Sleeping Beauty
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Story by
Based on"Sleeping Beauty"
by Charles Perrault
Produced byWalt Disney
Starring
Edited by
  • Roy M. Brewer Jr.
  • Donald Halliday
Music byGeorge Bruns
Production
company
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • January 29, 1959 (1959-01-29)
Running time
75 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$6 million[1]
Box office$51.6 million (United States and Canada)[2]

Sleeping Beauty is a 1959 American animated musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by Buena Vista Distribution. Based on Charles Perrault's 1697 fairy tale, the production was supervised by Clyde Geronimi, and was directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, Eric Larson, and Les Clark. Featuring the voices of Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen, Taylor Holmes, and Bill Thompson, the film follows Princess Aurora, who was cursed by the evil fairy Maleficent to die from a prick from the spindle of a spinning wheel. She is saved by three good fairies, who alter the curse so that the princess falls into a deep sleep and is awakened by true love's kiss.

Sleeping Beauty began development in 1950. The film took nearly a decade and $6 million to produce, and was Disney's most expensive animated feature at the time. Its tapestry-like art style was devised by Eyvind Earle, who was inspired by pre-Renaissance European art; its score and songs, composed by George Bruns, was based on Pyotr Tchaikovsky's 1889 ballet. Sleeping Beauty was the first animated film to use the Super Technirama 70 widescreen process and was the second full-length animated feature filmed in anamorphic widescreen, following Lady and the Tramp (1955).[3]

It was released in theaters on January 29, 1959, to mixed reviews from critics who praised its art direction and musical score and criticized its plot and characters. The film was a box-office bomb in its initial release, grossing $5.3 million, and losing $900,000 for the distributor and many employees from the animation studio became layoffs. Sleeping Beauty's re-releases have been successful,[4] and it has become one of Disney's most artistically acclaimed features. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture at the 32nd Academy Awards.

Maleficent, a live-action reimagining of the film from Maleficent's perspective, was released in 2014, followed by a sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, in 2019. The latter year, Sleeping Beauty was selected for preservation in the United States Library of Congress' National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Plot

King Stefan and Queen Leah[a] welcome their newborn daughter, Aurora, and proclaim a holiday for their subjects to pay homage to the princess. At her christening, she is betrothed to Prince Phillip, the son of Stefan's friend King Hubert, in order to unite their kingdoms. The three good fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, each bless Aurora with one gift. After Flora and Fauna give her beauty and song, the evil fairy Maleficent appears, angry at not being invited. She places a curse on Aurora: before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Merryweather uses her gift to weaken the curse; Aurora will instead fall into a deep sleep until true love's kiss breaks the spell.

Still fearful, Stefan orders all the kingdom's spinning wheels burned. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather devise a plan to hide Aurora in a secluded location and raise her themselves until her sixteenth birthday. Stefan and Leah reluctantly agree. The fairies move into a forest cottage, giving up magic and living as peasants, and rename Aurora "Briar Rose".

On Aurora's sixteenth birthday, the fairies send her to gather berries so they can prepare a surprise party. In the forest, Aurora sings to the animals, drawing the attention of Phillip, now a handsome young man. They fall in love without revealing their names, and Aurora invites Phillip to the cottage that evening. Meanwhile, Flora and Merryweather's argument about the color of Aurora's birthday gown attracts the attention of Maleficent's pet raven, Diablo.[b] Aurora returns and tells her guardians that she has fallen in love. They reveal her true identity, which Diablo overhears, and tell her she cannot see the man again. Meanwhile, Phillip tells his father about the peasant girl he met and wants to marry, unaware she is the princess to whom he is betrothed. King Hubert unsuccessfully tries to dissuade him.

Shortly before sunset, the fairies bring Aurora to the castle for her birthday celebration. Maleficent appears and lures her to a tower room, where she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel that Maleficient conjures. The fairies place the sleeping Aurora in the highest tower and put the entire kingdom to sleep until their princess awakens. Flora overhears a conversation between Hubert and Stefan and realizes that Phillip is the man that Aurora met. The fairies rush to the cottage and discover that Phillip has been abducted by Maleficent.

At her domain, the Forbidden Mountain, Maleficent reveals Aurora's identity to Phillip. She plans to lock him away until he is an old man on the verge of death before releasing him to meet Aurora, who will not have aged a single day. The fairies rescue Phillip and arm him with the magical Sword of Truth and the Shield of Virtue. Maleficent surrounds Stefan's castle with a forest of thorns, but Phillip breaks through it. Outraged, she transforms into a giant, fire-breathing dragon. In the ensuing battle, Phillip kills Maleficent by thrusting his sword into her heart.

Phillip finds Aurora and awakens her with a kiss, bringing the rest of the kingdom out of their slumber. The two descend to the ballroom, where Aurora reunites with her parents and happily dances with Phillip as the good fairies look on with joy.

Voice cast

Main article: List of Disney's Sleeping Beauty characters

Screenshot from the film
A promotional image of the characters from the film. From left to right: the forest animals, the Goons, Maleficent, Diablo, Prince Phillip, Princess Aurora, Flora, Queen Leah, Fauna, Merryweather, King Stefan, King Hubert, Samson, and the lackey.

