It was originally a failure and did not make up the huge cost of the film. Along with the mixed critical reception, it was also noted to be the film that made Walt Disney lose interest in the animation medium. However, the subsequent re-releases proved massively successful, and critics and audiences have since hailed it as an animated classic.
Princess Aurora is named after the Roman goddess of the dawn "because she fills her father and mother's lives with sunshine." While still an infant, she is betrothed to the equally-young Prince Phillip (their parents want to unite their respective kingdoms under a marriage between Aurora and Phillip). At her christening, the good fairies Flora (dressed in red), Fauna (in green) and Merryweather (in blue) arrive to bless her. Flora gives her the gift of beauty, which is described in a song as "gold of sunshine in her hair" and "lips that shame the red, red rose." Fauna gives her the gift of song. At this point, Maleficent, the film's villain and mistress of all evil, appears on the scene. Claiming to be upset at not being invited to Aurora's christening ceremony, she curses the princess to die when she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel's spindle before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday. Fortunately, Merryweather has not yet blessed Aurora, so she uses her blessing to change Maleficent's curse, so Aurora will not die when she pricks her finger; instead, she will fall asleep until she is awakened by True Love's Kiss. Knowing Maleficent is extremely powerful and will stop at nothing to see her curse fulfilled, the three good fairies take Aurora to live with them in the woods, where they can keep her safe from any harm until she turns sixteen and the curse is made void. To fully protect her, they even change her name to Briar Rose to conceal her true identity.
Rose grows into a very beautiful woman, with sunshine golden blonde hair, rose-red lips, violet eyes, and a beautiful singing voice. She is raised in a cottage in the forest by the three fairies, whom she believes are her aunts. One day, while out picking berries, she sings to entertain her animal friends; her angelic voice gains the attention of Prince Phillip, who had grown into a handsome young man and is out riding in the woods. When they meet, they instantly fall in love. Realizing that she has to return home, Aurora flees from Phillip without ever learning his name. Despite promising to meet him again, she is unable to return, as her "aunts" choose that time to reveal the truth of her birth to her and to tell her that she is betrothed to a prince named Phillip. They then take Rose to her parents.
Meanwhile, Phillip returns home telling his father about a peasant girl he met and wishes to marry in spite of his prearranged marriage to Princess Aurora. King Hubert tries to convince Phillip to marry the princess instead of a peasant girl but fails.
The good fairies and Aurora return to the castle. Unfortunately, Maleficent uses her magic to lure Aurora away from her chambers and up into the tallest tower of the castle, where a spinning wheel awaits her. Fascinated by the wheel, she touches the spindle, pricking her finger. As had been foretold by the curse, Aurora is put under a sleeping spell. The good fairies place Aurora on her bed with a red rose in her hand and cause a deep sleep to fall over the entire kingdom until they can find a way to break the curse. They realize the answer is Phillip, but he has been kidnapped by Maleficent to prevent him from kissing Aurora and waking her up. The three good fairies sneak into Maleficent's lair, aid the prince in escaping and explain to him the story of Maleficent's curse. Armed with a magic sword and shield, Phillip battles Maleficent when the sorceress turns herself into a gigantic fire-breathing dragon. He flings the sword, plunging it into the dragon's heart and killing her. Phillip climbs into Aurora's chamber and removes the curse with a kiss.
As the film ends, the two royals arrive at the ballroom, where Aurora is happily reunited with her parents. Then, Aurora dances together with Phillip, happy to each learn that their betrothed and their beloved are one and the same.
- Mary Costa as Princess Aurora/Briar Rose
- Eleanor Audley as Maleficent
- Verna Felton as Flora
- Barbara Jo Allen as Fauna
- Barbara Luddy as Merryweather
- Rosa Crosby as Queen Leah
- Bill Shirley as Prince Phillip
- Taylor Holmes as King Stefan
- Bill Thompson as King Hubert
- Dallas McKennon as The Owl
- Marvin Miller as the Storyteller
- Bill Amsbery as Maleficent's Goon #1
- Candy Candido as Maleficent's Goon #2
- Pinto Colvig as Maleficent's Goon #3
Overview and art direction
The film was directed by Les Clark, Eric Larson and Wolfgang Reitherman, under the supervision of Clyde Geronimi. The script, adapted mainly from the fairy tale La Belle au bois dormant ("The Beauty Sleeping in the Wood") in Charles Perrault's Histoires ou contes du temps passé ("Histories or Tales of Bygone Times"), was by Erdman Penner, with additional story work by Joe Rinaldi, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright and Milt Banta. The film's musical score and songs are adapted by George Bruns from the 1890 Sleeping Beauty ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Sleeping Beauty holds a notable position in Disney animation as the last Disney feature to use hand-inked cels. Its art direction, which Walt Disney wanted to look like a living illustration, was not in the typical Disney style. Because WDFA had already made two features based on fairy tales - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella, Walt decided this film to stand out from its predecessors by choosing a different visual style. The movie eschewed the soft, rounded look of earlier Disney features for a more stylized one. Since Super Technirama 70 was used, it also meant the backgrounds could contain more detailed and complex artwork than ever used in an animated movie before.
