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When an enchanted kingdom and the most fair princess in the land falls prey to the ultimate mistress of evil, the fate of the empire rests in the hands of three small fairies and a courageous prince's magic kiss. Their quest is fraught with peril as the fellowship must battle the evil witch and a fire breathing dragon if they are to set the Beauty free. From spectacular action to the breathtaking pageantry of the princess and her kingdom, Sleeping Beauty has something to charm every member of your family. Disney's first Large Format animated film. Made in Technirama.
For more about Sleeping Beauty and the Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray release, see the Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray Review
Starring: Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen
Directors: Les Clark, Clyde Geronimi, Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman
» See full cast & crew
Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray Review
Merryweather said it best... 'Make it Blu!'
Reviewed by Lindsay Mayer, October 6, 2008
All eyes are on Disney now as they release their first hand-drawn animated feature to Blu-ray Disc - none other than Sleeping Beauty. Though many Disney fans will argue back and forth as to which film would have have been more "appropriate" for such a landmark, the sheer spectacle and intricately detailed artistry of Sleeping Beauty lends itself perfectly to high definition, and the film has certainly never looked better.
Such grand treatment on Blu-ray is only befitting of the labor of love that Sleeping Beauty became at the studio in the 1950s. The film's production spanned almost the entire decade, beginning with story concept work in 1951 and ending in 1959 with the film's theatrical bow. Sleeping Beauty was a strain on the studio's resources, from its time to its manpower, and certainly to its money. It cost so much, in fact, that even though it was a box office success upon its release, the film still did not recoup its production costs on its initial run. Since then, however, Sleeping Beauty has become a most profitable property for the Walt Disney Company, as its nearly 50 year legacy has touched generations of filmgoers.
Sleeping Beauty is, admittedly, a bit light on story. It is a faerie tale in the truest sense, built upon a short fable about four paragraphs long. The film's main inspiration is the first section of Charles Perrault's La Belle au Bois Dormant; it is one of several tales published in Perrault's 1697 book Les Contes de ma mère l'Oie, or The Tales of My Mother Goose. Perrault was a significant figure in founding a new literary genre - the faerie tale; he predates the famous Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm by almost a century. Of course, Perrault's version of the dormant princess is not the first occurrence of such themes, but it is arguably the most well-known. As such, it provided a mere template for the Disney staff, who filled in some gaps generously, omitting and augmenting as they went along. The end result, as noted already, is a straightforward, none-too-intricate story where, ironically, the faeries seem more human than the humans themselves.
This is understandable however, given that the main emphasis of the film is in its artistic and technical marvels. It is common knowledge among most film fans and historians that the era of television, sweeping into private residences post World War II, struck a blow to the film industry. With entertainment available for hours at a time, every day, from the comfort of your own home, why bother getting gussied up to head to the cinema? To combat this, films underwent a metamorphosis in style and tempting gimmickry. From stereoscopic 3D experiences to bargain priced double features, studios were trying everything. One of the most interesting and successful adjustments was the size of the film itself, stretching from the norm of 35 millimeters to 70 and beyond. Sleeping Beauty was one of the features, filmed with a 70mm technology sensationally named "Technirama." In addition, the film's music, consisting almost entirely of Peter Tchaikovsky's 1889 ballet score, was recorded in Germany with the best technology available, in a cutting-edge 6 channel stereophonic sound mix. Everything about the film exuded opulence, carried out and promoted in a fashion that only Walt Disney could achieve.
The story itself centers around the plight of one fair maiden by the name of Aurora. The daughter of the good King Stefan, she is cursed as a newborn by the scornful dark faerie Maleficent. Fated to die from pricking her finger on a spinning wheel's spindle, Aurora is buffered by the blessings of the three good faeries Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. The three vow to protect the princess by hiding her away from Maleficent's watchful goons, deep in the forests bordering Stefan's kingdom. The faeries raise the child as their own for several years, until the evening of her sixteenth birthday when she supposedly outlives the curse and is returned to the castle. They tell the girl nothing of her royal heritage, and name her Briar Rose as an extra precaution. Rose has a surprise in store for them however - she has fallen in love with a wonderful stranger while out picking berries. Though none of them know, this stranger is Prince Phillip, son of the neighboring King Hubert. The two young heirs are coincidentally betrothed to one another, but being that this is a faerie tale, the two fall in love without knowing anything about the other, including such silly formalities as - oh, I don't know - names? Hence, Rose cum Aurora is heartbroken when she discoveries her royal responsibilities dictate she never sees that "stranger" again.