Candy Candido, Pinto Colvig, and Bob Amsberry voiced the Goons,[29][30] Maleficent's bumbling but loyal henchmen.[31] Candido also voiced Diablo,[32] Maleficent's pet raven.[31] Dallas McKennon voiced the Owl,[30] one of Aurora's animal friends,[33] with Purv Pullen providing the sounds of other forest animals.[32] Marvin Miller was the film's narrator.[34]

Production

Story development

Walt Disney first considered making an animated version of Charles Perrault's 1697 fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty" in 1938.[35] Preliminary artwork was submitted by Joe Grant, but the project did not move forward.[36] Disney registered Sleeping Beauty as a planned production title with the Motion Picture Association of America on January 19, 1950, after a preview audience's positive response to Cinderella.[36][37] By November of that year, the Los Angeles Times officially confirmed the film's development.[38] Disney envisioned Sleeping Beauty as the pinnacle of his studio's achievements in animation and was willing to pool all resources needed to achieve that.[35][39] Recognizing the difficulty of producing another fairy-tale feature which would not be too reminiscent of his previous films, notably Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Cinderella (1950), he repeatedly told his staff during production that it had to be different.[34][40]

Key story work was done by Ted Sears, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, and Ralph Wright, who were joined by other story artists as production continued.[36][41] They decided to discard the second half of the original Perrault story (which describes a sleeping beauty married to a strange prince) and focus on its first half to develop a more convincing relationship between the characters.[41][42] The earliest known story outline was written by April 1951, featuring a climactic wake-up kiss and the encounter between prince and princess before she succumbs to the curse. It also included the names of the fairies, who had been reduced from eight to four, and their corresponding magical abilities: Tranquility, the Fairy of Dreams; Fernadell, the Fairy of the Forest; Merryweather, the Fairy of the Elements; and Maleficent, the Fairy of Darkness.[43] The story artists expanded the fairies' roles, turning the good fairies into comical guardians of the princess and the evil fairy into a more powerful villain.[44][45] In this version of the story, Maleficent would conjure an indestructible spinning wheel which the king and queen would unsuccessfully try to get rid of; they would be forced to hide their daughter in the castle walls and never let her out.[43] The princess was envisioned as a "poor little rich girl", burdened with her royal lineage and dreaming of exploring the world outside the castle.[36] Shortly before her sixteenth birthday, the princess was to switch clothes with her maidservant and secretly escape to a nearby forest (or country fair) where she would meet and fall in love with the prince.[43][46] He would travel to a faraway land and return a few years later to fight Maleficent with the help of the good fairies, find the sleeping princess and wake her up with the kiss.[43] Story ideas of that period also included the good fairies attempting to surround the castle with a protective circle and Maleficent having a comically-incompetent vulture sidekick, although the earlier outline depicted him as a sinister falcon.[43][46][47]

We had a lot of problems. We were fighting to break away from what we had done in the past. Sleeping Beauty was tough, because it had many of the elements we had already used in Snow White and Cinderella. You've got to give the creators new things to work with so they'll be able to keep their enthusiasm up. You're in trouble if they start saying, "Haven't we done this before?" We had to find out what we had and whether it would please the public. I'm never sure myself what they're going to buy.

Walt Disney, on the difficulties of adapting Sleeping Beauty as an animated feature[48]

By June 1952, the full storyboard of Sleeping Beauty was completed, but Disney rejected it, stating that its approach was too similar to his studio's earlier films.[39] The story artists discarded the original version and started from scratch, deciding to retain several ideas from earlier suggestions such as the prince's acquaintance with the princess before the curse is fulfilled and a shorter sleep.[36][49] The story team initially developed a sequence in which the characters meet during a treasure hunt, but abandoned it, feeling that it became too drifted from the central storyline. It was written instead that the prince and princess would meet in the forest by chance, which had been introduced in the 1951 outline.[42][43] Striving for more serious storytelling, Disney decided to cut several gags involving the Three Good Fairies which he felt were more appropriate for Donald Duck shorts.[36][50] In one, the fairies (who had been renamed Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather) try to bake a birthday cake for the princess and accidentally blow up the oven.[50] The good fairies were originally intended to rule the domains indicated by their names: Flora would be in charge of flowers and plants, Fauna would oversee the animals and birds, and Merryweather would control the climate. Disney discarded this idea as well, feeling that it did not advance the central storyline.[14]

Part of the difficulty was in differentiating Disney's third princess, who had been named Aurora, from Snow White and Cinderella.[36][51] The story artists came up with an idea of the fairies raising her in a forest cottage, with Aurora unaware of her background or the danger she faced. She was also given a different personality – "a freshness and a modern sensibility" – to make her more appealing to audiences.[36][49] In earlier versions of the story, Aurora would encounter Maleficent, who would trick her into pricking the finger on the spindle, but Disney felt that the "eerie, haunting presentation of a victim powerless in the hands of evil" would be a stronger choice, so the scene was rewritten to have Maleficent lure Aurora with hypnosis.[52][53] The improvement of his animators' skill in drafting a realistic male figure prompted Disney to expand the role of the prince, who had been named Phillip.[36][51] To establish him as Aurora's "true love", the story artists developed a plot in which Maleficent kidnaps Phillip and plans to keep him prisoner in her castle for a century (which was also a reference to the 100-year slumber in Perrault's story).[54] Several story elements originated from discarded ideas for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Cinderella (1950), including the prince and princess dancing on a cloud (Disney's favorite concept) and Phillip's escape from Maleficent's domain.[55][56]

