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SLEEPING BEAUTY

Review by Ed Nguyen

Voices: Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Jo Allen
Director: Clyde Geronimi
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 (THX certified), French, Spanish
Subtitles: English
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 or full-screen 1.33:1
Studio: Disney
Features: Too many to list, just see below!
Length: 75 minutes
Release Date: September 9, 2003

"Not in death, but just in sleep, this fateful prophecy you'll keep,

and from this slumber you shall wake, when true love's kiss the spell shall break."

Film ****

Walt Disney's greatest successes in animated features have always been tied to the world of fairy tales.  Disney's finest prewar triumph, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was a film based upon a famous fairy tale.  The film was not only the number one box office hit of its day but was also the first successful feature-length cartoon.  Disney, over the next several years, would enter his Golden Age, creating some of the finest animated features ever. 

However, the eventual entry of the U.S. into the world war sapped the resources available to Disney's animators.  Furthermore, the animation department was recruited by the military to create propaganda films.  As a result, production on feature-length cartoons dropped off almost completely, save for Donald Duck travelogues (Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros) or collections of short films or musical interludes (Make Mine Music, Fun & Fancy Free, etc.).  In fact, Disney did not attempt another true feature-length cartoon again until the release of his 1950 film Cinderella.  It was a successful return to the realm of fairy tales for the Disney company.

In 1950, bolstered and inspired by the success of Cinderella, Disney began to entertain plans for a new film based on another fairy tale.  It was around this time that Sleeping Beauty was first considered as a possible project.  As the decade wore on, Sleeping Beauty would eventually become envisioned as the grandest yet of Disney's postwar productions.  It was to make extensive use of Disney's multi-plane cameras, which had created some spectacular visual effects in his earlier animated films (particularly Fantasia).  With the rising popularity of the decade's new widescreen process (including in Disney's own Lady and the Tramp), it was also decided that Sleeping Beauty should be photographed in a new super-widescreen format, Disney's 70mm Technirama process.

Unfortunately, Sleeping Beauty's production history was filled with many delays and false starts.  This was partially due to Walt Disney's preoccupation with his two television series (The Mickey Mouse Club and Disneyland, an early variant of the long-running Wonderful World of Disney TV show) and a third (Zorro) on the way.  In addition, there was the top priority of the construction work on his yet-to-be-opened Disneyland theme park.  Although completed storyboards for Sleeping Beauty were ready by 1952, work on the film inevitably slowed down.  It was not until 1956 that animation on the project was finally resumed in earnest until the film's eventual release in 1959.

However, once Walt Disney re-focused his attentions on Sleeping Beauty, he expected nothing less than perfection.  Disney even infamously demanded endless re-draw after re-draw to get the movements of Aurora and her Prince Charming absolutely perfect.  He insisted that the human characters on-screen in Sleeping Beauty should move as realistically as possible.  To this end, Sleeping Beauty used several live-action short films shot specifically as references for Disney's artists during the animation process.  Disney had done this before with previous animated films, plus he had even brought in real deer during production of Bambi!  No doubt such perfectionism ultimately contributed to Sleeping Beauty's enormous cost.  By the time of its premiere, the film had required more years to complete than any previous Disney film and, at the scandalous cost of six million dollars, was the most expensive animated film ever up to that point.  In comparison, consider that many 1950's musicals, which tended to be incredibly expensive as well, cost less than $5 million to make.

Happily, all the money spent on Sleeping Beauty is up on the screen to see, and the finished film is quite a wonder to behold.  From the visual splendor of its Technicolor images to the breath-taking power of the widescreen format to the pitch-perfect decision to use music by Tchaikovsky, Sleeping Beauty lived up to Walt Disney's vision of the definitive animated fairy tale.

Most everyone will know the general story of Sleeping Beauty.  After all, it is a classic story.  One of the earliest written versions, Sleeping Beauty in the Woods, was written by Charles Perrault (1628-1703) and first published in Stories or Tales from Times Past, with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose (1697).  However, he drew his inspiration of tales passed on by the oral tradition and even from a fifteenth century story.  Nevertheless, Perrault's publication has generally been attributed with popularizing the relatively new literary genre of the fairy tale.

