Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” (1959) Review

Image: Disney, Wikipedia

Disney’s Sixteenth Film Centered On A Sixteenth Birthday.

PLOT –

The slighted Mistress of All Evil, Maleficent, curses the infant Princess Aurora to die at the age of sixteen. On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, the three Good Fairies and the neighboring kingdom’s Prince Phillip must stop Maleficent and break the curse using the most powerful magic of all: True Love’s Kiss.

One of the most concise, tight plots I’ve seen so far in a Disney film. Each scene leaves no room to spare, and every word and action is important. The film is character-driven, not plot-driven like “Lady and the Tramp” was. Most, if not all of the scenes move at a quick clip, never too slow, and there’s always something moving onscreen. Not for the attention span of children, but the dynamics of the film. The constant and consistent camera movements and character actions and interactions only serve to flesh out the world and strengthen the story.

The story is also logical, and characters discuss events that may happen, effecting the plot instead of letting the plot affect them. There are moments of dramatic irony that make me laugh every time, and points where I’m always surprised at the cleverness of the twists and turns of the plot, how the heroic and villainous characters are playing an elaborate version of Tic-Tac-Toe, making moves and blocking opposing actions. It’s also like knocking down dominos where, when one scene ends, another begins at once, directly as a result of the previous scene.

As for the actual plot, the story (and original fairy tale) itself is pretty thin, but what Disney did to flesh it out and add to it with a wide variety of characters is nothing short of spectacular.

My PLOT RATING is 4 / 5.

CHARACTERS –

Aurora / Briar Rose (Mary Costa) doesn’t have much screen-time. She has 18 minutes on the screen and only 18 lines, yet she uses them both very well. The film is about her, but she isn’t the protagonist, just the title character. The Good Fairies fill that role.

From the outset, you can tell she is intelligent and coy, wanting for wonder, and wanting to give happiness to all. She is a huge step up from Disney’s previous female characters, and as the last Disney Princess until “The Little Mermaid”, she certainly makes a mark with her personality. Even though she is used as a vessel for the plot for most of the film, her character interactions, to me, are her most memorable moments by far.

Prince Phillip (Bill Shirley) is a de facto protagonist by the end of the film. He’s the man of action, ready to do whatever it takes to get the girl. He’s not above poking fun at himself, and has a good sense of humor, and has realistic dialogue with Aurora, and his father as well. He defies the boring male love interest and is actually compatible with Aurora personally. The pair actually defies the “married in a day” plot by having chemistry at the start of the relationship, regardless of their betrothal, which would have weakened their bond if they knew about that beforehand.

The Three Good Fairies (Flora (Verna Felton), Fauna (Barbara Jo Allen), and Merryweather (Barbara Luddy)) are the stars of the show and the true protagonists. The film focuses on them, separating this film from the rest by focusing on… Um… Somewhat older characters, for the film’s duration, instead of a younger character. They all play incredibly well off of each other, their strengths and faults complementing and canceling out at will. Flora, the leader and oldest, and Merryweather, the youngest, mostly clash ideas, and Fauna is kind of a ditz, not really getting involved, making for a humorous, chaotic, Stooge-like trio, but when they have a singular set goal, they’re unbeatable.

King Stefan (Taylor Holmes), King Hubert (Bill Thompson), Queen Leah (Verna Felton), and the Minstrel (unvoiced) are all great characters as well. Stefan and Hubert are a fun pair, and an upgrade in looks and personalities from the King and Grand Duke from “Cinderella”. Hubert is the most fleshed out of these, having several scenes, while Stefan mostly gets scenes that show his love and protectiveness for his daughter. The Minstrel is the standout comic relief, getting drunk during “Skumps!” and passing out under the table, where he remains for the duration of the film. Queen Leah doesn’t have too many lines, but all of them are showing love for Aurora.

I also must mention the adorable Forest Animals. you are all adorable and loved, especially you, Owl (Dal McKennon), you’re the best.

All right, that wraps up the characters, and…

“What’s that green fire appearing on my computer screen?”

Maleficent (Eleanor Audley) is one of the many the reasons this film is so beloved. The entire plot hinges on her, and while some may say that the plot is weak, Maleficent’s character solidifies it. The curses and actions taken by her, all of them…

Maleficent is just Playing the Long Game.

As the Mistress of All Evil, what is the most evil thing to do to someone?

Make them Wait. Cause them Stress. Take Control Away From them.

She binds Aurora with a curse at the beginning, and then Phillip with ropes then  chains at the end. Her ‘curse’ on him is also deliciously evil. Make him wait in the dungeon for 100 years (the timeline of the curse in the original fairy tale) so when he goes to kiss Aurora, she will awaken, only to watch him die soon after.

She Takes Precious Time Away from Their Relationship.

Time is the most important thing we have in this world. Maleficent’s purpose is to waste the lives of those around her, to cause misery and unfulfillment. She is a demon of depression and despair. This isn’t pettyness though, this is planning, and worse, she probably has done this to countless people previously. She isn’t slighted, she is a sociopath needing justifiability, and if it weren’t for the Good Fairies, she would have won.

The Villain Almost Won.