Casting

Disney spent three years searching for a voice for Princess Aurora and considered shelving the project before Mary Costa was cast by June 1952.[57][58] She was invited to audition by Walter Schumann (the film's composer at the time), who heard her singing at a dinner party for the entertainment industry.[59] Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, Costa had a strong Southern accent which nearly prevented her from being cast until she proved that she could sustain a British accent.[60] Disney personally contacted Costa within hours of her audition to confirm that she had the role.[61][62] Before Costa was cast, LP records by forty female singers were heard by the story artists, and fifteen of them auditioned.[63] Costa recorded her lines for three years, from 1952 to 1955.[57] Twenty singers auditioned for the role of Prince Phillip, and Bill Shirley, who had a high baritone voice and experience in light opera, was the final choice. Before he and Costa were selected, they made audition records together to determine if their voices complemented each other. Disney was convinced that they did, and approved the casting.[64]

Disney personally suggested Eleanor Audley for the role of Maleficent.[39] Audley initially refused, since she had tuberculosis and was unsure if she was strong enough for recording sessions, but reconsidered when she began feeling better.[34] About her voice work for the character, Audley later said that she "tried to do a lot of contrasting to be both sweet and nasty at the same time."[55] Disney chose Barbara Jo Allen for Fauna, who had been frequently compared by the story artists to Vera Vague (Jo Allen's character in The Bob Hope Show), and Barbara Luddy for Merryweather.[29][65] Many actors auditioned for the role of King Stefan, including Hans Conried, before Taylor Holmes was cast because of his "bemused, but dignified" voice.[55][66] This was Holmes' final film role before his death in September 1959, eight months after the film's release.[67] Several of the studio's voice regulars were cast in the film, including Verna Felton as Flora and Bill Thompson as King Hubert.[29][68] Felton is also believed to have been the voice of Queen Leah, but the studio has no saved records of who voiced the character.[69]

Production delays

It was very difficult for him to put his mind on this picture. I think mainly because Walt was working on Disneyland, he was occupied with that ... He just didn't have time or energy to come in as often as we'd like him to. He come in if we pressed him, but otherwise he'd just say "Well, I think you're doing okay. Why don't you go ahead, and I'll come in later" ... He just didn't have the creative juices going on this picture than he did on most of them.

Ollie Johnston, on Walt Disney's involvement in the film's production[36]

By mid-1952, Disney had planned to release Sleeping Beauty in 1955.[70] Production began in July 1953, when supervising director Wilfred Jackson recorded the dialogue, assembled a story reel, and was to begin preliminary animation for a pilot scene in which Aurora and Phillip meet in the forest.[70][71] Disney was dissatisfied with the original version of the scene, and Jackson (along with Ted Sears and two other story artists) had to extensively rewrite it over the next few months before Disney approved the revised version.[70] In December 1953, Jackson had a heart attack and was replaced by Eric Larson, whose unit would animate the forest scene.[70][72] The film was scheduled for a February 1957 release by April 1954, and was later postponed to Christmas 1957.[70][73] By July 1954, Disney began building the Disneyland theme park and developing a number of television series (such as Disneyland and The Mickey Mouse Club), and most of the studio personnel working on Sleeping Beauty at the time were assigned to develop those projects.[36][49] The film's production was suspended, although the castle at Disneyland was named Sleeping Beauty Castle to promote it.[49][74]

During its dormancy, Sleeping Beauty was given to Erdman Penner and Joe Rinaldi for further development, and the full storyboard was completed to be discussed with Disney by early 1955.[49][73] The film's production resumed in December 1956, with its release rescheduled for Christmas 1958.[49][73] Although Disney insisted on overseeing every aspect of the film, he remained focused on Disneyland, and animators (such as Milt Kahl) blamed him for the delays.[73][75][76] 2,500 feet of animation had been completed by January 1957, with 3,775 feet to be done.[73] According to studio executive Harry Tytle, after the screening of finished footage on August 22 of that year, Disney expressed disinterest in Sleeping Beauty and "didn't give this the treatment he would have in years past, where he'd go in for a couple of days and fine-tooth comb the whole picture."[73][75] Production delays led to an increase in the film's budget: the $10,000 forest scene, which took several years to complete, exceeded its budget and displeased Disney.[34][77] Relatively late in production, he replaced supervising director Larson with Clyde Geronimi.[78] A quota system was introduced to keep costs down, requiring animators to create a specified number of drawings per day.[79]

Animation

Art direction

The Unicorn Tapestries are credited for providing a starting point in the film's artistic direction.[80]

To distinguish Sleeping Beauty from his previous features, Disney decided to take a different approach to the film's visual design.[34][81] After one of the story meetings, he told Larson that he needed a "moving illustration" and did not care how long it would take.[82] By December 1952, Kay Nielsen was the first to create styling sketches for the film, suggesting an "ethereal depiction of the Middle Ages".[83][84][85] Although he was impressed with his artwork, Ken Anderson (the film's production designer) felt that Nielsen's pastel paintings would be difficult to translate into animation.[86] Disney tasked John Hench to help interpret Nielsen's artwork with opaque cel paint, but Nielsen left the studio by April 1953.[83][86] The film's tapestry-like style developed after Hench's visit to the Cloisters, where he saw the Unicorn Tapestries series.[87] Hench brought reproductions of the tapestries back to the studio and made sketches inspired by the museum visit, suggesting them as a visual template for the film's design.[84][88] Disney approved the idea, and background artist Eyvind Earle made trial paintings based on Hench's sketches.[68][80] Wanting Sleeping Beauty to have a unified look from beginning to end, Disney made Earle both the film's color stylist and artistic director, giving him unprecedented control of the film's visual appearance.[40][89][90] Sleeping Beauty was the first film of the studio in which background paintings defined its art direction.[91]