As in the case with many fairy tales, Perrault's original version of Sleeping Beauty is considerable darker than modern, water-downed versions.  In Perrault's version, after the birth of a baby daughter to a king and queen, the royal couple have a baptism celebration.  Seven fairy godmothers are invited, but no one has remembered to invite an eighth, older fairy.  The older fairy arrives unexpectedly and is quickly welcomed, though she feels scorned by the oversight of a formal invitation.  After six of the other fairies have granted gifts upon the baby princess, the old fairy declares her gift - that the princess will cut her finger on a spindle and die.  The seventh fairy, who had yet to grant her gift, alters the horrific prophecy somewhat, declaring that the princess will not die but will instead fall asleep for one hundred years before being awakened by a king's son.  Fifteen years later, the princess does indeed prick her finger on a spindle and falls into a deep sleep.  The seventh fairy re-appears once more and places an enchanted sleep spell over the princess's servants so that they may accompany her when she ultimately awakens.  One hundred years pass, by which point the princess's castle has become utterly over-grown by thickets and thorns.  A wandering young prince, hearing of the local legend of a sleeping princess, fights his way to her resting place and kisses her, awakening the sleeping beauty.  All the servants wake up as well in a grand celebration, and the prince and princess wed in a secret ceremony.

The typical re-telling ends at this point, but it is actually only half of the story.  In the original version, the prince and princess become king and queen and have two children - a daughter Aurora (after the dawn) and a son Day.  The young king's mother is a ogress by birth, and when he goes off to war, the ogress in his absence orders that the queen and her children be slaughtered and fed to her.  The royal cook attempts to deceive her by serving some farm animals instead and hiding away the Queen and her children.  The ogress mother eventually discovers the truth, and in her fury, she schemes to murder the royal family.  Fortunately, the young king arrives back home in time, and the ogress kills herself, instead.  Thus does Perrault's tale end.

Disney's film adaptation of the Perrault tale is not quite as graphic or disturbing.  Although it retains some of the dark themes of the original tale, the film favors a more contemporary version and probably more resembles the "Brier-Rose" variation of the story by the Brothers Grimm in the nineteenth century.  Disney's version also concludes on the wedding ceremony of the prince and the princess.  In the film, instead of seven fairies, there are only three.  In place of an old fairy, there is Maleficent, an evil fairy Queen with a cold, reptilian aura.  Her prophecy is slightly different in that the princess will prick her finger on a spindle before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday and will die.  Also, instead of an evil ogress mother-in-law (ha ha), there is King Hubert, a cuddly, good-hearted ruler of a nearby kingdom who indulges in some royal matchmaking on his son's behalf with King Stefan, the princess's father.

In Disney's version, the princess is named Aurora.  The film starts in the classic manner of Snow White, with an ornate storybook opening as the tale unfolds.  There is an impressive display of animated virtuosity as a huge procession of people arrive at King Stefan's castle for the celebration of Aurora's birth.  The three good fairies arrive as well and begin to bestow their gifts upon Aurora before Maleficent suddenly appears.  Angered at having been overlooked, she proclaims her dreaded prophecy and laughs in triumph as she departs, to the horror of the King and Queen.  Merryweather, the third good fairy, attempts to lessen Maleficent's prophecy somewhat with her gift.  However, it is soon decided that for the safety of the princess, she must be hidden away until her sixteenth birthday, after which point she may return to her rightful parents as princess for an arranged royal wedding with Prince Phillip, the son of King Hubert.  So, that evening, the three good fairies take Aurora away with them to live in an isolated forest cottage.  There, she is raised in peaceful seclusion as the lovely peasant girl Briar-Rose.

