Release Date: January 29th, 1959
Inspiration: “Sleeping Beauty” by Charles Perrault
Budget: $6 million
Domestic Gross: $51.6 million
Worldwide Gross: $51.6 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
IMDB Score: 7.2/10
Storyline (per IMDB): After the beautiful Princess Aurora is born into royalty, everyone gathers to celebrate. Everything is perfectly fine until an unwanted guest appears, the evil fairy Maleficent. Maleficent casts a spell on the young princess and announces that she will die by pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel before sunset on her 16th birthday. Fortunately, one of the good fairies, Merryweather, changes the spell so Aurora will fall into a deep sleep instead, and the only way to wake her from her sleep is true love’s kiss. Finally the day comes.
Pre-Watching Thoughts: We come to the final film of the 1950s and it has been four long years between the release of Lady and the Tramp to this one. In a bit of an interesting note, this would be the last fairy tale film that Disney would do until the Little Mermaid exactly 30 years later due to the underperformance of this film. This was one that was never a personal favorite of mine and it has been a long time since I have seen this film, but hopefully it manages to hold up and I do have some high expectations for this one.
Voice Cast: The first thing right off the bat that is worth mentioning and I will delve further into this later in the recap, and that is after having a decent sized cast for the last few films we have possibly our smallest cast to date with this film as we have only 8 actors involved with one pulling double duty. In another pretty interesting note, we split down the middle as we have four returning actors for this film and we have four newcomers brought in which is a very rare instance and I’d be surprised if it happened again. First regarding our returning voices, we have Eleanor Audley come back for the last time as she provides one of her more memorable roles ever in Maleficent, marking her second memorable villain role after Lady Tremaine back in Cinderella. We then have Verna Felton make her return as well as she does double duty with the fairy Flora as well as Queen Leah, and speaking of the fairies we have Barbara Luddy return as she voices the fairy Merryweather. Finally, the last returning actor we have is Bill Thompson as he voices King Hubert in a fun role, and it will be interesting to see how much longer a few of these actors will end up returning for future roles. Now in terms of the new actors brought in, we have opera singer Mary Costa providing the voice of Princess Aurora in what would end up being her most memorable role as she would not appear in many films after this. We then have singer Bill Shirley as he provides the voice of Prince Philip in what would be one of his last roles as well, and it is interesting in the progression of these films that we see several actors make their final appearances in an animated film. Next we have Barbara Jo Allen who was best known for her Vera Vague character as she provides the voice of the fairy Fauna as she was also nearing the end of her career as well. Finally, we have veteran actor Taylor Holmes providing the voice of King Stefan in what would end up being his final role ever in his career as he sadly passed away shortly after the film was released. It is almost fitting that this is the last film of the decade because it certainly feels like a changing of the guard as we head into the 1960s, and it will be interesting to see how many from this previous collection of actors continue on and mix in with the fresh blood that this to come.
Hero/Prince: We have our third prince grace the big screen in Prince Philip who we first meet when he was a boy and he learns he is to be betrothed to Princess Aurora who is only a baby when he first meets her which he does not seem to be thrilled by. We then meet him again when he is a young man and he meets Briar Rose in the forest unaware that she is Aurora, and he falls in love with her despite him thinking she is a peasant girl. He then learns that she is the Princess he was set to marry only to be captured by Maleficent who plans to hold him in her tower until he is an old man, but the three fairies help Philip escape and return to the castle despite Maleficent’s efforts. Maleficent transforms into a dragon to stop Philip only for Philip to kill her with his sword and he manages to revive Aurora with true love’s kiss. Unlike the Prince in Snow White and Prince Charming in Cinderella, Philip is definitely the most fleshed out prince that we have seen in these films and unlike the other princes, we see Philip go to great lengths to save the one he loves including fighting Maleficent as a dragon. There is no doubt that Philip is one of the better princes and one of the better heroes in the Disney film canon, and we will see if any prince going forward can match up to him.
