The Chad’s Review of Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty

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The Chad’s Review of Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty

Postby The Chad » Fri Apr 15, 2011 12:38 pm

True, when you've been in business as long as the Walt Disney Company, even with their history of quality entertainment (Largely excluding current history, mind you), they can't all be gems. What surprises me is how 1959's Sleeping Beauty got away with being considered one of those gems. I'll admit, I must've seen the movie a few dozen times since I was little and I'd probably not fight too hard if it were to be suggested as potential viewing material, but man does it have some serious flaws all the way around.

Hey! I thought you liked Disney! What's your problem with Sleeping Beauty?

Well, for starters it played a huge part in a financial disaster for the Walt Disney Company at the time and was partially responsible for the rumors that Walt Disney himself was anti-Semitic.

WHAT?!?

Let me explain: As of it’s release in 1959, Sleeping Beauty was the most expensive film to date costing a total of six million dollars to produce, but only earned about $7.7 million from the box office. The film cost more than even their live action features at the time and cost over twice as much as each of their previous animated features Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Lady and the Tramp, but only saw a minimal profit in return. Unfortunately, the rest of the Walt Disney Company’s releases from that year also under performed at the box office and caused the first annual loss for the Walt Disney Company in over a decade for the year 1960.

This resulted in massive layoffs for the animation department. The fact that many of these now out-of-work animators were Jewish started rumors that Walt Disney himself was anti-Semetic because they were fired. First of all, he hired them in the first place, didn't he? And second, there are accounts of personal interviews, including from some of these same animators that state Walt Disney was not racist or anti-Semitic.

Besides that, the relative financial failure of Sleeping Beauty caused Walt Disney Animation to avoid traditional fairy tales for the next 30 years! They finally returned to the genre in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, which was an amazing success. In fact, there is a documentary about how the Walt Disney Company returned to fairy tales with The Little Mermaid and enjoyed a period of financial and critical success often referred to as the "Disney Renaissance" in the 1990's. The documentary is called "Waking Sleeping Beauty" and chronicles the events of Disney's success from Who Framed Roger Rabbit through The Lion King. It is quite interesting and I recommend it for anyone interested in learning how the Walt Disney Company really works behind the scenes.

Let's get back on track here. I saw Sleeping Beauty a bunch of times when I was a kid. If it was such a flop, why is it still so popular?

Well, first of all, it's a Disney animated movie. That alone gives it an edge in staying power. While it was never re-released in theaters in Walt Disney’s lifetime (Just like Alice in Wonderland, which was also initially a box office failure), Sleeping Beauty saw a great deal of success when it finally was shown in theaters again several times between 1979 and 2002 and released on home video (Because, let's face it, it's Disney. People are going to take their kids to see it regardless). In fact, it is second only to Ben-Hur as the most successful movie originally released in 1959.

A lot of excellent work did go into the production of the movie and it is considered one of the greatest animated features of all times, due largely to it's stylized designs by artist Eyvind Earle and classic musical score by George Bruns. Too bad impressive artwork does not make good character development and a lush score does not equal catchy/memorable songs (You know, the things an audience actually notices).

In all honesty, I can see that excellent talent was used to make Sleeping Beauty. It had so much potential and could have been great right off the bat if only they had cut back on the Fairies instead of letting them run rough-shot over the entire movie.

What do you mean?

You know, the three good Fairies; Flora (Plants), Fauna (Animals), and Merryweather (Partly sunny with mild temperatures). They're the three old bitty Fairies that serve as Princess Aurora's guardians throughout the movie. They're meant to be secondary characters, but they pretty much take over the whole movie from beginning to end. The movie should've been called Three Fairies and a Baby, not Sleeping Beauty!

From when they're introduced in the very beginning of the movie they become bigger protagonists and do more to move the plot along than all of the other characters combined! The arrive to grand fanfare at the celebration of the princess’s birth and proclaim they will each give the infant princess one gift; no more, no less (Well, duh! You can’t give less then one!). Flora and Fauna respectively give the grandiose gifts of Beauty and Song (That’s right kids! Because good looks and talent can only come from magic!), but before the final gift can be given (Bum Bum BUM!) Maleficent appears!