Disney artist Eyvind Earle was the film's production designer, and Disney gave him a significant amount of freedom in designing the settings and selecting colors for the film. Earle also painted the majority of the backgrounds himself. Earle took much of his inspiration from medieval art (particularly the mille-fleurs style of 15th-century tapestries), which tended toward a certain flatness and perspective lessness. The elaborate paintings usually took seven to ten days to paint; by contrast, a typical animation background took only one workday to complete. Disney's decision to give Earle so much artistic freedom was not popular among the Disney animators, who had until Sleeping Beauty exercised some influence over the style of their characters and settings.
Characters and story development
The name of the lovely Sleeping Beauty is "Princess Aurora" (that means "sunrise" or "dawn" in Latin, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish), in this film, as in the Tchaikovsky ballet; this name occurred in Perrault's version, not as the princess's name, but as her daughter's. In hiding, she is called Briar Rose (from German Dornröschen, the name of the princess in the Brothers Grimm variant). The prince was given the only princely name familiar to Americans in the 1950s: "Prince Phillip", named after Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The wicked fairy was aptly named Maleficent (which means "Evil-doer").
Princess Aurora's long, thin, willowy body shape was inspired by that of Audrey Hepburn. In addition, Walt Disney had suggested that all three fairies should look alike, but veteran animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston contrasted this idea saying that having them be like that wouldn't be exciting. Additionally, the idea originally included seven fairies instead of three.
Several story points for this film came from discarded ideas for Snow White. They include Maleficent's capture of the Prince and the Prince's daring escape from her castle. Disney discarded these ideas from Snow White because his artists were not able to draw a human male believably enough at the time.
Live-action reference footage
Before animation production began, every shot in the film was done in a live-action reference version, with live actors in costume serving as models for the animators. The role of Prince Phillip was modeled by Ed Kemmer, who had played Commander Buzz Corry on television's Space Patrol five years before Sleeping Beauty was released. For the final battle sequence, Kemmer was photographed on a wooden buck. Among the actresses who performed in reference footage for this film included Spring Byington, Frances Bavier (The Andy Griffith Show's "Aunt Bea"), and Helene Stanley who was the live reference for the title role of 1950's Cinderella.
All the live actors' performances were either screened for the animators' reference or rotoscoped (traced from live-action to animation), as Walt Disney insisted that much of Sleeping Beauty's character animation be as close to live-action as possible.
During its original release in 1959, Sleeping Beauty earned approximately $5.3 million in box office rentals. Sleeping Beauty's production costs, which totaled $6 million, made it the most expensive Disney film up to that point, and over twice as expensive as each of the preceding three Disney animated features: Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp. The high production costs of Sleeping Beauty, coupled with the underperformance of much of the rest of Disney's 1959–1960 release slate resulted in the company posting its first annual loss in a decade for the fiscal year 1960, and massive layoffs were done throughout the animation department.
The film was met with mixed reviews from critics, often citing the film being slowly paced and having little character development. Nevertheless, the film has sustained a strong following and is today hailed as one of the best-animated films ever made, thanks to its stylized designs by painter Eyvind Earle who also was the art director for the film, its lush music score, and its large-format 70mm widescreen and stereophonic sound presentation.
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a "Certified Fresh" 91% from 34 reviews with an average rating of 7.7/10. Its consensus states that "This Disney dreamscape contains moments of grandeur, with its lush colors, magical air, one of the most menacing villains in the Disney canon."
Like Alice in Wonderland, which was not initially successful either, Sleeping Beauty was never re-released theatrically in Walt Disney's lifetime. However, it had many re-releases in theaters over the decades. The film was re-released theatrically in 1970, 1979 (in 70mm 6 channel stereo, as well as in 35 mm stereo and mono), 1986 and 1995. A 1993 re-release was planned, but it was later canceled. Sleeping Beauty's successful reissues have made it the second most successful film released in 1959, second to Ben-Hur, with a lifetime gross of $51.6 million. When adjusted for ticket price inflation, the domestic total gross comes out to $478.22 million, placing it in the top 40 of films.
Disney's distribution arm, Buena Vista Distribution, originally released Sleeping Beauty to theaters in both standard 35mm prints and large-format 70mm prints. The Super Technirama 70 prints were equipped with six-track stereophonic sound; some CinemaScope-compatible 35mm Technirama prints were released in four-track stereo, and others had monaural soundtracks. On the initial run, Sleeping Beauty was paired with the short musical/documentary film Grand Canyon which won an Academy Award.
- Main article: Sleeping Beauty (video)
In 1986, it was first released on both VHS and Laserdisc under the Classics collection, becoming the first Disney Classics video to be digitally processed in Hi-Fi stereo. Then the film underwent an extensive digital restoration in 1997, and that version was released on both VHS and Laserdisc again (this time with the laserdisc in widescreen version, albeit letterboxed) as part of the Masterpiece collection, and in 2003 was released to DVD in a 2-disc "Special Edition" that included both the original widescreen version and a pan and scan version as well. A Platinum Edition DVD/Blu-ray Disc was released on October 7, 2008 with a never-before-seen 2.55:1 expanded version of the film. The DVD/Blu-ray returned to the Disney Vault in 2010. The film was released as a Diamond Edition title on October 7, 2014.