Naturally, the fairies' well-intended plans go awry.  Briar-Rose, on her sixteenth birthday, has a love-at-first-sight encounter with Prince Phillip in the woods, and it is the film's musical highlight.  As fate would have it, however, neither of them knows who the other truly is!  When Briar-Rose describes the handsome stranger to the fairies afterwards, they insist that she never see him again.  They reveal her true name, Princess Aurora, to her and the nature of her betrothal since birth to a certain Prince Phillip.  Later that same evening, the fairies bring the melancholy princess back to King Stefan's castle in preparations for the upcoming ceremony.  But, when the princess is alone, Maleficent appears and bewitches her, beckoning her up a castle tower to a room where...a spinning spindle lies.

Aurora pricks her finger on a spindle and falls into an enchanted sleep.  The good fairies arrive too late to safe her.  Sadly, they decide to place the entire castle's company under the spell of sleep as well to spare them the heartache of such tragic news.  In the meantime, Maleficent ensnares Prince Phillip in a trap when he goes to visit the forest cottage in search of Briar-Rose, his mysterious peasant girl.  With the tides of events at their darkest, how will goodness prevail?  Only Prince Philip can defeat Maleficent and save the day.  But how will a defenseless and sword-less prince, now enslaved in Maleficent's own dungeon, find the means to escape his captivity and to awaken his beloved sleeping beauty?  Watch the film and find out!

Don't worry, it's a Disney cartoon, so there will be a happy ending.  Suffice it to say that this prophecy will not last one hundred years, as in Perrault's original version.

Oddly enough, Sleeping Beauty has long been the black sheep of the Disney animated family.  Its design was radically different from previous animated efforts, for the animation emphasized a more angular and formal style vaguely reminiscent of Renaissance art.  Many of the compositions were abstract juxtapositions of geometrical patterns, usually vertical and less so horizontal; perhaps the most illustrative example of this radical change in style can be seen in the trees, which are...square!  Not surprisingly, there is a marked absence of the soft rolly-pollyness of previous Disney films, with only a bare hint of the cute, fuzzy animals which tend to crowd the typical Disney animated film.  Sleeping Beauty has some animals but they are mute and of minor importance to the plot.  Likewise, the film lacks the strong comic supporting characters of previous Disney efforts.  There were no seven dwarfs, conscientious crickets, or talking mice.  The three good fairies provide some amusing moments but are not true comic relief.  In short, Sleeping Beauty, for all of its graceful beauty, has little "kiddy" factor to it and as such, may appeal more to adults than children.

Furthermore, more so than in previous animated efforts, the villains and supporting characters are better developed and more interesting than the central characters of Aurora or Prince Phillip.  Maleficent is one of the best Disney villainesses and every bit the equal of the Queen in Snow White.  The three good fairies (Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather) have more screen time than Aurora and are generally better developed.  To be fair, Aurora is quite charming but is asleep half the time, after all.  As for Prince Phillip, he is actually much more charismatic than his wooden counterparts in Snow White or Cinderella and participates in some tremendous action sequences in the latter half of the film.  But still, he doesn't receive much development time and in fact does not even utter a single line in the entire second half of the film.  Aurora doesn't speak in the second half, either, but again, she is asleep (compare this to Ariel, who doesn't speak for half of The Little Mermaid either yet dominates the film).

Even catchy tunes, a staple in many Disney animated features, are in short supply here.  Although Sleeping Beauty features great music by Tchaikovsky, other than the delightful "Once Upon a Dream" interlude which marks the initial encounter between Aurora and Prince Phillip, there are no significant songs in the film.

In the end, these are really minor quibbles.  They are only worth mentioning because of the general expectation of what a typical Disney animated film should be.  Sleeping Beauty is not that typical Disney film.  Its unique vision may have initially alienated fans accustomed to a certain style from Disney, but in the prevailing years, Sleeping Beauty has become recognized as a true animated film masterpiece.  There is not a single dull spot in the entire film, which has carefully balanced the elements of humor and drama, song and action throughout its 75 minutes running length.

