Ranking Disney: #6 – Sleeping Beauty (1959)
On purely animation terms, Sleeping Beauty might be the best thing they’ve ever done. I am in awe of every frame of this movie. Narratively, it’s not top five. But putting the two together — this is about right. Maybe I’m putting it a little high, due to my love of the visuals (plus, I’m aware Snow White is a top five, so, by default I’m putting it a bit high), but I still contend this is one of the top six or seven films Disney has ever made. This (along with Snow White and Cinderella) is really the template for all the Disney princess films.
This is also the film, I feel, that a lot of people think highly of, and go, “Oh, yeah, it’s a classic,” but no one really watches it all that much. I feel like most people (especially those who grew up in the 90s, like I did) would find it kind of slow. I understand that criticism and all, but — watch this film in 1080p, and you let me know whether or not this remains one of the best things they’ve ever made. Wait until you see these screenshots.
The film begins with a fairytale prologue, much like Snow White and Cinderella – the other Disney princess films until this point.
Actually, I’ll just let the film handle the prologue itself…
And on that joyous day, we see the king and queen being given gifts and taking visitors like Don Corleone on the day of his daughter’s wedding.
A neighboring king shows up with Prince Phillip, who is to be betrothed to Aurora, eventually (naturally the man has to be 25 and the girl 18, because that’s how these things work). And the three fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather – dressed entirely in the three primary film colors – red, blue and green (Flora wears red, Fauna, green, and Merryweather wears blue) — show up to give gifts to Aurora.
Flora gives her the gift of beauty, Fauna gives her the gift of song, and before Merryweather can give her gift – Maleficent shows up.
She enters like the Wicked Witch of the West, too, which is a nice way to let you know immediately that this bitch is evil.
She also looks a lot like the Queen from Snow White, which helps. She wonders why she wasn’t invited to the occasion. Merryweather says it’s because she wasn’t wanted. Maleficent then decides to bestow a “gift” on Aurora as well, which one might also call a curse. I guess it’s tomato, tomahto when you’re evil.
She says that on the night before Aurora’s 16th birthday (or, right, the guy is 21, she’s 16. That age difference is much more appropriate in that century), Aurora will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, and die. And then she exits like a badass.
Then they realize that Merryweather still needs to give her gift, so, since she can’t undo the curse, she says that Aurora won’t die if she pricks her finger, but rather go to sleep. And she’ll remain sleeping until true love’s kiss breaks the spell. (Why not just make it so she has a hangover and wakes up the next morning?)
But the king is a superstitious man, so he has all the spinning wheels in the kingdom burned. How they get their clothes from now on is beyond me.
But Flora has a different idea. She decides to have the three of them act as peasant women and raise Aurora deep in the forest. And the king and queen send their daughter away, and the kingdom falls into deep sadness. (So that spinning wheel thing was basically pointless.)
(Oh, don’t you worry, I’m well aware of the pun.)
Then we cut to sixteen years later. Maleficent is pissed because she hasn’t been able to find any trace of Aurora anywhere. She’s even more pissed when she finds out her henchmen had been, these past sixteen years, looking for a baby. (Because they’re stupid, as all henchmen must be. I guess anyone who lives in the condition these fuckers live in — why do all Disney villains’ hideouts look like the homes of fucking serial killers? Oh, I guess I answered my own question — seriously, though. Henchmen must be stupid to be treated like shit and hang around an evil person whose castle is just dilapidated stone. How the fuck do they eat? What do they do for fun? Jesus christ.) She sends her pet raven to go find Aurora.
Meanwhile, deep in the forest, we look in on the three fairies, who’ve been raising Aurora all this time. It’s now Aurora’s sixteenth birthday, and the fairies are planning a surprise party for her (where they’ll tell her that she’s really the lost princess). They send her out of the house to pick berries so they can set everything up. They then go about making her a cake and a dress.
Aurora then goes to the forest and sings to all the animals, because if there’s one trait Disney princesses have in common, it’s that animals love them.
So she sings to the birds and the rabbits and the squirrels and the owls. And Prince Phillip (all grown up), who is riding thought the forest on his horse (which interacts with him the way the other animals do with Aurora) for some reason, hears her and decides he must find out who that beautiful voice belongs to.
And Aurora sings about finding her true love (as all the princesses do. It brings all the boys to the yard), and talks about finding him, but only in a dream. The animals see Prince Phillip’s hat and coat and boots in another part of the forest and steal them. They put them around the owl and pretend to be her dream prince.