Maleficent! That’s something good about the movie! She’s awesome!

Agreed, but we’ll get to her in detail later. I’m not done ranting yet.

As soon as Maleficent arrives it’s readily apparent she’s offended by not being invited, but leave it to Merryweather to just poke the bear (Rule #1: Do NOT heckle the super villain). Of course, this results in Maleficent’s curse where the princess will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die! Way to go, Merryweather! Personally I think she should have been glad Maleficent showed up. Aurora already had grace and beauty, what was she going to present her with? A gift certificate to Babies “R” Us? Now Merryweather gets to be the hero and rework the curse so she’ll only sleep until she receives “True love’s first kiss” (Awfully specific if you ask me, but I guess that’s just how the story works).

What really gets me about this is the king’s reaction. Instead of planning ahead to protect his daughter he just has all of the spinning wheels in his kingdom burned. He greatly inconveniences his entire kingdom and its people, not allowing them one of the modern necessities of clothing making and repair on the off chance it'll protect his daughter from a curse that's not supposed to take effect for sixteen years. Even the Fairies think this is a bad idea. Of course their idea is to turn Princess Aurora into a flower because a flower doesn't have any fingers to prick.

That is the STUPIDEST idea I've ever heard in my life!

Fortunately, their second plan is at least logical (Kinda). Take the infant princess and raise her in the woods as three old women who found an orphan child. A sound plan, Maleficent wouldn’t expect the king and queen to give up their child and suffer in sadness and worry for sixteen years even for the sake of their own daughter. Unfortunately, the three Fairies treat this like six-year-old schoolgirls playing house. "Oh, we'll get to feed the baby and wash the baby! Who cares if her parents suffer in constant fear and sorrow for sixteen years? We'll have an itty-bitty wittle baby to pway wif!" I don't know about you, but that kinda killed the gravitas of the moment for me.

Why you hatin' on the Fairies?

Truth be told, I don't really hate them. Like I said before, they just kinda take over the whole movie. The Three Fairies are okay characters on their own, but they just over used them to the point of eclipsing almost the rest of the characters entirely (With the obvious exception of Maleficent). In fact, any one fairy has more dialogue than both of the main characters combined!

I both like and dislike Flora more and more each time I watch this movie. Despite the fact she’s the “leader” of the Fairies she’s naïve and kind of slow. She’s like a grandma who’s accidentally racist. She means well and she tries, but things just don’t seem to work out the way she intended mostly because she just doesn’t get it. She is obviously the "Moe".

Fauna is the ditzy comedy relief of the trio. She’s naïve and saccharin sweet to a fault, but that’s okay with me. It leads to some actually funny almost Three Stoogesque moments when she attempts to bake a cake. Although she generally avoids conflict, she serves as the voice of reason when the other two are arguing. She is the "Larry".

Merryweather is by far the most well-rounded fairy character, making her by default the most well-rounded character in the entire movie. She is a good fairy, but overall appears much more competent and isn’t as cheerfully naïve as the other two and isn’t afraid to speak her mind (Granted, this may have just raised the ire of the villain, but I give her credit for standing up to Maleficent). Her generally negative attitude makes her the odd man out, even among the already socially awkward three Fairies. That makes her the “Curley”.

Did you just compare the Three Good Fairies to the Three Stooges?

Yes. Yes I did.

Why?

Mostly due to the scene of the Fairies preparing for Aurora's...I'm sorry, Briar Rose's sixteenth birthday.

Who?

Oh yes. Confusing, isn't it? We'll get to that later.

After the sixteen-year time lapse, it's astounding that the Fairies have apparently learned to do absolutely NOTHING without magic. It's implied that Merryweather might be the only one who can cook, but seriously! They can do NOTHING! Granted, it’s for comedic effect, but are we just expected to believe that they bumbled around for years until the Princess was old enough to do the work for them? Really?!?

