The Silver Age of Disney was right at the end when this film was released and what an end. Not only was this film the most expensive animated films made, but it was the longest production Disney had with production starting in 1951. It was also the film that made Disney report its first annual loss, sent a wave of layoffs in the company and made the company rethink the high production that went into the making of Sleeping Beauty. Besides all the horrid behind the scenes involved, this films is not only one of the best, it’s a personal favorite of mine.
Upon the birth of Princess Aurora (Mary Costa) into royalty, the undisclosed kingdom celebrates her arrival and is given gifts by three fairies named Flora (Verna Felton), Fauna (Barbara Jo Allen) and Merryweather (Barbara Luddy) until a dark fairy by the name Maleficent (Eleanor Audley) decides to place a curse on the princess. When she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday, she will fall to her death. Getting wind of this, Merryweather changes the curse from death to slumber and hide Aurora in the forest under the pseudonym Briar Rose. On her 16th birthday, she meets Prince Phillip (Bill Shirley) in the forest as they met once upon a dream. The fairies guide Aurora back home to reclaim her place yet Maleficent finds out about Aurora and the fairies’ plan and sets her plan in motion. It’s up to the fairies and Prince Phillip to save the princess from her eternal slumber and the kingdom from the destruction of Maleficent.
Sleeping Beauty is a artistic masterpiece. Every frame is painstakingly drawn and animated to match the Super Technirama scope that was given, but not just that. Every frame is like a medieval tapestry come to life with the vibrancy of the Eyvind Earle’s concept art and Mary Blair’s art direction in a brilliant pastiche of different styles. The design of the character feel human and feel close to reality. The live-action reference really shows off in this film with the animators paying special attention to the movements of Aurora. It is a marvel to behold. In fact, if one is to watch this film, watch it on Blu-ray because it is absolutely stunning, but the true highlight is the villain and the climax of the film.
Maleficent is one of the greatest villains in not only Disney history, but in the history of cinema. She is only angry because of a petty reason and she plays the pettiness to a tee with sass, charisma and charm. Basically, everything the film Maleficent decide to ruin and destroy in two hours. When she cracks her cane on the surface of the castle floor, it echos without her speaking a word. She cackles with passion and filled with enough hatred to destroy a kingdom, which she attempts to do. The climax is a dramatic act of drama, action and peril with dangers afoot as Phillip rides to save Aurora with the help of the fairies as Maleficent turns into a giant dragon ready to dismantle him limb from limb. The transformation of Maleficent is a beautiful shot of darkness and magic. It is Disney at it’s finest and a perfect way to end the Silver Age of Disney.
Critic’s Quote: “It is a picture that will charm the young and tickle adults, since the old fairy tale has been transferred to the screen by a Disney who kept his tongue in his cheek throughout the film’s animation.” – Kate Cameron, New York Daily News, February 18, 1959
Signature Moment: The entire third act of this film from Phillip riding to save the day to the kiss that awakens Aurora is Disney at its finest.