Princess: After a few years of questionable princesses in the films, we have our first real legit princess since Cinderella and that is Princess Aurora who we first meet as a baby during her christening, and during this Maleficent appears and curses her to die after pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. However, Merryweather the fairy alters it by having Aurora fall into a deep sleep only to be awakened by true love’s kiss, and Aurora is left in the care of the fairies who rename her Briar Rose and raise her like a normal girl. When she turns 16, she meets Philip and falls in love with him though the fairies reveal to her she is a princess and betrothed to a prince, but they are unaware that Philip is who she met and they return her to the castle. She is enchanted by Maleficent to fulfill the curse as she touches the spindle and falls into a deep sleep, and the fairies leave her in the tower until they bring Philip to her after they defeat Maleficent. He kisses her to revive her and she meets her parents for the first time since being a baby before doing a dance with Philip. Aurora is one of the more interesting princesses in that you can tell there are a lot of similarities between her and Snow White and she was not very well-received as many felt that she was too much of a damsel-in-distress. In fact, many have considered her the worst of the Disney princesses which sounds pretty harsh, but when you look at her she does seem about as stereotypical as a princess as you could get. It will be interesting to see if she lands at the bottom of my listing of the princesses or if she fares more comparably when putting her against the other princesses in the canon.
Villain: We have had several memorable villains over the last 20 years in these films and a few that have ranked amongst the best, but we have perhaps the most legendary villain in the history of the Disney canon and that is the mistress of evil herself, Maleficent. She is offended that she was not invited to the christening of Princess Aurora so she crashes and curses her by saying that she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday and die, but the fairies amend the curse by having Aurora fall into a deep sleep to be awakened by true love’s kiss. They then hide Aurora for the next 16 years and after her minions fail to find her, Maleficent has her raven find them which he does and after the fairies bring Aurora back to the castle, Maleficent enchants her into pricking the spindle and falling into the deep sleep. She then abducts Philip and plans to keep him in her castle until he is an old man at which she will then release him, but the fairies save him and they return to the castle despite Maleficent’s efforts. She finally confronts them and turns into a dragon to try and stop Philip, but the fairies enchant his sword and he drives it into her heart as she falls off a cliff to her ultimate death. There is no doubt that Maleficent is pretty much the embodiment of evil as she curses a baby simply because she wasn’t invited to the christening, and she even brutalizes her own minions when they fail to find Aurora for the last 16 years. She is willing to let Philip suffer by forcing him to grow old before she releases him and after her magic fails to stop Philip, she goes all in by transforming into a dragon and putting up one last fight before being put down for good. Maleficent is pretty much everything that you would want in a classic villain and she is still considered one of, if not the greatest Disney villains of all time and it is likely that she will rank very high on my list when I do it.
Other Characters: So as mentioned earlier, we have a very small cast of actors that are involved in the film and that plays out as well on the screen as we only have a few other characters that have definitive roles that they play. It is funny to think that because we have plenty of scenes that feature either a bunch of animals or humans, but they are mostly used for background dressing and to fill out the crowd. We do have a few other characters to talk about and at the top of the list are the three fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather who bestow gifts upon Aurora and also act as mother figures to her while they have her hid in the forest. Despite the constant bickering between Flora and Merryweather, they care deeply for Aurora and help Philip defeat Maleficent before waking Aurora with a kiss. We then have Aurora’s parents King Stefan and Queen Leia who leave Aurora in the care of the fairies, and we also have Philip’s father King Hubert who is best friends with Stefan and they have a humorous relationship as their children will unite their kingdoms. I also want to call out the minstrel who serves basically as comic relief during Stefan and Hubert’s interactions as he uses his lute as a chalice to drink wine. Sometimes a film like this doesn’t need a lot of excess especially in terms of characters as it puts more emphasis on the ones that are on screen for most of the time, and we will see with the next film if the excess amount of characters helps or hurts that film.
Songs: This is an interesting film in that there were apparently several songs written for the film when it was first being thought of at the beginning of the decade, but the next year Walt decided to use the score from the ballet version of Sleeping Beauty. As a result, this rendered the majority of the songs that were to be used for the film useless which was sad because it would’ve been cool to hear those original songs and how they would’ve factored into the film. The film was also plagued by a musician’s strike so they had to do the recording in Germany, and ultimately we didn’t have a ton of songs in the film though we do have some choral renditions done at certain points in the film. We do end up getting two songs both sung by Mary Costa with the first being “I Wonder” as she dreams about what her life is going to be, and then we have the centerpiece song of the film which is “Once Upon a Dream” and it still remains one of the more memorable songs in the history of the Disney films. Again while it would’ve been interesting to see what the original songs were and how they could’ve fit into the film, what we ended up getting worked and it definitely felt like a ballet brought to the big screen.
