Originally released in 1959, Disney’s Sleepy Beauty was my favorite animated film when I was a child. More than sheer entertainment, it was a security blanket in an often frightening world. This is not a fact that many people know about me. Because really, the other kids had plenty of reasons to beat me up without tossing them excess ammunition.
As an adult it is easy for me to see why I loved it so much. Sleeping Beauty is perhaps the best single example of the classic fairy tale Disney movie. Though there is a perception that Disney got famous making “fairy tale movies” they put out a good deal less than one would think. Of the older films you’ve got Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Peter Pan is based on a play by J.M. Barrie. Pinocchio is based on a work by Italian writer Carlo Collodi, and so on ect. Not as many “fairy tales” as you thought.
When evaluating which of these three films is the best, Snow White is out of the competition. Sorry. Snow is a pathetic week creature with an amazingly high whiny voice. Her only virtue is that she cleans house well, and is nice to weird short people. And she’s pretty. If her character isn’t enough to send the latent feminist in you into a screaming Dworkin inspired killing spree, then I just don’t know what century you are living in. Granted, the film was ground breaking, and paved the way for every other full length animated movie that exists. Waiting for Godot was also ground breaking, and I don’t want to sit through that either. Although if it had some plucky dwarves….
Cinderella is a much better film on the whole, if for no other reason that the main character is likable. She is kind to weak creatures, and as an added bonus, she gets to actually meet her prince before he falls for her. She is demure, but also less fake than the other would be Princesses. She’s not looking for a husband, just a good time, a short break from the endless drudgery that is her life. There is a sense that even though she makes the best of cleaning, she doesn’t really like it. Therefore it is slightly more believable that she has a happily ever after. But the music is light and frivolous, and the talking mice take over the show by the time we are five minutes into the movie. Not that I mind. I love those yappy little bastards. It’s a great movie, coming in a close second in terms of quality, but there is a certain something lacking. It is too urban, lacking a sense of primal danger that marks the greatest fairy tales.
Juxtapose these two with Sleeping Beauty. While Briar Rose still suffers from “traditional female virtue-itis” (she’s pretty and nice and dances and sings well, and all her dreams center on finding a man) like Cinderella before her, she manages to embody these things in a way that’s charming and forgivable. Prince Phillip is featured throughout the film, and also manages to win over the audience. He is also somewhat more progressive than other Princes. After all, at one point he wants to chuck his whole inheritance and marry a peasant girl from the forest (good thing she is secretly his betrothed). He has a good buddy relationship going with his horse. All in all a nice guy who does a lot more than show up, kill the bad guy, and marry the princess. And speaking of bad guys, Maleficent is one the coolest, if not the coolest bad guy in the Disney rouges gallery. She turns into a huge dragon, breathes greenish fire, and then gets a magic sword stuck into her chest. Kick ass. But the biggest star of this film is the atmosphere. Between the art direction and the score this film more than any other in the Disney cannon gives us the feeling of being inside a fairy tale. The art direction combines a blocky dark and gothic feeling, with (at the time) ground breaking rotoscoping techniques, that solidly grounds the film in a realistic feeling world, but a real world that exists only in your dreams. The music, with themes and melodies lifted from Tchaikovsky’s ballet, gives the music a depth of feeling that is lacking from other, sometimes catchier, but ultimately more forgettable Disney outings.
But this isn’t a movie review. It’s DVD review. So let’s get to it.
Even before my little bundle of Sleepy Beauty joy came to me in the mail I was seeing a lot of commercials for the “super awesomest ever edition,” witch boasts a “more biggerer picture” that is “way more brightastic.” I may be paraphrasing a little, but there was a lot of smack talked about the quality of the picture enhancements. Having seen the DVD, I have to reluctantly agree. I even dug out my old VHS copy to do a little comparison and the difference is huge. It’s brighter, it’s crisper, and yes, there is a hell of a lot more on screen as the edges of the print have been restored to a size that existed (supposedly) only before it was cropped for theatrical release, giving the action even more of that sweeping glorious cinematic feeling. I didn’t notice the quality of the sound going way up, but I have an admittedly shitty sound system. But who cares. The Picture! The aforementioned art direction and rotoscope action is shown off so well, that while it isn’t really like “watching a new movie” it is like watching a way more kickass version of an all ready kickass film. The enhanced picture quality alone makes me think it’s worth it to shell out the cash needed to own this masterpiece, and that’s on DVD. I can only imagine how glorious this sucker would look on an HD TV piped through a Blu Ray player.
And the extras. Geez. Disney knows how to pack them in, I have to admit. The deleted songs are probably the most worthwhile. Though I have to admit the walkthrough of Sleeping Beauty’s castle was much cooler than I thought it was going to be. The making of doc is good but dull. The games are kind of pointless. Then again I think all games on DVD’s are pretty pointless. Isn’t that what god made gaming consoles for? The “All new ‘Once Upon a Dream’ Music video by Hannah Montana’s Emily Osment” is as wretched as you would expect. On any other day it would be more than enough to send me into one of my frequent Disney Hate Downs, but today I’m going to let it ride, because after all, this is a truly beautiful movie that was closer to my heart as a child than most people I knew.
All New Once Upon a Dream Music Video: Don’t get me started.