Meanwhile, a frustrated Maleficent finally gets her chance to fulfill the curse when her loyal raven Diablo locates Aurora at last. Entrancing the princess into touching a spindle, Maleficent is not perturbed when the girl does not die. Indeed, she delights in increasing the misery for the kingdom by capturing the prince and preventing him from rescuing the maiden with love's first kiss. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather counteract by enchanting the population to sleep indefinitely until their princess awakens. They realize Phillip is the only hope for lifting Maleficent's oppressive evils off the land, and combine their magic to aid the prince in a harrowing fight to the death against the dark faerie... and all the powers of hell!!
Sleeping Beauty may have a plain story, but its strengths are in its spectacle and its select memorable moments and characters. Maleficent is superbly designed, and brought to smooth, scheming life by the excellent voicework of Eleanor Audley. Even her raven sidekick has a pronounced personality, becoming a creature the viewer just loves to hate. Aurora and Phillip's initial meeting and courtship in a highly stylized forest setting is probably the film's most memorable sequence. If not that, then certainly the thrilling climactic battle between Phillip and Maleficent, transformed into an awesome and gorgeously evil dragon. Every turn of a head is carefully drawn and choreographed, and every corner of the screen is filled with luxuriant detail. All of it, down to the last leaf, tapestry, or rocky crag, shines through in high definition. It is truly a sight to behold.
Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sleeping Beauty debuts on Blu-ray with a high bitrate AVC encoding that averages about 35 Mbps. Because of Technirama's incredibly wide format, the film's aspect ratio has been all over the map on home video. The standard cinemascope ratio of 2.35:1 is not quite right for this film, as even larger areas of art exist on the original negative. For this release, a closely appropriate, extra wide 2.55:1 has been chosen, showing more picture on the top and sides than has been seen before on home video - even, so Disney claims, more than has been seen in theatres. The results are nothing short of stupendous. There is such a beautifully dense amount of detail in every possible portion of the screen, that longtime Beauty fans won't be able to help their wandering eyes.
Many will ask what good high definition will do to hand-drawn animation, as it is so "flat," with such "blocky" color schemes, etc. Sleeping Beauty shows in no uncertain terms how glorious this medium can look when given a proper amount of clarity. Every piece of lineart is clean and uniform, every cel of animation shines through. The colors are a beautiful example of true Technicolor. Every hue is rich and vibrant; bolder tones virtually pop off the screen. Blacks and shadow detail are deep and inky, and no crush whatsoever can be seen. Whites and the brightness of faerie magic never bloom, and no posterization or any other such artifacts are ever evident throughout the film's sometimes neon palette.
While the characters are clean-cut and colorful, one of the most breathtaking features is the visibility of the background detail. Not only are we seeing more of it, we're able to see into the farthest reaches of the film's scenery. The stylized foliage of the forest is especially beautiful, but even the crumbling stone empire of Maleficent's Forbidden Mountain is thoroughly detailed. For once, one can really appreciate the lengths to which background artist Eyvind Earle went - his work is plain for all to see on this Blu-ray release.
Overall, the picture quality on Sleeping Beauty is just stellar. No mastering errors or compression artifacts are to be seen anywhere, contrast is perfect, and color levels are awesome. Sharp and clean, the film looks mighty fine for being almost 50 years old.
Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Sleeping Beauty's decadent visuals are accompanied by a newly remixed surround track in lossless DTS HD-MA 7.1. A damn fine track it is, too. Going back to the original score recordings from Germany, sound technicians like Randy Thornton and Terry Porter restored every last note, word, or foley effect to remove hisses, pops, and other artifacts to get a clean, smooth sound. The restored audio was then mixed into an engulfing 7.1 channel mix that really lends a superior experience to the film. Tchaikovsky's score is beautiful and highly infectious - you'll find yourself humming the waltz-like main theme for days after. Dialogue is crystal clear and follows the characters across the "stage" of sound; it is never muddled or hard to distinguish. Rears are used frequently for residual score and ambient effects like the many birds and other wildlife in Briar Rose's forest. LFE is used to dramatic effect in the score, as well as lending a good amount of "oomph" to scenes like Phillip and Maleficent's good versus evil showdown.
