Movie 16: Sleeping Beauty


Sometimes I feel bad for Walt Disney.  Nearly every time he took a risk post-Snow White it was a failure.  And yet he’d do a safe movie like Lady and the Tramp (as great as it is it is not risky artistically) it was a big hit.   Visual artistic achievements like Fantasia, Bambi, Alice and Wonderland all did poorly at first at the box office.

Unfortunately with Sleeping Beauty we have another artistic risk and another initial failure . So much so they would not make another fairy tale princess movie until 1989, 30 years later!


In researching Sleeping Beauty I learned it was actually in development for some time (like most of the Disney films of the 50s).  Always wanting to try something new, Walt Disney liked the idea  of turning Tchaikosky’s ballet into an animated feature film, but things couldn’t quite come together and it remained on the back burner.  Finally in 1950 work was officially begun and at first things went quickly.  They even had all the voice work recorded by the end of 1952, which surprised me . But it makes sense because Disneyland has Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and it was opened in 1955.  Sleeping Beauty wasn’t released till 1959 .

For Sleeping Beauty Walt went with a new approach creating a “living illustration from Medieval artwork”.  We start out the story with a grand book and then it zooms in on the pictures until those images start to move.  Backgrounds were also created in layers almost like a scene from a play where panels are pushed in and out.

In this introductory scene you can see these layers.  Every person crossing the bridge including the juggler in yellow are animated separately.

This is the scene when everyone is put to sleep towards the end. It looks almost like paper dolls.
The backdrops also look like illustrations from a book

Part of this look is probably due to Disney’s delegation of responsibilities.  Much like with Mary Blair in Alice in Wonderland, Disney gave most of the creative control and design to lead animator and background artist Eyvind Earl.  His elaborate backdrops would take 7-10 days to paint while a normal film could be done in 1 day.

The paper look is also interesting because it is the first time they used a xerox method to make cells.  It was eventually abandoned because the lines weren’t good enough, but I think you can still see a little of it’s after effects in the film.

A lot of critics at the time criticized its artistic approach but I kind of love it.  It’s different and beautiful- like diving into a the pages of a book.

The character of Maleficent was meant to be the personification of all evil- basically the devil.  Her name is from maleficentia, which means evil doing in Latin (I love  that Disney had a film with Maleficent as the villain and the next with Cruella, not the most creative names but both work! I mean are you going to have a good person named Cruela?). She also has horns like the devil and her eyes glow like an evil spirit.  There is nothing wounded or misunderstood about her.  In this movie she is all bad but in an entertaining way.


The fairies were designed to be like Huey, Lewey and Dewey with 3 different colors separating them.  At first Walt wanted them to look the same but the other animators convinced him that would be boring.  Flora, voiced by the amazing Verna Felton, is the leader of the 3.  Fauna is soft-spoken and motherly and Merryweather is the spunky one.  For side characters they are actually pretty fleshed out- we see them cry, laugh, feud etc.


Phillip was created to be the first dynamic human male character in a Disney film.  They had wanted to make the princes in Snow White and Cinderella bolder but Disney didn’t feel like the animators could animate males well enough at the time.


One nice thing about Sleeping Beauty is we do see more of Philip than almost any other prince.  We see many sides to him- sweet, romantic, good dancer, but still courageous and strong.    For a long section Philip, the Fairies and Maleficent are the only people awake in the story- giving their characters a gravatas not found in many other Disney films.   I’m surprised boys didn’t respond more to Philip and Sleeping Beauty with it’s terrific action and minimal romantic dialogue?

The Story-

Most of you probably know the story.  It is the 14th century in a magical land.  A king and queen finally are able to have a daughter who they name Aurora.  She is to be blessed by the fairies at a large gathering.  It is almost like a giant birthday party for the whole kingdom.

Each of the fairies present their gifts to the princess.  Flora and Fauna are first and the gifts are shown in a bit of a surrealist touch (those Dali fans coming in again!).  I think it is a beautiful scene.

