My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.
Title: Sleeping Beauty (1959; based on the fairy tale "La Belle au bois dormant" by Charles Perrault, and the ballet by Pyotr Tchaikovsky)
The Plot: Three fairies take a newborn princess into hiding, to prevent an evil curse that promises she will prick her finger on her sixteenth birthday and die.
The Songs: "Hail The Princess Aurora," "One Gift," "I Wonder," "Once Upon A Dream," "The Skumps Song," "Sleeping Beauty," "Sing A Smiling Song"
A Little History: Sleeping Beauty had been in active production for eight years before its release: Story development began in 1951, animation took place from 1953 to 1958, and the symphonic score (based on Tchaikovsky's ballet) was recorded in 1957. Much of this delay can be attributed to Walt Disney's inattention to the project, as he was also busy prepping several live-action features and overseeing production on Disneyland during this time. Disney wanted Sleeping Beauty to stand apart from his previous fairy tale features, and hired artist Eyvind Earle to give the film an edgier, stylized look, inspired by medieval European painting and architecture. Earle was the sole creative force behind the color styling and background design, which raised the ire of many of his colleagues, who were used to having more creative freedom in their work. The background paintings were so elaborate they took 7-10 days to complete (whereas most paintings were finished in one day). Every shot in the film was recorded in live-action beforehand, with costumed actors used as reference for the animators. The film cost $6 million to produce, and though it earned well over $7 million in tickets that year (out-grossed only by Ben-Hur), it was still regarded as a box-office disappointment. This was also the debut of renowned animator Don Bluth (he joined the team as an assistant), who would later start his own production company to rival Disney's, with titles including An American Tail and The Secret Of NIMH.
How It Broke New Ground: The first animated Disney feature released in 70mm format. It was shot on a 35mm double-frame negative (about twice the size of a standard Academy frame) and photographed three times through red, blue and green filters, then printed on CinemaScope-compatible anamorphic film and Super Technirama 70mm film. This process allowed for greater detail and more sophisticated artwork, though most animators were only able to create one character drawing per day (a combined 24 images are required to produce a single second of movement on film). This is also one of the first soundtracks sold to the public with an orchestral score as well as actual songs; the format set the standard for all motion picture soundtracks that followed after it.
How It Holds Up Today: If I had to pick one Disney film to take with me on a deserted island, it would be Sleeping Beauty. All the classic elements are here: the groundbreaking animation, the singular comic relief, the doe-eyed hero and heroine who fall head-over-heels in love after just one dance (!), and a villain(ess) you love to hate. Yet it stands proud and apart, as Disney himself intended, with its vertical-horizontal line aesthetic and lush Tchaikovsky score. The structure tends to bother people a lot, which, to be honest, has always baffled me. In fact, despite what the title says, Aurora/Briar Rose is not the protagonist of this particular story (like Prince Phillip, she is merely a pawn of the good-versus-evil power struggle, and for the last half hour never utters a word). Watch the movie again, and you'll see it's the three fairies – Fauna, Flora and Merryweather – who work together to achieve the same noble goals, and whose decisions directly influence the plot. The glorious widescreen compositions, too, breathe new life into the age-old Disney format, and elevate it closer to something like art. That's the very definition of a masterpiece: any lasting piece of work that dazzles the eye and brain.
Hold tight, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan and Lady And The Tramp. Please comment! Let me know what you think!