Sleeping Beauty's greatest asset may be that it is ultimately a showcase for the awe-inspiring talents of the Disney animators and background artists.  Eyvind Earle's incredibly detailed background designs are gorgeous, each requiring a week up to ten days to complete.  By comparison, most backgrounds in conventional hand-drawn animated features may only require a day or so to complete.  Not even the great films from Disney's Golden Age possessed this level of detail in their background design.  Earle, who had contributed earlier to Disney's radical and Academy Award-winning short "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom," brought his style to Sleeping Beauty and was actually entrusted by Walt Disney himself with almost full artistic control over the design and look of the Sleeping Beauty.  To this end, it is the artistry of the film which provides its narrative drive and breath-taking magnificence.

Sadly, Sleeping Beauty marked the end of an era in Disney animated films.  The film made a respectable $5.3 million in its initial release, a solid box office performance but nonetheless not enough to re-coup its production costs.  After this film, the Disney animators would not venture into the realm of fairy-tales again for nearly thirty years.  Furthermore, after Sleeping Beauty, the company began to use a Xerox process for its animated films.  This new process preserved the original essence of the animators' drawings (previously, a virtual army of clean-up artists was used to re-trace the original drawings for a smoother appearance in the final product), but it also led to a disturbingly scratchy and thick-stroke style of animation.  This style worked splendidly in 101 Dalmatians but was ill-suited to most films after that.

Regardless, for many years, the Disney Company has unjustifiably treated Sleeping Beauty as one of its lesser films, even though it easily boasts some of the finest production values of any of their animated features.  Is it any coincidence that in recent years, Disney has rolled out mediocre sequels to most of their 50-60's era animated films (Cinderella, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, and Jungle Book) while ignoring Sleeping Beauty?  Or that all those films have been available on DVD for years, while only now has Sleeping Beauty appeared?

Still, in the end, the long wait was a true blessing in disguise.  As it turned out, the Disney folks were quietly restoring Sleeping Beauty to its original splendor and wanted to be certain the job was done right before releasing it at last on DVD.  Plus, I'm happy that the folks at Disney have not chosen (yet) to regurgitate a vastly inferior and pointless sequel to Sleeping Beauty.  This film should stand alone as a timeless classic, much like Snow White.  Outside of the films of its Golden Age, Sleeping Beauty is truly Disney's crowning achievement.

Video ****

The Disney company has given Sleeping Beauty the reverence it deserves with this release.  Sleeping Beauty underwent a complete restoration for this release, making it the only Disney film beside Snow White to receive such care.  The entire film was scanned digitally and manipulated to remove thousands of instances of dust or debris.  Color correction was performed painstakingly, frame by frame.  The entire process took several years and was undoubtedly rather expensive, but I believe the results are worth the wait.  The Disney animators even admit that the film probably looks better now than it did in its original release.  It isn't perfect (there are still a few minor color blemishes here and there, and the image is, on a couple of rare instances, a little soft), but Sleeping Beauty has never looked finer.

In fact, Sleeping Beauty looks absolutely marvelous!  The Technicolor images are so bright and brilliant they may just blind you.  It's a virtual smorgasbord of colors!  If you own an older VHS version of the film, you may be shocked at how pale and faded it looks in comparison to this DVD.  In fact, you probably don't even need the VHS tape anymore, as this DVD allows the viewer to watch the film either in its intended widescreen format or in a full-screen format.  Be forewarned, though, that the full-screen format crops out half of the film!  Still, it was very thoughtful of  the Disney company to provide both viewing options in the same release.  I wish more companies would do this instead of releasing widescreen and full-frame versions separately and confusing consumers everywhere.

If your TV is large enough, I still recommend the widescreen format, though.  Sleeping Beauty was photographed using a special Technirama widescreen format.  This was a 70mm process that ran film through a camera horizontally and exposed two 35mm films simultaneously.  This film was then re-printed back onto standard 35mm film and re-expanded during screening with an anamorphic lens.  The result was an enormous film image with some of the most impressive artwork to ever appear in an animated film.  If you want to fully experience Sleeping Beauty, you really need to see it in all its Technirama splendor, so you need to watch it using the widescreen option.