But before Maryweather can give her gift they have a visitor.  Someone who wasn’t invited to the party- Maleficent.  (word to the wise- if you have a sworn enemy don’t give them reason to be mad at you.  Invite her to the party!)  They ask her if she is offended at not getting asked…(This is a spectacular scene)

So to save Aurora the fairies come up with a plan to hide her away in a cottage in the woods.  They will use no magic so nobody will suspect.  The funny thing is if they know the curse is fulfilled at 16 why not send her away at 12 or 14?  Does she really need to be taken away from her parents as a baby?…I digress.

Next we see Maleficent with her goons and minions trying to find the child with no luck.

maleficentShe also always has her crow who seems to be a part of her magic.


So quickly it zooms ahead to the 16th birthday.   The fairies are planning a party and we get a humorous scene of them trying to sew and bake without magic (although you do wonder since they haven’t been using magic how have they gotten by for 16 years never cooking or sewing?).  Nevertheless it is a very cute scene.

They send Aurora out, now known as Briar Rose, and we get to hear her sing.  The score is actually all from the ballet, and  the songs are minimal.   However, the singing they did get is beautiful.

There is then a comic scene with the forest creatures that is cute but to me feels a little too campy for the artistic style of the movie.  It just doesn’t fit in.

animalsNot knowing they are betrothed royalty, Aurora meets Prince Phillip and they dance together in really the only song in the picture aside from the hail song at the opening.  I love it.

Aurora and Phillip agree to meet later that night but when she returns home the fairies tell her she is being taken to the palace.  Aurora goes but with a heavy heart.

We then get an unnecessary scene between the two kings drinking and toasting their children who are to be married.   The Kings get a little tipsy along with the lute player.


Next you see her getting ready in the castle and this scene with the color of her face and Maleficent’s eyes is one of Disney’s best.

I love when she says “Did you think you could defeat me: the mistress of evil?”.  One thing that worries me about the 2014 version is they are softening her up.  They have to in order to create a prequel,and most of the time that doesn’t work (think Star Wars prequels…).  Maleficent is basically the devil.  In fact, she is proud of her loathsomeness.  Later on with Prince Phillip she see’s it as her shining hour.

Not everything needs a softer side. Most of the time softer means bland.

So Aurora pricks her finger and is put to sleep.  This is a perhaps unavoidable problem with Sleeping Beauty is that most of the time the princess is asleep.  Snow White had some of this problem.

Sleeping-Beauty-disney-18543904-640-360However, you really feel for the fairies in this scene, so that makes up for some of Aurora’s blandness.  The fairies could have been such cliches but the writing is quite good and we really get to know them.

Flora decides to put the entire kingdom to sleep with Aurora but just before Phillip’s father mutters about a girl his son met in the woods.  Flora realizes it is the boy Aurora met earlier and they fear for Philips’s safety.

Unfortunately Maleficent has beaten them there and in a great scene traps the prince taking him away.

Phillip gets locked in the dungeon and he and Maleficent have a terrific scene together I wish I could find.

maleficent and phillip2Thinking she has gotten her revenge and the Prince is going to rot away in her dungeon she walks up to her lair and has a great line ‘I shall finally be able to sleep well for the first time in 16 years’.  I mean who can sleep when revenge and evil is on the docket?

The fairies help Philip and give him the sword of truth and shield of virtue.  (those names seem right out of King Arthur.  Really fit 14th century well)

Now that is a great Disney hero!

Finding out she won’t be able to sleep we get this amazing scene- without a doubt one of Disney’s best.

It’s also actually Flora that really saves the day, which I kind of like.

I love that her body isn’t even there.  She’s like road kill on the ground.

dead maleficent1Then we get our happy ending and it is a wonderful story.  And for the record, I like her better in blue!