Plot: As I had mentioned previously, fairy tales usually always follow the same model of a princess in need of rescuing and a prince coming to her aid which always ends with true love’s kiss and the idea of happily ever after. So while the base is the same, what makes each fairy tale different is how they take the core idea and mold it to fit the ideas of whoever is creating their version of the fairy tale. In this case, the idea of Sleeping Beauty is somewhat similar to that of Snow White in that you have a princess who is put under a curse by an evil entity though in this case Maleficent is not related to Aurora while Snow White was the stepdaughter to the Evil Queen. Plus unlike Snow White who just happens to meet the Prince by chance and falls in love with him, Aurora is betrothed to Prince Philip while she is an infant and he is a boy to bind their kingdoms together. After she is cursed, the three fairies take it upon themselves to raise Aurora as Briar Rose to try and protect her, but they don’t plan on her meeting and falling for Philip with both unaware that they are betrothed to each other. Maleficent does everything she can to keep them apart from having Aurora fulfill the curse and keeping Philip from breaking it, even going as far as to turn into a dragon though Philip vanquishes her and brings Aurora back with true love’s kiss. You can say how closely similar Sleeping Beauty was to Snow White and that there were definite parallels between the two, but I think without a doubt that Sleeping Beauty was a completely different film than what Snow White was and there was more than enough there to differentiate the two films.
Random Watching Thoughts: We still have an opening song during the title credits, but at least it’s not one that has to match the name of the film; It is interesting that the story was based off one adaptation of Sleeping Beauty and the score was based off the ballet version; Back to the storybook opening much like Snow White, Pinocchio, and Cinderella; The chorus that Disney brought in for their films got their pay for this one given how much they were used; It kind of bothers me that Philip looks like he’s about 7 or 8 here and he is betrothed to an infant, which means that when she is 16 he will be in his mid-20s which just seems really creepy because he is an adult and she is still a teenager; Even the fairies get their own introduction; Flora gives Aurora the gift of beauty and Fauna gives her the gift of song, I wonder what Merryweather’s original gift was to be before she was forced to temper Maleficent’s curse; Was Maleficent really surprised that she didn’t receive an invitation, or was she playing it up knowing she was going to curse Aurora?; How upset must you have been if you owned a spinning wheel and had to give it up not knowing the reasoning behind it?; If they knew that burning the wheels wouldn’t stop Maleficent, why didn’t the fairies come up with a different solution for the wheels?; Fauna is the eternal optimist if she thinks that Maleficent can’t be completely bad; So Flora’s first idea was to turn Aurora into a flower without even thinking if she could turn her back into a human; What is a fairy to do if it can’t use magic?; Stefan and Leah must’ve been extremely confident that the fairies would take of Aurora if they let them take her to raise for the next 16 years; To be fair to the minions, they seem like the type of creatures who wouldn’t think that a baby can grow up and that Aurora would still be a baby; I get wanting to change her name, but was Briar Rose the best name the fairies could come up with?; Is it just me or does Aurora seem very grown up for being just 16 years old?; Flora and Fauna are so confident that they can make a dress and bake a cake respectively, yet they somehow manage to fail miserably but not for a lack of trying; People were saying as to how this film felt too similar to Snow White, but if you think about it a lot of fairy tales are similar in terms of story and it just comes down to how it is told; Philip’s horse was so keen on getting to their location until Philip promised him extra oats and carrots so they could find the source of the singing; Regardless of how people felt about Aurora as a character, there is no doubt that Mary Costa shined in the role especially when she sang “Once Upon a Dream”; The animals were so willing to take Philip’s clothes just so Aurora could live out her dream; It is funny that Philip and Aurora meet each other at this point not knowing who the other is with Philip thinking she is a peasant girl and Aurora not knowing she was betrothed to him; Props to Fauna for her efforts, but that is the saddest looking cake ever to the point that she needs a broom to prop it up; Merryweather could only take so much and finally gets to the point where she decrees they use their magic regardless of what Flora says; So much