BONUS TRIVIA: After Sleeping Beauty, the Disney company would wait nearly thirty more years before attempting another 70mm animated feature in The Black Cauldron (1985).

Audio ****

The score, by George Bruns, has been adapted from themes by Tchaikovsky for his ballet Sleeping Beauty.  Other than Disney's own Fantasia series, no other animated film has as refined a musical pedigree.  In fact, just as with Fantasia, Disney sought to screen Sleeping Beauty with state-of-the-art stereophonic sound during its original release.

This DVD release presents Sleeping Beauty's soundtrack in a lush and sparkly-clean 5.1 surround sound track.  It sound great, plus it is THX-certified.  If you are so inclined, you can even use the THX-optimizer (included in the set-up menu) to fine-tune the picture and sound for optimal performance.  Overall, the audio is dynamic and immersive with dialogue that is crisp and clear and without a trace of hiss or pop anywhere on the soundtrack.  The wonderful score can be soft and lush during romantic or melodic interludes, yet it also provides a stirring and energetic power to the latter portions of the film, particular in the climactic escape sequence from Maleficent's castle.  It is in the latter portions of the film that this new 5.1 mix truly exerts its strengths!

This is truly the finest I've ever heard Sleeping Beauty.  I would not be surprised if this DVD stirred up new interest among the younger generations in classical music, particularly that of Tchaikovsky's.  Kudos to the Disney company for a great job here!

Coincidentally, the film offers alternate tracks in French and Spanish, but these can only be accessed via the full-frame version of the film.  Conversely, the film's English audio commentary can only be accessed via the widescreen version of the film.  The regular English 5.1 track can be accessed either way.

Features ****

The Disney folks really did a fantastic job in the features department with Sleeping Beauty.  The release is comprised of two discs.  On disc 1, you will find both widescreen and full-frame viewing options for the film.

The most significant extra feature on disc 1 is a commentary track comprised of interview excerpts from a myriad of stars and artists who contributed to the film.  Included are comments from Eyvind Earle, Ollie Johnston, Marc Davis, and many more.  Mary Costa provides a wonderful anecdote about how she was cast as the speaking and singing voice for Aurora.  However, the most priceless treasure of this commentary is a musical number "Riddle Diddle Diddle" which had been cut from the film.  It was originally to have been sung by the three fairies while they made a dress and baked a cake in Briar-Rose's absence from their glen cottage.  In the final film, only the music (derived from Tchaikovsky's ballet) remains, but in the commentary track, you will get to hear the completed number with its original lyrics!  The packaging and disc menus make no mention whatsoever of this number, so its inclusion here is a pleasant surprise!

On a curious note, the commentary track appears to lack any dialogue from the film.  Only the score and sound effects remain, although you will not hear much of it over the comments.

Elsewhere on disc 1, you will also find a handful of trailers for Disney theatrical and DVD releases.  The DVD releases include The Lion King: SE, Finding Nemo, Santa Clause 2, and Kim Possible: The Secret Files.  The theatrical trailer is for Brother Bear, a Disney animated film for release in November, 2003.

Lastly, disc 1 includes two commercials.  The first is for Disney Princess, which as far as I can tell seems to be a girl's apparel and toy store.  The second is for Disney Electronics Princess Style, which is a pink TV-DVD player set.  It has cute, detachable mouse ears on the TV, too.  Right-o.

Did I mention that the menus on disc 1 are extremely pink?  It is rather obvious the Disney company feels that Sleeping Beauty will appeal much more to young girls than to young boys.  Well, considering that the first half of the film focuses on female characters (a princess and three fairies) and that the narrative drive is provided by love songs, match-making, scenes of cake baking and dress making, plus a hot debate over the correct color of said dress (blue..or pink!), the folks at Disney may be right.  Boys may not opt to stick around until the second half of Sleeping Beauty, but they should because it features a danse macabre, a fantastic escape sequence, and...a climactic fight with a dragon!

