Sleeping Beauty (Blu-ray)
Directed by Clyde Geronimi
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 75 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English
MSRP: $ 35.99
Release Date: October 7, 2008
Review Date: October 15, 2008
On the subject of Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, I simply cannot be objective. Ever since first seeing it as a boy of eleven, it has been my favorite piece of Disney animation. Its ebullient mix of music, merriment, and menace has touched something in me that my other Disney favorites like Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Bambi, and Dumbo, all more generally critically acclaimed than Sleeping Beauty by others, didn’t. Sure, the widescreen magnificence and stereophonic sound of the theatrical presentation was likely one reason the film swept me away as a child, but I think even now, I respond to the intricacies of the animation, that unique combination of the stately yet stylized backgrounds and the staggeringly detailed attention to the characters that bring me back to repeated viewings of the movie several times a year. Like many fans, I’ve owned it in most of its video incarnations: the wretched panned and scanned videotape, the deluxe laserdisc edition, and its most recent 2003 two-disc DVD release. But ever since its announced release as Disney’s first foray into Blu-ray for its animated classics, I’ve wondered how well its $6 million original production cost (in its day, by far the most expensive animated film ever made) would translate into high definition. After a long wait, I finally have an answer: a breathtaking success.
Outraged about being omitted from the list of invited guests for the presentation of their newly born baby daughter, wicked sorceress Maleficent (Eleanor Audley) casts a spell on Princess Aurora (Mary Costa) that she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel before her sixteenth birthday and die. Unable to completely defeat the evil spell, the good fairy Merryweather (Barbara Luddy) alters the spell to one of everlasting sleep until awakened by true love’s first kiss. To further impede the possibility of the spell’s inevitable result, Merryweather together with her two friends Flora (Verna Felton) and Fauna (Barbara Jo Allen) take the princess deep into the forest to live as peasants until the danger is over and the young royal can be returned to her parents. On the day of her sixteenth birthday, however, the princess meets a young man (Bill Shirley) in the forest and falls in love with him, unaware that he’s Prince Philip, the man she’s been betrothed to since birth. Sadly for her, their meeting for that evening is interrupted when the fairies take her back to the palace to the arms of her eager parents. But Maleficent isn’t done with her spells, and she quickly takes action to see that her original pronouncement can come true.
There is no denying that the adaptation of the original Charles Perrault version of the fairy tale by Disney writer Erdman Penner has Disneyfication written all over it with the three fairies alternately doting (Flora), dotty (Fauna), and sassy (Merryweather), warring over things like the color of Aurora‘s ball gown and how the cottage should be cleaned, the achingly stupid henchmen of Maleficent who have no luck finding the princess despite their best efforts leaving the dirty work to the witch‘s toxic raven, and the ultimate confrontation between good and evil raising the excitement level of the piece to a spirited and even frightening crescendo. Still, those very elements give the film its unique enchantment, a combination of the mirthful and the macabre that have kept it a favorite despite its initial lukewarm reception by both critics and public.
The casting is superlative in all of the roles. The three fairies are played by actresses who either had experience in Disney features or adapted well to its demands, and their individual performances give Sleeping Beauty much of its most distinctive identity. Mary Costa’s operatic training acquits her well in handling the musical portions of the film for Princess Aurora with songs adapted from Peter Tchaikovsky’s ballet of the story, and she’s a believable innocent in the story portions, too, as she surrenders to the lure of first love. But the film’s pièce de résistance is Eleanor Audley’s magnificent performance as the malevolent Maleficent. Already acclaimed as the best wicked stepmother ever in Disney’s Cinderella, she takes her poisonous intentions to new heights as evil personified as the venomous sorceress. I remember vividly my terror in her final transformation at the film’s climax, and those moments are among the most intense in any Disney animated feature.
Sleeping Beauty’s peerless sophistication in animation with those stunning Eyvind Earle designed background paintings that give the film a stately brilliance and the classic music adapted by George Bruns make it one of the all-time classics, and it’s a thrill to finally see its magnificence captured forever in this stunning Blu-ray achievement.
The film has been framed at 2.55:1 in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Any discussions about original aspect ratios seem somewhat pointless when scouring the matchless beauty of every inch of this transfer. There are a couple of places that display a momentary flickering, and one odd moment where the film seems to freeze at the end of a shot (a layer change?); however, there ends my complaints about the transfer. The depth of color without blooming, the endless details in those astonishing background paintings (I paused on the forest scenes several times to drink in the depth of intricate detail in the artwork), and the three dimensional clarity without a hint of banding or other artifacts make this a thing of rare beauty. The film has been divided into 30 chapters.
I have never been satisfied with any of the audio mixes for the various home video incarnations of Sleeping Beauty before, so the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix for this new edition came as something of a delightful surprise. There is more directionialized dialog and singing than ever before, and more bass than I have ever heard delivered in the soundtrack even in theatrical showings I’ve experienced. Finally, the subwoofer has something to do during the 75 minutes of the film! There are moments when that directionialzed speech is ineffective, however, drowned out by music in other channels, and I might have wished for just a bit more thundering oomph in the climactic encounter with the dragon. Still, the orchestrations are lush and beautifully delivered in the repurposed lossless track, finally coming close to matching the splendor of the visuals in this stupendous achievement.