That statement… Along with her elegant black and purple robes and headdress, her green-orbed staff, her awesome pet raven Diablo (Dal McKennon), her magnificent (sorry, couldn’t resist) Dragon (James MacDonald) Transformation and Battle, and cool death scene (or maybe not?) make her one of the best Disney Villains EVER, and the template for other Disney Villains to come.

There’s a reason why she’s the main villain at the Disney Parks, and the figurehead of the Disney Villains merchandise.

Something to note is that both the protagonists (Fairies) and antagonist (Maleficent) are women, as well as the best characters in their film. You Go, Disney. You Go.

My CHARACTERS RATING is 5 / 5.

DIALOGUE –

The dialogue is sharp, intelligent, and thoughtful. Not only does it move the plot, but also the characters. It fleshes them out quite well, and all of Maleficent’s lines are standouts, deliberately placing stresses on vowels and consonants to maximize the performance. Conversations are great in this movie, and feel natural and flow well. The characters act like actual people instead of reading lines off of a script.

One ‘flaw’ though, is that Prince Phillip is mute for the last 20 minutes of the film even though there is no reason for his silence. I’ve done research and come up with nothing, and the closest reason may be a contractual obligation between Costa and Shirley but that is pure speculation on my part. The Queen could have used a line or too more, as well.

My DIALOGUE RATING is 4 / 5.

EFFECTS –

This film has the most intricate and detailed backgrounds I’ve seen from Disney, one of the first to use Xerox coloring technology. Man, does it show! Background artist Eyvind Earl drew pure beauty and nature! The brickwork and wear on the castle walls, the castle tapestries, the knots and age on the bark of the trees, the stonework and weathering on the Forbidden Mountain Castle Gargoyles… All outstanding.

The characters are animated incredibly well, with several moving components on screen at once (looking at you, Forest Animal Dance Scene), and the climax is spectacular, with lighting effects and particle effects galore. The magic effects are also really cool, playing with size, movement, and shape. No movements are jarring either, with crisp animation and fabulous attention to detail.

My EFFECTS RATING is 5 / 5.

MUSIC –

Three words: Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Most, if not all of the music is adapted from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty ballet by composer George Bruns. Similar to Fantasia, the music dictates the movement here, and allows for tighter reins of the film’s story and action beats. All of the music is memorable and iconic, and Maleficent’s Theme (spread across multiple points of the film, but spine-chilling when you hear it (“Maleficent’s Frustration” / “Maleficent’s Evil Spell”)) keeps the viewer on their toes, especially when Maleficent isn’t on screen. The visuals and score go hand in hand in this film. Made for each other.

“Main Title – Once Upon A Dream” – Bombastic and upbeat, perfect for a waltz.

“Hail to the Princess Aurora” – Jaunty and expositional. Better than narration, or dialogue. Sets the stage for disappointment later.

“Gifts of Beauty and Song” – Gorgeous. The animation is like a screensaver, and the vocals can put me to sleep (in a good way).

“I Wonder” – Similar to Snow White’s “I’m Wishing”, in that it’s an ‘I Want’ song. Gives some insight into Aurora’s psyche.

“Once Upon A Dream” – A lovely duet between Aurora and Phillip, and the defining song of the film. Wonderful vocals and instrumentation. Also gets a reprise that perfectly closes out the film.

“Skumps!” – I’d never thought that a song about alcoholism and toasting would be one of my favorites, but here we are. The physical and emotional comedy between the two kings is a delight to watch and listen to, and the drunk Minstrel is a highlight. Such a fun song to sing, but please re-enact responsibly.

“Sleeping Beauty” – Dreamy, and a reprise of “Gifts of Beauty and Song” in parts. Literally puts people to sleep in-universe (in a good way).

My MUSIC RATING is 0 / 5. Maleficent doesn’t have a song–

Wait, what’s that? She has a poem instead in the Prince’s dungeon scene?

My MUSIC RATING is 5 / 5.

OVERALL –

Obviously, you all can tell that I hated this film.

It actually was kind of a flop, not making it’s money back in ticket sales, thesheer expense in making this collapsed the film under its on colossal, awesome weight. We didn’t see a Disney Princess Film for another 30 years. What a cap to the Disney Princess Films for the time though, huh?

What else can I say about “Sleeping Beauty”? This movie is basically perfection. It’s the cherry-on-top to the Fifteen-Film Sundae we’ve been eating (reading?) all this time. If we got a LITTLE MORE dialogue from Phillip and Aurora at the middle and end of the film, possibly a line or two for the Queen, and maybe some plot-driven moments, this film would get an easy 100%.

The story is expanded greatly from its source material, is mostly character-driven, and makes sense if you think a little about the character motivations. The characters are all perfectly utilized, the villain is the best character in the film, hands down, and we get four female leads and a solid male lead. The effects are brand new for the film and beyond their time, and the musical score is synced excellently with the visuals.

Really though, Maleficent.

Just…

Maleficent.

Image: Disney, D23.com

My OVERALL RATING for “Sleeping Beauty” is 92%.

Happy Mother’s Day to a Mother who has helped her Son’s Dreams Come True.

Princess Aurora has basically Four Mothers in this film,

but can all of them help raise

101 Dalmatians?

Stay Tuned!

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