I wanted stylized, simplified Gothic. Straight, tall, perpendicular lines like Gothic cathedrals ... I used one-point perspective. I rearranged the bushes and trees in geometrical patterns. I made a medieval tapestry out of the surface wherever possible. All my foregrounds were tapestry designs of decorative weeds and flowers and grasses. And since it is obvious that the Gothic style and detail evolved from the Arabic influence acquired during the Crusades, I found it perfectly permissible to use all the wonderful patterns and details found in Persian miniatures. And since Persian miniatures had a lot in common with Chinese and Japanese art, I felt it was OK for me to inject quite a bit of Japanese art, especially in the close-up of leaves and overhanging branches.

Eyvind Earle, on devising the film's background styling[92]

Earle's main inspiration for Sleeping Beauty was the illuminated book of hours by Herman and Jean Limbourg, Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, from which he took key colors such as the yellow-green for Maleficent's flames and pink and blue for Aurora's royal dress.[93] He was also influenced by the pre-Renaissance Northern European art (including the works of Pieter Bruegel, Albrecht Dürer, Huybrecht van Eyck, Giotto di Bondone, and Sandro Botticelli), as well as by Gothic and Persian art, medieval tapestries, and Japanese prints.[54][89][93][94] In five years of working on the film, Earle created about three hundred visual-development paintings, hundreds of thumbnail scene sketches, and dozens of key background paintings, some fifteen feet long.[54][92][94][95] Over eight hundred other backgrounds in the film were created by Frank Armitage, Thelma Witmer, Al Dempster, Walt Peregoy, Bill Layne, Ralph Hulett, Dick Anthony, Fil Mottola, Richard H. Thomas, and Anthony Rizzo, who worked under Earle's supervision and followed his style to maintain consistency in the film's design.[96]

Although the layout artists and animators were impressed with Earle's paintings, they became discouraged by working in a style which many considered "too cold, flat, and modernist" for a fairy-tale feature.[97] Animators struggled to make the characters (which had to be stylized to match Earle's design) stand out against his detailed background paintings, with their design and color styling hindering character animation.[98][99] At one point, Frank Thomas and Milt Kahl rebelled and went to Disney's office to complain, but Disney insisted on the visual design, saying that the past inspirational artwork he had commissioned (such as Mary Blair's) had always been homogenized by the animators.[97][99] Earle's design prompted Disney to film Sleeping Beauty in Super Technirama 70 as the first animated film in this format.[39][100] This decision presented additional difficulties for animators and layout artists, who had to work with very large sheets of paper and create twice as much art to fill the frame.[36][68] Sleeping Beauty was the last hand-inked Disney animated feature film before the studio switched to the Xerox process with One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961).[34] Xerox was partially used in Sleeping Beauty to animate the forest of thorns in the final battle scene.[101]

When Clyde Geronimi became the supervising director, he had creative differences with Earle, feeling that Earle's paintings "didn't have the mood ... All that beautiful detail in the trees, the bark, and all that, that's all well and good, but who the hell's going to look at that? The backgrounds became more important than the animation. He'd made them more like Christmas cards".[72][78] By that time, Disney felt that too much focus was on the film's design at the expense of its story.[73] In March 1958, before Sleeping Beauty was completed, Earle left the Disney studio for John Sutherland Productions. Geronimi then had the background paintings softened with an airbrush so they did not compete with the animation.[78]

Live-action reference

Before animation began, a live-action reference version with actors in costumes as models was filmed for the animators to study. Disney insisted on this because he wanted the characters to be "as real as possible, near flesh-and-blood", although several animators (such as Milt Kahl) objected to this method, stating that "anyone worth his salt in this business ought to know how people move."[3][102] By March 1954, Helene Stanley was hired to provide a live-action reference for Princess Aurora and several scenes of the Three Good Fairies.[103][104] She was chosen from over three hundred candidates interviewed for the role.[105] Stanley's costume for Aurora's woodland disguise, Briar Rose, was created by Alice Estes at the behest of Marc Davis (her future husband) as her first job assignment for the Disney studio.[106]

Prince Phillip was modeled by Ed Kemmer.[102] For a few scenes in the final battle scene, Kemmer had to ride a wooden wagon imitating a horse which was controlled by the animators.[107] Cubby O'Brien was a model for young Phillip.[104] The live-action reference for Maleficent was provided by her voice actress Eleanor Audley and dancer Jane Fowler.[17][108] Among the actresses who appeared in reference footage for the Three Good Fairies were Spring Byington, Madge Blake, and Frances Bavier.[39] Hans Conried and Don Barclay were live-action references for King Stefan and King Hubert.[109][110] The lackey who serves wine to the kings in the "Skumps" scene was modeled by Franklin Pangborn.[111]

Character animation

Tom Oreb, whose designs employed a "straight-against-curve" motif similar to Earle's backgrounds, was the film's character stylist.[112] Oreb was the first Disney artist to receive a credit in that capacity.[54] He worked closely with Earle (who also had decision-making capability in character designs and color schemes) and created preliminary sketches for most of the characters, incorporating strong horizontal and vertical planes of the background paintings into the designs.[36][37][89] The studio's ink and paint department made finished cels of Oreb's sketches, which were placed over Earle's backgrounds to ensure that they would match the film's style.[113] The animators complained that Oreb's designs, like Earle's styling, were too rigid to animate.[99] According to Ken Anderson, the characters became "really, unfortunately, quite stiff. In order to fit this mannered background, they, too, took on a sort of cylindrical, geometrical shape that didn't lend itself as well to the ... Well, you might say, the Bambi type of animation. It wasn't really possible just to make the characters fit the style and still be quite as attractive."[34]