for 15 layers as Fauna just makes a 4-layer cake with her magic; I love how Fauna is so focused on the cake that she pays no mind to Flora and Merryweather having a magic fight, but at the same time they wanted to take every precaution not to be noticed yet they completely forget that when they change each other’s colors repeatedly and how coincidental that Maleficent’s raven happens to see it; When they hit the dress simultaneously, shouldn’t it have turned the dress purple?; A thing to note is that Aurora is turning 16 yet Fauna only put 13 candles on the cake; Talk about receiving a bombshell on your 16th birthday when you are told you are a princess and betrothed to a prince despite having met someone else not realizing that same person is the one you are betrothed too; If Hubert keeps eating food, there will be nothing left for everyone else; Hubert is so keen on making sure Aurora and Philip marry and doesn’t even seem to remember that Stefan hasn’t seen Aurora in 16 years; Clearly the minstrel is a lightweight in terms of drinking as he passed out fairly quickly; I love how Philip says that this is the 14th century and things are different now than they were in Hubert’s day; If the fairies are taking care to make sure Aurora isn’t recognized, shouldn’t they not be in their full fairy outfits?; If the fairies really wanted to be sure that Aurora would be safe, maybe they should’ve kept her in the cottage for one more day; Stefan went through the trouble of making sure all the spinning wheels were destroyed yet didn’t stop to think that maybe Maleficent could create one herself since she has evil powers; The kingdom is so happy at the thought of Aurora returning and yet are completely unaware that she has fallen for Maleficent’s curse; Very interesting plan by the fairies to have everyone fall to sleep until Aurora awakens; The minstrel finally wakes up after drinking too much only to be put back to sleep by Merryweather; What would’ve happened if Hubert fell asleep before Flora realized that Philip was the boy that Aurora had met in the forest?; I wondered if Maleficent knew that her original curse was tempered with or if she assumed Aurora had died when she pricked the spindle, but she must’ve known it was since she captured Philip and was set to keep him until he was an old man before releasing him; The music that plays while at Forbidden Mountain sounds very similar to “Night on Bald Mountain” in Fantasia; Maleficent is such a great villain and so confident in her plan; I love how the fairies use their magic to become expert blacksmiths in breaking Philip’s locks and getting the door open, as well as forging him a magic shield and sword; So Flora tells Philip that he will have to face the trials on his own yet they continuously use their magic to help him; How did Maleficent not realize her raven was trying to warn her about Philip leaving and only came out after Merryweather turned him into a gargoyle?; Maleficent puts up a forest of thorns to surround the castle thinking it will stop him not realizing he has a sword and can cut his way through; Maleficent’s transformation into the dragon is still one of the scariest moments in the history of Disney, and her death is up there as well and the sword turning black is a nice touch; It’s funny how the people are able to stand up perfectly while still asleep and not be in danger of falling over; Philip looked like he barely touched Aurora’s lips when he kissed her; Hubert is so confused as to what is happening, but he gets over it quickly; To the bitter end, Flora and Merryweather can’t help but argue over what color Aurora’s dress should be.
Overall Thoughts: Overall, this ended up being a great film that I think has aged very well over time and it is a bit of a shame that it took a while for it to get the recognition that it deserved. It is a bit sad that this would be the last fairy tale film that Disney would make for 30 years and reportedly, it was said that Walt Disney himself was feeling disenfranchised with the animation department and thought about shutting it down partially due to the production costs. Obviously it is safe to say that the launching of Disneyland had taken a lot of Walt’s time and he was also putting a lot more focus on the budding television shows, and let’s not forget that he was starting to get older and the things he was doing like smoking was greatly affecting his health. It would’ve been quite the butterfly effect if the animation studio was shut down especially after this film underperformed at the box office, but thankfully it didn’t happen and as we hit the 1960s we will see if the studio can turn things around. As for this film, it is a great film and I had it pegged going in to receive my first perfect score, but it didn’t quite get to that point unfortunately though it is still high on my list to this point.
Final Grade: 9.5/10