Sleeping Beauty
Rating -

Animated (US); 1959; Rated G; 75 Minutes

Cast
Mary Costa: Princess Aurora/Briar Rose
Bill Shirley: Prince Phillip
Eleanor Audley: Maleficent
Verna Felton: Flora
Barbara Luddy: Merryweather
Barbara Jo Allen: Fauna
Taylor Holmes: King Stefan
Bill Thompson: King Hubert

Produced by Walt Disney; Directed by Clyde Geronimi; Screenwritten by Milt Banta, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Erdman Penner, Charles Perrault, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears and Ralph Wright

Review Uploaded
11/30/98

Written by DAVID KEYES

"Wondrous to see... Glorious to hear... A magnificent new motion picture!"
- Original "Sleeping Beauty Tagline

Those were Disney's words for "Sleeping Beauty" when it premiered in Hollywood on January 29, 1959, and like most of Disney's words, they are spoken with the absolute truth. "Sleeping Beauty," his 16th animated film, is an exquisite, elegant, and virtually stunning landmark of animation; a film so charming, memorable, and beautiful that it has been hailed as the most incomparable film in the animated genre. And it is; six years, six million dollars, detailed backgrounds, glorious colors, outstanding visuals and beautiful music are all contributing factors to the grandeur pageantry that "Sleeping Beauty" enthralls on us. Viewing it again for the first time in five years is like being reunited with an old friend.

Up until the recent few years, "Sleeping Beauty" was actually considered one of the few Disney 'failures.' That is, a poor box-office success. But that was 1959. Since then, the film, like "Pinocchio" and "Fantasia," has returned to theaters many times and made way on video for new generations to enjoy, earning large estimates of money and critical praise, not to mention being the most requested Disney film on video after "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs" and "The Lion King." It was re-released to the Masterpiece Collection on home video last September, and looking back on it, how can one even believe for a second that this was considered a failure? It is not simply a movie that tells a great story in a great way; it is elegantly portrayed with rich textures and stunning animation; to say the least, the movie erupts like a visual volcano.

In reviewing old movies, it's not very necessary to summarize the story, but considering that this one was once considered a 'failure,' the story provides good evidence that this notion is false. The story opens when King Stephan and his queen are blessed with a child that they have wanted for years. She brings light and happiness to their lives, and because she resembles the earth's dawn (metaphorically speaking), they named her Aurora.

Then, the King proclaims a holiday in his daughter's honor, which provokes the kingdom into a series of special events where gifts are blessed upon the child. First, enter King Hubert and his son, Phillip, members of a distant royal family who have traveled from a distant kingdom to meet Aurora. Phillip becomes betrothed to her, in hopes that both of these monarchs can unite their kingdoms.

Next scene: enter the most memorable characters of the picture: the three fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather. Their arrival is in time to bless Aurora with their gifts as well. First, Flora's gift is the gift of beauty, and Fauna's is the gift of song. But before Merryweather gives hers, a stark and diabolical witch named Maleficent storms into the castle, angered that she was not invited to the holiday ceremony (when I say angry, I mean in a suave, chic way).

Let's make one thing clear here: Maleficent is THE villainess. She's creepy, mysterious, prolific, frightening, and even beautiful. Yes, the way Disney's animators have drawn her is absolutely superb: there is absolutely no Disney villain that can compare; she is a bitter, stern and intense-looking creature with the eyes of a demon and the voice of a witch. Her costume takes on different forms in different areas; flames ripple across the cuts in her sleeves and bat wings emerge from the high-cut collar on her raven black outfit. Carrying a staff and having a crow hover above her gives us the impression that this is the most evil creature ever to step into animation. Considering what she does throughout the movie, I wouldn't be surprised if she was.

But now I'm getting sidetracked. Bitter with jealousy, Maleficent then places a death curse on Aurora, to which once the child reaches her 16th year, she will be killed by pricking her finger on a spinning wheel spindle.

When the king and queen find it difficult to save their daughter, Flora and Fauna suggest Merryweather's gift to be a counterattack of Maleficent's curse. Merryweather's words go something like this:

If through this wicked witches trick, a spindle should your finder prick, a ray of hope there still may be, in this, the gift I give to thee. Not in death, but just in sleep, the fateful prophecy shall keep, and from this slumber you shall wake, with true love's kiss, the spell shall break.

The three fairies then assume the roles of three peasant women, and escape into the forest with the king's baby, as the king is still weary that the curse will hold.

For the next sixteen years, Maleficent's armies search for Aurora, unaware that Stephan and his queen have permitted Aurora to the three fairies for protection until the sun sets on her 16th birthday, from which she shall return home.

Calling her Briar Rose, the three fairies ask Aurora to pick berries in the forest on her 16th birthday, so that they can prepare a party for her. While she is out, she meets what she thinks is the man she met 'once upon a dream.' She doesn't realize, however, that the one she has met is actually Prince Phillip, who thinks that she herself is not the princess, but a peasant girl. Ironic, heh?

Not quite. Maleficent soon catches wind of the three fairies' plan and carries out the curse to its fullest. The movie then goes on in a stark, raging battle between the forces of good and the powers of evil. Naturally, we know which one will prevail. But it's not like it matters. Both sides of the spectrum are both important to the story as it is to the animation. Good and evil provide their own, spectacular sequences throughout the picture, and without one or the other, how would the movie support itself?

So that leaves me with one thought. How did this movie fail? Did audiences get distracted by the animation? Were they so overwhelmed in the stunning elegance that it suffocated the story? Certainly not. The story is just as lyrical and involved as the animation is beautiful and elegant. If you enthrall yourself with one thing, how can you possibly avoid the other when it's just as wonderful? It isn't possible. It failed for reasons unknown to me, and for the sake of my opinion and love for the movie, I hope to never know.


1998, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
 
 
           
     
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