Diamond Edition Video Clips
- Briar Rose is another name given to Sleeping Beauty and appears in the German version.
- Instead of a certain day, Maleficent's curse has a 16-year time period to be fulfilled.
- Aurora is one of the seven Princesses of Heart in the popular Disney/Squaresoft game Kingdom Hearts, and Maleficent is a villain in all three Kingdom Hearts games. The good fairies appear in Kingdom Hearts II, giving Sora new clothes.
- The character of Aurora's mother the queen has no name credited to her. The only version of the story which gives her a name is a 1993 adaptation by A.L. Singer, in which she is named Queen Leah.
- Rich Animation Studio's animated film The Swan Princess was quite similar to this Sleeping Beauty, in that it also had a princess cursed by a sorcerer (just as Maleficent cursed Aurora). In the end, the princess died temporarily (as Aurora fell into a deep sleep) and a prince saved her by killing the sorcerer, who had turned into a huge bat (just as Maleficent morphed into a dragon and Prince Phillip killed her and saved the princess with "True Love's Kiss"). Interestingly, though the story is also based on a Tchaikovsky ballet (Swan Lake), the filmmakers chose not to adapt the ballet score, going instead with a generic '90's pop score by Lex de Azevedo.
- The cookies the fairies eat with tea are shaped like Mickey Mouse's head and ears.
- Sleeping Beauty was made whilst Walt Disney was building Disneyland (hence the four year production time). To help promote the film, Imagineers declared the castle there to be Sleeping Beauty's (it was originally to be Snow White's).
- Second only to Dumbo (who didn't speak at all), this Disney title character has very few lines of actual dialogue throughout the entire film. In fact, Aurora says nothing at all in the film's second half, even after being awakened from the sleeping spell.
- The musical score throughout the film was provided by the then Graunke Symphony Orchestra (since 1990 called the Munich Symphony Orchestra), under the direction of the score's adapter, George Bruns.
- The complex and detailed background paintings, most of them done by Frank Armitage & Eyvind Earle usually took seven to ten times longer to paint than average, which takes about a workday to complete. As opposed to having the backgrounds be designed to match the characters, Sleeping Beauty's characters were designed to match the backgrounds.
- Sleeping Beauty is the only Disney movie with square trees.
- The moment where Aurora pricks her finger as well as the fight of Prince Phillip with Maleficent are referenced in the Nightwish song "Fantasmic", with the lyrics "Maleficent's fury /The spindle so luring/Dragon fight".
- Upon release, the scene where Prince Phillip encounters the dragon was thought too intense for children.
- The original concept for Sleeping Beauty began in 1950 (after having animated two other princess fairy tales). Work on the film was delayed because Walt's attention was turned to the building of Disneyland.
- Walt Disney had originally envisioned Sleeping Beauty as his masterpiece.
- Because Sleeping Beauty was such a box office disappointment, Disney focused more on live-action films for two years (there were ten before Disney released another animated feature - 101 Dalmatians. The style of animation in this film was radically different possibly because Sleeping Beauty had been such a failure).
- Sleeping Beauty was in the archive for seven years.
- The film appears as one of the transition levels in Epic Mickey, found in Dark Beauty Castle.
- This is the first Disney animated classic to have the 2006 Walt Disney Pictures logo at the end of the movie, on current releases.
- The studios have no record as to who provided the voice for the queen, Aurora's mother.
- Barbara Jo Allen (Fauna) was also known in some of her other film work as Vera Vague.
- A flame thrower was used to create the dragon breath sound effect for the climax of the movie, with training films supplied by the US Army.
- Barbara Luddy, who is the voice of Merryweather, lent her voice to Lady in the earlier Disney movie Lady and the Tramp. After Sleeping Beauty, she would also end up being the voices of Mother Rabbit in Robin Hood and Kanga in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
- Eleanor Audley, who voices Maleficent, also provided the voice of Lady Tremaine in Cinderella nine years earlier.
- Verna Felton (Flora) previously lent her voice to the Elephant Matriarch and Mrs. Jumbo in Dumbo, the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland and Aunt Sarah in Lady and the Tramp. After Sleeping Beauty, her last film for Disney was providing the voice for Winifred in The Jungle Book.
References in other media
- The film was referenced in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code as an allegory of the Grail quest.
- The music to the song Once Upon a Dream is from the Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky ballet Sleeping Beauty, as is almost all the rest of the music in the film. The music to the song was also used in recent commercials for Sargento Cheese as well as a couple of Fred Quimby era Tom & Jerry cartoons.
- The sleep spell was spoofed on Hanna-Barbera's The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo in 1985 in which Scooby-Doo must save Daphne Blake and Princess Esmerelda from this spell caused by Maldor the Malevolent. Interestingly, in a What's New Scooby-Doo? episode, Daphne wore an outfit similar to one of Aurora's.
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