Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Once upon a time, half a century ago, long before animation studios became obsessed with jamming popular culture into traditional stories, came this beautifully animated simple fairytale.

Even young children will be familiar with the story of the princess who pricks her finger on a bodkin (here it is a slightly more Americanised “spindle”) and falls into a sleep from which she can only be awakened by true love’s kiss. But while this rendering is, at once, easily recognisable, it is filled out with a plethora of additional characters, who bring with them the real magic of the tale.

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Chief among them are the fairies – good and bad. Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are the triumverate of good guys, bustling and bickering like everyone’s favourite grandma, as they swear off wand-waving in order to protect Princess Aurora from the evil curse, but find it’s a promise that’s tricky to keep. Meanwhile, wicked fairy Maleficent is deliciously acidic. With her arch comments and pet raven, she’s a villain whose influence as one of the ultimate bad girls would go on to stretch far beyond this film, with even the likes of Enchanted paying extensive homage to her in its final sequence.

The animation is – as with all the early Disney’s – jaw-droppingly good. Thanks to its recent restoration, this film is also full of eye-popping colours, with the bright pinks and blues of the fairies’ frocks providing a terrific contrast to the sickly purples and greens of Maleficent’s castle. There are no messy subplots to get in the way of the action, as the great and good of Disney rely on their ability to captivate a young audience with the power of a single story, rather than assuming – as so many modern efforts do – that kids need something ‘zany’ to happen every ten minutes or they will lose interest.

It’s true that some of the early singing on the score dates the film slightly – but your average child will scarcely notice – and the Prince, like so many, is rather one-note (though he is rescued tenfold by his superbly animated horse, Samson).

Despite its simplicity, all the key elements are here – a song in the forest (pepped up no end by some great interplay with the local critters), a sprinkling of magic (cake baking has never been so much fun), and a proper sense of peril (when Maleficent gets angry, boy, do we know it). This film has endured in our affections for 50 years for good reason, and with its timeless theme of love conquering all it is likely to retain its magic for a long time to come.

Reviewed on: 30 Oct 2008
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Sleeping Beauty packshot
A princess is cursed by a wicked fairy - can she be saved by true love's kiss?
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Director: Clyde Geronimi

Writer: Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright, Milt Banta, adapted from the story by Charles Perrault

Starring: Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen, Taylor Holmes, Bill Thompson, Marvin Miller, Thurl Ravenscroft

Year: 1959

Runtime: 75 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

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