Marc Davis, who (unlike most of the animators) embraced Earle's style, was the supervising animator of Princess Aurora.[93][114] Collaborating with Oreb, he created a "leading lady of elegance" whose earlier designs were influenced by Audrey Hepburn.[10][106] Stylizing the character to match the backgrounds, Oreb incorporated vertical lines into the folds of her costumes and two-dimensional swirls into her hair, while Davis sharpened her features and clothes, adding Art Nouveau and Art Deco style to her curls.[10][37][106] Aurora's final design was more refined than those of preceding Disney heroines, and therefore required more attention to detail than any animated character before.[106] Iwao Takamoto, who was quality control animator of Aurora, called working with her animation drawings a "laborious job" which limited in-betweeners (such as himself) to completing only six or seven drawings per day (twenty-four were required for each second of film).[7][106][112]

Maleficent, her clothing resembling flames
In designing Maleficent, Marc Davis experimented with flamelike shapes and triangular color patterns.[37]

Davis was also tasked with supervising Maleficent's animation and design, which was influenced by a painting in a Czechoslovakian art book that he found in his home library.[34][115] Although Davis' original designs had red trim on Maleficent's costume to highlight its flame-like shape, Earle asked to change it to lavender because red would appear too strong.[106][115] Davis also added horns and a collar resembling bat wings to give the character a diabolic look, and endowed her costume with a reptilian quality to foreshadow her dragon form.[37][116] Animating Maleficent was challenging for Davis because of the character's tendency to soliloquize and her lack of physical contact with other characters.[117] This was resolved with the introduction of Diablo, Maleficent's raven, whom Davis also designed and animated.[54][68] Maleficent's dragon form was animated by Eric Cleworth, who based its head movements on those of a rattlesnake.[54][118]

Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, who struggled the most to adapt to Earle's style, were the supervising animators of Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather.[34][119] Disney initially urged that the characters be homogeneous, but Thomas and Johnston objected, feeling that it would be more interesting for each fairy to have a distinct personality.[19][120] Oreb's earlier designs portrayed the characters in a stricter geometrical style, reflecting the three primary shapes (square, triangle, and circle), but this was too difficult to animate, and was discarded.[36] The final design was set after Don DaGradi created preliminary drawings suggesting a "lighter and more delicate" look for the fairies, although they retained angularity in their capes and headdresses to match the background styling.[34][121][122] Thomas and Johnston studied the movements of old women they saw at wedding receptions and grocery stores for help in animation, and the fairies' costume design was influenced by wardrobe books for medieval Scandinavian and German-style attire.[120][121]

Milt Kahl animated Prince Phillip, but was displeased with the character's limited emotional range.[123][124] He also animated Phillip's horse, Samson (whose design was influenced by the works of Ronald Searle), King Stefan, and King Hubert.[55][68][125] Kahl's characters were co-animated by John Lounsbery, who also worked on Aurora's forest-animal friends and the pig-like leader of Maleficent's goons.[126][127][128] Among other animators working on the film were Wolfgang Reitherman, who directed the climactic dragon battle sequence; Les Clark, who directed the opening scene in which the townspeople march to the castle for Aurora's christening; and John Sibley, who animated the lackey.[68][129][130]

Music

The use of music from Pyotr Tchaikovsky's 1889 ballet The Sleeping Beauty was discussed early in the film's development, but the idea was initially discarded due to the potential difficulty of adapting Tchaikovsky's ballet as a film score.[36][131] Jack Lawrence and Sammy Fain were signed to write the film's original songs in April 1952, and Walter Schumann was the composer.[62][132] A song score was produced by late summer of that year, which included the main title song and its reprise by Fain and Victor Young; the opening number, "Holiday", sung by the royal subjects celebrating Princess Aurora's birth, followed by "It Happens I Have a Picture", in which King Stefan and King Hubert discuss the virtues of their respective children; "Sunbeams (Bestowal of Gifts)", sung by the Three Good Fairies and Maleficent as they bestow gifts on Aurora; "Where in the World", Aurora's solo, followed by the love song "Once Upon a Dream", in which she meets Prince Phillip; and "Mirage (Follow Your Heart)", in which Aurora is lured to the spinning wheel.[133][134][135][136][137]

After Eyvind Earle became the film's artistic director the following year, Disney returned to the idea of using Tchaikovsky's ballet score, feeling that Lawrence and Fain's Broadway-type songs would clash with Earle's stylized design.[68][131][133][138] Schumann unsuccessfully tried to create new arrangements for the songs which would give them a "Tchaikovsky sound", but the original song score was unusable except for "Once Upon a Dream" (which was based on the ballet's "Garland Waltz" theme).[133][138] Schumann later left the project due to creative differences with Disney, and Ward Kimball recommended that George Bruns replace him.[139] Sleeping Beauty was Bruns' first collaboration with the Disney studio and his first experience as a film composer.[131][133]

