Sleeping Beauty

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1959, 76 minutes, Technicolor / Technirama, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution. Based on La Belle au Bois Dormant by Charles Perrault, with music arrangements from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty

Plot summary: On her sixteenth birthday, Princess Aurora is doomed to prick her finger on a spindle and fall asleep until her true love comes to kiss her awake.

Sleeping-Beauty-PosterReview: As a child, I dreamed of being a great sketch artist. I wanted to be able to draw characters as cute as Minnie Mouse and as easy on the eyes as one of Disney’s early princesses. Sleeping Beauty was my favorite. I had a picture of her in a book, a book I read so often, its binding is now broken. Luckily, the picture is still as immaculate as Aurora’s beauty and I thus still cherish the artwork as one of Disney’s best. Truth be told, I cannot recall watching the film when I was little but that book has left a lasting impression on me. Watching the film now, as a grown-up, is like adding voices to a film I have already seen on paper many times. And it is every bit as wonderful as I had always imagined. Especially the three fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather won my heart. Their warmth, woolgathering and practical sense of humor puts the cherry on top of a film that turned out to be Disney’s last fairytale until The Little Mermaid revived the genre in 1989.

To summarize the story: on her day of christening, Princess Aurora is blessed with beauty and song by two good fairies. Maleficent, their evil peer, drops in uninvited and casts a spell on the baby princess: on her sixteenth birthday, she shall prick her finger on a spindle and die. A third good fairy tries her best to attenuate the curse and rephrases it so the princess will only fall into a deep slumber that can only be broken by true love. Alarmed by their daughter’s destiny, the King and Queen ban all spinning wheels from their kingdom and entrust their only child in the care of the three good fairies to keep her safe from harm. Raised as Briar Rose, the princess spends an enchanted childhood in a remote little house in the woods. Unaware of her title and status, she reaches her sixteen’s birthday but is ultimately unable to escape her fate. Saved by Prince Phillip who fell in love with her voice and charm, she breaks the malicious spell and lives happily ever after.

Considered corny and trite by some in our cynical times, Princess Aurora and her dashing prince are still beautiful to look at while their story remains engaging and timeless. Although released in January 1959, production started as early as 1951 and kept designers, musicians and actors busy over the course of nearly a complete decade. Inspired by medieval times, Sleeping Beauty’s visual style set itself apart from Disney’s previous productions. Princess Aurora and her prince, however, were once again based on live action models, following a tradition Cinderella and Snow White had started before them. Despite the praise for its elegant villain, the film (like other productions of the era) fell surprisingly flat with audiences and critics alike. Now considered a Disney classic, it may be hard to understand why. Based on a fairytale classic, Sleeping Beauty introduced new aesthetics as well as wonderful musical arrangements. Sadly, though, it did not manage to create the kind of sparkle Pinocchio and Bambi had a decade or two earlier. Still breathtaking in its detail and color today, the feature film can be marveled at in full length on DVD and Blu-ray. A true gem for anyone who still has a heart for some good old-fashioned romance and three genuine fairies who are a treat of their own.

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