|Sleeping Beauty (Special Edition)|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 09 September 2003|
Walt Disney was a man of great vision, and a man who, if he didn’t love taking risks, at least embraced them when he felt strongly drawn to the potential. After years of doing short cartoon features about his signature characters Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, Disney felt motivated to move out into a larger arena. Most of Disney’s early movie-length films were based on existing properties, fairy tales and stories that had endured for years, if not centuries. Before “Sleeping Beauty,” Disney had turned out “Peter Pan,” “Cinderella,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Bambi,” “Dumbo,” and “Fantasia.” By the time “Sleeping Beauty” went into production, Disney had his game plan in order.
By the time Disney made “Sleeping Beauty” in 1959, two other film versions existed. In fact, German studios did the first silent black and white animation film was in 1922, and American studios produced a second silent, b/w version in 1924. Disney’s take on the material was, as his stock in trade, filled with color, movement, nature and, as is still true in films coming out of the studio today, music.
“Sleeping Beauty” is a delightfully simple tale that could probably be told in five minutes. A kingdom welcomes a beautiful new princess, Aurora, to the world. Everyone loves Aurora, except for the wicked fairy Maleficent, who is not invited to the celebration of the baby’s birth. Angered by her treatment, Maleficent places a curse on the baby, saying that by the age of 16 she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. However, one of the good fairies that have come to bless the infant is able to twist the evil curse so that Aurora will only sleep, not die, until she’s woken by the kiss of her one true love. Tthe end of the movie comes when the hero, Prince Phillip, fights through Maleficent’s evil minions and kisses the sleeping princess.
Disney brings this story to lush life, imbuing the tale with characters that steal scenes, glimpses of nature that are wonderful, and a sense that fairy tales can come true. From the opening production in the disc’s interactive menu, any viewer who loves animation or family films knows he or she is in for a treat.
After the credits roll in Chapter 1, the story opens in Chapter 2 with a jewel-encrusted book that tells the story of Sleeping Beauty. The animation sweeps across a kingdom where a new baby has been born. The whole kingdom turns out to view Princess Aurora and to give her their blessings.
Chapter 3 shows the people going to the castle. Horses clip-clop in the background and the sound echoes through the surround sound system, placing the viewer in the middle of the action on those busy thoroughfares. The music presents all the pomp and splendor of the moment and the magic of the kingdom. Inside the castle, people come forward with their gifts to pay the princess their respects. One of the people paying their respects is young Prince Phillip, who has been betrothed to Aurora in the hopes of joining the two mighty kingdoms. The scene is played as grand and magnificent, but as in all Disney movies, the subtle and the human are not left out. As the young prince gives the baby his gift, he looks at her and makes a skeptical face as if he understands she could quite possibly be something truly icky.
Chapter 4 brings the entrance of the three Good Fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, who are three of the film’s best efforts. They’re at once lovable and memorable, giving and yet demanding of each other at the same time. In Chapter 5, the crack of thunder and ominous music swells to dissipate the blissful sequence of events that had taken place up until this point. Maleficent arrives in all her dark glory, scares the people and the king and queen, as well as the three Good Fairies, and proceeds to level a curse on the infant princess that she will die by the age of sixteen by pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel in Chapter 6. The danger of spinning wheels might not seem so great in this day and age, but back in the 14th century when this story takes place, as Prince Phillip so grandly cries out to his father at one point of the movie, spinning wheels were in every home because people spun their own cloth. The spell takes shape, filled with bilious green color and a threatening musical score. Maleficent leaves.
Horrified by what has taken place, the Good Fairies gather and talk about what they can do in Chapter 7. Merryweather has yet to give her gift to the baby princess, so they hope that she can undo at least some of the evil that Maleficent has wrought. Soft but frantic music underscores their conversations, driving up the stakes in the scene.
