Supervising Directed By: Clyde Geronimi
Produced By: Walt Disney
Based On: Charles Perrault’s “Sleeping Beauty” (1697) & Brothers Grimm’s “Little Briar Rose” (1812)
Premiered On: January 29, 1959
Distribution By: Buena Vista Distribution
Ah, the tale of Sleeping Beauty… One of the few classical stories out there that any man, woman, or children can tell without ever once having read the original source materials of Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm simply for the fact that such a tale has long been set in the mythologies of mankind. Still, for those precious few who know nothing of this story, allow me a brief overview of what transpires.
In a kingdom long, long ago, a princess by name of Aurora is born and a holiday is proclaimed/made on the day of her christening. Among the many multitudes of guests from across the land are three fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, whom each deliver a magical gift unto the child. From Flora, Aurora receives the gift of beauty rare, gold of sunshine in her hair, and lips to shame the red, red rose. From Fauna, Aurora is given the gift of song, of melody her whole life long where critters like the nightingale shall be her troubadour, bringing their own sweet serenades to her door.
However, before Merryweather can give Aurora her gift, the party is interrupted by the arrival of the wicked fairy, Maleficent, whom is none to pleased at having not been invited, or even wanted, at the christening. Maleficent thus curses the baby princess, proclaiming for all to hear that before the sun sets upon the eve of her sixteenth birthday, Aurora will prick her finger upon a spindle of a spinning wheel and die.
After Maleficent makes her escape, Merryweather uses her own gift to change Maleficent’s curse, her power not being great enough to overcome the dark fairy’s own. To Aurora she changes the curse to that of a deep sleep, from which she can only be awakened by true love’s first kiss. Aurora’s father, still feaerful for the safety of his daughter, orders that all spinning wheels in the land to be burned and the fairies, believing that still will not be enough to protect Aurora, beg King Stefan and his Queen to allow them to take Aurora away, far away, until she can return safe and sound upon her sixteenth birthday.
With a heavy heart, the King and Queen bid farewell to their baby daughter, whom we see has grown up into a beautiful young maiden named Briar Rose by the fairies that masquerade themselves as her aunt. Tasked with gathering some berries so that they might create a surprise party for her, the three fairies, after years and years, finally fall to temptation and utilize their magic to create the perfect cake and dress for their “niece,” completely unaware of the watching eyes of Diablo, Maleficent’s familiar.
Meanwhile, Rose happens to attract the attention of Prince Phillip, the very man whom she was betrothed to as a child, with her beautiful singing. The two share a lovely song and dance, becoming instantaneously enamored with one another and promising to meet again later that evening.
Unfortunately, Rose’s declaration of love is met with the cold, hard truth. She is a royal and had been promised, since birth, to be married to a prince. Phillip too is told of this by his father but manages to sneak off to see the young maiden regardless, completely unaware of the trap awaiting him by Maleficent’s forces.
Rose, brought back to the castle before the sun had truly set, sits alone in her room and is immediately bewitched to prick her finger upon a spinning wheel crafted by Maleficent herself. Though she gloats briefly with the fairies over her victory, Maleficent takes true pride in rubbing it in Prince Phillip’s face that the peasant girl and Aurora are one and the same and that she promises to release him when he is an old man, on the verge of death, so that he may meet his true love once more whom, thanks to Merryweather’s blessing and Maleficent’s curse combined, will not have aged a day.
The fairies, after putting the rest of the kingdom to sleep until the spell upon Aurora is broken, rush to Phillip’s aid and grant unto him the Shield of Virtue and the Sword of Truth. With these mighty weapons and with some timely magical aid via the three fairies, Phillip makes it out of Maleficent’s castle and even manages to successfully hack his way through the forest of thorns she set in his path.
With no other options left to her, Maleficent arrives to deal with the prince herself, allowing all of the powers of Hell to transform her fairy form into that of a massive black dragon. The battle is quite intense, easily one of the most epic fights in the Golden Age of Disney Animation, and it comes to an end in a most awesome way. The Sword of Truth is blessed once more so that its aim might be swift and sure, that evil die and good endure.
Maleficent’s heart is pierced and vanquished back to the darkness from whence she came and Phillip and Aurora reunite with but a simple kiss.
As I had said earlier, the original stories of Sleeping Beauty are one told time and time again and that the two most popularized versions, Perrault’s and the Brothers Grimm’s, are in fact one and the same though with minor differences. Yet, the most outstanding difference between the original story and that of Disney’s adaptation is the spell utilized by the fairies to put the whole of the kingdom to sleep and even Prince Phillip’s inclusion. See, in the original novel, it was not in the span of a single day that Sleeping Beauty had her rest, oh no.
It was over a hundred years that she and the whole of her kingdom slept until one brave prince dared to risk life and limb for what was to be believed as nothing more than a fairy tale.
Another, rather ironic difference really, is that it was the fault of the good fairies that such trials and tribulations faced the young prince in the first place. The evil fairy, that being Maleficent, only cursed the child the one time and frankly had nothing more to do with the child or the kingdom since. In point of fact, there were a total of eight fairies in the novel, including Maleficent.
The first six of the fairies granted many more gifts to the Sleeping Beauty too, including but not limited to: beauty, wit, grace, dance, and song. Of course, each of the fairies were also granted a golden casket containing gold jeweled utensils too so there might have been a bit more than goodhearted gift-giving there.
Unfortunately for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, it too would follow in similar circumstances to Alice in Wonderland insomuch that upon its initial release, it was deemed as something of a failure in animation and in sales, earning only 5.3 million dollars when its production was a little over six, which also made it twice as expensive compared to the three previously made films too.
In point of fact, it was because of this dismal acclaim, despite utilizing the film to help promote the opening of Disneyland via Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and the like, that Walt Disney focused on live action films for a few years and the company itself staying well away from classical fairy tales up until the release of The Little Mermaid, some thirty odd years after Walt Disney’s passing.
Kind of funny how Sleeping Beauty is now one of the most recognized of the Disney Animated Feature Films, with Maleficent herself being the de-facto chief Disney Villain, second only to the likes of Chernabog and even then, only in terms of power.
Much like Alice in Wonderland, there are a multitude of what I like to call momentous songs, songs that are quite frankly only sung in a brief scene and have no real lasting impact beyond said scene. As such, there is really no other choice for song but the one and only “Once Upon a Dream,” one of the most recognized of Disney songs to date. Heck, it was even given a somber and frankly sinister revision in the recent live action re-adaption to Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent.
The dance that Aurora has with her animal friends as she plays at dancing with a real person is extremely well animated though one can’t help but wonder how in the heck that poor owl is keeping the cloak up in the air. Yet, for me personally, the real winning moment in the sequence is when Phillip switches himself in and the look on Aurora’s face when she realizes she’s suddenly singing and dancing with an actual guy. If ever there’s a picture needed to define the phrase “What the heck” it’s Aurora’s right there in that moment.
I’d say this is a film for all ages but I would be stretching that truth a bit more than I’d like. For all the amazing villainy that is Maleficent, she can be quite intense for really young audiences, particularly when she goes dragon. Aside from that though I give this film a solid five out of five.
I’d give it more than that like I had Alice in Wonderland and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but the only reason I refrain from doing so is simply for the fact that despite being the titular character involved in the film itself, Aurora is only outmatched by one other Disney character with few speaking lines despite being the main character. That’d be Dumbo. Who doesn’t talk. Like, at all.
Kind of sad if you think about it.