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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28.57%
Average: 2.86%
Pretty Bad: 2.86%
Total Crap: 2.86%

2 reviews, 23 user ratings

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Sleeping Beauty (1959)
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by Jay Seaver

"Worth seeing without a reminder."
4 stars

As much as I'm a fan of animation in general and Disney in particular, and have dutifully purchased "Sleeping Beauty" on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray lest it disappear into the vault on me, it took not wanting to see "Maleficent" without watching this first to actually get it in front of my eyeballs for the first time since I was a kid (if I saw it then). There are bits of the story that don't necessarily hold up to grown-up scrutiny, but it's certainly one of the most stylish of the Disney classics.

There are many interpretations of the story; this one primarily draws from the Charles Perrault version and has the whole kingdom and dignitaries from neighboring ones attending the christening of Princess Aurora - except, that is, for Maleficent (voice of Eleanor Audley), the witch with the castle on the forbidden mountain, who takes the snub very personally indeed, cursing Aurora to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die by nightfall on her sixteenth birthday. Fortunately, the third of the magical gifts that a trio of visiting fairies (voices of Verna Felton, Barbara Jo Allen, and Barbara Luddy) has not yet been bestowed, and it can mitigate things somewhat, to a sleep that can be broken by true love's kiss. Of course, everyone involved would rather it not come to that, so King Stefan (voice of Taylor Holmes) burns every the spinning wheels in the kingdom and has the fairies hide Aurora. She grows to a young woman (voice of Mary Costa) under the name Briar Rose, having no idea of her true identity or that the young man she meets days before her sixteenth birthday is Prince Philip (voice of Bill Shirley), to whom she was betrothed at birth.

There are a lot of bits of the script that don't make a whole lot of sense - despite there being over a half-dozen people credited with some variation of "story", it's amazing how completely they punt figuring out a reasonable way for Aurora to actually prick her finger on the spindle; the fairies seem to operate under some fairly arbitrary rules, too. But there are some impressive bits, too - the title character may only be on screen and active for about twenty of the movie's scant seventy-five minutes, but she actually becomes a surprisingly memorable character. It's a surprisingly effective job of getting Philip and Aurora/Rose up to "true love's kiss" potential without appealing to destiny or the like.

While the story ends up functional, the execution of it on-screen is really exceptional. Sleeping Beauty was created with 70mm projection in mind, and the fantastically detailed backgrounds take great advantage of that. It's a look that's almost three-dimensional, especially compared to other animated films of its period. The rest of the design is just as good, with a surreal look to the landscape that complements the angular look many of the characters have, especially Aurora and Maleficent (although the way the animators use the squat designs for the fairies is nifty, too). George Bruns's adaptation of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty ballet for the score is excellent as well, especially as the characters sometimes seem to have a grace in their movements to it that isn't dance or obvious rotoscoping.

Given how scattered the focus on the protagonists is - "Sleeping Beauty" isn't going to actually do much by nature, Phillip doesn't show up until fairly late, and the fairies are comic-relief characters at heart - it's no wonder that Maleficent winds up stealing the show; she's unrepentantly villainous but given a charismatic vocal performance by Eleanor Audley. The movie springs to greater life when she's on screen, although not so much that she blots the rest of the movie out.

"Sleeping Beauty" has style to spare; it's probably got the most distinctive look of any of the animated features Walt Disney supervised personally (non-"Fantasia" division). That's arguably enough to elevate it to "classic" status, certainly enough to make the live-action remake that just came out a questionable decision.

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originally posted: 07/01/14 12:43:07
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User Comments

10/20/11 Magic It's style over substance all right. But my god, what style! And also, Maleficent. 5 stars
2/26/10 Rob Ranks with the very best of Disney's classics 5 stars
4/22/09 Dominic REGINA looks like AURORA,ARIEL and BELLE. 5 stars
8/23/08 Little Buddy Sleeping Beauty is my favorite movie with Rock-A-Doodle and Anastasia. 5 stars
3/05/08 Ringbearer Loved this. I used to have a crush on Maleficent; Cinderella was released in 1950 not 1953. 5 stars
2/25/07 Dark Enchantress my fav disney movie! I love malifiecent! 5 stars
9/13/04 donna i like the film 5 stars
7/05/04 Jeremy Credits listed wrong -- Verna Felton is FLORA, and Lady from Lady & The Tramp was PEGGY LEE 5 stars
6/22/04 Sean Scanlan Wonderful animation 5 stars
5/15/04 Sean Scanlan A family treat 5 stars
3/31/04 Rachel Very classic Walt Disney. All themes and motifs are present. 5 stars
3/28/04 john unfortunately just doesn't come together - average animation and unfocused story 2 stars
2/21/04 Denise Duspiva Dumb blond has a prince rescue her 3 stars
2/10/04 FAF TOTAL CRAP 1 stars
12/24/03 Snickerdoodle My favorite of the old Disney movies. The three fairies rock! 5 stars
11/28/03 Anna Richardson Sleeping Beauty is a really good movie. It's my very favorite Disney movie of all time. 5 stars
11/13/03 dania magical! 4 stars
10/27/03 R.W. Welch Age old tale revitalized by imaginative animation & effective score. 4 stars
10/26/03 Two-G - horror_blood2 (aka Double G) Though not horror flick, good child movie i enjoyed when young. Good Ol' Days:(Sadly Missed 5 stars
10/26/03 Victoria Otto Sleeping Beauty is the best movie of all time! 5 stars
7/25/03 Nicole Probably the first Disney movie I ever saw and still my favorite! 5 stars
7/23/03 Charles Tatum Actually, kinda creepy when you get right down to it 4 stars
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  29-Jan-1959 (G)
  DVD: 07-Oct-2008



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