Movie Review – Sleeping Beauty (1959)

In 1959, Walt Disney Productions released Sleeping Beauty, the company’s sixteenth animated film.

Based on a French fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty tells the story of a young princess who is cursed by an evil sorceress.  If the princess pricks her finger on a spinning wheel before her sixteenth birthday, then she’ll die.  Fortunately for the princess, a good fairly is able to alter the evil spell and change it so that instead of death, the princess will simply fall asleep.  All she needs to do to wake is to receive a kiss by her true love.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - movie poster

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – movie poster

Sleeping Beauty would mark the end of a series of Disney animated films based on fairy tales.  Throughout the 1960s, 70s, and most of the 80s, the Disney animated films focused on other sources for stories.  Disney would not return to making animated films out of fairy tales until the release of The Little Mermaid in 1989.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty begins with the opening of the fairy tale book, Sleeping Beauty.  The narrator (voiced by Marvin Miller) begins reading from the story and we learn about King Stefan (voiced by Taylor Holmes) and Queen Leah (voiced by Verna Felton), and how they finally received the gift of the birth of a child.  They name their little princess Aurora (Latin for “dawn”).  In honor of the birth of their daughter, the king and queen declare a holiday so that everybody in the kingdom can pay respect to the princess.

The illustrations in the book transition into the animated film.

One of the honored guests is King Hubert (voiced by Bill Thompson) and his young son, Prince Phillip (voiced by Bill Shirley).  It’s announced that day that Prince Phillip will be betrothed to Princess Aurora, and the kingdoms of Stefan and Hubert will finally be united.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Also visiting the infant princess that day are the three good fairies, Flora (the pink fairy, voiced by Verna Felton), Fauna (the green fairy, voiced by Barbara Jo Allen), and Merryweather (the blue fairy, voiced by Barbara Luddy).  Each of them has a magical gift for Princess Aurora.  Flora gives the princess the magical gift of beauty, and Fauna gives her the magical gift of song.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Before Merryweather can give her gift to the princess, Maleficent (voiced by Eleanor Audley), the evil fairy, suddenly arrives in King Stefan’s castle.  She’s somewhat upset that she was not invited to meet Princess Aurora, and Merryweather tells her that she is unwanted.  Nevertheless, Maleficent does have a gift for the young princess.  Maleficent casts an evil spell and curses young Princess Aurora, proclaiming that before sunset on her sixteenth birthday, Aurora will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die.

Everybody is shocked at Maleficent’s cruelty, and she’s able to escape before being captured by King Stefan’s knights.  It’s still Merryweather’s turn to present the princess with a gift.  Merryweather uses her magic to weaken Maleficent’s curse.  Instead of dying after pricking her finger, the girl will simply fall asleep.  She can be awakened by a kiss from her true love.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Still fearful for his daughter’s life, King Stefan orders that all spinning wheels in the kingdom be destroyed.  Even with that precaution, the three fairies know that Maleficent will try to find and kill the girl.  To protect her from the evil fairy, they’ll have to find a way to hide her.  Flora comes up with a plan to hide Aurora deep in the forest in a woodcutter’s cottage.  All three of the fairies will raise her, but they’ll temporarily give up their magic to do so.  Merryweather is reluctant to give up her magic, but Flora convinces her it’s the only way to keep the princess safe from Maleficent’s spies.

It crushes King Stefan and Queen Leah to hide their daughter with the fairies, but they know that it’s the only way to keep her safe until she breaks Maleficent’s curse.  They give their consent and Princess Aurora is taken away and hidden deep in the woods.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sixteen years pass and the kingdom begins to rejoice at the expected arrival of their long lost princess.  Meanwhile, Maleficent’s minions report to the evil fairy that they have searched everywhere in the kingdom, but they have not found Aurora.  When Maleficent learns that the minions have been looking for a baby this whole time instead of a girl or young woman, she’s furious at their stupidity.  Maleficent dispatches Diablo, her pet raven, to go out and find the missing princess.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Princess Aurora (renamed Briar Rose, voiced by Mary Costa) has grown into a beautiful young woman, just as the gifts from Flora and Fauna have promised.  She loves to sing, and she dreams of finally meeting her true love, whomever he may be.

