Animation Blu-ray Review

Once Upon a Blu-ray Review: Sleeping Beauty: Diamond Edition

October 14, 2014Ben MK

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A kiss is(n't) just a kiss...

Amongst all of Disney's animated canon, Sleeping Beauty easily ranks as one of its most beloved. It may be surprising, then, to learn that box office response to the film was initially tepid — so tepid in fact that Disney would not attempt another animated fairy tale adaptation for three decades. In the years since its 1959 premiere, however, moviegoers have come to realize just how truly timeless and magical a movie it is. And now, after nearly five years in the vault, the film is once again available, as Disney's latest Diamond Edition Blu-ray release.


The Film Adapted from Charles Perrault's La Belle au Bois Dormant (or The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood) and the Brothers Grimm's Little Briar Rose, director Clyde Geronimi's Sleeping Beauty is a film that practically needs no introduction. Even those who have never seen the film are likely well-versed in its basic concept: that of a beautiful young woman who can only be awoken from her magical slumber by true love's kiss.

The specific details of the story are only slightly more complex. Set in the 14th century, the film revolves around Aurora, the only daughter of King Stefan and his Queen. In honor of her birth, subjects from kingdoms far and wide arrive at Stefan's castle to pay tribute to the Princess. Among them, King Hubert and his young son, Prince Phillip, who's already been betrothed to Aurora, as well as the three good fairies, Mistresses Flora, Fauna and Merryweather.

But no sooner do the fairies begin bestowing their blessings upon the Princess are they interrupted by another guest, and an uninvited one at that: the notoriously wicked sorceress and purveyor of dark magic, Maleficent. Bearing a twisted gift of her own for Aurora, Maleficent casts an irrevocable spell upon the rose-cheeked infant — dooming the Princess to certain death at the tender age of sixteen, by way of pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel — before vanishing in a plume of green smoke.

The rest is movie history: With the last of their three blessings, the fairies augment Maleficent's curse, to give Aurora a chance at a happy ending. No longer shall she meet her ultimate fate at the tip of a spinning wheel's needle. Instead, it shall merely cause her to sleep, until the day when a kiss from her true love will break the spell.

To further protect Aurora, the King even has every spinning wheel in the kingdom destroyed, while the fairies whisk the Princess away to a secluded cottage in the forest, renaming her Briar Rose and raising her as their own, far from the prying eyes of Maleficent and her evil minions. Fate, however, has a way of finding a way. And on the evening of her sixteenth birthday, as the fairies bring Aurora back to Stefan's castle for her pre-arranged marriage to Prince Phillip, Maleficent manages to locate the Princess — whose whereabouts have eluded her for the past sixteen years — and fulfil her curse.

Of course, we all know that's not how the story ends. This is a fairy tale, after all, and a Disney one at that. For despite Maleficent's best efforts to prevent it, Phillip — aided by the good fairies — indubitably charges to the rescue, culminating in a final showdown between the valiant Prince and the iconic villainess, who has assumed the form of a fearsome, fire-breathing dragon. It's one of the most memorable sequences in any Disney film, and it's just the icing on the cake for a film filled with lavish animation (five years in the making), wonderful voice acting (featuring the likes of Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy and Barbara Jo Allen) and an exquisite musical score (adapted from Tchaikovsky's 1890 The Sleeping Beauty ballet by composer George Bruns). Is it any wonder, then, that Sleeping Beauty is considered a Disney classic for the ages?

Audio/Visual Fidelity Sleeping Beauty reawakens on Blu-ray, with a storybook A/V presentation fit for a King (or a Queen, a Prince or a Princess, for that matter). Presented in its original Technirama aspect ratio, the 2:55:1 hi-def transfer perfectly recreates the movie's original 70mm theatrical exhibition, looking every bit as good as any recently-produced animated film. The picture has been painstakingly restored (an effort undertaken for its 2008 Platinum Edition Blu-ray debut), resulting in an image where the subtle details of the hand-drawn animation are plainly visible, the colors (whether it's the cherry red of Prince Phillip's coat or the bright green of the dragon's flames) are sumptuous and the contrast is sublime. But the visuals aren't the only aspect of the film that's gotten a facelift. From the sound of lightning strikes to the galloping hooves of Prince Phillip's steadfast steed, Samson, audiences will delight in the loving care that has gone into reproducing the film's original stereophonic soundstage. Boasting a robust DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack (with its original 4-channel stereo theatrical mix thrown in for good measure), the film has never sounded better.

Special Features Disney's Blu-ray release includes DVD and iTunes digital copies of the film, as well as 39 minutes of all-new HD bonus features, 62 minutes of "classic bonus features" and a feature-length audio commentary by John Lasseter, Andreas Deja and Leonard Maltin (which also appeared on the Platinum Edition Blu-ray release).

The all-new bonus features kick off with a trio of deleted and alternate scenes — "The Curse is Fulfilled", "The Arrival of Maleficent" and "The Fair" — all of which are presented in storyboard form, running 13 minutes altogether. These are followed by the 9-minute Once Upon a Parade (in which Modern Family's Sarah Hyland tells the "story" behind the Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade); The Art of Evil: Generations of Disney Villains (a 10-minute look back at Disney's impressive roster of villains and what makes them special and memorable); @DisneyAnimation: Artists in Motion (a 4-minute look at what it's like to be a Visual Development Artist at Walt Disney Animation Studios); and the 3-minute Beauty-Oke: "Once Upon a Dream" (a sing-along video for the film's most memorable song).

As for the classic bonus features, they include The Sound of Beauty: Restoring a Classic (which spends 11 minutes examining the effort that went into restoring the film's original stereophonic soundtrack for Blu-ray); the 44-minute Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty (which is a fairly in-depth making-of piece covering the film's origins, artistic style, inspirations, animation, singing, voice work and costume design); and the 8-minute Eyvind Earle: A Man and his Art (which deals with the life and times of the renowned artist behind Maleficent's iconic look).

The Bottom Line Sleeping Beauty is one of those rare films where the phrase "they don't make 'em like they used to" genuinely applies, and looking back on it 55 — going on 56 — years after its theatrical premiere, it's easy to see why. A highlight of the golden age of Disney animation, it stands on the shoulders of such giants as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinnochio. And with Maleficent putting its own spin on the tale, it's only fitting that Disney honor the original film with this Diamond Edition Blu-ray release. Although it doesn't outdo the Platinum Edition Blu-ray, in terms of bonus content, this new edition does feature the same outstanding A/V presentation. So for those who don't already own Sleeping Beauty on Blu-ray, now's the perfect time to add this classic to your collection.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  

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