Actually, it's not all bad. Fauna trying to bake a cake and Flora trying to make a fancy dress is a comically sound and mildly amusing scene and is almost exactly like watching the Three Stooges trying to do the same (Now do you get the comparison?). Unfortunately, the scene is ruined by the fact that they realize how pathetically inept they are at basic home economic skills and decide to finally use magic again. Apparently, magic requires no control what-so-ever as what they were unable to do before suddenly gets done automatically as the cake mixes and bakes itself and the dress gets sewn together with almost no effort (Remember kids! Don't take the time to learn something when you can take the easy shortcut instead!).

Even this tiny victory is ruined when Flora and Merryweather get into an argument over what color the dress should be and magically change it back and forth from pink to blue and back again. This devolves into an all out zapping battle that just so happens to draw the attention of Maleficent's pet raven, who quickly leaves to alert his mistress. This leads directly into Maleficent fulfilling her curse and putting Princess Aurora into the enchanted sleep.

Talk about tripping at the finish line.

So...after sixteen years of playing house in the woods, after the kingdom sacrificed their entire supply of spinning wheels, after the king and queen suffered in fear and sadness, on the night of the Princess's sixteenth birthday, the very last chance Maleficent had to fulfill her evil curse, they #@%&! FAIL!

But I digress.

Honestly, I know it's all just to provide levity, drama, and move the story along and I'm just complaining to complain at this point. But it just goes to show you how much the movie relies on the Fairies' magic and happenstance to move along the plot instead of being character-driven or use a natural progression of events (You know, something that would actually make sense!).

Wait! You've spent all this time complain about the Fairies, what about Sleeping Beauty?

You know what? That's a very good point and also what I view as one of the major flaws of this movie.

First of all, her name isn't "Sleeping Beauty". It's Princess Aurora. You have no idea how much it annoys me when people call her "Sleeping Beauty", especially on professionally licensed merchandise.

Who's your favorite Disney Princess, little girl?

"Sleeping Beauty!"

NO! THAT IS NOT HER @$%*# NAME! IT'S THE TITLE OF THE @$%*# FAIRY TALE SHE IS IN! PAY ATTENTION, DAMMIT!

It is the ONE thing that made me think the Walt Disney Company thinks of the consuming public is just a bunch of drooling idiots (Before Hannah Montana anyway). Don't they think children should learn to be observant, accurate, and intelligent? Their whole block of overly simplified preschool age original children's programming seems to think so. You can title the story "Sleeping Beauty", you can name a product line about the entire story "Sleeping Beauty", but you cannot release a doll of the main character and just call her "Sleeping Beauty"! It is a loose description of the events of the narrative simplified as the title of a story! NOT a character's name!

Sorry about that. It's just always been a huge pet peeve of mine.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the movie makes it even more confusing by giving her yet another name!

For like half the movie and most of her life, she is called “Briar Rose”. True it’s all part of the plan to keep the identity of the princess a secret, but when all model sheets, film credits, character references, and all related materials call the character both Aurora/Briar Rose, it's no wonder Disney thought it was easier just to refer to her as Sleeping Beauty. It would seem to me like a severe detriment to a movie not be able to decide what to call your main character.

That's another thing, the princess is supposed to be the MAIN CHARACTER, but she doesn't have any dialogue for most of the movie.

It’s true, the last thing we hear from the character is her sobbing emotional breakdown after she is told of her true heritage and taken back to the castle. Of course, this would have been much more emotionally impactful if they hadn’t used the same stock sound effect of comedic sobbing as Dopey, Pluto, and Goofy.

Although I don’t blame her for falling apart like she did though. Imagine, a teenage girl living in the woods with only three old bitties for company, meeting a charming boy with talk of love and dreams, only to have her world pulled right out from underneath her. Although she might be animated to look older, she is still a teenager. This was her first real strong emotional connection with another human being besides three old women who raised her only to have then betray her trust and turn her world upside-down all in the span of a few hours. Those Fairies have no tact whatsoever.