In honor of Aurora’s sixteenth birthday, the three fairies intend on throwing her a surprise party.  They send Aurora out into the woods to pick berries while they try to bake a cake and make a dress, all without using any magic.  Despite living as a mortal for all of these years, none of the women are any good at baking or making clothes.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

While she’s out in the woods with the woodland critters, Aurora sings the songs “I Wonder” and “Once Upon a Dream” while dancing around the woods.  Her singing accidentally attracts the attention of Prince Phillip, now a handsome young prince, who was out riding on his horse, Samson.  It’s a classic story of love at first sight as Aurora and Phillip meet one another.  Neither one knows the other’s name, but that doesn’t matter as they instantly bond and share a deep connection.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Just as Aurora is about to reveal her name to Phillip, she remembers that she wasn’t supposed to be talking to any strangers in the woods.  She takes off running back to the cottage, but she tells Phillip that he can see her again that evening at the cottage in the glen.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Back at the cottage, the three fairies decide to use their magic wands to make a cake, create a dress for Aurora, and clean up the cottage before the princess returns.  Flora and Merryweather get into an argument about the color of the dress (Flora wants it to be pink, Merryweather thinks that it should be blue), and the two of them have a magic battle there in the cottage.  Unfortunately, the magic also goes up the chimney and attracts the attention of Diablo flying overhead.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Aurora returns to the cottage and is thrilled to receive the birthday cake as well as a new dress.  She tells Flora, Fauna and Merryweather that she met the man of her dreams today while out in the woods.  The fairies break the news to Aurora that she has been betrothed to Prince Phillip since the day that she was born.  They also tell her that she is really Princess Aurora and not Briar Rose.  The fairies are going to return her to her father, King Stefan, that very evening.

As the fairies were telling Aurora the truth of her identity, Diablo was spying on them through an open window.  The raven learns that Princess Aurora has been hiding in a cottage in the woods the whole time, and he flies back to Maleficent to tell her the news.

Aurora is upset when Flora tells her that she must never again see the young man that she met in the woods.  She takes the news hard and the three fairies decide to leave her alone for a little while.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Back at his castle, King Stefan is still worried about the safety and well being on his daughter.  As the sun starts to set on the horizon, he knows that it’s basically now or never for Maleficent’s curse to take effect.  King Hubert, on the other hand, is joyous that the evening is drawing near as he cannot wait to marry his son, Prince Phillip, to Princess Aurora.  He already has a castle built and waiting for them, and he cannot wait to have grandchildren.  He’s confident that the princess will arrive soon and the wedding ceremony will soon follow.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

When Prince Phillip arrives at the castle, he’s excited to tell his father that he just met the girl he wants to marry.  Not Princess Aurora but instead a peasant girl that he met today in the woods.  King Hubert is upset that his son intends on breaking the marriage agreement, but Phillip doesn’t care.  He leaves the castle to return to the woods to visit with the peasant girl.

Later that afternoon, the fairies disguise Aurora in a robe and quietly sneak her back into her father’s castle.  The princess is still heartbroken about not being able to marry the young man she met in the woods, so the fairies leave her alone in her room in the palace.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

While the princess is crying, Maleficent materializes in the room’s fireplace.  She transforms herself into an energy orb and hypnotizes Aurora, making her walk through a secret passage behind the fireplace and up a staircase to an empty room.  In the empty room, Maleficent transforms into a spinning wheel.  Aurora reaches out and touches the spindle on the spinning wheel, and then she collapses into a deep sleep, moments before sunset on her sixteenth birthday.

