Sleeping Beauty has always had a special place in my heart. This timeless tale of daring-do and courtly romance has always made me swoon from the time I was a small little child. I imagine it will continue to do the same throughout the rest of my life. As stories of princes and princesses go, this one is my absolute favorite, and I doubt I could ever tire of watching it. It plays so well no matter what your gender or age. Disney goes out of their way to sell all their fairy tale titles with princesses to little girls but that does the actual films themselves a huge disservice, this one maybe most of all. There is high adventure to be found here, pretty dresses and cute fairy magic are only one part of the equation bringing this story to life.
Much was made, at the time, over Walt’s insistence that Sleeping Beauty look and feel like nothing the studio had ever made before. The most expensive animated film at that time, artist Eyvind Earle’s unique storyboards and visions for the project are as distinct and one-of-a-kind fifty years later as they ever were upon the project’s original theatrical release. It was the first animated production ever drawn in full 70mm, the original 2.55:1 negative as expansive and as elegantly alive as the real world outside our very doors. It was also the last Disney film to use hand-inked cells, as well as the last one Disney himself personally supervised. You could say Sleeping Beauty was the end of an era at the same time it was breaking brand new ground whose reverberations can still be felt even in today’s CGI dominated world.
As moving as the drama is, as technically innovative as the movie itself proves to be, as sweeping and as elegant as the romance and drama remain, the world of Sleeping Beauty begins and ends with the evil sorceress Maleficent. She is arguably the single greatest Disney villain of all-time, her cold-hearted cackle more than enough to put a lump in my throat and throw a chill down my spine long before a single speck of magic is performed. The wonder of this film continues with the finale, Maleficent’s fire-breathing transformation is every bit as potent now as it ever was a half century ago. The film doesn’t just come alive during the climax, it absolutely explodes, the animation becoming something so electrically primal and invigorating you don’t want to look away.
Like every Disney Platinum release, the special features on Sleeping Beauty are absolutely exhaustive. A couple are carried over from the previous two-disc special edition release from a couple of years ago but the majority are new (the Blu-ray release having even more for the true cinephile to sit back and explore).
I’m not going to go through them all (it would take all night writing about them and I’m getting tired), but I am going to say that, by and large, they are all pretty much fantastic. While some of the hyperbole gets to be a little bit much (can we just retire Leonard Maltin, I seriously think it’s about time) overall there is one heck of a lot to discover here, and anyone interested in the movie is sure to have a field day shuffling through it all.
All I really have to say is that Sleeping Beauty is a Disney masterpiece, there is no discussion on that front. This standard-def DVD is pretty darn close to being one, too, and whether you’re five, 25, 55 or 105 this is one disc everyone who’s anyone is going to want to pick up and place in their library today.
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