Week 16: Sleeping Beauty

Stunningly Beautiful


Originally Released: 1959

Let me just begin by getting this out of the way: I love Sleeping Beauty. I love the art. I love the music. I love its sense of humor. Maleficent is probably my favorite of all the Disney villains. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. While I consider it impossible to pin down my favorite Disney film of all, Sleeping Beauty is a strong contender for that coveted #1 spot. Some days it actually makes it to the top in my mind.

Knowing that, it should then come as no surprise that this was a highly-anticipated week for my project. It doesn’t take much coaxing to get me to watch Sleeping Beauty. And, unsurprisingly, I enjoyed the movie yet again.


Let me begin with the art. I did actually learn something new this time around. The look of the film is largely attributable to a man named Eyvind Earle, who I previously did not take the time to learn about. He was a younger artist in the Disney studios, and he did a bit of training under the talented Mary Blair (who I mentioned in previous posts).  Walt Disney was impressed with his art and some of his ideas. In fact, he was so impressed that he made Eyvind the Art Director for the film, and gave him a large amount of authority over the other artists, including the animators. Walt wanted the original concept art style to make it to the final film without being “watered down.” I did not previously know that Eyvind was the source of the distinct look of the film.


Eyvind personally had a hand in most of the backgrounds. I consider the backgrounds to be masterpieces in Sleeping Beauty. They are bright, colorful, highly stylized, and have incredible detail. This was the second Disney animated film to use a widescreen format, and Eyvind made the most of it. The backgrounds are practically bursting from every corner with intricate details and beautiful work. Everything from the bark of the trees to the small cracks in the stone walls of the castle, and from the townsfolk to table-top items is a sight to behold (as a side note, watching Sleeping Beauty on blu-ray for the first time was an absolute revelation. Before I watched it, my general opinion was “there’s no way an old 2d cartoon will look any better in high definition.” I was wrong, wrong, wrong). This is one film that I can pause virtually anywhere in the film and have an image I would want to hang on my wall. It is that beautiful.



Look at the large tree. Then look at the two other trees and the bush. Then look at the trees even further off in the distance. The detail never ceases to amaze me.

As much as I’m a fan of the artwork, I am also a fan of the music. The music was adapted from the old ballet version of the story which was composed by Tchaikovsky (of Nutcracker fame), which was a brilliant move by Disney. To me, the Tchaikovsky music adds an extra bit of elegance to this film that separates it from some of the earlier Disney releases. And add to the Tchaikovsky score the perfect casting choices for the voices of Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip, and the result is highly satisfying music in Sleeping Beautywhich complements the art and animation in a great way.


The art and music alone would be enough to win me over in this film. But it also has memorable characters. The three fairies are vintage, true Disney characters and I love the way they play off of each other. The baking/sewing scene has always been a favorite of mine, with their ineptitude at being mere mortals shining through. There is Phillip, who is the first Disney prince to have any real personality and animation/screen time. And of course, there is the vile Maleficent, voiced by Eleanor Audley, the same woman who did such a great job as Lady Tremaine in CinderellaThere is no real complexity to Maleficent that we know of. She is just pure evil, and is superbly animated, styled, and voiced. Combined, it results in a villain that is not soon forgotten.


All of these things did not come easily for Disney and his team, nor did they come quickly or cheaply. Sleeping Beauty was in active production for roughly 8 years, and it was an extremely expensive film to produce. It demanded a lot from the animators and artists. But the result was something to marvel at, and it paid off in the end. It really shows in the final product that there was a great amount of hard work that went into making the film what it is. I, for one, am very glad they gave all that effort. If there is any Disney film that deserves to be called “classic,” Sleeping Beauty is it.



Skumps, Skumps, Skuuuuummmmmps!

Skumps, Skumps, Skuuuuummmmmps!




Week 15: Lady and the Tramp

Better Than Many Romantic Comedies Involving People


Originally Released: 1955

(For those of you following along, I realize that as of the date of publishing this post, it isn’t really week 15 in the year. It turns out life happens, and watching and writing about Disney movies regretfully fell on my priorities list for the past few weeks. But I’m back to it now and I plan on getting back on schedule in the next few weeks!)

