Sleeping Beauty
October 7, 2008

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.

Sleeping Beauty cover
Sleeping Beauty
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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.

11 Responses  
Kelson writes:  

Sleeping Beauty is probably my favorite of the classic Disney films. Beauty and the Beast would be my favorite of the modern films.

Of course, given Disney’s tendency to pull their animated features off the market quickly, now I need to decide whether to just get the DVD or grab the Blu-Ray and hang onto it until the day I eventually get an HDTV and a Blu-Ray player.

Dave Rose writes:  

I’m going to sound very retro here, but I’m quite happy with the VHS version of this film.

Johanna writes:  

If that suits you, that’s great, Dave. I find DVDs easier to handle, regardless of the special features.

Kelson, they’re encouraging people to do that, buy the Blu-Ray for later — that’s why it comes with a free regular DVD for now. Me, I’m not that sure I’ll ever upgrade formats.

Dave Rose writes:  

Don’t get me wrong. I love DVDs – for the extras, picture quality, and size (buying the Batman animated series on VHS took a ton of room!).

I just don’t like to buy items I already have in another form. I’ve done so occasionally, but would rather spend the money on things I don’t have for the most part.

In the case of Sleeping Beauty, I feel the VHS quality is good enough as I don’t re-watch the film often enough to warrant an upgrade.

Johanna writes:  

Oh, I missed what you were saying. Yes, that’s a valid point. That’s one of the reasons I asked Roger to do this review, to talk about whether an upgrade would be recommended.

Adam writes:  

Having just watched the Blu-Ray version, it’s flat out gorgeous. It completely blows away the DVD version in such a way that it’s like comparing a VHS to Laserdisc. It’s that stunning of a difference.

(I played the DVD on an upscale DVD player and had the Blu-Ray in my PS3 and switched the video sources to compare them.)

Johanna writes:  

Yes, but (speaking as someone who owns two boxes of them) look at what happened to the laserdisc! I like spending $5-10 on movies instead of $30 and up, and I don’t want to rebuy a bunch of things.

James Schee writes:  

I haven’t seen Sleeping Beauty in gosh 15 or more years? I may look for it, especially after having read the Castle Waiting HC recently.

On upgrades, I tend to only upgrade on something when it gets a second level. I didn’t get Laser, but jumped at DVD. I tend to do the same with computer operating systems as well. It just has to be something really special otherwise, something I haven’t seen yet from Blueray or the like.

Adam writes:  

The way I see it, Blu-Ray is really being pushed towards videophiles that absolutely want extras on their DVDs.

So when the choices are a single disc edition DVD with no extras for $14.99, a 2-disc special edition DVD for $22.99, or the superior Blu-Ray edition with all the 2-disc’s extras and more for $27.99-$29.99, then it just makes more sense to pay the difference and buy the Blu-Ray edition if the movie warrants it.

Obviously, I doubt anyone would pay a premium to have “The Love Guru” on Blu-Ray, but “Iron Man” and “Sleeping Beauty” were well-worth it as they look and sound amazing in high def. Laserdisc was really the same way. You bought those “must-have” films in that format.

The Black Cauldron 25th Anniversary Special Edition » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] and historically important. The Black Cauldron was the first widescreen animated Disney movie since Sleeping Beauty, and the first to use computer technology, although the main characters are classic cel. Also, it […]

Maleficent Teaser Trailer Highlights Menace » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] Bechdel Test. Disney has released the teaser trailer for Maleficent, the story of the witch from Sleeping Beauty. The movie stars Angelina Jolie as the title character and opens May 30, 2014. Elle Fanning plays […]


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