Movie Review-

Are there flaws in Sleeping Beauty?  Yes, the princess is bland.  The fairies schtick is laid on very thick.  The woodland animals don’t work for me.  The drinking scene with the kings is unnecessary.

But there is a lot more right.  I love the strong prince . I love Maleficent.  Watch On Bald Mountain in Fantasia and I think you will agree in personality and design Maleficent is basically the devil from that picture as a woman- even down to the minions.

A lot of people hate the style, but  I like it.  I think it is an interesting take on storytelling and beautiful in its own way.  I also like the Tchaikosky score.   It gives a lightness and flow to the piece that works.  Once Upon a Dream, while one of the only songs, is lovely and sung very well.

I like there is action and a great villain who really tests the characters, pushing them to their limit.  I also remember it was the first time I had ever heard a character say the word ‘hell’ in a movie.  It was pretty scandalous!

I honestly can’t imagine any kids not liking Sleeping Beauty.  It is without a doubt one of their best.

Overall Grade- A

My sister and I for Halloween.  She was Marywether and I was Aurora.
My sister and I for Halloween. She was Marywether and I was Aurora.

41 thoughts on “Movie 16: Sleeping Beauty

  1. Despite it’s undeniable flaws, I consider this Disney’s best work (ignoring Mary Poppins, naturally). There is no other movie like this, and there will never be one (psst: It’s the one I will discuss this Christmas…I can’t wait!!!!).

    1. I agree. It’s one of the best. I’m a bit partial to the more developed heroines but other than that it’s perfect. I look forward to your review in Dec!

  2. Awesome review once again. I got the DVD/Blu-Ray combination last month mainly since I heard that when you watch especially the Blu-Ray version, the animation feels like stained glass windows or something like that. That person is close to right, I’d say. Anyway, I heard that Maleficent’s raven is called Diablo a d that his name is mentioned at least once in the film. Just curious, do you recall which scene it might have been that his name was mentioned?

    1. I haven’t memorized the movie but I watched the scene where she sends the crow out to find Aurora (a scene so evil it makes me even madder at the new one! She even says the goons are ‘a disgrace to the forces of evil”). In the Disney wiki it says “Diablo was not actually named in the film itself” so there you go.

      So you feel like the Blu-ray is worth it for Sleeping Beauty hah? I have the diamond edition dvd for that Bambi, Lady and the Tramp and Beauty and the Beast and they are pretty good versions. Hate to spend all the money to upgrade because usually the Disney blu-rays are kind of lame (no extra special features etc).

      I may ask for it for Christmas. It’s one of the great Disney movies. That’s for sure. I love the how tough Phillip is and how close he comes to losing again and again. It’s very tense. I love the surrealist touches like with the gifts and the way everything looks like a storybook. Great voice performances too. One of Disney’s best. That’s for sure.

      1. Agreed! Yeah, I probably wouldn’t spend all my money on upgrades. Yeah, this I would just consider a one time thing. So you felt that the Blu-Ray quality version for Bambi, Lady & The Tramp, & Beauty & The Beast was lame, eh? Sorry to hear! Well, the only ones I might get a Blu-Ray for now would probably be Tarzan and Lion King when that is re-released later on down the road once again.

      2. Well I havent seen bluray on those but Disney blurays have a reputation of not being that great

    1. Oh for sure. I love the crow. That was one part of the new one I thought was cool although the fact he turned into the dragon was super lame. Maleficent is the dragon and she is mistress of all evil. Her having a slave/crow was cool.

  3. Hey, by the way, maybe I’m digging too deep into this, but you know how the fairies mentioned in the beginning that their magic is suppose to do good things and what not? Anyway, have you ever wondered how Merryweather turning Maleficent’s raven (or crow) into stone towards the end is considered good, but turning Maleficent into a hop toad isn’t? Anyway, just a thought?

