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Kevin Krock, editor

DVD Review

Sleeping Beauty Special Edition
(1959) | Approx. 75 min. | Rated G | Reviewed by Kevin Krock

Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio 3 stars Video 5 stars
Goodies 4 stars Interface 4 stars
Value 5 stars

The Movie

I am almost certain that every MousePlanet reader is very familiar with Walt Disney's classic interpretation of the romantic fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty, so there is no reason to belabor the finer plot points. However, I know there are a few of you out there who might not be entirely familiar with the story, like my wife, so let me provide a quick summary to get you up to speed.

The story opens with the beautiful Princess Aurora. Shortly after she is born, the evil Maleficent places a curse, in which Aurora is to prick her finger on a spinning wheel by sundown of her 16th birthday and fall into a deep sleep. The only way Aurora can be awakened is by the kiss of her one, true love. To prevent Aurora from being harmed by Maleficent, three fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, take Aurora into the forest to raise her in seclusion until her 16th birthday.

As fairy tales usually go, somewhere in the middle of the story, something goes terribly wrong, and Aurora succumbs to Maleficent's evil curse, and right after finding her true love, Prince Phillip. The story reaches its climax with a magnificent battle between Prince Phillip and Maleficent, who transforms herself into a fire-breathing dragon. After a very narrow escape, Phillip rushes to the side of his love, Aurora, and wakes her with his kiss, and—say it together—they lived happily ever after.

IMAGE: A scene from Sleeping Beauty.
Promotional image © Disney.

The Goodies

For all intents and purposes, you can think of this set as being equivalent to a Platinum DVD release. This two-disc set comes very well stocked with bonus material for adults, and it has a few things for the children in your family. Here are some highlights along with my thoughts:

Audio Commentary

The only bonus item on the first disc is a full-length audio commentary accompanying the widescreen presentation. The commentary is hosted by Disney Historian Jeff Kurtti, and features comments from:

  • Eyvind Earle – Art Director
  • Mary Costa – voice of Aurora
  • Ollie Johnston – Supervising Animator
  • Marc Davis – Supervising Animator
  • Frank Armitage – Background Painter
  • Mike Gabriel – Disney Artist
  • Michael Giaimo – Disney Artist

Intertwined with the historical comments, artists stories, and unique memories are rare musical numbers that were developed but not used in the final film. It is not quite a scene-by-scene commentary, like many current commentaries, but it is well edited and constructed. It comes across as an interesting and educational lesson in the construction of a classic Disney animated film from some of the people that were involved with its production. It is definitely worth listening to, but your children may find it a bit less interesting than you do. At least mine did. Just be sure to make the time to watch it without them, if you need to.

IMAGE: A scene from Sleeping Beauty.
Promotional image © Disney.

Restoration Featurette

The entire film was extensively restored frame-by-frame, and the home video transfer looks simply amazing. This three-minute featurette shows a couple of scenes before and after restoration, as well as some of the meticulous digital processes that were used to restore the brilliant colors and textures.

The differences between the deteriorated film images and the digitally restored version are incredible, and the amount of time and detail that went into this restoration is truly impressive. If you have seen the restoration on the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Platinum DVD, then you can appreciate the work done on Sleeping Beauty, as the techniques were the same, and this featurette does a good job of helping you appreciate what Disney has done to save this classic.

“Once Upon A Dream: The Making Of Sleeping Beauty”

This 16-minute documentary features interviews from animators, actors, and film historians as well as behind-the-scenes video clips, and it concisely covers most of the aspects encountered during the film's somewhat extended production period. It is not the best or most comprehensive “making of” documentary, but it works well with the other bonus material in the set to provide a decent idea of the artistry involved with making Sleeping Beauty.

3-D Virtual Art Gallery

This series of extensive still galleries cover several design and production aspects of Sleeping Beauty, including preliminary character designs, storyboard drawings, layouts and backgrounds. Like other Platinum DVD galleries, you enter the halls of King Stefan's castle and walk through several rooms with the still art on the walls. Several of the pieces feature a brief audio description or trivia, but there are no in-depth discussions.

There are also a couple of galleries featuring theme park related artwork from Paris and California, but I was initially disappointed in the Disneyland Walkthrough attraction art. Based on the name alone, I was expecting a virtual walk-through of the current attraction, but instead, we are treated with the only remaining artwork left from the original walkthrough, which was removed from Disneyland in 1977. There is more than enough here for those of you that love to look at film production artwork and behind-the-scenes photos.

IMAGE: A scene from Sleeping Beauty.
Promotional image © Disney.

“Grand Canyon”

This 29-minute, Academy Award-winning short film (Best Short Subject, 1958) is a wonderful look at this awe-inspiring geographical wonder, and when Sleeping Beauty was first released, “Grand Canyon” accompanied it in theaters. This pictorial interpretation of Frede Grofe's “Grand Canyon Suite” matches dramatic visuals with the Grofe's wide–ranging score. For example, as the music changes from serene to powerful, images of floating clouds turn to thunderstorms in perfect timing with the music.

Some children may find it a bit long and boring, but my 4-and-a-half-year-old son keeps asking to watch it. It is a treat to finally have on DVD, and it is definitely worth giving it a watch.