The three good fairies are too late to stop Aurora.  By the time they reach the empty room, Maleficent is there.  She laughs at them for being so foolish and then disappears.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

It’s now the evening and the kingdom is celebrating what they believe to be the arrival of Princess Aurora.  The three good fairies aren’t about to reveal that they failed in protecting her from Maleficent.  Instead of presenting Aurora, they take her sleeping body to a bedroom in a tower, and then they cast a powerful charm on the entire kingdom, causing everybody to fall asleep.  Everybody will wake when Aurora finally does, whether it’s soon or years from now.

When Flora is casting her sleeping charm on King Hubert and King Stefan, she overhears a sleepy Hubert talking about a girl that Phillip just met.  She hears him say that it was a peasant girl that he met “once upon a dream.”  Suddenly Flora realizes that it was Phillip that Aurora really met in the woods, and not some random person.  It’s her true love, the person who can break Maleficent’s curse.  The kingdom sleeps as the three good fairies race back to the cottage to find Prince Phillip.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

The prince beats the fairies to the cottage.  When he knocks on the door a woman’s voice answers.  But it’s not Aurora.  Waiting for him in the cottage is Maleficent along with her minions.  Her minion monsters quickly subdue and capture Prince Phillip, and he’s taken away to Maleficent’s evil castle.

When the good fairies arrive at the cottage, all they find is Phillip’s hunting hat.  They know what needs to be done to save the kingdom.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Maleficent’s home is a dark castle on top of the Forbidden Mountain, an evil and sinister place where death lurks around every corner.  The good fairies shrink in size and infiltrate the castle, sneaking their way past the minions on patrol.  They make their way to the throne room where Maleficent is watching as the minions celebrate and dance around a fire.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Maleficent rises and goes to the dungeon to speak with Prince Phillip.  She tortures the young prince by telling him her true plan.  She begins by telling him that the peasant girl that he met in the woods is really Princess Aurora, and right now she’s under an evil sleep spell.  Maleficent intends on keeping Phillip prisoner until he’s an old man and on the edge of death.  He’ll then be free to leave and kiss his beloved princess, a princess who has been sleeping peacefully and hasn’t aged a day.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

After Maleficent leaves the dungeon, the good fairies enter the room and quickly free Prince Phillip from his chains.  They also arm him with an enchanted Shield of Virtue and a mighty Sword of Truth.  The stealthy escape plan is foiled by a Diablo, and Phillip has to battle his way out of Maleficent’s castle with the help of the good fairies.  Merryweather gets the last laugh when she finally catches Diablo and transforms the raven into a stone statue.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Maleficent is furious when she sees Phillip escape from the Forbidden Mountain.  She uses a spell to cast a forest of thorn bushes around King Stefan’s castle, but that doesn’t stop the prince.  He hacks and slashes his way through the thorns.  Maleficent that teleports herself in front of Phillip and transforms into a powerful, fire-breathing dragon.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Phillip tries to fight the dragon, but Maleficent is just too powerful.  She fights and keeps pushing him back to the edge of a cliff.  When Phillip loses his enchanted shield, it looks like Maleficent has won.  The fairies comes to Phillip’s rescue and cast a spell on his sword.  When he throws the blade at the dragon, it strikes Maleficent in the heart, killing the evil sorceress.

The dragon falls off the cliff to the ground below.  When Phillip looks over the edge he sees the sword stuck through Maleficent’s clothes.  The sword then changes color from silver to black, suggesting there’s still some evil sorcery at play.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

The forest of thorns disappears and Prince Phillip enters the castle and climbs to the chamber with the sleeping princess.  He then kisses Princess Aurora and she awakens from the evil spell.