In Chapter 8, the Good Fairies are unconvinced that even Merryweather’s spell will be enough protection for Aurora. They shrink themselves so they won’t be overheard, and talk in a tiny sewing chest. Music underscores their conversation again, and their voices change as they walk into and out of a thimble, which is a great piece that shows how meticulous Disney and his team were about details. The magic of a Disney production is that even the unreal must obey understandable and concrete rules. They decide to live like mortals and raise Aurora like a normal girl deep in the forest until her sixteenth birthday.
Chapter 9 offers a view of Maleficent’s castle. Thunder crackles through the surround sound, underscoring the lighting flashes. The pig-guards she has assigned to find Aurora have been unable to do so. Then she discovers that all this time they have continued to search for a child. She unleashes her wrath, zapping them with lightning bolts that crackle and pop through the surround sound system. She also tells them that they are a disgrace to evil, a joke that even small kids get and laugh, so the scene intentionally loses some of its frightening potential.
Chapter 10 offers up one of the woodland scenes Disney films are so famous for. Princess Aurora, now known as Briar Rose, sings in the forest as she goes about her day. In the small cottage where she has been raised for the past 16 years, the three Good Fairies talk about how much they are going to miss her when they tell her she is the princess. Again, music accompanies their conversation and makes the gentle scene more powerful and moving, yet also more humorous.
Aurora sings to the animals in the forest in Chapter 11. The disc version of the song is clear and strong. During a deliberate video connection, the princess crosses a bridge in the foreground of a scene while Prince Phillip rides his horse through the forest in the background.
Drawn by the sound of the beautiful music, a Disney motif that was used again in “The Little Mermaid”, Prince Phillip urges his horse through the forest in pursuit. The horse’s hooves drum through the center speaker(s), then through the left and right as he shifts back and forth between the trees.
In Chapter 13, Aurora says that she feels lonely because the three Good Fairies have kept her from ever meeting anyone. Wanting to cheer Aurora up, a squirrel spies Prince Phillip’s wet clothing where he’s hanging it after being dumped into a creek by his horse. The squirrel throws an acorn that hits the owl and several birds to get their attention. The acorn pings across the heads of the woodland creatures and makes a different note with every impact. They scamper off and steal the prince’s hat, cloak, and boots, then dance with Aurora.
The prince, looking for his stolen clothing, arrives in Chapter 14. They meet each other and dance, with Aurora singing while they do. Then they agree to meet each other in the cottage that night. Chapter 15 offers a bit of Disney animation that shows mastery of the craft of visual entertainment. A treacherously leaning birthday cake requires that Flora put a broom beside it to keep it standing tall. The icing, still incredibly runny because she is no baker, drips along the broom handle and the candles slide down one by one, requiring her to put them back on top in an exercise of wasted effort. The cake finally falls and the candles sink into the morass with delightfully sad music.
The dress fight in Chapter 16, surely one of the most memorable for anyone who has seen the movie, is enlivened with quick, energetic bursts of music as Fauna and Merryweather fight over the dress color and keep changing it. This chapter also features a brief nod to one of Disney’s most famous Mickey Mouse shorts, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” when Merryweather uses her wand to animate the mop and broom to clean the cottage. Unfortunately, their magical disagreement has also drawn the sharp eye of Maleficent’s crow and she will soon know where the young princess has been hidden all these years. The extra features, although perhaps something the kids won’t enjoy, other than the games and interactive features, are excellent additions. The commentaries offer a feel of the camaraderie that took place at the studio while the film was in production, and a little bit of the problems they faced as they put the project together.
The documentary on the making of the movie is also touching and informative at the same time. The viewer gets the feel that working on a project with Disney was very much like the magic the man put into all his stories. “Sleeping Beauty” is one of the absolutely best films made for young families with small preschool children. All the motivations, good and evil, are clear and easily understood, and the terror is low-key enough that there will be few instances when even a small child will feel the need to leave the room. No one ever doubts that Prince Phillip will save the day and kiss Sleeping Beauty to break the evil fairy’s spell. This film is a must-buy for families hoping to improve and enlarge their family DVD collections, as well as the Disney fans that have been waiting in anticipation for this story to hit home video.