Widescreen-to-Fullscreen Comparison

This short four-minute featurette is hosted by Andres Deja, Disney Supervising Animator, and does a wonderful job of both describing the difference between widescreen and fullscreen aspect ratios and presenting viewers a split-screen comparison of the two ratios using a scene from the film. While I have seen other comparisons like this before, I still find this one to be the best and most convincing argument for presenting widescreen movies in their original aspect ratio.

IMAGE: A scene from Sleeping Beauty.
Promotional image © Disney.

“4 Artists Paint 1 Tree”

This 16-minute treat features four of Walt Disney's artists who were working on Sleeping Beauty—Marc Davis, Eyvind Earle, Josh Meador, and Walt Peregoy—painting their interpretations of one old oak tree. It is a wonderful look at how each artist has his own style and perspective, and for those of us that are artistically-challenged, it is amazing to see how these interpretations develop into art. It is simply one of the must sees on this set.

“The Peter Tchaikovsky Story”

This 30-minute featurette on the famous composer was originally broadcast as a large segment of the Disneyland TV show featuring the making of Sleeping Beauty, and it was eventually turned into a separate short film. The short film covers the life and trials of Tchaikovsky, from his childhood to his troubled adulthood. As an adult, he endured several personal trials and failures, but they all resulted in pushing him to greater musical achievements, including the sweeping score of his Sleeping Beauty Ballet.

Creating the Backgrounds

Eyvind Earle discusses how he designed the incredibly detailed and complex backgrounds, and he shows how he trained other background artists to paint in his style in one-minute piece. It is a rather interesting look at how these paintings of Sleeping Beauty were created by Disney's top artists.

IMAGE: A scene from Sleeping Beauty.
Promotional image © Disney.

The other background and behind-the-scenes bonus items are also worth taking a look at and certainly add to the value of this set. As for the more children-oriented items, there are a few games that my young one found mildly interesting, but nothing that held either of our interest for an extended period.

There are also a couple of neat little art projects for children that can be constructed from household items. Your children can build a princess or a dragon—and you can probably guess which one my son wanted to build. We have not had a chance to actually build it, but the instructions are clear, and the required materials are nicely detailed. Also, if you need to, you can always stop or skip backwards to catch something you missed.

IMAGE: A scene from Sleeping Beauty.
Promotional image © Disney.

The Video, Audio and Interface

The video and audio transfers on this DVD are very impressive. Over the years, the original film stock had gradually deteriorated to the point that drastic measures were required to preserve this classic film, so each frame of this 70-mm widescreen film were scanned in to a computer for digital restoration.

After over 46,000 hours of labor, all 108,000 frames were individually restored—and now the colors and textures are bright and solid. Even the saturated reds, blues, and greens of the fairies are crisp and clean without signs of bleeding or anti-aliasing. Likewise, the dark scenes exhibit nice depth, and even the subtle shadows—like Maleficent's eerie outline in the fireplace right before Aurora climbs the stairs to her fate—are clearly discernable.

It is amazing to look at the difference between the old and new transfers, yet the movie maintains its original, natural style and look without looking processed or visibly changed. This direct-to-digital DVD presentation simply looks fantastic, and both the anamorphic widescreen and full-frame transfers should look very pleasing on any home theater system.

IMAGE: A scene from Sleeping Beauty.
Promotional image © Disney.

The audio has also been fully restored and remixed in a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. While not as environmentally engrossing as many “modern” soundtracks, this remix does sound natural and sufficiently environmental. Most of the audio still emanates from the center speaker, but there are enough surround and direction effects that it helps add to the wonderful visuals.

To help get you in the storybook frame of mind, the interface is designed, not surprisingly, like a storybook. The screens are laid out nicely, and most feature music from the film along with animated transitions. It is not a terribly unique interface, but it is perfectly suited for this disc and definitely maintains the theme and feeling of the movie.

The Final Evaluation

I am a big fan of Disney's two-disc special editions. Disney always seem to find enough fascinating stuff to keep me watching hours after I watch the feature. The Sleeping Beauty Special Edition DVD is no different. The DVD version of this classic Disney film looks and sounds better than it ever has, and it features an amazing array of bonus material for the whole family.

This set definitely deserves a place in your family's home video collection, and for the price you will probably find at most discount stores, is a bargain for the quality and quantity of material.

  • “Once Upon a Dream: The Making of Sleeping Beauty”
  • The Design
  • The Music
  • The Restoration
  • Sleeping Beauty 3-D virtual galleries
  • Story Reel: “The Capture of the Prince”
  • Story Reel: “The Fairies Put the Castle to Sleep”
  • Widescreen-to-Full screen comparison
  • “Creating the Backgrounds” featurette
  • Helene Stanley Dance Reference – live action reference
  • Live action reference of Prince Phillip
  • “4 Artists Paint 1 Tree” featurette
  • “The Peter Tchaikovsky Story” (1959 “Disneyland” TV show segment)
  • “Grand Canyon” film short
  • Rescue Aurora set-top adventure game
  • Sleeping Beauty ink and paint game
  • Original trailers
  • Art Projects
Technical Specifications
  • Region 1 encoded
  • Single-sided, dual-layer
  • Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35:1
  • Full Screen - 1.33:1
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Closed-captioned
  • THX Certified

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