Sleeping Beauty (1959) Review
After a couple of lesser classics, Disney in 1959 releases a film that is going to be their best 1950s effort as well as one of the best animated films of all time, Sleeping Beauty.
First, the animation. It is absolutely gorgeous to behold with a painting like, artistic quality to it and a style that is truly original and distinguishes itself from their other animations. The character design, the style, the movements, everything is polished, fits the time period and feels like a work of art. Major compliments should go to animators who give us possibly the best looking film since ‘Pinocchio’ or even ‘Snow White’. Such a fantastic looking film filled so many wonderful details that evoke the feeling you have when you’re watching Disney’s earlier classics and it is definitely one of the most artistic films ever to come from Walt Disney Animation Studios.
As for the characters, many argue that Aurora is a weak character, but as a princess who is only in a movie for only about 18 minutes, I can’t blame them. Yes, she is somewhat bland, but she is beautiful, wonderfully animated and, for such a short time she is in the film, you manage to see why everybody would love her so much. But Phillip is without a doubt the best of the early princes, not only is he given the most to do, but he also has a distinct, present personality and is much, much better than the previous princes. The fairies are comic relief here, the only comic providers along with King Stefan and Hubert. But while the kings are hit-or-miss, the fairies are very likable, quite charming and wonderfully realized. They are quite funny and provide the necessary sweet tone to the movie which is otherwise very dark and serious. And of course, we come to Maleficent. What is there to say that hasn’t yet been said. She is menacing, genuinely creepy, well developed, beautifully animated, wonderfully cast and she is one of the rare villains that never makes a mistake, is always menacing and pose definite threat to the protagonists. She is such a memorable and authentic character, a standout in this film and easily one of the very best Disney villains of all time.
The story is magnificent and is adapted in a fascinating way. The beginning is superb in every way, it introduces you to all the characters, instantly makes you recognize what a great villain Maleficent is and it prepares you for a terrific fairy tale film wonderfully. The approach is unexpectedly dark, even ominous and fits the world perfectly and creates in the process one of the most mature and adult Disney films. The pacing here is solid, but bit problematic. The humorous scenes with fairies slow the film down a bit, but you barely notice because they are charming characters. But the sequence with the kings is too long and, although funny sometimes, is not that funny and the scene should have been reduced significantly. But it is nevertheless a much better paced film than problematic ‘Snow White’ and although the kings are somewhat boring, the three fairies are great. They definitely add the humor to the film which was necessary, their quarreling over dress color is very amusing and they are all very well developed and each has a distinct personality. I would go so far as to call them the protagonists because, apart from other comic reliefs, they actually help Aurora and Phillip against Maleficent and it can be said that they drive the plot forward. The character development overall in this film is very good, much better than two earlier princess films ‘Snow White’ and ‘Cinderella’, which is one of the big reasons why it is the better film as well. So the humor is present and mostly good, the pacing a bit problematic but solid and it is a technically great film, superbly directed, edited and crafted. And the ending is very satisfying will all the terrific action sequences which are brilliantly executed and the happy ending finale with a line in a movie that has a couple of very memorable quotes and lines.
The other outstanding aspect is the score. The choice to have the music from Tchaikovsky is fantastic not only because it somehow fits the story in the end, but because it again adds to the artistic quality of the picture. There are only two songs here. I Wonder is a pretty typical and quite forgettable song, but it is a good character moment for Aurora. Once Upon a Time is of course a masterpiece, such a beautiful ballad, amazingly sung and accompanied with great animation to create a beautiful, rare romantic sequence in the film. It is such a powerful piece of music and one of the finest songs ever to come from Disney which is really saying a lot.
Thanks to exquisite animation, superbly crafted story, amazing music, wonderfully developed characters, one of the best villains ever created and a masterful approach which is very dark, but also sometimes light, Sleeping Beauty is a beautifully made film all around and definitely one of the very best Disney films ever made. A masterpiece, art and an animated classic.