Over the last couple of years I've been indulging in my fond memories of going to the flicks as a kid to watch most of the classic Disney animations. Beautifully restored versions of Bambi, 101 Dalmatians and Jungle Book have been released on DVD, flickering vividly back into life before my very jaded eyes. I've been incredibly impressed with the restoration of these films and the huge haul of extra features looking into the making of classic animations. Sleeping Beauty is the first of their releases on the high definition Blu-Ray format and you may well wonder what impact, if any, high definition would have on 2D animation.
Sleeping Beauty is perhaps the full stop in the line of progression from Fantasia and Cinderella. It's immediately evident as you watch this film that it is very much concerned with the craft of animation with Disney pushing his art departments to breaking point over a six year period to make the film. It is primarily a work of art and because it is obsessed about the ultimate in achievements of techniques of the time, Sleeping Beauty ends up as an atypical Disney film. A kind of artistic experiment that would prove too costly to ever repeat and signal the studio's decision, at the end of the 1950s, to keep to the mainstream with the more typical fare of 101 Dalmatians and Jungle Book.
...a statement of high art rather than a kid's filmWhat strikes you about Sleeping Beauty is the dichotomy between style and substance that seems to be having an on screen tug of war. The animation is so refined and sharp and the backgrounds are utterly stunning, more detailed than possibly any other Disney film at that time, that it is obvious that the film was a labour of love for the studio. So much so, and this is highlighted in the Backstage Disney extra features on the DVD, that the traditional Disney methodology of interspersing often quite dark tales with sparkly, jolly show tunes and cutesy characters was seemingly abandoned. Also consider that Disney was determined to marry the film to the Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty ballet score and you get the feeling that he was attempting a statement of high art rather than a kid's film.
...a superb character study of the two Kings, Hubert and Stefan, and their minstrel.
It obviously created some sort of panic as it is quite clear that certain scenes and characters are injected into the film to reassure us that Disney hasn't gone completely po-faced. The three fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are pretty much the typical Disney audience identification figures here - the central characters of Princess Aurora and Prince Philip don't actually get much screen time - and they drive the story forward as protectors of the Princess, their dottiness directly appealing to the children in the audience. This reaches a climax in the sequence where the three prepare the Princess for her return to the palace, after hiding away from the evil Maleficence who has cursed the Princess, and where the synthesis of music, character and animation blends together to create a very recognisable piece of Disney storytelling. There is also a superb character study of the two Kings, Hubert and Stefan, and their minstrel. The two Kings celebrate, with drinks, the impending marriage between their respective son and daughter and the minstrel, a bit of an old soak, slyly pinches a bit of booze at every opportunity, eventually ending up under the table, pissed as a fart, with a lute full of wine. It's genuinely funny and the animation is sharp and full of physical humour.
...the art direction from Eyvind Earle is completely and beautifully soaked in influences from medieval art
And what can one say about Maleficence and her climactic fight with Prince Philip, she transformed into a huge fire breathing dragon and he hacking his way through the forest of thorns to rescue the cursed Princess? It is sublime. Disney animation at its peak and quite rightly spoken of in reverential tones. A dynamic sequence, full of blood and thunder, superb draughtsmanship and design. Married to Tchaikovsky's music this sequence is perhaps representative of what Disney was trying to achieve with his last animated fairy tale. It packs a significant punch in a film that does tend to veer between style and substance. I would happily say this is a technical fine art triumph - the art direction from Eyvind Earle is completely and beautifully soaked in influences from medieval art and iconography, the animation is sharp and angular rather than rounded and soft, the colours saturated - but it isn't an entertainment in the fullest sense that The Jungle Book or 101 Dalmatians are, it's harking back to Bambi but doesn't reply on its stiffling cutesiness. There are cute animals but they aren't the central conceit here. It also isn't full of toe tapping songs, with 'Holiday' and 'Once Upon A Dream' seemingly shoehorned in to try and fulfill this function perhaps, even though more songs were planned.
Even if it is Disney in full fine art flow, with animation placed on some high cultural altar, the Blu-Ray DVD is simply stunning. The 2D work simply jumps off the screen, the detail in the backgrounds, from forests to crumbling castles, is phenomenal and the colour palette dazzling. It just looks fantastic. The sound is also very impressive, with 7.1 channels, showcasing the superb directional effects and the stunning music score. It comes with a boat load of extras -fascinating Backstage documentaries, featurettes on the restoration of the soundtrack and on art director Eyvind Earl. The standout is the picture-in-picture commentary from John Lassetter, Leonard Maltin and Andreas Deja, full of detail and anecdotes about the film.Highly recommended.
- Cine-Explore – An all new Cine-Explore experience with full motion Picture-in-Picture featuring commentary by John Lasseter, Andreas Deja & Leonard Maltin. (BD Exclusive)
- Restoring The Sound Track – This featurette will cover the creation of the all new 7.1 mix of the score of Sleeping Beauty that was done exclusively for this Blu-ray release using the source tapes from the original recording sessions resulting in an audio experience of superior quality with greater detail and fidelity than you have ever heard before. (BD Exclusive)
- Customized Living Menu – This menu is exclusive to Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray Disc owners only. It is a “real time” virtual castle that magically changes based on the viewer's location, time of day and current weather forecast (requires Live enabled players). If preferred, viewers will also have the ability to manually change the castle's weather to match any of the Magic Kingdom Castles around the world. (BD Exclusive)
- Disney BD-Live Network – The Disney BD-Live Network is just one of the many ways movie lovers, families, and loved ones can continue to stay connected and engage in their favorite movies. (BD Exclusive)
- Original Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through Attraction With Walt Disney Imagineering – A fascinating fully-immersive 3-D experience recreating the original Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-Through that Walt supervised over 50 years ago. Viewers can choose to tour the attraction in “Auto Mode,” where you get to experience it the way it was originally intended, or choose to view the experience with “Commentary” by Disney's famed “Imagineers” and take a look behind the magic of these detailed dioramas.
- Alternate Opening – Recently discovered storyboards from 1952 reveal that the original opening of Sleeping Beauty was planned as a big musical production number. Using all of the existing color storyboard art, this alternate opening is recreated with a new demo recording of the song - “Holiday.”
- All New Documentary “Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty” – an exciting and inspiring behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the final fairy tale to be produced by Walt Disney himself.
- A New DVD Game, “Briar Rose's Enchanted Dance Game” – Relive this magical moment and help Briar Rose's animal friends to dance, and take lessons to learn to waltz.
- Four Deleted Songs – Four new musical numbers that were not used in the final film are presented using original storyboard art and demo recordings.
- Grand Canyon (Featured in HD on Blu-ray) – This Academy Award® winning short accompanied Sleeping Beauty in its release in theatres.
- The Peter Tchaikovsky Story (Featured in HD on Blu-ray) – An episode of Walt Disney's legendary TV series in which Walt previews the Studio's upcoming release of Sleeping Beauty which uses the Tchaikovsky score as the source of its music. Also included is a dramatic re-enactment of how Tchaikovsky came to write his score for the ballet.
- Four Artists Paint One Tree (Featured in HD on Blu-ray) – This featurette looks at one tree interpreted by four distinguished Disney artists, including Eyvind Earle, the well respected American painter who served as stylist for Sleeping Beauty.
- Fun with English Game – Help the 3 fairies prepare for Briar Rose's 16th Birthday and learn English by playing a series of innovative DVD games.
- And more!
Sleeping Beauty (Disney Blu-Ray Platinum Edition - Region Locked - 3 Discs - Cert U - BUH0095601 - Released 27th October 2008)