“Hey! Guess what! You’ve been living a lie for your whole life! You’re really the most important person in the kingdom and you've been in hiding all these years because Merryweather here mouthed off to an all-power demon sorceress at your birthday and she cursed you. You’re also going to marry a prince you’ve never met to unite your kingdoms so you’ve got to dump this schmuck you just fell in love with! … … …Yay!”

I feel I should add that Mary Costa voiced Princess Aurora/Briar Rose and Bill Shirley voiced Prince Phillip, but that hardly matters considering like I said THE MAIN CHARACTERS DON’T TALK FOR MORE THAN HALF THE MOVIE!!!

Even when Princess Aburose—whatever! is returned to the castle she pretty much stops being a character all together and is reduced to a walking MacGuffin. True, she is cursed to fall asleep, but at least we should care if she wakes up.

This is also a huge disappointment when you consider that Prince Phillip is by far the best prince in a Disney movie up until this point. The Prince in snow white did little more than sing and kiss the princess and Prince Charming in Cinderella did even less. Prince Phillip however was a pretty cool guy when we’re introduced to him. He’s witty, he’s charming, and he’s funny (“Father, you're living in the past! This is the fourteenth century!”). Unfortunately, this does not last.

After he rides off to meet the “peasant girl” he met in the woods (Briar Rose, of course) he has no more dialogue of any kind. There’s not even stock sounds as he is pummeled and captured by Maleficent’s goons, is taunted by the “Mistress of All Evil”, makes a miraculous escape (Actually just runs and rides at the Fairies command who pretty much do the majority of the work), and has the fight of his life against a DRAGON!!! You’d think he’d at least grunt or gasp during all this, but noooo. He becomes a pale imitation of his formerly clever, charming, and witty self from earlier in the movie. He’s a cardboard stand up with a sword. After everything we saw from him earlier in the movie the banter he could’ve traded with Maleficent at any point during the movie would’ve been epic! Nope. We get squat.

Phillip is the most awesome prince up until Eric. The first one with actual personality! He uses actual EFFORT to charm and win the princess and he doesn’t even know she’s the princess!

Just like everything else in the movie, the Fairies take over the prince as well. They bust Phillip out of Maleficent’s dungeon, hand out Shields of Truth, Swords of Virtue, turn arrows to flowers, boiling oil to rainbows, and ravens to stone as if it makes up for failing to protect the Aurora in the first place. I call bullshit! At he beginning of the movie Flora clearly stated that their magic “Doesn’t work that way”! They’re @#$*ing cheap! To top it all off they cast Instant Kill on the +100 Sword of Truth right when Maleficent has the prince dead to rights and she goes down like a punk! CHEAP!!! Despite Phillip’s awesomeness, he’s pretty much the Fairies’ monkey boy throughout his whole escape and fight with Maleficent.

SEE?!? Do you see?!? Even in my review the antics of the Fairies just eclipse everything else around them!

Okay, we get it. The Fairies make this a terrible movie.

Now, I didn’t say that. There are a few things that act as a saving grace for the film.

Such as?

As I said before, the music and art style are very good. Although there are only a couple of annoying or bland songs the music is orchestral music score is actually pretty good. The artwork and style of the background and characters is also new for Disney films and is a very refreshing change from the norm.

The fanfare at the beginning (An annoying tune gets stuck on repeat in my head) and the "Gift Songs" are not what I would consider actual musical songs. More like just added for atmosphere. "I Wonder" and "Once Upon a Dream" are the only two actual songs sung by the characters and one just leads into the other making it pretty much a single song. And despite the fact that it’s the movie’s big musical number and uses the Sleeping Beauty Waltz by Tchaikovsky it’s only meh at best in my opinion. “Skrumps (The Drinking Song)” is at least mildly entertaining with the drunken lute player.

Speaking of which, during the fanfare the background characters are so stiff and solemn during the march it looks like they’re being herded by the black nights on horseback. It’s like King Stephan’s Gestapo is forcing the kingdom to celebrate the birth of his daughter. Kinda makes you re-think the scene with the giant burning pile of spinning wheels, don’t it?

What about Maleficent, huh?

