Sleeping Beauty is the final member of the triumvirate that are my favorite Disney films. To me, this is one of the most beautifully crafted films in the Disney canon and of course, has some the most memorable characters and quotes ever.
When it was released in 1959, it was the most expensive film produced in the history of Disney at the time to the tune of $6 million (approx $43.5 mil today). The high cost was due in large part to the fact that it was done for Super Technirama 70 (first film ever) which has a 70mm negative instead of the standard 35mm causing every frame to be twice as wide. Because the negative was so wide, when the film was cut for full screen view, the pan and scan technique had to cut more of the frame than normal leaving an image that, while works if you don’t know the difference, leaves a lot of peripheral details off. (Side note: It was this film that actually made me appreciate how much you can miss if you don’t watch things in widescreen.)
But Walt, never wanting to repeat his previous work, wanted this one to look like a moving illustration so he hired Eyvind Earle to be the color stylist and oversee the backgrounds and the overall look of the film. Because of Earle’s attention to detail, each background took several days to do when normally it might take a day causing the film to have one of the longest production schedules for a Disney animated feature ever. The result was a beautifully crafted world that pays homage to pre-Renaissance paintings and tapestries.
While Disney originally intended to have an original score written for this film, it was decided that the music that would best fit this film had already been written for 75 years. Peter Tchaikovsky is probably best remembered today for writing the Nutcracker ballet but he actually wrote two other ballets of equal note: Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. At the time the film was released, the Sleeping Beauty ballet was fairly well known to audiences and the music just matches the animation so well that it was decided that score would be adapted for the film. If you listen to the score for the ballet, you will easily hear the various bits of the score that were used in the film but you may also notice that they aren’t exactly in the same order. For example, the chorus that is sung at the beginning of the movie “All Hail Princess Aurora” is actually from toward the end of the ballet.
But really what everyone (including the three of us at True Classics) loves about this film is that it features the most wicked and badass Disney villain ever: Maleficent. The Mistress of All Evil has it all: perfectly evil voice, awesome robes, one dependable pet, imbecilic henchmen, and magical powers that include the ability to turn herself into a dragon. What’s not to love? Eleanor Audley was Walt’s first choice for the voice and after her performance in Cinderella, who could blame him. There’s just something in the tenor of her voice that sounds so heartless that is perfect for a Disney villain. Only her crow is dependable so you can understand her wrath when Merryweather turns him into stone. Her ability to come up with a really great curse is just awe inspiring. Just look what she came up with just for getting snubbed a party invite; obviously not a woman to cross. And then there’s the dragon thing. All I have to say is green fire. Nuff said.
I also want to give props to the three good fairies: Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. Really without them, there isn’t much movie. I especially love the squabbling between Flora (the bossy one voice by Verna Felton) and Merryweather (the short feisty one voiced Barbara Luddy who also did the voice of Lady in Lady and the Tramp). The scene where they fight over what color the dress is just fun to watch especially when they start zapping each other (pink really isn’t Merryweather’s color).
But I also have a special place in my heart for Fauna because without her, I wouldn’t have some of my favorite quotes ever such as “Tsp?”, “Cups, cups, cups”, and the title of this post.
If you haven’t watch this one in a while, I highly recommend putting it in and seeing what happened “once upon a dream.”