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Walt Disney Home Video presents
Sleeping Beauty Platinum Edition (1959)

"Now shall you deal with me, o prince...and all the powers of Hell!"
- Maleficent (Eleanor Audley)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: November 07, 2008

Stars: Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley
Other Stars: Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen, Taylor Holmes, Bill Thompson
Director: Clyde Geronimi

MPAA Rating: G for (charming princes)
Run Time: 01h:15m:12s
Release Date: October 07, 2008
UPC: 786936735345
Genre: animation


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A B+A-A- A

DVD Review

Sleeping Beauty can be seen as the end of the truly classic Disney animated features; it still has much of the gorgeous texture and attention to detail in the finest work of the stable of animators, but there are some moments that point toward the creeping and insidious influence of UPA and its limited (cheap) animation style taking over (though at least there aren't any celebrity voices taking away work from actual voice actors). It's regrettable, but this is still gorgeous to look at, and it boasts one of the great villains in all of cinema.

The story rather reasonably follows the tale as told by Charles Perrault, and is probably familiar to all. Aurora, the new daughter of King Stefan (Taylor Holmes), is to be christened and betrothed to Prince Phillip, the son of neighboring King Hubert (Bill Thompson). But someone neglected to invite the evil fairy Maleficent (Eleanor Audley) to the shindig, and she decides to crash the party and cruse Aurora with the fate of pricking her finger by her 16th birthday on a spinning wheel and dying as a result. The good fairies Flora (Verna Felton), Fauna (Barbara Jo Allen) and Merryweather (Barbara Luddy) can limit the damage by making her fall into a deep sleep instead of dying, but they hit on a better idea: assuming mortal form and hiding Aurora in the woods with them until the critical date has passed. Giving her the name Briar Rose (Mary Costa), they successfully hide her for nearly the entire time, but Maleficent has her ways, and Aurora/Briar Rose cannot avoid her fate, leaving it up to Prince Phillip (Bill Shirley) to rescue her.

There's a certain schizophrenic quality to the visuals here; some of the characters (Aurora, Phillip, Stefan) are quite realistic in their design and movement; others are in the traditional apples-and-pears style of the Silly Symphonies (Hubert, the good fairies), and others (Phillip's horse, in particular) are in an angular UPA style that has a rather goofy appearance. Disney is said to have wanted the film to have the appearance of a living tapestry, and certainly the detailed backgrounds and the Gothic/Mannerist elongated appearance of the principal characters emphasizes that look. The use of light and dark and color are frequently stunning and brilliant, a tribute to the work of Eyvind Earle, who gets his due in the special features.

Unfortunately, there are some serious weaknesses inherent in the story. The good fairies can't seem to control themselves, and like blockheads, just before the critical moment arrives they start using magic, push Briar Rose off into the woods by herself and then leave her alone in the castle, inexorably sending her to her doom. While it's head-shaking, it also makes the fairies all too human in their exuberance (underlined by a cute running gag of Fauna and Merrywether changing the color of Aurora's dress). Who hasn't spoiled something by being too anxious when the moment called for coolness? One point that just can't be papered over is that Aurora is pretty much a bystander in her own movie; as little as other Disney princesses do in their films, they at least do something. At most, Aurora is a victim from beginning to end, so it's a little hard to work up too much concern for her.

But that's all made up for by the sequences involving Maleficent. As voiced by Eleanor Audley and designed, she's a towering monster of evil and malevolence, capable of withering strong men with a glare and dropping armies with a sneer. She steals every scene she's in, with little competition. And then there's the finale, where she morphs into a great black and purple dragon breathing green flame at the valiant Prince Phillip as he tries to rescue Aurora. It's an incredible sequence that's terrifying, exciting and flows naturally even when a hard look makes the logic seem a little weak. Everything that goes before is worth sitting through to get to that last fifteen minutes, which is a striking and amazing as nearly anything the studio ever put out. And that's a high, high bar indeed.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.55:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is in as wide a format as this movie has ever been, in the super-wide ratio of 2.55:1. The animators do a great job of using this broad canvas, and it's certainly nice to have the entire picture at last. There are no signs of damage or other source problems anywhere. I didn't notice much digital noise reduction altering the linework on this go-round, which has been a regular problem with the Platinum Editions lately. I do note, however, that the reds in particular are so intense that many DVD players that suffer from the chroma noise problem (which is still far too many of them) will tend to break up and create pixelation along the edges. That's not really a fault of the transfer, but it's mentioned here for completeness.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, French, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: In addition to a restored 3.1 audio soundtrack that approximates the original stereo, there are beefed up 5.1 tracks in English, Spanish and French. While those are louder and more whiz-bang, frankly I much prefer the more restrained 3.1 track. It's perfectly serviceable and clean without losing high and low end audio information. But if you like the more modern sound, it's here for you.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 5 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Trivia track with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Princess and the Frog, Tinkerbell, Space Buddies
1 TV Spots/Teasers
4 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
1 Feature/Episode commentary by John Lasseter, Andreas Déja, Leonard Maltin
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Games
  2. Music video
  3. Short films Grand Canyon and Four Artists Paint One Tree
  4. Sleeping Beauty castle walkthrough
Extras Review: While there was plenty of material on the preceding special edition, this platinum edition even ups the ante some. Things start off with a commentary from Pixar's John Lasseter, critic Leonard Maltin and Disney animator Andreas Déja, interspersed with archival audio clips from some of the creators of the film. It's both personal and appreciative while loaded with information, including a startling bit of trivia about Audley initially refusing to take the part of Maleficent. An optional trivia subtitle track offers up fun facts that are split about 50/50 between the movie and princesses in general. There's also a nasty music video on the song Once Upon a Dream performed by Emily Osment of Hannah Montana that' continues the relentless modernization and perversion of the classics by the Disney management.

There's still more on the first disc too; Grand Canyon, a live-action Cinemascope interpretation of Ferde Grofé's classic suite is a frequent companion to Sleeping Beauty and it is still breathtaking. The Disneyland episode devoted to the life of Tchaikovsky, with sneak peeks at Sleeping Beauty is here too, though some segments survive only in black and white. It's a rather homogenized and fictionalized view of the composer, however, and mainly of interest for its careful avoidance of the controversial aspects of his life.

On to the second disc. There are two short games; one is an "Enchanted Dance Game" that's essentially a memory test. There's a fun with language game that can be played in English, French or Spanish and allows one to learn some words in another language, helped along by v.e.r.y...s.l.o.o.o.o.w....narration. There's an alternate opening and a set of three deleted songs (one in two different versions), illustrated in storyboard. A substantial documentary on the making of the film, entitled Picture Perfect (43m:32s) appears to be different from the one on the old special edition. Two featurettes take a closer look at Eyvind Earle (7m:33s), who did the color design and heavily influenced the look of the picture, and "Sequence 8," the incredible dance sequence in the forest that caused Disney to almost lose the studio after he told the director to spare no expense or effort. There are some brief live-action reference clips, including a great one of the climactic fight with the dragon, and some storyboard comparisons. There's an odd little tour of Sleeping Beauty's castle, somewhere between the real one in Disneyland and the one n the movie, which carries you along on a tour that is punctuated by moments from the picture. A set of good-looking trailers round out the set.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

It's a flawed masterpiece, but a masterpiece nonetheless. The transfer is gorgeous and there are plenty of extras; if you have the previous special edition it may not be worth the upgrade but one of these is certainly a must-have for any DVD library.

 


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