Moving on the disc 2, here is where you will find most of the extra features.  These are divided into two main areas, a Games, Music & Fun area and a History area.  The first area is targeted completely at children, and I doubt adults will find much with which to amuse themselves here.  Adults will prefer to gravitate towards the History area.  A word of caution, though - the selection of features on disc 2 is HUGE, and viewers are likely to become overwhelmed very rapidly.  My recommendation is to use the reference booklet which comes inside this DVD release.  The booklet contains a navigational tree outlining the contents of disc 2, and it will help immeasurably in prioritizing which features to see first.

Anyway, in the Games area, there are six different features.  First is an "Art Project," which describes how to create a princess (for girls) or a dragon (for boys) out of ordinary household items.  Next is a "Rescue Aurora Adventure" game; you assume the role of Prince Phillip and must answer seven multiple-choice questions pertaining to the film to advance along your journey to rescue Aurora.  The three fairies offer advice along the way, but the audio in this game is somewhat muffled, making their hints difficult to hear.  Naturally, if you get a question wrong, you must re-start at the beginning again, so that isn't so good.  In truth, it isn't a very interesting game.

Next is my favorite feature in this area - a "Princess Personality Profile" game.  The DVD asks you a long string of multiple-choice questions about your personality, then determines which Disney princess you most resemble.  It's fun, but it also assumes that you are a girl, so maybe boys will prefer to skip over this game.  But it's still fun, like going to a fortune-teller!

If you liked the song "Once Upon a Dream," Disney includes a sing-along option for this song, much as you might find on a Disney sing-along video.  Or, if you're a teenybopper, you can listen to an atrocious, disco-beat update of the song sung by "no secrets," a musical group apparently comprised of a quartet of aspiring Britney Spears-wannabes.  Trust me, it's pretty bad.

The last feature in this area is an Ink & Paint game.  You have the option of coloring in any of eight characters from the film.  Unfortunately, the game only allows you to color them in as they appear in the film, so you can't experiment with pink Maleficents or green Prince Phillips.  That's too bad because a free-form option would have been a lot of fun!

That concludes the Games area, so moving on to the History area, here is where the meatiest features can be found.  Again, it is quite large and may take the average viewer several days to navigate through.  First up is a 16-minute "Making Of" documentary.  This documentary discusses many of the contributors to the film, including the aforementioned Eyvind Earle, who was largely responsible for the unique look of the film and Marc Davis, who was a master of the female form at the Disney studio and drew or supervised most of the animation on Aurora and Maleficent.  The documentary also provides glimpses of the live-action sequences filmed by Disney to help his animators, including a dance sequence by Helene Stanley (for Aurora) and stills of Eleanor Audley, the model (and voice) for Maleficent.  Coincidentally, Audley had also been the voice for the memorable evil step-mother in Cinderella.  If you watch this documentary through its closing credits, you'll hear a fantastic alternate take of "Once Upon a Dream" by Mary Costa.  She would in fact launch a highly successful international opera career after her participation in Sleeping Beauty!

Next is a Story section.  This offers a brief history on various permutations of the Sleeping Beauty tale, which is actually many hundreds of years old.  This section also includes side-by-side comparisons between storyboards and two corresponding sequences from the film.  My favorite feature in this section, however, is the 1951 story outline.  It is essentially a 22-minute audio book, in which a female narrator reads the story treatment for the film, as it existed in 1951.  You can also read the text along with the narration, if you like.  It's quite fascinating either way, and particularly interesting in that this early treatment focused much more on Aurora and had an entirely different plot than seen in the final film.

The next section is a Production section.  This offers a series of short 2-3 minute featurettes on various aspects of the production.  You will see more of the live-action mini-films used during production of Sleeping Beauty.  Other featurettes focus on the music (with Mary Costa offering some words), the design of the film, the backgrounds, and various photographs.  Plus, there is a short featurette concerning the restoration of the film.

However, the last (but MOST important) featurette in this section is a discussion on the difference between widescreen and pan-and-scan (a.k.a. full-frame) presentations of films on TVs.  I think this should be mandatory viewing for anyone who has ever bought a DVD and complained about "black bars."  Duh.  Watch this featurette, which concludes with a side-by-side comparison of the "Once Upon a Dream" sequence from the film, shown simultaneously in widescreen and full-frame.  You may be surprised at just how much of the film's image is excised from the full-frame format!

