Monday, 30 May 2011

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Animation is something I quite enjoy and I probably should have included something here sometime ago. The Disney 50 season that the BFI is showing throughout the year was meant to act as a catalyst and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was meant to be the first post back. Unfortunately, time and motivation (and even subject matter) have been lacking in the last few months, often all at the same time and thus the blog has been a bit less active that it should have. So, instead of having the first animated feature film, I decided to have one of my favourites, “Sleeping Beauty”.

I am perfectly aware that this film is dismissed by some as inferior to “Snow White…” and “Cinderella” or simply described as an honourable failure. I have always disagreed and after watching all three in a short period of time, I still prefer it. The gender politics of “Snow White…” are a bit too 1930s for my taste and “Cinderella”, despite a certain amount of sarcasm from the heroine, drags a bit too much at times, particularly in the ball sequence, or those with the king. "Sleeping Beauty" on the other hand has a much better pace, particularly in the second half, from the moment where the fairies and the princess return to the castle - people talk about Bambi's mother, but my biggest childhood Disney-induced trauma was probably Malificent's movement of the robe to reveal the sleeping Aurora. The battle sequences are great cinema and still very effective, even if they used the rotoscope a tad too obviously, and I am also a bit partial to the stylized look of the film, inspired by medieaval art.

Of course, "Sleeping Beauty" doesn't appear out of nowhere in the Disney cannon - the fairies are indeed not so distant relatives to the dwarfs in "Snow White..." and like them work wonderfully as comic reliefs; there are a lot of irritating dancing animals (who ever found these cute?); Aurora is not exactly a feminist role model and although not as bad as Snow White, Cinderella had more personality. And then there's Malificent - that astonishing character that runs away with the film. It is this character that beats both films - she's both deadlier and sharper than the Evil Queen or Lady Tremaine (the same actress voices Malificent). She oozes sarcasm throughout the film - my favourite is the description of what she'll do to Prince Phillip and how she'll release him... eventually...
But it's interesting as well, that while drawing from both these films, it was to "Sleeping Beauty" that the Disney animators paid homage in the late 1980s, early 1990s when of the Disney renaissance: in "The Little Mermaid", the final confrontation between Ursula and Eric and Ariel has some echos of the battle and the final sequence in "Beauty and the Beast" is clearly inspired by the ending of this film.


Laura said...

I'm glad to come across someone else who prefers SLEEPING BEAUTY to CINDERELLA and SNOW WHITE...SLEEPING BEAUTY is by far my favorite Disney animated film. I love the classic look, the excellent pacing (including humor and a little deeper romantic flare), and the music. Thanks for an enjoyable post!

Best wishes,

Rachel said...

I'd agree that Sleeping Beauty is a great film, one of Disney's most beautiful to look at and most stylishly done.

Aurora...well, what can you do with a heroine who has to spend the climax of the film asleep?

Maleficent is still one of the great scene-stealing Disney villains--and she doesn't even have a song telling us how evil she is! True, her methods can be a little ineffective (why does it take her sixteen years to find out why her henchman keep messing up?), but she's so menacing and cruel that you don't notice until afterward.