In what would become the last animated feature produced by Walt Disney to be based upon a fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty was one of the most ambitious endeavors Disney ever embarked upon. Costing $6 million to produce (an unheard of sum in 1959,) requiring nine years of planning and three years of filming, and utilizing a new 70MM “Super Technirama 70” process, the result was an animated feature that was simply stunning – perhaps one of the finest achievements ever in animation and a film destined to become a timeless classic.
Based on the fairy tale of the same name, penned by Charles Perrault in 1697, Sleeping Beauty tells the story of Aurora, the first and only daughter to King Stephan. As the story begins, the girl’s birth is celebrated by a well-attended Christening party, although one particular guest is neither invited, nor joyous – the wicked fairy Malificent. Livid that she was snubbed from the occasion, she curses the princess to die before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, upon touching a spinning wheel’s spindle.
Luckily for Aurora, a trio of good fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, have not yet had the opportunity to bless the child before Malificent got her mitts on the girl. They proceed to weaken the effects of the spell, so that when the time arrives, the girl will simply fall into a deep sleep, one that she can be awakened from by a kiss from Prince Phillip. At the king’s discretion, Aurora is placed under the care of the trio of fairies who proceed to raise her in a secluded forest cottage under the “normal” name of Briar Rose.
As her sixteenth birthday draws near, Briar Rose has a chance encounter with Prince Phillip in the forest. Neither is aware of the other’s real identity but a spark of romance is certainly in the air. As the fairies prepare for the festive occasion, crafting a cake and a dress, Briar Rose is spotted by the pet raven of Malificent who promptly reports back to his malicious mistress. Soon after, the aunt’s reveal the truth of Brair Rose’s identity to the girl and Aurora is told to return to the castle. And as one might have expected, she proceeds to prick her finger on a spinning wheel, right on cue, and falls into a deep slumber. The good fairies manage to put the entire kingdom under a similar sleeping spell until such a time that Aurora can be awakened, but Malificent thwarts their plans by taking Prince Phillip hostage.
Besides the visually stunning animation, Sleeping Beauty was also graced with an equally beautiful score, written by George Bruns, who incorporated sections of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty ballet into the composition, and managed to garner an Oscar for Best Score for his efforts. Most surprising, in hindsite, is that Sleeping Beauty wasn’t favorably received initially. In fact, the reaction was so disappointing that it discouraged Disney from doing any more fairy tales. Instead, efforts were put on original fun stories like 101 Dalmatians (released two years later). But history has been most kind to Sleeping Beauty, and it is recognized today as the masterpiece it truly is. Both charming and terrifying, it continues to endear itself to fans old and new, as it has for the past half-century.
If you count Sleeping Beauty as one of your Disney favorites, we hope you’ll share your memories of this classic film in our comments section, as we tip our hats yet again, to the genius that was Walt Disney.