Next up on the DVD is a Gallery section.  This section is enormous!  It simply never ends!  It is further sub-divided (into layouts, backgrounds, character designs, conceptual art, storyboards, posters, etc.) and is presented as a tour through a museum or art gallery.  There is even a special section displaying all the pages of the actual illustrated storybook used in the film; some of the pages did not actually appear in the film, so this is a special treat.  As for the majority of this Gallery section, if you normally zip through galleries on other DVDs, the tour format will slow you down considerably (which may be the entire point), as it will force you to pay attention to the often exquisite artwork presented here.  Frequently, there are also commentaries for any particular selection.  Given the huge amount of material in this Gallery, plus all the commentaries, suffice it to say that it is very easy to spend a couple of hours in just this section alone!

The Publicity section is next, and it is a small one.  Inside, you will find three trailers for Sleeping Beauty, two from the original 1959 release and one from the 1995 re-release.

A Scrapbook section follows and is essentially another gallery (albeit smaller) of collected photographs.  This time, the photographs are presented in the typical manner, although they are divided into sub-sections of behind-the-scene shots, publicity, merchandise, and theme park-related pictures.

The DVD concludes with three short films.  The first is "Four Artists Paint One Tree," a 16-minute featurette which was originally aired on the Disneyland TV program on April 3, 1958.  Walt Disney introduces four of his studio's finest artists (Eyvind Earle, Marc Davis, Josh Meador, and Walt Peregoy), and they in turn explain the process of developing the appearance of Aurora.  There is even a brief preview of a scene from the film before the narrative dives into the real heart of this featurette - an outing by the four artists to paint a huge tree.  We get to see each artist's individual style, explained by the artists themselves, as they carefully paint their versions of the tree.  It is a fascinating glance at Disney artists at work and a rare opportunity to see how their work progresses from the early stages to the final product.

The second short feature is a 30-minute film, "The Peter Tchaikovsky Story," which originally aired on the Disneyland TV program on January 30, 1959 and was shown theatrically in some international countries.  It is a melodramatic and fictional depiction of Tchaikovsky's upbringing, from his early childhood until the debut of his classic ballet Sleeping Beauty.  Beside from the obviously superb musical score, the highlight of this film is a performance from Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake by Galina Ulanova and the Bolshoi Ballet.  I don't know how Disney managed that casting coup, but it is a prime example of the astounding production values which Disney routinely poured to his Disneyland broadcasts.  Many of these programs had cinematic quality production values, and some (such as Davy Crockett and Johnny Tremain) were so well-made that they are eventually received highly successful theatrical releases after being shown on Disneyland!

Finally, we come to the Grand Canyon, a 28-minute widescreen short subject.  This film was originally shown along with Sleeping Beauty during its original release.  It is essentially a very picturesque travelogue of the Grand Canyon, accompanied by music from the "Grand Canyon Suite" by Ferde Grofe.  This film was one of many True-Life short subjects which Disney created during the 1950's.  These short documentaries were the precursors of today's "Nature" or "National Geographic" programs and generally focused upon scenes of nature and wildlife.  From these shorts, Disney even developed a series of highly successful True-Life films, such as The Living Desert, The African Lion, and White Wilderness.  The DVD presents the Grand Canyon in its original widescreen format as well as a great 5.1 surround sound audio.  It is quite a stirring experience, and although Grand Canyon may not seem particularly out of the ordinary today, it was fresh and unique enough in its day to earn the 1959 Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short Subject.

Summary:

Sleeping Beauty ranks among the most beautiful animated films ever, and in my opinion, is unsurpassed by all subsequent Disney animated efforts since its original release.  Plus, it features a great score adaptation of music by Tchaikovsky, too!  Don't overlook this magical film - grab Sleeping Beauty before Disney tucks it away again for another long moratorium!  One of the best DVD releases of the entire year and a TOP recommendation!