was going on behind the scenes, then you know that the Princes’ lack of screen time was not their fault. In animation’s early days, the animators had trouble animating a convincing human male. Originally, both of their roles had been much, much larger in their respective films, but because they couldn’t be done justice by the animators, their roles in the final product were trimmed down drastically. This was not the case with Prince Phillip.
… Do I need to say anymore? Well, yes I do. I have this to say: dragon. Freakin’ huge black dragon that breathes green fire. There. Now I’m done. Okay, I don’t need to say anymore, but I want to say more.
A lot of people try to downplay Maleficent’s awesomeness by saying that she freaked out over not being invited to a christening. I never looked at it that way. I think she would have cursed Princess Aurora even if she had been invited to the party. Why? She said it herself; she is “the mistress of all evil.” She didn’t doom Aurora’s life because she was snubbed; she did it because she’s evil and likes to cause pain and suffering.
But what I remember most about this scene is the sound of the fairies’ frantically looking for Aurora throughout the catacombs of stairs. That echoing “Rose!” is something that stayed with me as a kid. Then there comes the moment of truth when Aurora is finally confronted with that spinning wheel. I love that she remembers herself briefly and pulls her finger back with a grimace on her face, but all it takes is Maleficent’s insistent, powerful voice and Aurora’s finger just barely touches the spindle. The scene never fails to give me chills each time I watch it.
The fairies are what move the film forward. They provide the bulk of the film’s comedic moments and even take part in some of Sleeping Beauty’s more tense and suspenseful scenes. They were the ones who busted Phillip out of Maleficent’s castle (a plot point that had been originally devised for Snow White). Merryweather even gets in on the action, turning Diablo, Maleficent’s most trusted raven ally, to stone.
|Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland|
But you would think a restaurant themed after a Sleeping Beauty character would find a home inside of Sleeping Beauty Castle, the symbol of Disneyland. While that castle didn’t get a restaurant, it did get something really cool instead. Inside the castle is a walkthrough depicting the events of the film; it underwent an amazing refurbishment in 2008 to coincide with the Platinum Edition release of Sleeping Beauty. In fact, Sleeping Beauty Castle is the most used symbol of the Disney theme parks all over the world. Hong Kong Disneyland has a Sleeping Beauty Castle that’s pretty much identical to its California sister.
|Sleeping Beauty Castle in Hong Kong|
But to me the grandest Sleeping Beauty Castle, and possibly one of the more beautiful and elaborate Disney castles in the world, is Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant, or (in English) Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland Paris. Since Europe is already home to its share of castles, Walt Disney Imagineering knew they would have to create something special for its European market. The result: a castle as tall as Cinderella Castle down in Florida, but looking as though it had been there for centuries with earth growing up its side. The inside of the castle houses a gallery that illustrates the story of Sleeping Beauty with tapestries, stained glass windows, and figures. But what sets this castle apart from all others is what it houses in the darker recesses of its dungeon. At a whopping eighty-nine feet, below the castle’s depths, is a fully audio-Animatronic dragon of Maleficent.
I talk a lot about the theme parks on here, because for me, the theme parks and the films go hand in hand. There wouldn’t have been the theme parks without the films (and in some cases, like Pirates of the Caribbean, vice versa), but going back and watching these films has made me realize something about the parks. Disneyland, the first Disney theme park, chose Sleeping Beauty Castle to represent it. Disney World chose Cinderella Castle as its symbol. Disney’s California Adventure is undergoing a massive refurbishment right now, and one of the things being built is a recreation of the Carthay Circle Theater, specifically the theater the night Snow White premiered back in 1937; it is to serve as the new symbol for that park.
Does anyone else notice a pattern here? Three of the most major theme parks on the planet chose all three of the golden age princesses to represent it to the public. Even though for Disney, it was all started by a mouse, its foundations were created by a princess. The company became what it is today because of the legacy of three princesses. Sleeping Beauty was the second highest grossing film of 1959, only behind Ben-Hur. The theme parks serve an ever-evolving monument to these three princesses, one that new generations flock to pay homage to every day.
For instance, animators frequently pay homage to this film in more recent undertakings. During production of Beauty and the Beast, they ran out of time so when the time came for them to animate Belle and Adam’s finale dance. Instead of animating a whole new scene, they reused the animation of Phillip and Aurora dancing at the end of Sleeping Beauty. Even more recent, in The Princess and the Frog, there comes a scene where “Naveen” dances with Charlotte and for a few frames, their waltz is staged to resemble Phillip and Aurora’s dance.
Recently, one of my favorite new editions to Walt Disney World is found in Tinkerbell’s Treasures, a shop dedicated to all things Disney Fairy and Disney Princess. To help promote the new home release of Sleeping Beauty, Imagineers refurbished a wing of the shop to look like a fairy’s dressing room. Behind the registers is a display featuring Aurora’s beautiful princess dress. If you hang around long enough, you will periodically hear Flora and Merryweather argue and change the dress to their preferred color. What’s my opinion on the matter? Well, I think the picture below that I found on DeviantART sums up my feelings on the issue pretty soundly.
|I didn't draw this! Swing -21 did. Just making a point.|