24 July 2004 | rapt0r_claw-1
One of Disney's best
Simplest possible explanation of what cements Sleeping Beauty's place as an immortal classic: Maleficent.
Sleeping Beauty was never one of my favorite Disney movies, my parents having lost the tape really early. Since maybe ten years I haven't seen the movie, but now, after seeing it again, I have to admit, it's a masterpiece. I don't understand why it was so berated on first release. Where the critics expecting Snow White? 'Cause this is no Snow White. It's much better.
A long, long time ago, in a kingdom far, far away, King Stefan and the Queen have a daughter, Aurora, so-called because she brought sunshine to their lives. There is a great celebration, and the neighboring kingdom's Prince Phillip is betrothed to Aurora. The three Good Fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, are invited. Flora and Fauna bestow gifts of beauty and song upon Aurora. Before Merryweather can cast her spell, the uninvited Maleficent--the Mistress of All Evil--arrives, furious at not being invited. She curses Aurora, predicting that at the age of sixteen the princess will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning-wheel and die. Merryweather counteracts this by making Aurora go into a deep sleep were she ever to prick her finger, to be reawakened by true love's first kiss. To keep her safe, the fairies take her into the forest, no longer using magic, and calling Aurora Briar Rose. The princess knows nothing of her heritage, and meets no other humans, except for a man "Once Upon A Dream".
One of the greatest things about the movie is the style. The contrast between characters and surroundings (except for Maleficent) is stark. The backgrounds and layouts are colorful, stylized, round and angular at the same time. The characters, however, aim for total realism, except for the minor ones, who are clearly cartoon characters. The animation is beautiful. The movements smooth, the artistry unbelievably high quality. If there was no other likable thing about the movie, the animation would go a long way to saving it.
The story of Sleeping Beauty is, of course, set in stone. Despite everyone's complete familiarity with the fairy tale, the movie manages to enliven it and make it gripping, even though everyone has heard it a thousand times. A most definite improvement in the story is the scene in which Aurora pricks her finger. In the original the spinning-wheel was owned by an innocent old peasant, who just happened to own the last wheel in the land, unnoticed by the rest of the world. In the movie Maleficent hypnotizes Aurora, and commands her to prick her finger. In addition to the atmosphere of foreboding already present in the story, the movie adds genuine suspense, largely owing to the brilliant presence of the wicked fairy.
The characterization is very different from other Disney movies in some ways, but very like others. Usually in Disney's princess movies, the princess herself is something of a cypher, a passive element. This is true for Sleeping Beauty (she has no control over the three basic actions in the movie). The prince usually has an even more minute part, although the story would be nothing without him. Not so this movie. Here Phillip is a much more active character, a hero who battles dragons and witches, who goes through all sorts of hazards. In Snow White all the unnamed prince does is show up and kiss our heroine, in Cinderella Charming risks nothing and is nothing but a prop. But the ultimate character is, of course, Maleficent. Supervised by Disney's women's animator-in-chief, Marc Davis, hers has to be one of the great performances in animation. She is brilliantly drawn, amazingly voiced, and the dragon she transforms into is not just a dragon: it is HER particular dragon (a method taken to greater lengths in The Sword in the Stone). She is magnificent. The three fairies are quarrelsome all right, but they are caricatures that convey particularly clearly their good-naturalness.
Sleeping Beauty is one of those irreplaceable masterpieces. It is a magnificent retelling of a classic fairy tale, with no undue distortion of the source material. Come to think of it, the story EXISTS to be made into a movie; it's just perfect. And near-perfection is what Disney achieved.