    1. I don’t remember that about the toad? I guess I’d have to watch it again. The faeries magic isn’t as strong as Maleficent. That’s why they can’t completely reverse the curse. Since the crow is bad (albeit delightfully so as is Maleficent) naturally Merryweather’s magic would work on it. I’d have to rewatch the movie with that in mind though. Keep throwing these fun ideas at me!

      1. Sure thing! It was the scene a little after the beginning when the fairies were discussing how to handle the situation with Aurora before they resolve to adopt her for the next sixteen years. If I recall correctly the scene goes somewhat like this. Merry weather says, “Oh, I’d turn that witch into an old hop toad.” Then Flora says, “Now dear, that isn’t a nice thing to say.” Then, if I recall correctly, Fauna says something like “Besides, you know our magic doesn’t work like that. It’s meant for good and kindness.” I believe the last one was likely close to her exact words. But yeah, I guess we’ll both have to rewatch the film again to be sure.

      2. Oh I remember that. I still saying turning the crow to stone could be considered a good thing because he was an evil, bad bird. But yeah should do a rewatch. I want to after Maleficent. I know you liked it but boy did I hate it .I guess new fairytales just aren’t my thing.

  4. I did like Maleficent, but I’d say that in some ways I like that better and in others, I definitely like this version better. Yes, Maleficent’s crow (though he’s sometimes considered a raven by others) was a bad bird. But you know what, so was Maleficent. So my point was how it is that turning the crow into stone is good, but turning Maleficent into a toad isn’t. That’s all I’m saying, you know?

  5. I did enjoy reading this because I admire your passion for the film and the wealth of background information you were able to gather about it. I know I could never go on about animation innovations as if I had a clue what I was talking about.

    However, personally speaking, as a child I fell asleep watching this movie. I used to treat that like a hilarious joke, but re-watching it again in preparation for Maleficent that bothered me. The film is only 75 minutes long, and it’s mostly a 75-minute animation showcase. As you said they put all that time and energy into the animation for years and so little into the actual script. Walt Disney wanted to make sure this looked nothing like Snow White, and he succeeded. But the story was so derivative of Sleeping Beauty that I always got the two confused as a child because as a child, you don’t care about the innovations in animation!

    The film is for me the prime example of style over substance. As a fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Pollyanna, and Mad Men, I do not say this lightly, but I will say it here – this movie is too slow-paced. It really is. A fairy tale is the most streamlined version of any story. It has been passed down from person to person for generations, so only the bare essentials are included. There is no need for complex characterization or a deeply involving plot. Disney is usually praised for adding that – for bringing fairy tales to life. Here, I don’t think they even did that. I read the Grimm Brothers version of the fairy tale and I think all Disney did is transplant that on the screen and pad it out while adding very little charm and emotional investment. It is also the most literal interpretation of a fairy tale I have ever seen. Contrary to the common joke that few fairy tales contain any fairies at all, the fairies here are the only real characters. They are the only ones who drive the plot in any way. Everyone else is a pawn, a mindless chess piece to be moved around by the fairies. Aurora and Philip are mere archetypes, they have names but no character, nothing more. The two kings are completely superfluous, a pale imitation of the actual funny slapstick relationship between the King and the Grand Duke in Cinderella.

    I will give my thoughts on Maleficent soon. But I will also add that as the end credits came, I thought to myself “This is the end of an era for 30 years. It will take 30 years, but we’ll get something worth paying for……” Wouldn’t you at least agree to that?

    1. I never thought of Sleeping Beauty as boring. Especially the ending is pretty exciting stuff and Phillip is my favorite Prince. He’s a fighter and not just a stuffed shirt. They were going off of the ballet more than the Grimm’s Story but I’ve often realized my boring scale is very different than most people so I respect that.
      As far as being the last good movie from Disney for 30 years I disagree. I love 101 Dalmatians, Winnie the Pooh and Jungle Book which came out after Sleeping Beauty. I even enjoy Robin Hood with all its flaws (very few Disney movies I don’t enjoy).
      But yeah I never saw it as slow paced even as a little girl but I can see how you would feel that way. Luckily there is something for everyone in the Disney world. If people like Maleficent that’s great. I didn’t care for it at all but that’s the great thing about art. It inspires all kinds of reactions.

