Sleeping Beauty is the last great fairy tale made in Walt Disney’s lifetime. As the animation studio wouldn’t return to their winning Disney princess formula for well over 30 years. The reason being that it performed surprisingly low at the time of its release. Sleeping Beauty was the sixthteenth animated Disney movie and the most expensive one made at the time. That coupled with audiences that thought it was too similar to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, are why it underperformed. Well like most movies made in the Silver Age, it received a far warmer reevaluation.
Sleeping Beauty is based on the 1800’s French fairy tale of the same name. Which was retitled Little Briar Rose in the Brothers Grimm version. All interpretations feature a princess awakened by true love’s kiss, but names vary between writers. Just as unspecific is the villain who is simply described as a Wicked Fairy Godmother. Needless to say, Disney made the story their own. Sleeping Beauty was made in response to the success of previous princess movie Cinderella. So it was shot in widescreen just like Lady and the Tramp, featured more improved sound, and more unique animated backgrounds…
Sleeping Beauty is my personal favorite Disney princess movie of the original three made by Walt Disney. As a child I watched it several times on VHS, because I felt it was the most balanced. There was plenty of romance to appeal to the female demographic. As well as plenty of action to appeal to the male demographic. Not that I didn’t love both equally. The opening of the book starts it all. Once upon a time a King and Queen welcome a daughter into their lives. “They named her after the dawn, for she filled their lives with sunshine.” Princess Aurora is a Disney princess who’s a bit difficult to describe. Not for her hair of sunshine gold and lips red as the rose, but because she only appears for 18 minutes with a mere 18 lines of dialogue. When we do see Aurora, her personality can sort of be described as longing. That’s why the particularly strong supporting characters have to shine through.
At the christening of their daughter, King Stefan and Queen Leah (Disney’s only living parents at the time) welcome the three good fairies into their kingdom. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are really the stars of the movie, because they do all the work. Flora is the leader dressed in red, Fauna is the compassionate one dressed in green, and Merryweather is the headstrong one dressed in blue. They’re funny, magical, and take an active role in the action. During the christening, Flora blesses Aurora with beauty, Fauna with song, Merryweather with… Just then the greatest Disney villain of all time arrives. As well as the best animated female villain.
Maleficent is an evil fairy who curses baby Aurora, simply because she didn’t receive an invitation. It doesn’t get more evil than that. I mean her name literally means “to cause harm.” I don’t often mention voice actors from classic Disney, but Eleanor Audley deserves all the credit. She gave Maleficent a commanding cackling charisma. While dressed in a sinister black gown complete with horns and magic staff. Her curse specifies that before the sun sets on Aurora’s 16th birthday, she shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. To counter the spell, Merriweather blesses her instead with ageless sleep that can be broken by true love’s kiss. As an added precaution, the three good fairies raise her while in disguise as a simple peasant girl named Briar Rose.
16 years later, Rose dreams of a prince she met once upon a dream. With her animal friends by her side, they help make her dream come true. Until the real prince cuts in. Prince Phillip is the first Disney prince to have a name, a personality, and to actually participate in the action. Even though Philip also stops talking right after a word with his father King Hubert. Who randomly shares wine with King Stefan and a drunken mandolin player. Unbeknownst to them that they’re the betrothed prince and princess, Aurora and Phillip fall in love after a memorable dance in the forest. Meanwhile a hilarious chain of events where the fairies cook a cake and sew a dress leads to Maleficent’s crow discovering them. In a haunting sequence, a hypnotized Aurora pricks her finger on a magically appearing spinning wheel.
With Aurora becoming a sleeping beauty, the fairies put the rest of the kingdom to sleep as well. But not before realizing Prince Philip is the true love needed to break the curse. So the fairies free him from Maleficent’s forbidden mountain. What follows is easily one of the most exciting action sequences in all of Disney’s history. In grand medieval fashion, Philip rides his noble steed equipped with the shield of virtue and sword of truth. Maleficent only becomes more evil when unleashing all the powers of Hell. She transforms into a purple green flame throwing dragon for him to slay.
When slayed, Philip is finally able to kiss Aurora, breaking the curse. And no I don’t have a problem with the fairy tale moment. They share another memorable dance in the clouds where Aurora’s trademark dress turns pink & blue and live happily ever after. Sleeping Beauty has many unique distinctions that set it apart from most magical Disney adventures. The background animation has a far more art deco renaissance feel complete with square trees. To match that look, most of the characters are given a sharper design. Despite being a musical, the songs don’t really stand out as much as the instrumentals. The best song is easily Aurora’s romantic dreamer song “Once Upon a Dream.” Sleeping Beauty is in fact a dream come true.