Working closely with animators, directors, and story artists, Bruns studied and experimented with Tchaikovsky's music for three years to make it work as a film score.[140] The opening number, "Hail to the Princess Aurora" (sung by the royal subjects going to the castle for Aurora's christening), was based on a march in the ballet's prologue.[133] The third strain of the "Garland Waltz" became "I Wonder", sung by Aurora as she walks through the forest with her animal friends.[133] For the scene in which Maleficent lures Aurora to the spinning wheel, Bruns used the "Puss in Boots" theme from the ballet's third act due to its "ominous quality that fitted perfectly into the needs of the suspense sequence".[141] He made several attempts to create a song from the "Silver Fairy" theme, resulting in "Riddle, Diddle, One, Two, Three" (sung by Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather as they prepare birthday presents for Aurora).[36][142][143] The song was eventually cut, but its melody remained in the scene.[36] Among other deleted songs were "Evil—Evil", which would have been sung by Maleficent and her goons, and "Go to Sleep", in which the Three Good Fairies put a sleeping spell on the castle.[142][144]

Four of Bruns' songs based on the ballet score were used in the film: "Hail to the Princess Aurora", "The Gifts of Beauty and Song", "I Wonder", and "Sleeping Beauty".[133] For "Skumps", sung by King Stefan and King Hubert as they toast their children's upcoming wedding, Bruns composed his own tune in Tchaikovsky's style because he could not find anything suitable in the ballet.[140] The song lyrics were written by Tom Adair, Erdman Penner, Winston Hibler, and Ted Sears; most have the same placement and purpose in the plot as Fain and Lawrence's original songs.[133][145] Recording of the music began in the United States, but due to a musicians' strike, Disney sent Bruns to a state-of-the-art studio in Berlin which permitted a new stereo sound system for the film.[37][68][142][146] Sleeping Beauty's score was the first true-stereo soundtrack.[146] It was recorded with the Graunke Symphony Orchestra from September 8 to November 25, 1958.[37]

Release

Original theatrical run

The film's 1958 teaser trailer.

Sleeping Beauty premiered at the Fox Wilshire Theater in Los Angeles on January 29, 1959, and was simultaneously released in theaters[c] with the documentary short Grand Canyon (1958).[148][149][150] It was shown in selected theaters which were specially equipped to project the film in large-format Super Technirama 70 with six-track stereophonic sound.[37] To promote the film, a Disneyland episode "The Peter Tchaikovsky Story" was aired on ABC on January 30, 1959.[142][151] The episode, which included a loose version of Tchaikovsky's life, Disney's explanation of the Super Technirama 70 process, and clips from Sleeping Beauty, was the first television show simulcast in stereo.[151][152][153]

With a production budget of $6 million, Sleeping Beauty was the most expensive Disney film at the time, and was over twice as expensive as each of the preceding three Disney animated features: Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), and Lady and the Tramp (1955).[147] During its original release, the film grossed approximately $5.3 million (the distributor's share of the box office gross) in the United States and Canada.[154] It was considered a box-office bomb, and Buena Vista Distribution (Disney's distribution division) lost $900,000.[155] Eric Larson blamed the studio's publicity department for the film's underperformance, feeling that The Shaggy Dog (released later that year) had a far more extensive and successful advertising campaign.[148] The production costs and box-office failure of Sleeping Beauty, coupled with the underperformance of much of the studio's 1959–1960 release slate, caused Walt Disney to lose interest in animation.[75] His company posted an annual loss of $1,300,000 for fiscal year 1960 (its first in a decade), and there were massive layoffs throughout the animation department.[1][75]

Re-releases

Sleeping Beauty was first re-released theatrically in 1970 on standard 35 mm film, earning $3.8 million.[156][157] It was re-released in May 1979 in the original 70 mm format for a ten-week test engagement at Seattle's Crest Theatre before a wider release later that year in 70 and 35 mm, with stereo and mono sound.[157][158][159][160] The film was re-released in 1986 (grossing $40 million in the United States and Canada) and in 1995.[161][162][163] With a lifetime gross in the United States and Canada of $51.6 million from all releases, Sleeping Beauty is the second-most-successful film released in 1959 behind Ben-Hur.[2][39] Adjusted for ticket-price inflation, the domestic total gross is nearly $681 million, making it one of the top 40 highest-grossing films.[164]

Home media

On October 14, 1986, Sleeping Beauty was released on VHS, Betamax, and LaserDisc as part of the Walt Disney Classics collection; over one million videocassettes were sold.[165][166] The film began a moratorium on March 31, 1988.[167] Digitally restored in 1997, it was released on VHS and LaserDisc in fullscreen and widescreen as part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection on September 16 of that year.[168][169] To commemorate the release, Mary Costa (the voice of Princess Aurora) hosted a special theatrical screening of the film in her hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee.[170]

Sleeping Beauty was released on VHS and in a two-disc Special Edition DVD on September 9, 2003.[171] The DVD edition featured widescreen (formatted at 2.35:1) and fullscreen versions of the film.[172] It also included a making-of featurette from the 1997 VHS; the Grand Canyon short documentary film; the life-of-Tchaikovsky segment of the Disneyland episode "The Peter Tchaikovsky Story"; a 1951 story outline of the film; live-action reference clips; a virtual gallery of concept art, layout and background designs; three trailers; and audio commentary by Mary Costa, Eyvind Earle, Ollie Johnston, and others.[172][173] The release ended on January 31, 2004.[174]