    2. Never mind. I see what you are saying about the 30 years. I totally agree. Little Mermaid beats Sleeping Beauty hands down although it is in my top 10.

      1. There were plenty of good Disney movies over those 30 years. The ending I’m surprised in retrospect I wasn’t disturbed and traumatized by as a child but I think it was only scary enough, not too much.

        The ending is very exciting, but I still hold with Leonard Maltin about it:
        “The flaw in Sleeping Beauty is the limit of its appeal. The problem is not that the dragon sequence is too scary for youngsters, but that it comes so late in the film. There is little else of an exciting nature in the narrative, and very little outright comedy for a red-blooded child to sink his teeth into.”

        He does go on to say “There are no patently comic creations in the film (like the dwarfs in Snow White, or the mice in Cinderella; the three fairies are a shallow substitute) to relieve the ickiness of the story for young boys who like to think they are beyond the stage of fairy tales but are still too young for the nuances of characterization that dot this film’s comedy-relief personalities…….Girls might enjoy the situations of the three fairies trying to fashion a ball gown, but for young boys, it’s hardly the thing.”

        You may feel free to quote this, of course:

      2. Well boys would get 30 years of movies for them from Disney as Sleeping Beauty convinced the studio movies for girls didn’t sell, which is of course ridiculous. It definitely is more made for little girls.
        They tried with comic relief in the drunk Kings scenes with the fish and all and baking the cake/dress scene but they aren’t that strong of sections. And I agree the third act is definitely the strongest. There is some comedy with the minions and how stupid they are. Maleficent has a dry wit about her.
        But it was also an era where Disney was making films for entire families and less for specifically children. After this that would be kind of thrown out the window to child specific movies like Winnie the Pooh and Aristocats.

        But to me it is visually stunning, with a terrific villain, great score, my favorite prince, a battle of good vs evil that is exciting. I do think Aurora is a bland heroine but I love it. If it isn’t a favorite of yours that’s cool too. We all have our tastes and favorites.

    1. But yeah you can see from the photo that my sister and I loved Sleeping Beauty growing up. Maybe it’s more appealing to girls for some reason?

      1. Maybe, but I know The Unshaved Mouse and The Animation Commendation liked it a good deal. Even my father said it was

        I think the best version of the story is actually the book “Sleeping Beauty The One Who Took the Really Long Nap” by Wendy Mass. Personally I think it blows the Disney film out of the water. We get to know both the Princess and Prince very well (over different time periods because it actually keeps the sleep for one hundred years bit that I love and makes a great difference from Snow White). I particularly loved this stream-of-consciousness from the sleeping princess:

        “I could still sense what was going on around me, but I could not explain how. I could not see or hear or feel the touch of hands, but when people were near me, I was aware of it. When they were not, time passed in a hazy, dreamlike way. I knew my family had taken me home. I knew I was in my bed and that the young fairy was somehow protecting me. I could still sense my parents. I knew they were not anywhere in the castle, but that they were still nearby.
        Then one day – I did not know how many years later – I could not feel them at all. I wanted to claw my way out of the foggy darkness to find out why, but I could not.
        I sensed new people, new families, but they were hazy and distant.
        I slept on.”

        There’s real tension in seeing the Princess move through her life and the scene where she does finally prick her finger is very well done in how she is genuinely tempted and there’s a tragic twist of how she doesn’t know what she is looking at because she has been kept from ever seeing a spinning wheel for her whole life. So of course it would be easy to persuade her to misuse something she barely understands, right?

        When I was on, my most loyal commenter, Heddwyn McCloud, wrote this on his profile: “I think Maleficent is overrated for one reason: instead of appealing to Aurora’s curiosity with a spinning wheel, or tempting her into disobeying the Good Fairies, she merely hypnotizes her. That may be evil, but it really was lacking.”