The kingdom also wakes and nobody is aware that they were under a spell.  Phillip and Aurora then walk down the stairs and make a grand entrance to their parents.  Aurora then happily reunited with her parents.  King Hubert is confused though as his son is there with the princess instead of a peasant girl that he met in the woods.  He lets it go and is happy for his son.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – (c) Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty ends with Prince Phillip and Princess Aurora dancing in the ball room.  Flora and Merryweather continue their battle of changing Aurora’s dress between pink and blue.  Right before the book Sleeping Beauty closes, the final color of the dress is pink, implying that Flora won the battle.

So is Sleeping Beauty a good movie?

Absolutely!

This is a fantastic animated fairy tale with obscenely detailed backgrounds, fluid animation, magic spells, a prince who fights for his princess, and one of the greatest villains in the history of the Disney animated films.  It’s really hard to top Sleeping Beauty when it comes to animated fairy tales, especially those set in the medieval times.

The film does have a couple of negative issues though.

First of all, most of the songs in Sleeping Beauty aren’t very memorable.  The film has a hit with “Once Upon a Time,” but none of the other songs stand out in this film.  It seems like the background score is better than the other singing we hear in this film.

Second, the artwork in this film has a very different look to it than the other animated films from that time period.  It’s understood that Walt Disney himself wanted a different look and feel to Sleeping Beauty as the company had already made two medieval-themed fairy tail films (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella), and this one was to be different.  Some of the character drawings look more like book illustrations than the characters in previous films such as Pinocchio and Cinderella.

In particular, the minions, forest animals, and some of the secondary / background characters look very cartoony and not what you would expect in a full-length Disney animated film.  Some of the animated pieces stand out too much from the background, and it’s easy to see the difference between the animation and the background in parts of the film.

But that’s really it when it comes to issues with Sleeping Beauty.

The backgrounds themselves look spectacular (the forest sequence — WOW!), and Maleficent, Aurora and Phillip look great on the screen as well.  The same goes true for all of the magical effects that take place throughout the movie.  You’ll probably watch this film a few times just so you can see more details in the backgrounds that you may have missed.  The detail is that good!

The legacy of Sleeping Beauty continues into the Disney theme parks, but not as much as one might think.

The biggest reference you’ll find to the film is in Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland, and their castles.  That’s Sleeping Beauty Castle that stands in the center of those parks.  The castles in Florida and Tokyo Disneyland are both Cinderella Castle.

As far as Walt Disney World is concerned, there really aren’t many references to Sleeping Beauty.  The Magic Kingdom used to have a restaurant called “King Stefan’s Banquet Hall” located in Cinderella Castle, but that restaurant was later changed to “Cinderella’s Royal Table.”  In Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the night show “Fantasmic!” has Maleficent and she transforms into a massive Audio-Animatronic, fire-breathing dragon to battle Mickey Mouse.  Some of the characters from Sleeping Beauty are found in the theme parks, and you’re best off finding them in the France pavilion in Epcot and Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom.

That’s about it.  Don’t expect to find any rides or shows in Walt Disney World dedicated to this classic Disney animated film.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – movie trailer

When it comes to richly detailed animation and a fantastic story, it’s hard to beat Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.  This is an under-appreciated animated film.  Grab yourself a copy of it in high-definition and enjoy a great fairy tale.  You cannot go wrong with this film!

Maleficent – “The princess shall indeed grow in grace and beauty, beloved by all who know her. But… before the sun sets on her 16th birthday, she shall prick her finger, on the spindle of a spinning wheel – AND DIE!”

———————

Princess Aurora – “I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream. I know you, the gleam in your eyes is so familiar a gleam. Yet I know it’s true, that visions are seldom all they seem… but if I know you, I know what you’ll do: you’ll love me at once, the way you did once upon a dream…”

———————

Maleficent – “A forest of thorns shall be his tomb! Borne through the skies on a fog of doom! Now go with the curse, and serve me well! ‘Round Stefan’s Castle, CAST MY SPELL!”

———————

Maleficent – “Now, shall you deal with ME, O’ Prince – and all the powers of HELL!”

———————

Flora – “Thou sword of truth, fly swift and sure, that evil die and good endure!”

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