The princess shall indeed grow in grace and beauty, beloved by all who know her. But… before the sun sets on her 16th birthday, she shall prick her finger, on the spindle of a spinning wheel – AND DIE!
Ah yes, Sleeping Beauty. The movie with both my favorite Disney villain and my favorite Disney prince, but, alas, not my favorite princess.
Sleeping Beauty is the third of Walt Disney’s “princess” movies, following Snow White and Cinderella. (I put princess in quotation marks due to a personal annoyance with a matter – we’ll discuss that in a couple weeks.) It would also be the last princess film that Walt would make. The next royal film would not appear until 1989 with The Little Mermaid. Odd how much Disney is known for (marketing) their princesses when Walt was only around for the first three – there are 10 “official” Disney princesses, and several not counted in the line-up. MOVING ON!
As Jon pointed out, Sleeping Beauty is based upon the 17th century fairy tale “La Belle au Bois Dormant” by Charles Perrault. However, nearly two centuries later, Pyotr Tchaikovsky scored a ballet of the fairy tale. The Disney film is based on both versions of the story (conveniently leaving out rape and whatnot.) Speaking of the ballet – much of the score is used in the soundtrack (or the soundtrack is based upon the ballet) of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. However, the film is just as much original Disney as it is either of those.
The oddest thing about the film, Sleeping Beauty, is that it is the story of a princess who is cursed to die or sleep forever. Her only chance of survival is true love’s kiss or something. However, the title character – Sleeping Beauty herself – only appears in the film for 18 minutes. So what happens in the film if the title character isn’t around? Good question.
King Stephen and Queen Leah have a baby (and the peasants rejoice.) They throw a party to honor the new princess. Their friend, King Hubert, and his son, Prince Phillip, come, baring some kind of gift. Afterwards, three fairies come bestowing the girls of beauty and song . Uh oh. In poofs Maleficent, Mistress of Evil.
She apparently is the mistress of some dark forbidden mountain. (It is unclear exactly how she and King Hubert relate to the kingdom.) Anyhow, she is pissed because she wasn’t invited to the birthday party. She doesn’t get cake and one of the fairies pisses her off further by saying “You weren’t wanted!” So what does Maleficent do? Curses the princess and says she will die when she is 16. Maleficent’s motive throughout the whole film seems to be based on her being unwanted. While a weak motive, she happens to be a bad ass. Maleficent leaves. Fairies raise baby. Baby grows up to be beautiful (although painfully thin) falls in love with a prince, blah blah blah.
But speaking of the fairies (including Maleficent), I have to wonder, what exactly are their powers? Merryweather can’t undo Maleficent’s curse. The good fairies don’t help Phillip defeat the dragon until they have to. Maleficent sent her goons to find Aurora. It seems that they only have powers sometimes. Maybe they should hook up with the chocolate pot roast eating giant who has odd and random powers, as well.
Okay, back to the history and process. You wouldn’t be reading this if you haven’t seen the film, right?
Sleeping Beauty cost Walt Disney Productions six million dollars to make, and it took them six years to do so. Now, when I say six years, I don’t mean like Alice or Peter where there were concepts and then put on hold for a while. I am talking six years of actual production time. The animators were only able to draw one frame a day. For those of you who don’t know, it takes 24 frames to make 1 second of film.
As for the animation, itself:
- Sleeping Beauty was the last Disney animated film to use hand-inked cells, but we’ll talk more about that for our next film.
- The film was made in SUPER widescreen (called super technirama 70) because in 1959,TVs were increasingly popular and less people were going to the movies. The only other animated film in this format would be The Black Cauldron (1985) Walt had to make this one special (AND NOT LIKE SNOW WHITE OR CINDERELLA)
- The stylist for the film was a gentleman by the name of Eyvind Earle, who worked on several shorts, along with Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp. He is the reason why (generally) everything in the background remains in focus and people are standing still (to resemble paintings). These ideas drove the animators bonkers, but as it turns out, it is beautifully executed. (Probably my favorite art of all the Disney films) After this film, Eyvind quit the company to work on his own artwork.
- Walt didn’t like the “I Wonder” scene (when Aurora first goes to “pick berries” and is singing – she has not yet met Phillip) – he thought it was boring and needed more cute animals. Consequently, the deflating owl is probably one of my favorites.
- Most of the live-action references were not provided by the voice actors (unlike Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and Cinderella) because they did not look the part.
I also want to point out the magnificent Eleanor Audley, the voice of the Mistress of Evil, Maleficent. You may recognize her as the voice of Lady Tremaine from Cinderella or the voice of Leota (the woman in the crystal ball) from the Haunted Mansion ride. Walt wanted her for the voice of Maleficent but she turned him down due to tuberculosis. Eventually, she gave in and is one of the most memorable Disney voices and villains.
For all you Disney Parks enthusiasts, you’ll remember that the castle in the center of Disneyland is called “Sleeping Beauty Castle.” However, the park, including the castle, was built in 1955, whereas the film came out in 1959. You’ll also notice the park castle looks nothing like the movie castle. Such is life. BUT if you did walk through the castle (from 1957 to 2001), you will be able to view dioramas of the film. Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong also feature a Sleeping Beauty castle whereas Walt Disney World features Cinderella Castle.
For more Sleeping Beauty goodness (kind of), check out:
- The Kingdom Keepers (young adult Disney book series) by Ridley Pearson
- Maleficent (upcoming film)
- Kingdom Hearts (video game)
Last but not least, a quick survey:
Would Sleeping Beauty be released today with a G rating? Would it have been made today at all? Maleficent’s scripting has several words that I (or my students) wouldn’t be allowed to say in school. The dragon scene? Amazing, but SCARY. Thoughts?
Also – sorry, not many GIFs/images this week. I’m in the process of my last couple weeks of graduate school and am packing to move within the next month, along with preparing a Disneyland trip. However, if you have a request, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get around to it when I can.