      2. I haven’t heard of that book. Sounds great! Very spooky and ethereal. Thanks for the recommendation. Some people do find Maleficent to be over the top and one note but in a fairytale I like an all evil villain. These stories are built on the idea of good vs evil. Maleficent is the mistress of evil and she’s powerful. There are a lot of times when it feels like she is going to win. This creates tension and a thrill when she doesn’t. When you try to make her kind of evil/kind of good you create a muddled character and story that to me is much more boring. But boredom is in the eye of the beholder.

      3. As far as the hypnotizing it was the spell or curse that finally is put into action. So of course she seems hypnotized because that’s what the curse said. To me that makes total sense. If Maleficent was going to trick Aurora or arouse her curiosity than what’s the point of the curse? She could do that without cursing her and just make a hurtful spinning wheel. It’s supposed to hypnotize her showing Maleficent’s control through her curse on the baby.

  6. I’m not the biggest Disney fairy tale aficionado, but the one I always rewatched was Sleeping Beauty, far more than Snow White or Cinderella (which we had the Spanish VHS for some reason…). For me the appeal lay in the artistry, Medieval style, the music, most of the humour, the fairies and of course Maleficent, and I still enjoy it on those merits, even if it is mostly style over substance. My eyes did kinda glaze over during the Aurora scenes but once the tension rose and the climax ensued I was glued to the screen. Philip is proactive if archetypal, Aurora hasn’t got much character to her, but then again she was raised in the woods and never met any people so I can’t blame her for not being worldly. Now why some modern critics cry “sexism!” around her scenes I have no idea, considering that the four other female characters had very dynamic roles. And of course, Maleficent needs no introduction! 🙂

    Even as a child I liked the fairies, I didn’t find their schtick too over-the-top comedic, and they were always thoughtful, caring and brave when the situation needed them to be and so I always thought they were the main protagonists, we see them far more than we do Aurora and are the audience surrogates all the way through. Ultimately it’s their movie far more than it is Aurora’s! In fact, I’d even go out on a limb to say that this film from the 50’s is more progressive and more feminist than the 2014 abomination that has been branded “Maleficent”!! The fact that they took three very proactive and entertaining heroines and turned them into brainless wastes of space still galls me every time, and still have the gall to call this movie anti-feminist at the same time!! Suffice it to say this film remains on people’s lips fifty years after it’s release as a testament to it’s timelessness, I doubt that will be the case for the… other one. In any case, I often find it better than I last thought it was, and I hope that’s the case in the years to come.

    1. Once again we are completely on the same page. I loved Sleeping Beauty for the action, artistry and what a great prince Phillip is. Aurora is a little bland but I still love it. I now appreciate the faeries a lot more and they really are the true heroes of the movie (that made me so mad about Maleficent!). I completely agree with everything you just said. It’s my least favorite movie of 2014. Sleeping Beauty made 10 on my Disney ranking just because a few others have a little stronger characters but I love it.

      1. I personally hesitate to place it in my personal top 10 of Disney animated movies because I do think Aurora’s blandness and the style-over-substance aspects do hold it back, but it enjoys a comfortable position in the Top 15.

      2. Yeah I could pretty much interchange any of my top 23 because I like them all for different reasons

  7. The only part I don’t understand is you keep mentioning that Once Upon A Dream is the only song, but it isn’t. There’s a few songs in there and another one that Aurora sings called I wonder. “I wonder, i wonder, i wonder, why each little blue bird, has someone to sing to, sweet things to, a gale little…..”

    1. I guess I didnt think of those as full songs. I’ve never really noticed those numbers to be honest.

      1. Oh yea I don’t really count the others either since their a few seconds, but this was was almost 3 min. Lol. I always liked that part of the movie. Good articles by awhile. I’m not even halfway done lol

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