Review by Roger Ash
Walt Disney has released a new 50th Anniversary version of their animated classic Sleeping Beauty on DVD, including a Blu-ray version, which makes this the first Disney animated film released in that format. However, I haven’t seen that version, so all my comments are about the standard version.
This film could easily be considered to be Eyvind Earle’s Sleeping Beauty. Earle was, uncharacteristically, given control over the design of the film by Walt Disney. As a result, this film has a look unique from any other Disney film and is highly stylized. If you don’t care for the design, I’d go so far as to say you won’t enjoy the movie. The look of the film is as, or more, important as the story and characters. As an aside, if P. Craig Russell wasn’t influenced by Earle’s art, I’ll eat one of my hats.
The film also differs from other Disney fairy tales in a few other ways. First, no talking animals. Yes, there are some cute anthropomorphic critters in one scene, but they act through pantomime and the only word you hear is “who”, spoken by an owl. Second, Prince Phillip is an actual character as opposed to the princes in many other Disney films, who often seem a bit flat. Third, and most striking, is that Princess Aurora’s mother is present in the film and, if you count the three good fairies who raise her, Aurora has four mothers.
This new DVD has the film in its intended aspect ratio for the first time (2.55:1 vs. 2.35:1 on the 2003 release). While this does add more background image, I didn’t notice any significant difference in what’s on the screen as far as the animation is concerned.
Before we go on, I have a confession to make. I’m a huge Disney animation fan, so my view may be somewhat biased. That said, if you’re a fan of classic, hand-drawn animation; fairy tales; Disney films; or any combination of these, this is a wonderful DVD set and is a worthwhile addition to your collection. But what if you’re like me and have the previous Sleeping Beauty DVD? Is this new version worth purchasing? I’d say yes.
I do like the fact that it’s presented in the intended aspect ration. The colors in this new version of the film are brighter than the previous version, but that’s not always a good thing. Sometimes, the colors seem overly bright. They actually hurt my eyes once or twice. It can also ruin the mood of a scene. For example, the escape from the evil Maleficent’s castle loses some of its menace as it loses some of its darkness. Also, I prefer the THX sound on the 2003 release. The new Disney Enhanced Home Theater Surround Sound mix sometimes seems to do surround effects because they can, not because it makes sense to do so.
The bonus features are where the Platinum Edition really stands out. Highlights for me include deleted songs and an alternate opening sequence. It’s interesting to see how the film started as a more typical Disney animated movie before it moved in a different direction. There are also excellent documentaries about the making of the film and designer Eyvind Earle.
There is a new commentary from the team of Disney animator Andreas Deja; Pixar & Disney Animation head honcho John Lasseter; and film critic and Disney fan Leonard Maltin. The commentary also includes classic recordings of people who worked on the film, such as Walt Disney animator Ollie Johnston. This is a nice general commentary about the movie and can be enjoyed by anyone. However, I wish they would have included the commentary from the 2003 release as well, as it’s geared more for the animation fan.
Bottom line: if you don’t have this movie, the new Sleeping Beauty Platinum Edition is a good buy. If you have the 2003 Special Edition, this new version is worth picking up, but hang onto the 2003 version as it has some nice features that aren’t on the new version.
Guest reviewer Roger Ash edits the catalog and web content for Westfield Comics. He interviewed Mike Ploog for the upcoming Modern Masters volume focusing on him, due out next month, as well as writing about Howard the Duck for Back Issue #31. My thanks to him for lending his expertise on the subject of Disney animation.
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