Disc one offers the Cine-Explore PiP video/audio commentary supplemented with artwork, photos, video clips and narrated by Disney historian Leonard Maltin and Disney animation executives John Lasseter and Andreas Deja.
For those who want to only listen and not have the lustrous picture quality spoiled by pop-ups, the audio commentary portion of the Cine-Explore experience may be selected instead.
Exclusive to Blu-ray is “Dragon Encounter,” a new 4 ¾ minute audio-visual first person interactive experience in the dungeon of Maleficent’s castle. Utilizing a stunning 1080p picture and DTS-HD MA sound that will rattle the rafters, it’s a fun little short.
“Grand Canyon” is Disney’s 29-minute Oscar-winning short subject using “The Grand Canyon Suite” to accompany stunning images of one of our country’s natural wonders. It’s also in 1080p and DTS-HD MA sound.
A music video by Disney Channel star Emily Osment singing “Once Upon a Dream” runs 3 ½ minutes.
Five songs from the score of the film are given the singalong treatment using subtitles and taking the singer to the portions of the film where they occur.
The viewer may choose to watch the film with Princess Pop-Up Facts turned on, small bits of trivia which occur constantly during the film.
The BD-Live experience was not loading properly during the time I did this review. This is an aspect of the disc I will revisit when I get things working smoothly on the network end.
The majority of bonus items come on Disc Two.
The Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk Through recreates the popular walk through attraction from Disneyland which was closed down in 1977. The viewer can go through without stopping in 7 ½ minutes or use the viewer interactive buttons to pause and peruse the various exhibits in the walk through. It’s presented in 1080p.
The History of the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk Through is a 9 ¾-minute history lesson on the exhibit’s origins and changes over its twenty years of operation. The discussion is presented in 1080i.
“Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty” is an exhaustive 43 ½-minute description of the years of effort which went into making this zenith of Disney’s traditional animation features. It’s offered in 1080i.
“Eyvind Earle: The Man and His Art” is a too-brief 7 ½-minute mini-biography of the great artist, not only about his work on Sleeping Beauty but also his career as a portrait painter and his difficult early years. It’s presented in 1080i.
“Sequence 8” gives valuable background information on the infamously expensive forest meeting of Aurora and Philip which took well over a year to animate going way over budget in the process. This 1080i featurette runs 5 ½ minutes.
The disc offers an alternate opening to the movie using vocal tracks and storyboards and featuring the original song “Holiday.” This is presented in 1080p.
Three deleted songs are offered for viewer selection, and they’re backed with storyboards and film clips for the sequences: “I Happened to Have a Picture,” “Riddle Diddle,” and “Go to Sleep.”
Two storyboard sequences are presented to contrast with the actual footage from the film: the “Put to Sleep” sequence and the “Capture the Prince” moment. Both are presented in 480i.
Three of the live action reference films are offered for viewing in 480i and running a total of 2 ¼ minutes.
Art Galleries are available for perusing on a number of different topics: Visual Design, Character Development, The Storybook, Background Layouts, Storyboards, Production Pictures, Live Actions Photographs, and Publicity.
“Restoring the Soundtrack” is an interesting featurette on the original recordings of the music and the restoration of the audio for its inclusion on the Blu-ray release. This informative feature runs 10 ¾ minutes in 1080p.
Three trailers are available for viewing in 480i. The original teaser trailer runs 1 ¾ minutes, while the theatrical trailer runs 3 minutes, and the reissue trailer runs 1 ½ minutes.
“The Peter Tchaikovsky Story” is the 49-minute episode of Walt Disney Presents which introduced excerpts from Sleeping Beauty to a national audience by presenting a rudimentary biography of the composer (played by Grant Williams) of the famous ballet which provided the basis of the movie’s musical score. Partially in color and presented in 1080p, the Blu-ray offers two versions of the program with slightly different introductions of the show from Walt Disney.
“4 Artists Paint 1 Tree” is an entertaining look at four of the studio's in-house artists: Eyvind Earle, Joshua Meador, Marc Davis, and Walt Peregoy as they paint the same oak tree with wildly different results. Presented in 1080p, this short runs 16 minutes.
Three additional children’s games are offered on the Blu-ray: a magical guessing game where Maleficent uses her glowing orb to read your mind, a combination dance game and waltz lesson, and a basic language activity for the very young.
The package also includes a standard edition of Sleeping Beauty on DVD.
At long last, we have a Sleeping Beauty on home video that one imagines Walt Disney would have thought is worthy of the time, effort, and money that was poured into the original project. This package offers tremendous bang for the buck, a splendid audio and video mounting with enough special features to satisfy most fans plus a standard DVD version of the film which can be used in any player, not just a digital copy. Without question, this one comes highly recommended.