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.
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 Beauty, which 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 Cinderella. There 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.