Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty; Animated fantasy, USA, 1959; D: Clyde Geronimi, Les Clark, Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman, S: Mary Costa, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy

A kingdom is celebrating the birth of Princess Aurora, the daughter of King Stefan and Queen Leah. As a baby, she is already engaged to Phillip, son of king Hubert. But because she wasn't invited for the celebration, the evil witch Maleficent casts a spell at Aurora, sentencing her to death at the 16th birthday when she touches a spinning wheel's spindle. In order to save her from such a fate, the three good fairies raise Aurora in an isolated house in a forest. But the witch finds her and makes her touch the spindle, causing her to fall in a coma. Prince Phillip though manages to kill the witch and kiss Aurora, waking her back to life.

The 16th feature length animated film by the Walt Disney studios, "Sleeping Beauty" is a fine fairy tale, appropriately imaginative and magical, with a stand out animation that seizes the attention even today - from ecstatic physiognomy of the witch and her pig henchmen, through unusual and extremely detailed designs of castle up to beautiful shot composition, the effort of the animators is felt in every frame. As for the story, it's good, yet somehow uneven since Aurora might just be, as some have already noticed, the most passive Disney heroine of the 20th Century: out of 75 minutes of running time, she appears on screen fewer than 20 minutes (!) and barely does anything, which is why her charm or personality are practically nonexistent. She is a part of the story in the middle, yet in the beginning and the ending - which just shows Prince Phillip fighting to find her in the castle - she is absent. When you get the impression that the evil witch appears more often in the film than her, then that's a serious setback. Disney hasn't made such pale characters so often, which means that they learned on their mistakes - just look at Jane or Megara. Still, the film has a lot of virtues, the biggest, most enchanting highlight being the sequence where the animals disguise themselves as the Prince using a cape: the two rabbits operate the two boots, the owl wears a hat and the cape while two birds hold the sleeves to make it look like Aurora is dancing with the Prince. She gets so carried away by singing that she doesn't even notice that the real Prince showed up at one point, re-claimed his cape and actually took his position to embrace her, much to her surprise, which is simply a perfect moment of pure inspiration.


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