Ah. Yes. Here it is, the topic I’ve been putting off just because I don’t have enough time or space to truly due the character justice.

Maleficent is God-Tier evil! By far, the single best Disney villain of all time. She is the single largest saving grace of this film and totally carried the movie on her shoulders. Voiced by Eleanor Audley (who also did the wicked and intimidating step-mother, Lady Tremaine in Cinderella) Maleficent runs the gamut of villainous emotions, from charming and smarmy taunting villainy to flat-out raging kill-your-foolish-underlings villainy (Okay, so there’s a few more clichéd villain archetypes out there, but she’s pretty damn good at what she does). From stroking her pet raven, Diablo, and taunting the captured prince to raging at here idiotic goons and transforming into a dragon that scared the crap outta me when I was little, Maleficent is an amazing villain even outside of the film.

Maleficent is undoubtedly the most used character from the movie. She has reappeared as a main antagonist in everything from video games and books to television and live shows at the Disney parks, without any other characters from the movie even getting so much as a mention.

Maleficent is a super villain level main antagonist in the Kingdom Hearts video game series and Kingdom Keepers novel series and has attacked Mickey Mouse and been in control of scores of other Disney villains in any number of live shows at the Disney parks around the world. She even took control of the entire Hong Kong Disneyland this Halloween and turned it into a haunted horror zone (No, really, Orlando has “Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party” and Hong Kong gets Maleficent’s evil takeover. Go figure).

So, no other characters have been used from Sleeping Beauty ever?

Well, no. Actually Prince Phillip and Princess Aurora (Yes, that’s her official name these days) have appeared, but comparatively little as opposed to Maleficent or other characters in the Princess franchise.

Prince Phillip made a more significant comeback even before Aurora did in the Disney Heroes line of action figures sold exclusively at the Disney Store. In fact I actually own the Maleficent Dragon from this line and she’s sitting on my bookshelf facing an updated Gigan (Ironic considering the fact she makes Godzilla’s trademarked roar when you press the button on her back).

Princess Aurora herself wasn’t officially touched again until decades later in a strait-to-DVD "Princess Tales" short movie. Even then, not much was done with the character. (Song was pretty catchy though, especially compared to the ones from the movie.)

Of course, all three make regular appearances along with the Three Good Fairies as meetable characters at the Disney parks.

This has been something of a rambling roller coaster review. What's the final verdict?

Sigh. As much as I complained about the whole movie, I still have to admit, it's not terrible. I still like it and would sit down and watch it at almost any chance. I had noticed flaws in the movie even from when I was very young (Most notably how the two "main characters" stopped saying anything past a certain point and how distracting the Fairies' arguing was at the end of the movie), but this last viewing before writing this was really the very first time I took off the nostalgia glasses and looked at the movie with a critical eye. It’s not ever going to be one of my favorite Disney movies any time soon, but if anyone else likes it I won’t look down on them for it either. Overall, it has more good points than bad, but it also has what I would consider some serious flaws.

Though it was the reason the Walt Disney Company did not return to classic fairy tales for thirty years it’s still considered a classic and is still enjoyed by millions across the world for good reason.

I give Maleficent an A+, but the rest of the movie a 6 out of 10, averaging out to a solid 75%. Good, but not fantastic.

Still, damn Fairies.
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The Chad
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Re: The Chad’s Review of Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty

Postby The Chad » Tue Apr 19, 2011 10:09 pm

I take it by the lack of response that everyone agrees with me 100% and I am therefore a genius.
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Re: The Chad’s Review of Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty

Postby Kincyr » Wed Apr 20, 2011 8:28 pm

you do make a lot of good points, especially regarding the inconsistencies regarding magic usage and all the historical crap.

and yes, any idea is better than that flower thing :roll:

I wonder how Disney would screw up Part Two
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Re: The Chad’s Review of Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty

Postby The Chad » Fri Apr 22, 2011 10:08 am

Interesting. I was not aware of a Part 2 to the original fairy tale.

And here, Disney has a pre-made outline for an actual sequel, and instead we get crap like "Atlantis 2: Milo's Return".

Le sigh.
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