For purists, Disney provides the film's original 4 channel stereophonic track as well, although unfortunately no language tracks are included, unlike the Platinum Edition DVD. The latter includes Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, but the Blu-ray has neither dub nor subtitles in any other language. It remains an unfortunate mystery as to why - was the BD-50 disc really that cramped for space? Disney is usually quite good at providing Spanish, French, and even Portuguese tracks on their Region A Blu-rays, and it's truly a shame that Sleeping Beauty is an exception to that rule. Aside from that exclusion, the Blu-ray's sound rates second to nothing, and it is a fitting complement to the film's excellent picture.
Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This Sleeping Beauty Platinum Edition Blu-ray comes packed to the gills with extra features - enough to warrant a 2 disc set. Thankfully, the kiddie fluff is kept to a relative minimum, and material for the most part does not overlap. Disc 1 is supplied with feature film-relevant supplements like commentary, song selection, and theatrical companion pieces. To start off, Cine-Explore features three animation gurus - film historian and longtime Disney collaborator Leonard Maltin, supervising animator Andreas Deja, and John Lasseter, the creative head of affairs for everything from Pixar Animation to Disney theme parks - discussing the art and legacy of Sleeping Beauty. The three share personal anecdotes and experiences around the film, from childhood impressions to conversations with its original animators. During the run of the feature, plentiful amounts of concept art, production photos, and historical material floats across the screen, providing visual aids for whatever the topic at hand may be amongst the trio of men. For those who would rather not have all the imagery clogging up the screen, an Audio Commentary option is available; it is the very same recording with the three enthusiasts, just sans the pictures.
A pleasantly surprising addition to the Blu-ray's first disc is the sprawling widescreen short feature, Grand Canyon, which played before Sleeping Beauty on its initial release to theatres. It is pleasantly surprising because not only is the 29 minute orchestral piece provided in full 1080p high definition AVC, but also boasts a lossless DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio track. Shown at a 2.39:1 aspect ratio, Grand Canyon consists of lovely vistas of the Grand Canyon wilderness in the United States southwest, set to select movements of the Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofé. Beginning with "Sunrise," moving through to "On the Trail" and "Cloudburst," and ending with "Sunset," the short is lovely to behold with its long shots and closeups alike of local flora and fauna, as well as the fickle movements of seasonal weather. The lossless track breathes new life into the sweeping orchestral movements, and the AVC encoding gives the film a nicely sharp and grainy picture.
The first disc's remaining features are more on the frivolous side. The most notable is the Dragon Encounter, a piece running just under 5 minutes that is meant as a novel approach to showcasing Blu-ray's lossless 7.1 channel sound capabilities; as such, the extra is shown in AVC with DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio. The viewer is encouraged to "Turn off the lights, turn up the sound!" as they journey down a dark dungeon-like corridor, led by the three good faeries. Suddenly trapped and with nowhere to flee, you're instructed to "keep still" by your nervous guides when a bad CG model of Maleficent as a dragon rises out of a pit and tries to sniff you out. Circling the underground arena, the dragon's action and vocalization can be tracked via the sound system. It is a rather impressive aural feat, though the context is just a bit silly. Also on the light side is the Princess Fun Facts trivia track, a subtitle option that doesn't really seem to nail any particular demographic. One moment you get a block of text telling you "A Disney Princess is always kind to animals," while the very next piece proclaims that many singers and actors auditioned for the role of Prince Phillip before Bill Shirley was cast. Okay, then.
The musically themed supplements on disc one are, to reiterate, light fluffy fare. A teenybop Music Video of "Once Upon A Dream" is performed here in high definition MPEG-2 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 track by Emily Osment. If you can last the entire 3½ minutes, I applaud you. Disney Song Selection allows the viewer to jump to the film's five songs - "Once Upon A Dream (Main Title)," "Hail to the Princess Aurora," "I Wonder," "Once Upon A Dream," and "Sleeping Beauty." A play all option is provided as well. Finally, the musically inclined have a Play Lyrics subtitle feature available during playback of the film itself.
The much ballyhooed BD-Live features were not available as of this review - I suspect the network will be up on release day, but not a minute before. The review will be updated accordingly when the features are accessible. One can only hope Sleeping Beauty will not be a repeat of Paramount's Iron Man BD-Live problems, in that the network is so bogged with traffic it does not function properly! One internet-linked feature can be seen in action already - disc one's main menu depicts a tranquil landscape of the Sleeping Beauty castle surrounded by wilderness and a quaint little village. Depending on the viewer's location (likely their ISP number), the time of day, weather, and season on the menu sync with the viewer's. In addition, the viewer can select the various Disney park locations from a world map to see their weather, etc. A picturesque autumn day greeted this reviewer upon inserting the disc, although the temperature was significantly higher than my native Minnesota, and I could find no way to adjust the settings manually. Perhaps this is something that will be rectified when the BD-Live network is up and all the kinks are worked out.
