Review - Sleeping Beauty: 50th Ann. Platinum Edition (DVD-2008)
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Sleeping Beauty: 50th Anniversary Platinum Edition (DVD-2008)

Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski



We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating.  Whenever the Walt Disney studio releases one of its animated classics in a newly restored video special edition, it constitutes an ‘event’.  That is most certainly the case with the just-released 2-disc 50th Anniversary Platinum Edition DVD of Walt Disney’s magnificent Sleeping Beauty.


Based on the fairy tale of a princess who falls under the curse of an evil sorceress and experiences a sleep of living death unless she be awakened by true love’s kiss, Sleeping Beauty was the final fairy tale produced by Walt Disney himself.  The film was released in 1959, but had been in production since the early 1950s.  It was six years in the making and it cost six million dollars, which made it, at the time, one of the most expensive and ambitious of Walt Disney’s achievements.


Disney envisioned the film as a moving tapestry.  This may account for the medieval, and seemingly simple, gothic and angular style of animation—which, in truth, is also highly sophisticated, decorative and contemporary.  Its spectacular multi-plane photography, has, at times, a flattened sense of perspective, and the drawings veer from the cartoonish animation of Walt’s earlier films.  But, make no mistake, the film is a masterwork of animation—each frame a masterpiece of composition and artistry.  It contains some of the highest quality traditional hand-drawn animation ever, and lays claim to Disney’s stated goal of reaching the pinnacle of achievement in animation.


Sleeping Beauty resembles other earlier Disney films— most notably Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella.  Indeed, the voice and characterization of the evil wizardress Maleficent comes from the same actress who created the unforgettable evil stepmother in Cinderella.  She is used to magnificent effect in Sleeping Beauty.  The musical score is drawn from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty ballet score—expertly orchestrated and arranged for the film.  Opera star Mary Costa provides the voice-- vocal and sung-- for Princess Aurora, the film’s title character. 


Sleeping Beauty has been available on DVD only once before— in 2003.  That edition of the film featured a restored print, and contained a widescreen and a full screen version of the film.  As impressive as that release was and is, the colors on that disc seem like pastels compared to the rich colors on the new edition. The restoration on the new disc also provides even greater clarity and detail.  The film was shot in Technirama which provided for a 70mm presentation offering a viewing experience of great impact.  The new DVD edition marks the first time that the full 2:55 to 1 aspect ratio of the 70mm six-track stereo Technirama presentation has appeared on DVD.  The musical score, recorded in Germany to obtain the best possible recording, sounds clean, brilliant and powerful.


Extras on the set are numerous and include an excellently made brand-new documentary on the making of the film and a wonderful commentary track by Disney experts John Lassiter, Leonard Maltin and Andreas Deja.  Some special features from the earlier disc are included here again, such as the Oscar-winning short, Grand Canyon, a presentation on Tchaikovsky and a feature about Disney artists.  Among the numerous new special features is a never-before-seen alternate opening song for the film called ‘Holiday’.      


The review copy for this film that I saw was on a standard definition disc.  The film is also available in a BluRay edition and I can only imagine how spectacular it looks in that format. 


When it was released in 1959, Sleeping Beauty was one of the highest grossing films of the year, second only to the blockbuster Ben-Hur, also released that year.  It is a milestone in the history of animated film and it marks the end of an era.  And like other Disney classics, the new Platinum Edition of Walt Disney’s spectacular Sleeping Beauty is another must-own DVD.


2008 Dennis Kwiatkowski/ Celluloid Dreams



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