On October 7, 2008, a Platinum Edition of Sleeping Beauty was released as a two-disc DVD and on Blu-ray.[175] It was the first installment in the Platinum line released in high-definition video.[176] This release was based on the 2007 restoration of the film from its original Technicolor negatives (interpositives, several generations removed from the original negative, were used for other home-video releases) in its full-negative aspect ratio of 2.55:1, which is wider than both prints shown at the film's original Technirama engagements (2.20:1) and the CinemaScope-compatible reduction prints for general release at 2.35:1.[177][178] It included an online feature BD-Live; a new behind-the-scenes documentary Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty; a virtual recreation of Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough at Disneyland; an alternate opening of the film; four deleted songs; and bonus features from the previous DVD release.[179] The set returned to the Disney Vault on January 30, 2010.[180]

Sleeping Beauty was re-released on Diamond Edition Blu-ray and DVD and on Digital HD on October 7, 2014, including the documentary short Art of Evil: Generations Of Disney Villains (dedicated to animators and the legacy of villains in Disney features), three deleted scenes from the film, karaoke, and extras from the Platinum Blu-ray release.[181][182] For its 60th anniversary on September 24, 2019, Sleeping Beauty was re-released for HD digital download and on Blu-ray as part of the Walt Disney Signature Collection.[183]

Lawsuit

In May 1989, Mary Costa sued the Walt Disney Company for royalties of $2 million owed to her since the 1986 home-video release of Sleeping Beauty. Costa said that her contract with the studio prevented it from producing "phonograph recordings or transcriptions for sale to the public" without her permission.[184][185] The case had been settled out of court by June 1991, with Costa receiving an undisclosed sum.[186]

Reception

Critical response

Sleeping Beauty received mixed reviews from critics, with many praising its art direction, voice acting, and musical score but criticizing its plot and characters.[148][187] Ren Grevatt of Billboard called the film a "Disney best" and complimented its score, colors, and the final battle scene, which he described as a "hair-raiser for the youngsters and grown-up alike."[188] Variety praised the vocal work of Mary Costa and Bill Shirley, and called the scenes involving the Three Good Fairies "some of the best parts of the picture."[189] For The New York Daily News, Kate Cameron wrote that the film "will charm the young and tickle adults" and praised its story, voice acting, and character animation.[190] George Bourke of the Miami Herald described the film as a "magnificent achievement, offering suspense, action and happy humor, in a truly giant-size package."[191] Lorna Carroll, writing for the St. Petersburg Times, called the film a "masterpiece and the last word in the art of animation"; however, although Sleeping Beauty is "far more magnificent, far more advanced, it does not touch the heart as did Snow White."[192] Henry Ward of The Pittsburgh Press praised the film's art direction and said that children "undoubtedly will find the film completely enchanting", adding that a more-mature audience "may find this new effort somewhat of a carbon copy" of previous Disney animated features.[193]

Bosley Crowther wrote for The New York Times that "the colors are rich, the sounds are luscious and magic sparkles spurt charmingly from wands", but felt that the film's plot and characters were too similar to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).[194] Philip K. Scheuer of Los Angeles Times praised the film's visual design, animation quality, and the Three Good Fairies and Maleficent, but criticized its "stereotyped" human characters and found himself more impressed by the accompanying short film Grand Canyon (1958).[195] In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Harold V. Cohen praised the film's "sharp and unmistakable" art style and animation but found the characters underdeveloped and "not exactly memorable".[196] Harrison's Reports also noted the film's similarity to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), saying that although Sleeping Beauty is "unquestionably superior from the viewpoint of the art of animation", it lacked the "unforgettable" characters, songs, and the overall entertainment appeal of Snow White.[197] Time harshly criticized the film, particularly its design: "Even the drawing in Sleeping Beauty is crude: a compromise between sentimental, crayon-book childishness and the sort of cute, commercial cubism that tries to seem daring but is really just square."[198]

Among contemporary reviews, Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader described Sleeping Beauty as "the masterpiece of the Disney Studios' postwar style". Kehr praised its use of the Super Technirama 70 process, particularly in the final battle scene.[199] Charles Solomon wrote for the Los Angeles Times that the film "represents the culmination of Walt Disney's effort to elevate animation to an art form". Solomon praised its visual design, the character of Maleficent, and the finale battle scene, but felt that it lacks "the strong story line of the other Disney features" (particularly the "not very interesting" romance between Aurora and Phillip).[200] Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine praised the film's "limber, giddy" art style, calling it "one of [Disney's] studio’s most under-cherished works."[201] A Time Out reviewer wrote that although Sleeping Beauty "rarely achieves the heights of classics like Snow White and Dumbo, it still has its moments", highlighting its "polished if sometimes stodgy" animation, soundtrack, and the final confrontation between Maleficent and Phillip.[202]

In his book, The Disney Films, Leonard Maltin praised the film's design: "The fantastic effort and phenomenal expense do show up on the screen; it is unquestionably Disney’s most elaborate cartoon film."[203] Its animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, said on their website that Sleeping Beauty was "dazzling in color and design but lacked warmth."[204] The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that the film had an 89% approval rating based on 46 reviews, with an average rating of 8.2/10. According to its consensus, "This Disney dreamscape contains moments of grandeur, with its lush colors, magical air, [and] one of the most menacing villains in the Disney canon."[205] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 85 out of 100 from 12 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[206]