The disc provides several Sneak Peeks to boot. Here one can see high definition trailers and advertisements for Pinocchio: 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition, The Princess and the Frog, Tinker Bell, Space Buddies, Disney Movie Rewards, WALL•E, Bolt, Disney Parks, and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
Now - on to disc two! Oh, yes... the fun is just beginning! The top selection, Games & Activities, offers three disposable diversions that even its intended audience may overlook. Maleficent's Challenge is a "20 Questions" kind of game that asks the viewer think of an every day object and answer yes or no questions accordingly, with Maleficent constantly sneering at you the entire way. It doesn't seem to be the most astute of narrow-down games, as it was incorrect all four times I tried it. Two times, a gryphon was a Chow Chow dog, then a Shetland Pony. A dragon was first a Wolf, then it was a Zit (written "Zit /Pimple\" for some reason). I guess fantasy creatures are too wild and crazy an object to think of, eh? Being that this is a fantasy film, one would think otherwise. Ah, well. Briar Rose's Enchanted Dance Game is essentially a memory test, seeing if the viewer can remember all of the steps shown. Sleeping Beauty Fun with Language Game is for the very wee set, teaching English vocabulary while helping the faeries prepare for Briar's Rose's birthday.
The real meat of this 2 disc Blu-ray set comes from the Backstage Disney menu. Here, several making-of featurettes can be found, along with extensive art galleries, cut material, and promotional goodies. With few exceptions, everything is offered in high definition AVC and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. The very first offering is the Original Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough Attraction, a 7½ minute CG recreation of Disneyland's promotional attraction that resided inside the Sleeping Beauty castle for many years. Shown in AVC with Dolby Digital 5.1, here the viewer has a plethora of options. You can let the feature play through, sliding you along from one display to the next, or you can select the small audio icon in the corner to play audio commentary from Disney's head imagineers. In addition, the three good faeries give you even more to choose from. Flora will halt the procession to allow you to read the storybooks propped up on podiums throughout the attraction. Fauna also let you stop where you are to view the particular display in closer detail for as long as you wish. Merryweather cuts to behind-the-scenes looks with Senior Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering Tony Baxter and Imagineer Chris Merritt, who use a pull-apart diorama of the attraction to show how certain effects were achieved. History of the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough Attraction is a 10 minute look at the original purpose of the now-defunct crowd pleaser, including information on the troublesome segments of the attraction that were subsequently removed or altered. Material does not overlap much with the information provided in the virtual tour, which is a big plus.
Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty is an all-new featurette in high definition that clocks in at about 43½ minutes. Historians, former and current Disney employees alike reminisce on the film's production and cover everything from its music to its many talented animators. One really gets a feel for how painstaking a creation this film was, when the high design standards only allowed for one to three finished drawings a day. Given that 24 drawings are needed for a single second of footage, it's safe to say the film took quite a while to fully animate. Eyvind Earle: The Man And His Art is about 7½ minutes and focuses squarely on the life and career of Sleeping Beauty's talented art director. Earle directly painted or at least supervised the production of every single background seen in the film, with their incredible amounts of detail crammed into every angle. Sequence 8 is a 5½ minute glimpse of the tedious and most infamous sequence in the film's production, in development for close to 2 years. Eric Larsen was appointed the man in charge of said sequence, and was demoted many months after when it became clear the pricey piece of film was threatening to sink Disney's entire feature animation department.
Viewers are given a look at some scrapped material for the feature, in the form of song sequences when the film was skewing a more musical tone. The Alternate Opening shows a very Broadway-like 3½ minute song called "Holiday" that may remind one of "Topsy Turvy" from Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was reworked as the more formal "Hail to the Princess Aurora." Deleted Songs has three cut or alternate musical treatments. "It Happens I Have A Picture" features voicework from the original actors for King Stefan and Hubert, as they boast of their young progeny. One version features the kings singing their praises (literally), while in a second version they speak the lyrics in regular limerick-like dialogue. A play all option is provided as well. "Riddle Diddle," at about 3 minutes, has the faeries singing while preparing for Briar Rose's birthday. It has a kind of "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" Cinderella feel to it, with its whimsical lyrics. "Go To Sleep" is a brief piece under 3 minutes that was replaced by "Sleeping Beauty," playing as the faeries put Stefan's kingdom to sleep.