And she sings “Once Upon a Dream,” as Prince Phillip arrives (after his belongings) and sees her. And he comes over, just like the Prince in Snow White, and just starts waltzing with her.
And he waltzes with her, and the two fall in love immediately as all Disney princes and princesses do. And they go off and have the most famous dance in Disney history.
And he asks her name, but she remembers the fairies’ orders not to tell anybody her name. So she rushes home, telling him to meet her later at the cottage in the glen.
Meanwhile, back at the cottage, the fairies realize they can’t do things as well without magic as they could with magic, so they get their wands out. They plug up all the windows to make sure no one sees them using magic.
Only, Merryweather wants Aurora’s dress to be blue, while Flora wants it to be pink, and they get into a magic fight, trying to change the color back and forth, and it sends all these blasts of magic up the chimney, which are spotted by Maleficent’s raven.
Aurora returns and tells of how she met a wonderful man, which causes the fairies to tell her the truth – that she’s actually a princess and is betrothed to Prince Phillip (who she doesn’t know is the man she met). They think this will make her happy, only it makes her sad, since she loves the man. And the raven overhears this and rushes back to tell Maleficent.
(Look at that fucking image! Beautiful!)
Meanwhile, at the castle, Aurora’s father and Phillip’s father drink to the uniting of their two kingdoms. Phillip’s father wants to rush the wedding, but Aurora’s father is nervous, since he hasn’t even seen his daughter yet, and because he worries that she won’t love Phillip. Phillip’s father says that’s nonsense, then runs into Phillip and finds out he loves this “peasant girl,” and worries what he’s going to say to Aurora’s father.
The fairies sneak Aurora into the castle at night, but Aurora doesn’t care about being a princess. All she wants is to be with the man she met in the forest. The fairies decide to give her a few minutes to be alone, which is when Maleficent strikes.
She sends a green flame to entrance Aurora and lead her through a secret passage behind the fireplace, which leads up to a hidden tower in the castle.
The flame turns into a spinning wheel, and Aurora touches it, and the prophecy is complete.
The fairies then decide to put the entire kingdom to sleep until they can wake up Aurora.
As they do, Flora overhears Phillip’s father mention how Phillip has fallen in love with a peasant girl, and realizes he is the same man Aurora met in the forest. They rush off to the cottage to meet him.
And at the cottage, Phillip is captured by Maleficent, who is leaving nothing to chance. The fairies arrive later on and realize Maleficent has Phillip. They rush off to Maleficent’s castle.
They go down to the dungeon to see Maleficent explaining her plan to Phillip (classic Bond villain mistake) – she’s going to keep him in the dungeon for a hundred years, and then send him off to wake up Aurora with love’s first kiss. Presumably, she’ll be so horrified that he’s 100, or it’ll be sickly perverse for Maleficent to watch Aurora be in love with a hundred-year-old man (since her sleep does not age her a day).
Then Maleficent goes off to sleep (the first ‘good’ sleep she’s had in sixteen years), and the fairies bust Phillip out of there, Alcatraz-style. They equip him with a shield of virtue and a sword of truth, which will fuck Maleficent’s day right up. But as they leave, Maleficent’s raven (who was suspicious of something), sees them and goes off to warn the guards. They come down and Phillip escapes outside to his horse.
The fairies do their best to help, turning falling rocks into bubbles, arrows into flowers and boiling water into a rainbow (and even Maleficent’s raven into stone), but eventually Maleficent is woken up and sees her raven turned to stone and Phillip escaping.
This of course, pisses her off, and she rains down lightning bolts to keep him from escaping.
This doesn’t work, so she casts a spell of a forest of thorns, which she figures he’ll never get through.
But he actually does. And this of course leads to that villain moment of, “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” and she goes down there to fight him.
And to stack the odds in her favor, she turns herself into a dragon. (Attention, Madam Mim, this is how you do it.)
Undeterred, Phillip goes and fights her.
(This is one of the most copied/famous shots in Disney history, to boot.)
And eventually he throws his sword through her heart and she dies.
And then she just fucking disappears. That’s the key with true evil — bad people will just die. Evil people will fucking dissipate.
And all the spells are broken, and Phillip runs up to the tower, and kisses Aurora.
And she wakes up.
And then they get married and live happily ever after.
The film ends with them waltzing in the clouds, with Aurora’s dress changing from blue to pink as they dance, and them fading back into the storybook.
This movie is perfect. That’s all I have to say.