For Disney’s 15th full-length animated feature, Walt and the studio went in a more contemporary direction and away from the classic fairy tale route. In as early as 1937, sketches were made and the story for Lady and the Tramp began to be developed. Unlike many of the early Disney animated films, the story of Lady and the Tramp is a Disney original. And it ended up being pretty good, too.

Most people will instantly think of the famous “Spaghetti Kiss” when the name of the film is mentioned. It happens to me, and I tend to forget about rest of the movie. However, each time I watch Lady and the Tramp, I enjoy the whole film. In my opinion, it is a better romantic film than many recent (and quite a few older) attempts at the genre, which is sad considering we are dealing with dogs. But that is a testament to the film and its animators. They managed to create a film with characters that develop and grow, including the minor characters like Jock and Trusty.


But most impressive to me this time were the little things such as puppy Lady whimpering like a real puppy would, all the dog mannerisms and movements, and the perspective of most of the film, which tends to be from a dog’s eyes. I also find it humorous that Lady’s owners are constantly referred to as “Jim Dear” and “Darling.” Lady and the Tramp has many little touches that add to the experience.

Little details like the shadows of the bars across the dogs (criminal stripes) really add to the film.

Little details like the shadows of the bars across the dogs (criminal stripes) really add to the film.

Lady and the Tramp also represents a first in the Disney canon: it was the first feature-length animated film to be filmed in a widescreen format. Ultimately, this is a great thing (especially for movie lovers), but it also represented a challenge for the animators and artists because it meant that there was more scenery that had to be created, painted and animated, and more to consider for balance. It is a nice touch, but I believe it wasn’t until Disney’s second attempt in widescreen that the switch would profoundly add to the movie.

Overall, Lady and the Tramp represents more Disney magic and shows that even when covering contemporary times and original ideas, Walt and his team could create a bella notte.


His sister's name is Rosita Chiquita Juanita Chihuahua. His name? Pedro.

His sister’s name is Rosita Chiquita Juanita Chihuahua. His name? Pedro.



Week 14: Peter Pan

Childish Awe on Full Display


Originally Released: 1953

I suspect Walt Disney really connected with the idea of never growing up, which is a big part of the magic of Peter Pan. As an adult, Walt’s career revolved around the idea of reaching back to childhood, as evidenced in the animated films and Disneyland. And who can blame him. A child is free to imagine up adventures such as pirate battles, flying, swimming with mermaids, and just about anything else. And Peter Pan encapsulates this feeling perfectly.


Peter Pan was in the works for many years before it was finally released in 1953. As a child, Walt was able to see the original play by J.M. Barrie which began its run in 1904. It had a lasting impact on him, and when he began work on feature-length films in the 1930’s, his plan was for Peter Pan to be his second film, after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However, this did not happen, in part because Walt felt that the skills and animation techniques of the artists had not advanced enough at the time, and needed more refinement and improvement in order to successfully achieve Walt’s vision for the film. Thus the production was shelved for a time, like many of his other early films.


Production picked up again in the late 1940’s, and this time Walt Disney and his “Nine Old Men,” were able to achieve Walt’s vision and create some fantastic work in terms of animation. In fact, not only was the team able to capture the great spirit of the play, but they also were able to do more, because in animation you can create and do things that simply aren’t possible on stage or in live-action. It ended up being a perfect medium for a story about childhood adventure and wonder.

A sampling of the things I noticed and enjoyed as I watched this time include many of Wendy’s expressions of awe, happiness, and disapproval, Tinkerbell’s sassy attitude, and Captain Hook playing the piano. The flying scenes work remarkably well, too. Then there’s the silly old crocodile. He doesn’t speak at all, but he is a scene-stealer whenever he’s present, with his dog-like mannerisms, good use of “mickey mousing,” and his taunting of Captain Hook.


Not only does the film work well from an animation standpoint, but it just works as a story and a film. The plot moves along at a nice pace, we learn a lot about the main characters and their strengths and weaknesses, and there is plenty of action, drama, and comedy. To tell the truth, I probably enjoy it more as an adult than I did as a child. It is great entertainment.