The next two supplements are ports from previous home video releases of Sleeping Beauty, and are the only ones presented in standard definition. Storyboard Sequences are introduced by Andreas Deja, and provide a storyboard-to-final film comparison of two segments - "The Fairies Put The Castle To Sleep" and "The Capture Of The Prince." Live-Action Reference is a brief 2 minutes of live action film footage and photos that the animators used for scenes in the final film. One can view "Briar Rose Dances," "Prince Phillip Fights The Dragon," "The Queen And A Good Fairy," or elect to play them all consecutively. The Sleeping Beauty Art Galleries contain hundreds of images, from concept art to promotional pieces. They are ordered by Visual Development, Character Design (with submenus "Aurora/Briar Rose," "Prince Phillip," "Maleficent," "The Three Good Fairies," and "Miscellaneous"), The Sleeping Beauty Storybook, Backgrounds and Layouts, Storyboard Art, Production Pictures, Live-Action Reference, and Publicity. An Easter egg gallery can be found by highlighting the Original Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough Attraction and pressing the "right" arrow. A little gold fleur-de-lys will pop up, and from there you can view images of the souvenir Sleeping Beauty book that guests would receive upon finishing the course of the attraction. Publicity provides three trailers for the film in standard definition - the Original Teaser Trailer, the Original Theatrical Trailer, and the Re-Release Trailer from 1995.
The Sound of Beauty: Restoring a Classic is presented in AVC with DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio; at about 11 minutes long, it sits down with Randy Thornton and Terry Porter, the sound restoration technicians that worked on the film's brand new lossless mix for the Blu-ray release. As the men point out with "before and after" comparisons, the lack of compression has yielded hidden intricacies of the soundtrack that have been lost for decades. As Walt Disney Music President Chris Montan makes clear, the difference is quite audible, and it makes the luscious experience of the film that much better, with sound and music to match the picture.
Finally, though the last two bits of material, isolated segments from Walt Disney's Disneyland television show, have been included on other Sleeping Beauty disc releases, but as with Grand Canyon, here they are shown in high definition. The Peter Tchaikovsky Story is about 49 minutes long, and tells a breezy, dramatized story of the Russian composer and how he came to compose the Sleeping Beauty ballet. Here, the viewer can choose between two slightly different versions of the TV special. Some areas simulcast Tchaikovsky's audio on local radio channels at the same time as the Disneyland program, thus giving viewers a stereophonic sound effect while watching the television. Version one has Walt instructing the viewer on how to set their equipment up for this effect. Version two was for affiliates who could not achieve a radio simulcast, and so the instructions were replaced with generic introductory narration and footage. The fascinating Four Artists Paint One Tree depicts Walt Peregoy, Josh Meador, Eyvind Earle, and Marc Davis studying one old oak tree. Their differences in setup methods, preferred media, and individual styles is noted by Walt Disney, who narrates much of the segment, which is just over 16 minutes. The four distinctly unique interpretations of the same tree are quite inspiring and just plain cool to watch.
Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Many a Blu-ray fan have been salivating for classic hand-drawn Disney animated features in high definition. That trend has begun with a bang in Sleeping Beauty. The film is renown for its extensive attention to detail, and the many resources it took to maintain that level of quality. It showed beyond the shadow of a doubt that animation is an art form, and not a genre, but merely a medium in which to tell a cinematic story. Never was there a film like it before, or since. The Blu-ray release shows just how lush hand-drawn feature films can be in high definition. Boasting incredible picture and excellent sound, Sleeping Beauty has set high marks for Pinocchio and all the films to follow after it on BD. This is a must-own title, and receives my highest recommendation!
Sleeping Beauty: Other Editions
Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Sleeping Beauty Returns to the Vault in January - December 30, 2009
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has revealed that the 'Sleeping Beauty: 50th Anniversary Platinum Edition' Blu-ray will return to the Disney Vault on January 30th. Once it returns to the vault, no additional copies will be produced. Those who have yet to ...
• Beauty and the Beast and Fantasia Blu-rays in 2010 - September 10, 2009
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment have formally announced the Diamond Collection, which represents 14 of the most beloved and historic animated films the studio has ever made. Each title will be thoroughly restored for the highest level of picture and ...
• Sleeping Beauty Restoration Web Conference - October 11, 2008
Recently, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment held a web conference on the extensive restoration process of the monumental animated feature film 'Sleeping Beauty,' and Blu-ray.com was in attendance. The following is a highlight report of the hour-long presentation, ...
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