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Official Disney Number: #16
Run Time: 75 minutes
Release Date: January 29, 1959
Budget: $6 million
Box Office: $36.5 million in initial release, and $51.6 million all-time, domestically
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- “Hail the Princess Aurora,” performed by Chorus
- “One Gift,” performed by Chorus
- “I Wonder,” performed by Mary Costa
- “Once Upon a Dream,” performed by Mary Costa
- “The Skumps Song,” performed by Taylor Holmes and Bill Thompson
- “Sleeping Beauty,” performed by Chorus
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- The film was nominated for Best Scoring of a Musical. (It lost to Porgy and Bess, a musical.) Somehow it was not nominated for Best Original Song for “Once Upon a Dream.” (“High Hopes,” from A Hole in te Head won Best Original Song that year, which is a good song, but isn’t “Once Upon a Dream.”)
- The first Disney film to be created for 70mm. (It shows.)
- The look of the film was inspired by European medieval painting and architecture.
- For the first time on a Disney film, one man was in charge of the overall look of the film.
- This is the last Disney feature to have cels inked by hand. After this, they xeroxed all the cells.
- This holds the record for longest production schedule for a Disney film (7 years), tied with The Black Cauldron.
- Aurora only has about 18 lines of dialogue in the entire film (not counting songs), and apparently only appears in the film for 18 minutes. Her first line isn’t until 19 minutes into the film, and her last line is 39 minutes into the film. Jesus.
- Apparently Aurora’s body was inspired by Audrey Hepburn. (I love Audrey.)
- Also, apparently Walt’s mantra while making this was “It can’t look like Snow White.”
- This was the last fairy tale produced by Disney until The Little Mermaid. (Coincidence?)
- Much of the score is based on Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” ballet.
- I love this piece of trivia: they used a flamethrower to create the dragon breath sound at the end of the film.
- There’s a hidden Mickey in the film. Merryweather bakes cookies in the shape of Mickey. (No screenshot.)
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1. Storybook opening.
2. This pan down from all the banners to the long shot of the throne was repeated in The Sword in the Stone.
3. Negative coloring. Lots of it. Also, I’d like to point out that this was really the first instance where I noticed that negative coloring was a thing. I was taking screenshots of this back when I got the DVD and I happened to pause on this first shot and went, “Wow, this looks great.” And I took a screenshot of it and kept it, even though no one ever had any idea where it was from. And then when I started watching the other films, I went, “Wow, they do this a lot.”
4. The thing that separates (to me, at least), great framing from amateur framing (in Disney and in any movie), is that little something in the corner of the frame that fills it out. You don’t need the silhouette of the guard there in the foreground, but there he is. And it just makes the image better. (Plus, they also let the shot linger a little bit, which is something films nowadays do all too little of.)
5. Creepy castle shot. Also, negative coloring.
6. Pushing through the foliage. Beautiful. Even if they didn’t — classic Disney shot, that particular forest shot.
7. Added to the one up top — the framing of an object by foliage. Classic Disney.
8. Your classic Disney princess singing out a window shot.
9. Characters walking over a log/downed tree. Films like this are what make shots like this Classic Disney.
10. I also love that they push in from her walking on the log down to him. Not to mention — framing. This is one of the best shots in Disney history. (So is the waltz.)
11. Horse with personality. Also clearly the basis for the Maximus character in Tangled.
12. Disney princess talking to animals.
13. Sad princess shot. (They directly reference this in Tangled.)
14. Love me some dawn shots.
15. Heroes and villain walking up stone spiral staircases.
16. Characters reflected in the water.
17. This reminds me of Merlin’s tower in Sword in the Stone.
18. This reminds me of the titans descending on Mt. Olympus in Hercules. (They must have been referencing this in that.)
19. More of a tower shot than a window shot, but also kind of a window shot. (They pretty much repeated this shot in Sword in the Stone. Also, just something I wanted to mention — all the “window” shots in this movie are shown from inside the window. That’s pretty rare for them. I like it. You get a lot of those great outside shots inside the frame of the window. The second image on this one is an example of that.)
20. The waltz. You know Beauty and the Beast was referencing this.
21. Maleficent’s hideout reminds me of the Horned King’s place in The Black Cauldron.
22. I love this image. They also did the same thing in Alice in Wonderland.
23. I’m just gonna end the article with a series of beautiful images from the film, because you just have too. They’re too good-looking to not post. (And trust me. There are a lot more where these came from. You can pretty much take screenshots of every shot in this film.)