Something I found interesting is that a few things carried over from Alice in Wonderland and made their way into Peter Pan. For example, the voices for Wendy (Kathryn Beaumont), Smee (Bill Thompson), and Mrs. Darling (Heather Angel) were the same actors voicing Alice, the White Rabbit, and Alice’s older sister. Another interesting piece of trivia is that the opening song “The Second Star to the Right” was originally written as “Beyond the Laughing Sky,” in which Alice was supposed to sing at the beginning in the meadow before she sees the white rabbit. However, the song was dropped because they felt it was shaping up to be too similar to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Later, though, the composer used the nice melody for the song and rewrote the lyrics to work in Peter Pan.


This leads me to the last thing I greatly enjoyed about this film: the music. Both the songs and the score are highly entertaining and very memorable. Heck, even a song that didn’t make it into the final cut somehow became a success. I already mentioned the sweet melody of “The Second Star to the Right,” but there is also “Following the Leader,” “A Pirate’s Life,” and more. The music and score really add to the overall feel of the movie.

The animation, plot, and music all combine to make Peter Pan stand out as yet another standout piece of Disney magic. It is a great reminder for us to not completely forget the inner child in us all.




Week 13: Alice in Wonderland

“Curiouser and Curiouser,” Colorful, Quotable, and Memorable


Originally Released: 1951

I have never read the children’s books by Lewis Carroll which this film is based from, but watching Alice in Wonderland again makes me want to read them so I can compare the stories chosen for the film with their source material, and to also compare the style and feel of each medium.

Walt Disney was, unlike me, very familiar with the Carroll books. He actually began his career with a loose adaptation in his 1920’s Alice comedy series, a series of shorts that combined live action with some very early animation (click here for a sampling of the series and see how far animation has come since those early years). After Walt Disney’s studio was established in Hollywood, an Alice in Wonderland film was in and out of production for approximately 20 more years, undergoing many revisions and changes in content, theme, and style, before it was finally released in 1951.


There were many reasons for this long process, but one reason is that apparently the contents of the books are very episodic in nature, and they have been found to be very difficult to adapt to the screen while retaining a strong narrative in traditional Hollywood fashion. Indeed, even in this Disney version this is noticeable as we watch Alice jump from one situation to the next. The film didn’t grab me emotionally like Cinderella, Bambi, or even Dumbo. However, this did not limit my enjoyment of the film because in terms of whimsy, art style, color, creativity, and imagination, few films are able to come close to what Alice in Wonderland accomplishes.

The film is just full of memorable characters, songs, and quotes. Surely many of us have at one sung to ourselves or to others “No time to say goodbye, Hello! I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!” or at one time or another have had the urge to yell “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!” Then again, that may just be me. But most will at least be familiar with where these quotes come from as well as who said them.


My favorite scene has to be the tea party with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. It doesn’t get much wackier than this. All the different tea pots, the colors, the wordplay, and the brilliant animation combine to make an scene that to me is unforgettable. It is to the point that if this movie is mentioned, immediately my mind will conjure up an image from the very merry un-birthday party before I think of any other part of the film.

But from a truly artistic perspective, I believe the introduction of the Queen of Hearts, with the deck of card soldiers marching through the maze by her castle, is the best part. The bold red of the cards contrasting with the greens and greys of the castle and maze is a nice touch. The soldiers crisscrossing and getting shuffled together and then breaking out in groups is fascinating. And the shapes and distortions of the landscape is very interesting to look at. All these things contribute to make this really inspired animation and art.


The concept art for this and many of the other early Disney films was done by an artist named Mary Blair. As I have been watching the special features for each film, I have learned more and more about her, and it is clear that today the Disney animation studios and historians have a great amount of respect for her and her work. She was just as instrumental to the films as were the “nine old men.”

Mary was a part of “El Grupo,” the team that toured South America with Walt, and that trip inspired her and helped her develop a very distinct and contemporary art style, which she put to use in creating the concept art for the films. However, while her concept art served as a basis for many of the early films, by the time the final version of the film came out many tweaks were made, to the point where you may not recognize the relationship very much.

