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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Disneyear: Sleeping Beauty (1959)

To all the readers: first of all, you may have noticed a few title changes. I've decided to rename my "Year of Disney" into "Disneyear". One, I thought it sounds catchier than saying "Year of Disney" and two, it kind of sounds like you're describing the Disney style of animation, doesn't it? It fits since I am reviewing nothing but the theatrical Disney movies this year (with a few exceptions). Just wanted to make that announcement. Oh, and I made it to over 50000 views earlier today. Yay! But enough gloating. On we go with today's movie.

The third Disney fairy tale and the first Disney feature to be presented in Technirama widescreen is Sleeping Beauty. It was also the first animated film to try the Xerox process. Despite those credentials, this is yet another 50's film that critics originally panned but is now called a Disney classic. This time though, there's kind of-sort of a good reason. I'm amazed by how both how epic this is and how big of a mess it is at the same time. It's pretty astounding that way. Well why waste time? Let's find out why.

The story goes is that the Princess Aurora is cursed by the evil sorceress Maleficent to die on her 16th birthday after pricking her finger on the needle of a spindle wheel.  The kingdom hires the tree good fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather to look after the baby and protect her from Maleficent's black magic for the next 16 years. The time goes by as we see on her 16th birthday, Aurora (renamed Briar Rose like sort of a medieval witness protection program) meets a man roughly her age named Phillip in the forest. They fall in love after meeting once (doesn't Disney royalty always?), but the fairies can't allow it because she's already betrothed to a prince from her childhood who ironically is who she just met. They spill the beans, not only upsetting Briar Rose, but also being found out by Maleficent's crow. They bring her back to the castle while Phillip goes back to the forest looking for the maid he met earlier only to be trapped by Maleficent's goons. She keeps the prince prisoner as the curse becomes reality. It's lights out for Aurora and the fairies later find out that the man Aurora fell in love with really is the prince and goes out to save him and Aurora. Not after they put the kingdom to sleep before they go, of course. After that, the three save the prince and help him out further by enhancing his armor and weapons with magic. During a really exciting climax, Maleficent turns herself into a dragon and is defeated in a final battle of good vs. evil. The day is saved of course, the prince and princess are married, they dance and live happily ever after.

I'm sure you guys want to hear about what doesn't work first. Ok, one thing is the "main" characters. Holy crap, they're boring! Hell, I never liked considering these two as main characters. If anything, it's the three good fairies that are the stars since most of the movie focuses on them instead of... well, the sleeping beauty. Anyway, Aurora's not even a character. She's a plot device. A dues ex machina. She does nothing and has little to no character to her. She just sings and looks pretty. The prince is just as boring! Well, to be fair, the ones from Snow White and Cinderella are even worse. At least he has a few lines in this movie. But the last line he says is "Goodbye father" and that's at the halfway mark of the movie. After that, he doesn't even give out a grunt. At least Aurora has an excuse, she's asleep for half the film. Sounds like they're a perfect match after all... 
There's a lot of filler scenes too, like with the fairies and kings for some odd reason. Maybe this is why the main characters are so bland. It's almost like the movie liked it's side characters so much and just decided to focus on them more. So, from a storytelling point of view, it's incredibly unbalanced.

Ok, what's good about the movie? For one, the artwork is great. It's not as three-dimensional as the other Disney backgrounds are, but it's not supposed to be. It's a lot like looking at old medieval tapestry work. It's a neat and different approach for the studio, though it could be misinterpreted as having that early UPA style of backgrounds. Maybe they intended that? I don't know. Depends on the person/artist really.


The music is wonderful too, taken from Tchaikovsky score of the popular ballet of the same name. Instead of the usual Disney music men, the score is performed by the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. Even the songs are in tune to parts of the ballet. Below this paragraph are the only song I remember: Once Upon a Dream. Though to be fair, there's not that many songs in the movie. 

The three good fairies are wonderful characters. It's neat that they all have a distinct look to them as well as different characteristics which make them more unique. From what I heard, this was either Frank Thomas or Ollie Johnson's idea and like the dwarfs from Snow White, it works. Maleficent is another great Disney villain. Hell, he's one of the best in cinema history! Top three easily. She's everything we love about movie baddies. Here's a character that's evolved from animation and acting. Hey, she's even voiced by Elanor Audely. Her motivation's not that strong (she doesn't get invited to Aurora's first birthday party) but it's the lengths she'll go to to get revenge are friggin' awesome.

My favorite scene by far is the climax, which is the final battle between Prince Phillip, the good fairies, and Maleficent. It's one of the best climaxes in Disney history. Everything about it is epic: the pacing, the animation, the music, it's all fiery and energetic. It's just plain awesome. 

Sleeping Beauty does have it's problems and story wise, this film probably wouldn't normally work. But this was one of the tougher Disney film to critique properly since not only are there serious faults but there's a lot of good things in it too and they're among some of Disney's best. The fairies, the villain, the music, the designs, the animation, they're all too good to pass up. I liked it fine as a kid even though I only saw it a few times back then, it's just that I liked more things than others. That's still true today. I know for sure I'm not done watching it. If I ever need a little inspiration, I'll know that a few more viewings are not far away.

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