Accolades

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[207] Best Scoring of a Musical Picture George Bruns Nominated
Grammy Awards[208] Best Sound Track Album, Original Cast – Motion Picture or Television Sleeping Beauty Nominated
National Film Preservation Board[209] National Film Registry Inducted
Online Film & Television Association Awards[210][211] Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Inducted
Satellite Awards[212] Outstanding Overall Blu-Ray Disc Won
Outstanding Youth DVD Nominated
Saturn Awards[213] Best Classic Film DVD Release Nominated
Young Artist Awards[214] Best Musical Entertainment Featuring Youth – TV or Motion Picture Nominated

It has been recognized by the American Film Institute:

Legacy

Main article: Sleeping Beauty (franchise)

Since its original release in 1959, Sleeping Beauty has become one of the most artistically-acclaimed animated films ever produced; its artistic direction, background and color styling, and character animation have been praised.[37][68][93][218] It is considered one of the most influential Disney features by the animation industry, with animators such as Mike Gabriel and Michael Giaimo citing the film as inspiring them to enter the business.[39][219][220] Sleeping Beauty's background and color styling heavily influenced the design of the animated films such as Pocahontas (1995), Frozen (2013), Frozen II (2019), and Wish (2023).[93][221][222][223] Andreas Deja, Glen Keane, and Russ Edmonds were inspired by the film's design and animation for their characters in Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas (1995), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996).[93][115][224] In 2019, Sleeping Beauty was selected for preservation in the United States' National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[225]

Exterior of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, with visitors for scale
Originally conceived as Snow White's, Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland was named to help promote the film.[226]

In 1955, while the film was still in production, Sleeping Beauty Castle opened at Disneyland as a symbol of the park and a promotional tool for the film.[74] In 1957, Walt Disney and Shirley Temple opened an indoor walk-through exhibit with a series of dioramas depicting the story of Sleeping Beauty (designed by Eyvind Earle and Ken Anderson).[227][228] The walk-through was redesigned in 1977, replacing the original hand-painted displays with three-dimensional sets and doll-like figurines.[228] It was closed in 2001 due to declining attendance, although the September 11th attacks are also believed to be a factor.[229] The exhibit, refurbished to recreate the original 1957 dioramas, reopened in 2008.[229][230] The film's characters (particularly Princess Aurora and Maleficent) make regular appearances in the parks and parades, with Maleficent a villain in the nighttime show Fantasmic! at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios.[231]

Opened in 1992, Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris is a variant of Sleeping Beauty Castle with a gallery of displays illustrating the story of Sleeping Beauty in tapestries, stained-glass windows and figures.[232][233] The building also contains an animatronic version of Maleficent's dragon form, La Tanière du Dragon, in the lower-level dungeon.[234] Hong Kong Disneyland opened in 2005 with a Sleeping Beauty Castle nearly replicating Disneyland's design.[235] It was closed in 2018, redesigned as the Castle of Magical Dreams, and reopened in 2020.[236]

DisneyToon Studios released a 2007 direct-to-video animated film, Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams, featuring two new stories about Aurora and Jasmine from Aladdin (1992).[237] Many of Sleeping Beauty's characters make cameo appearances in the 2001–03 television series House of Mouse, as well as in the films Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and The Lion King 1½ (2004).[238] Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are recurring characters in the 2013–18 Disney Junior series Sofia the First, and Aurora makes a guest appearance in the "Holiday in Enchancia" episode.[239][240] With other Disney Princesses, Aurora appears in the 2018 film Ralph Breaks the Internet.[241] Like other Walt Disney Animation Studios characters, Sleeping Beauty characters have cameo appearances in the short film Once Upon a Studio (2023).[242]

A 2014 live-action adaptation of the film, Maleficent, tells the story from the perspective of the antagonist (played by Angelina Jolie).[243] It was followed by a sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, in 2019.[244] Live-action versions of Sleeping Beauty characters are featured in the 2011–18 fantasy television series Once Upon a Time (produced by Disney-owned ABC Studios), including Maleficent, Aurora, Prince Phillip, and King Stefan.[245][246][247][248] Maleficent is a main villain in the 2015 television film Descendants, which follows the teenage children of Disney's iconic heroes and villains (including Mal, Maleficent's daughter, and Audrey, the daughter of Aurora and Phillip).[249][250]

Maleficent is a recurring villain in the Square Enix/Disney Kingdom Hearts video-game series, and Aurora is one of the Princesses of Heart.[251][252] The Enchanted Dominion, a world based on the film, appears in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep.[253] Aurora, Phillip, and the Three Good Fairies are playable characters in the world-builder video game Disney Magic Kingdoms, with Maleficent its main antagonist.[254][255] An alternate version of Maleficent appears as a playable character in the video game Disney Mirrorverse (2022).[256]

A retrospective exhibition, Awaking Beauty: The Art of Eyvind Earle, was presented at the Walt Disney Family Museum from May 18, 2017 to January 8, 2018.[257] With over 250 works such as thumbnail paintings, concept artworks, and commercial illustrations, the exhibit reflected Eyvind Earle's biography and his work at the Walt Disney Studios (including his contribution to Sleeping Beauty).[258] An exhibition catalog was published by Weldon Owen on August 8, 2017.[259]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ The Queen's name is not mentioned in the film.[5] She is referred to as Leah in the film's 1993 book adaptation by A. L. Singer.[6]
  2. ^ The raven's name is not mentioned in the film. He was referred to as Diablo by the animators during the film's production.[7]
  3. ^ Michael Barrier, on the other hand, indicates that the film did not reach theaters until April 1959.[147]

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