This is not the case with Alice in Wonderland, however (and in Cinderella to a lesser extent). In most of the film, and especially the castle, what you see on the screen is essentially what was painted by Blair. This is part of what gives the film its uniqueness and adds to the nonsensical, whimsical feel. It was a great move to incorporate this into the film.

Ultimately, what we have in Alice in Wonderland is a film which, while light on the typical Hollywood drama and emotional payoff, is a feast for the eyes, ears, and imagination. And as a bonus, it inspired me to read a book, and anything that does that can, in my view, be considered a success.



Week 12: Cinderella

Disney Triumphantly Returns to the Full-Length Animated Feature


Originally Released: 1950

Considering just how famous this movie has become, it is very interesting to know that Walt Disney took a big risk by working on Cinderella and releasing it as a full-length feature. Besides Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, none of his previous full-length animated films was a financial success, and the package films were only moderately successful. Thus, the entire future of Disney’s feature animation hinged on the success of Cinderella. If it failed, Disney would likely have shut down the feature animation studio. Luckily, Cinderella was a big hit with audiences. It was so successful that it gave Disney the cash flow to not only continue production on future animated films, but it also helped progress other parts of the company, including Walt’s endeavor to create Disneyland. Additionally, it began what could be considered a bit of a Disney Renaissance with its films.

Unlike the fairly obscure Disney package films, Cinderella should require no introduction or plot summary. If there is someone who either has not seen it, or who is unfamiliar with the fairy tale in some form, I would be quite surprised. And though there have been other adaptations of the tale, I am willing to bet that when most people think of Cinderella, they think of this version.


Yet despite this popularity, whenever I am about to watch Cinderella again, for some reason I tend to think that I am not going to enjoy it as much as I would some of the other Disney classics. My reasoning may vary each time this occurs. For example, I may say it is a “girl movie.” Or I may tell myself the story is very thin, or that the mice take up too much of the screen time gathering stuff and getting chased by Lucifer. However, as valid as my excuses may be, once I sit down and simply watch the film, all those negative thoughts just seem to disappear as I get lost in the story, music, and animation. Each viewing of Cinderella exceeds my expectations and I find myself happy to have watched it again.

This time was no exception. I was struck at how well the movie conveyed different emotions, and how much I cared about what happened to Cinderella. I felt bad that her life was awful, and was glad she was able to triumph in the end. The scene with the key was actually suspenseful because the film effectively made me want to root for Cinderella.


Somewhat related to the first topic is that this time I really noticed the great good shown by some characters (by now we should know that it is very smart to have a mouse for a friend – see Dumbo for another example of this), as well as some truly despicable evil from Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s stepmother. Unlike many Disney villains, she doesn’t have supernatural powers, but her rotten heart more than makes up for it. Lucifer, the cat, doesn’t fall too far behind in this category, either. Both relish seeing Cinderella suffer. There is a clear contrast between good and evil in this film.


Finally, the music was just as good as ever. It ranged from sweet to silly, but it was always fun and memorable. A good example was the “Sing Sweet Nightingale” part. It starts off silly with the stepsisters skewering the song, but then it transitions to a beautiful rendition accompanied by a gorgeous visual scene involving harmonizing Cinderella reflections in soap bubbles.

Most of the songs got stuck in my head for the next day or so, but I didn’t mind because the songs are great. I didn’t even have a problem when I noticed I was singing “Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boo” to myself. And while I’m on the topic of memorable music, an interesting side note is that Cinderella is the film that started Walt Disney’s music publishing business. Walt knew that the music would be very popular, so he decided that they might as well make the money from it instead giving the profits to someone else. It proved to be a smart move.


So in the end, while there may be some flaws or something or another to complain about in Cinderella, the magic of the movie to me is that these flaws and complaints quickly go away and are forgotten. It is easy to get pulled into its world, and that’s what the Disney magic is all about. (Oh yeah, and there’s also this).  Cinderella is a top-tier Disney gem.


These birds got caught in Cinderella's magic spell.

These birds got caught in Cinderella’s magic spell.

If a monocle makes you want to say "indeed," in an English accent, you can probably thank this movie.

If a monocle makes you want to say “indeed,” in an English accent, you can probably thank this movie.