15 December 2008

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty Still Maleficent er Magnificent!

By Kristin Battestella

I’m not a fan of the Disney conglomerate, but when the 50th Anniversary Platinum DVD release of the 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty was announced, I marked my calendar. My VHS copy has long since worn out and disappeared, so this wonderfully restored disc is an essential delight for me-and you-this holiday season.

Along with all their kingdom, King Stefan and his Queen celebrate the birth of their daughter Princess Aurora. At the baby’s betrothal to Prince Phillip, the three good fairies Flora Fauna and Merryweather give the child lovely gifts such as beauty and song. Unfortunately, the evil Maleficent appears and vows that on her sixteenth birthday Aurora will prick her hand on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Fearing Maleficent’s wrath, the three good fairies hide Aurora in the forest and rename her Briar Rose.

Based on the fairy tale by Charles Perrault, Sleeping Beauty has everything I loved as a kid-and still do; Castles, good versus evil, swords and dragons. There’s the fair share of lessons and morals, sure, but there’s also good entertainment. Sleeping Beauty is darker than other Disney tales. This doesn’t seem like a kid’s story in many ways. Death? Evil? Hell? True Love’s Kiss? Then again, some of it is very relevant, like never talking to strangers and ‘True love conquers all.’ This classic is a classic for a reason. I shouldn’t admit it, but every time I lift my toilet lid and see the blue tidy bowl water, I think of Merryweather’s vow, “Make it blue!” Darling quips and humor from Sleeping Beauty have seeped into our cultural lexicon.

Even if you don’t remember all the words, George Bruns Oscar nominated adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s ballet has us humming whenever we hear it. Despite it’s lovely classical score, Sleeping Beauty isn’t packed with vocal compositions like more recent Disney features. Opera singer Mary Costa only sings as Briar Rose for ‘I Wonder’ and ‘Once Upon A Dream.’ The chorale background voices handle the charming titular lullaby. I suspect everyone my age had a ‘See. Hear. Read.’ record associated with this film. ‘Once Upon A Dream’ is still a Disney staple-as seen by the new remake video on the DVD. I bet a lot of us do, in fact, know all the words.

Unlike other cartoons, Briar Rose’s animal friends don’t sing along with her. They have wit and fun, sure, but it’s a little more realistic that Rose is a tad aloof in her singing and loneliness. What kid can’t relate to that? Who doesn’t have hopes and dreams? Kids can learn a lot through catchy tunes. Some of the music is silly, sure; I could do with ‘Skumps’. Nevertheless, Sleeping Beauty’s onscreen medieval style is unlike any other full length feature before or since. The art is tall, lanky, askew like an old ch√Ęteau; A visual allusion of enchantment and magic.

I’m not one for princesses and such, but as much as I like Princess Aurora, it’s the evil fairy Maleficent that makes Sleeping Beauty for me. Unlike later Disney villains, she doesn’t sing or have some sort of crutch and humor about her. Maleficent takes being jilted very seriously, and her look is purely diabolical. I wonder if more folks go as Maleficent for Halloween then Sleeping Beauty? Big M has that Darth Vader appeal. She actually appears more than Aurora, and the genesis of the story comes from Maleficent. What is she? What is her problem? We never exactly find out, but we know her power. Some of her dragon and thorn sequences might even be scary for younger folks. Voiced by Eleanor Audley (the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella) Maleficent can still freak me out. I mean, her pet is a raven named Diablo!

Although some of the menus and game features are juvenile and targeted towards a ten year old girl, I could certainly do without all the Disney crap and language selections clogging navigation. Promos, previews, logos, commercials- Sheesh! The behind the scenes documentaries are, thankfully, informative and exhaustive. The deleted songs, alternative sketches, documentaries; its quite the treat-and I still haven’t finished the second disc of material. For how-to fans of animation or Disney insiders, the features disc alone is worth the purchase price.

Costing six years and six million dollars doesn’t seem like a lot compared to the high standards Hollywood holds itself to today, but Sleeping Beauty’s widescreen innovations show in this gloriously restored wide presentation. The details of which are explained here by Walt Disney himself. For budding artists who only know Disney via High School Musical, the behind the scenes here are a lovely way to remind children about the film innovations the Disney company has achieved. The musician in training might be too old to appreciate the overly sentimental ‘Peter Tchaikovsky story’ dramatization, but it’s a fine reminder about how this darling tale of charm and music came to be.

A seemingly unrelated short film photographing the Grand Canyon is also included in the Backstage segment. Unrelated, but no less beautiful in its restored glory. Audio commentaries, live action references, art work and storyboards, pop up features, and sing along options-when Disney puts something out on DVD, they really go all out, I’ll give them that!

Sleeping Beauty: 50th Anniversary Edition is of course more pricey and limited than your standard DVD fare, but for collectors and fans young and old, the joy and memories are worth the price of admission. Even with today’s abundance of kid’s channels, videos, and cartoons, it can be tough to find something appropriate that the whole family can enjoy. Lovely animation, timeless storytelling, and fine music still make Sleeping Beauty a sight to behold.

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