Feature: Sleeping Beauty Celebrates 50th Anniversary at the El Capitan
Fri, 29 Aug 2008 12:26:23
Mary Costa Videos
During a turning point in the Disney classic Sleeping Beauty, the embodiment of all evil, Maleficent, exclaims, "For the first time in 16 years, I shall sleep well." That remark resonates on a few levels. Even after 50 years and a seeming slumber in the "to-be-revived" section of the Disney backlog, Sleeping Beauty is just as magical and powerful as ever. In fact, it's gotten even better with age due to a 21st century makeover.
Disney held a premiere screening for the film's 50th anniversary and impending October 7th Platinum Edition DVD release at the ornate El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. Before seeing the film, the crowd got up close and personal with an assortment of the team behind Sleeping Beauty, including the title princess' voice, Miss Mary Costa. They sat onstage for an interview that spanned everything from Disneyland's evolution alongside the film to the animation process and lengthy creative development period. Beyond that discussion, each guest added something about the legend of Walt Disney himself. Though he proved truly elusive, Walt was just as magical as every tale to be born under the Disney umbrella.
“Walt came to our door and [said], 'I heard you were hiding our Princess Aurora...' I couldn't believe it.”
Costa relayed one story about the man behind the mouse that elicited a massive response. Walt came to her family's house in Glendale, California to personally announce that she got the part of Princess Aurora, better known as Sleeping Beauty. She spoke with a clear reverence stating, "Walt came to our door and told my mother, 'I heard you were hiding our Princess Aurora in Glendale by our studio.' I couldn't believe it. On the way out, he just said, 'Don't catch a cold, and you can call me Walt.' I didn't call him that for a long time!" Her reverence for Disney's genius came through warmly, and the crowd's anticipation for the film had heightened at that point. No popcorn runs followed.
From the adorable little girls in princess gowns to the Blackberry-wielding industry types, everyone's eyes were completely transfixed on the screen as soon as the film started rolling. Disney films have become the equivalent of 21st Century opera. The stories move symphonically with epic themes that appeal to every generation.
Sleeping Beauty is no exception. It is, in fact, a flawless film. It moves like a classic aria, and every element is entrancing. As the story goes, Princess Aurora is born, but the evil, strangely satanic-looking Maleficent curses her. Uninvited to Aurora's birth, she appears and promises that the Princess will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die upon her 16th birthday. With that, she disappears. Even though a charming Prince Phillip has been chosen as her suitor, nothing can prevent her fate. So, Aurora's father King Stefan destroys every spinning wheel in his kingdom, and he allows his daughter into the care of three loving and maternal fairies—Merryweather, Fauna, and Flora. Aurora spends years in safety, but Maleficent's right hand raven finds her at Sweet 16. It's then that she enters her "eternal slumber," until her true love arrives to save her.
It's straightforward and simple, but great things often are. The song "Once Upon a Dream" propels the musical vignettes and ties numerous plot points together as the film casts its hazy, dreamlike spell. The animation has become more vibrant than ever with the latest transfer. Unlike the modern stylings of most Disney animation, Sleeping Beauty features a gothic aesthetic. It's classic 2-D at its best, and it's utterly picturesque. The storybook nature comes to life even further because of this unique look, from the castle spires to the starry backdrops. The forest of thorns and Maleficent's castle evoke true evil, while the fairies' home possesses a tangible warmth that comes through with the vibrant colors.
The voice acting in the film is top notch, and the animated characters' movement is fluid and seamless over the incredibly deep and engrossing backgrounds. They're like old fashioned portraits brought to life in some radically magical museum. There's just something about hand drawn films that will never get staid. It's these organic flourishes that make them real, a beautiful reminder of one's childhood.
Ultimately, there's no reason to sleep on watching this again. Thank Walt for one of the most hypnotic and dreamy masterpieces ever committed to film.