Sleeping Beauty (1959) / Animation-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: G, suitable for all audiences (probably PG today for some violence)
Running Time: 75 min.
Cast (voices): Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen, Taylor Holmes, Bill Thompson
Director: Clyde Geronimi
Screenplay: Erdman Penner
Review published May 29, 2014
Very loosely based on the story by Charles Perrault, as well as the reinterpretation by the Brothers Grimm, this now-classic Disney film would initially prove a financial disappointment that would see the studio get away from fairy tales as well as rethink their style of animation for many years to come. The premise is that evil sorceress Maleficent (voiced by Audley, Cinderella) places a curse on baby Princess Aurora (Costa, The Big Caper) that will result in her demise when she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel after she turns sixteen years of age. Three good fairies of the land end up raising Aurora in seclusion on the hope that they can avert the curse. A teenage Aurora, now called Briar Rose to mask her identity, meets handsome Prince Philip (Shirley, Flying Tigers), but now Maleficent is up to make good (or is it evil) on her promises.
Sleeping Beauty finds Disney at one of their success peaks financially, which caused them to take a big chance on it, the most expensive Disney film at that time, through lavish visuals and a heightened music experience. Considered a failure on its release in 1959 (criticized for being just a pretty regurgitation of their hit Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), it has slowly climbed its way up to be as respected as many other Disney classics in the eyes of many fans of the animation studio. It is brightly animated, with a fantastic color scheme that makes the characters truly pop out, reminiscent of the Gothic paintings of old come to life.
Sleeping Beauty doesn't have many memorable moments but it does feature a memorable villain in Maleficent, voiced memorably by Eleanor Audley, even if she isn't on the screen nearly as much as her reputation would have you believe (then again, neither is the heroine, Princess Aurora). Some younger children may think it a bit scarier than most Disney features, particularly the gargoyles or when Philip fights a large dragon. However, it's mostly safe for complete family viewing, despite some intense images.
If there is a downside other than its derivativeness in its main story, it's the relatively standard characterizations of its leads, who fall into very basic archetypes that don't stand out from the many you may have seen before. It is a very old-fashioned movie, taking about eight years to produce, and by the time it was released, just on the cusp of the 1960s, it felt a bit antiquated in terms of its depiction of traditional roles.
With skillful animation, detailed backgrounds, gorgeous Academy Award-nominated music scored from the Tchaikovsky ballet, and great voice and song work, Sleeping Beauty is a fan favorite for Disney fans, and should please children and families of all varieties. It's not Snow White, but it's not a pale imitation either.
-- Reinterpreted in 2014 as Maleficent
©2014 Vince Leo