Directed by: Clyde Geronimi
Written by: Erdman Penner
Starring: Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen
The beauty of 2D animation shows itself at its peak with Disney’s early works. There’s something about the way they’re colored and capture each character that draws out the old saying, “they don’t make movies like this anymore.” Sleeping Beauty tells the classic tale of Aurora and does so in a magnificent style.
After not getting an invite to Aurora’s (Mary Costa) christening, the evil witch Maleficent (Eleanor Audley) places a curse on her that will cause her to die if she pricks her finger on a spindle on her sixteenth birthday. After three fairies lower the strength of the curse to a deep slumber until awakened by true love’s first kiss, they take her away in hopes to keep her safe until her sixteenth birthday.
Sleeping Beauty is a story everyone knows even if they have never watched the film. Just like other Disney princess films, they have become such a large part of our popular culture that it would be difficult to find someone that does not know the basic plot points of the story. Until fairly recently, I was one of those folks who knew every detail of the film without actually seeing it and I certainly had missed out on some greatness. The story may be fairly basic, as most of the other fairytales, but the visual splendor on display makes it worth watching. The colors are striking and demonstrate incredible artistry by the animators.
The story, like many Disney classics, is a tale as old as time, but it was nice to see the small details in watching the film. I always enjoy the specificity of everything in these tales. For example, Maleficent puts the curse on Aurora that she would die if she pricks her finger on the spindle and the fairies are available to minimize it to the deep slumber. That makes sense, it saves the life of Aurora, but I love that the only way she could possibly awaken comes from true love’s first kiss. Maybe it’s just me but maybe they could have chosen something a bit easier, especially when they decide to lock up Aurora for sixteen years where meeting a true love would be almost impossible in the middle of the forest. It’s silly but those thoughts permeate my mind when watching the story as an adult. All of these films have that element, which makes them a fairytale after all.
The voice work in the film adds to the story and especially from Eleanor Audley. Through the conjuring of spells and evil proclamations, Audley helped launch Maleficent as one of the most feared and beloved villains in all of the Disney classics. Even the way she laughed could bring a chill down your spine, and then it gets to the point where she conjures the fires of hell on the other characters. Maleficent made for such an iconic character that Disney created a film to show her side of the story starring Angeline Jolie. If that’s not the highest compliment you could give such a villainous character, I’m not sure what else could.
Additionally, the princes in these fairytales have always blended together for me personally, as the guys end up with our protagonist in the end, but Prince Phillip really came to play in the story. Not only by being a sweet guy to Aurora even when he thought she was just a peasant girl but by also taking on Maleficent even in dragon form. It’s really something to compare what he accomplishes in this film to someone like Prince Charming in Cinderella. It makes him a far more interesting character that makes him a great match for the princess. His father also makes for a tremendous comedic character. His interactions with Aurora’s father create quite the hilarious contrast in personalities that make going away from our protagonists bearable.
Sleeping Beauty will always hold its iconic status not only through the halls of Disney, but also in animation. Its accomplishments and feats have endured since its early release and have presented beloved characters on both the good and evil side of the coin. The colors are gorgeous and the song that underlies the entire film beautifully emphasizes the magic of the story as well as the artistry on display.