Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Who's in it?: I was pretty dismissive of the casts for Snow White and Cinderella, but I'm starting to recognize some recurring voices now. For instance, Eleanor Audley who plays Maleficent was also the voice of Cinderella's stepmother. And Barbara Luddy who plays the delightful fairy Merryweather was also the voice of Lady in Lady and the Tramp and would go on to be the voice of Kanga in Disney's Winnie-the-Pooh films. Verna Felton is another fairy and came to the role with experience as Cinderella's fairy godmother (among other Disney roles like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland).

What's it about?: It credits Charles Perrault's version as its inspiration, but it's a very loose adaptation, restructuring the whole story around some familiar elements.

How is it?: I don't envy Erdman Penner and his fellow screenwriters for the job of adapting "Sleeping Beauty" for an all-ages audience. In both Perrault and Grimm, the themes are rather grown up. Perrault advises his audience to take romance seriously while the Grimms more or less celebrate puberty. But there's so much cool imagery in the fairy tale that it's begging for Disney to put it on the big screen. The result is a beautiful spectacle with a light story.

It's remarkable how great the characters are though. Maleficent of course is an A+ villain, but the fairies (Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather) are also super memorable and fun. Prince Phillip is the best developed and most Charming of all the Disney princes so far. And the film spends a surprising amount of time with the two kings Stefan and Hubert who pledged their children to each other as infants and are rethinking that decision now that their kids are older and able to think for themselves.

It's too bad that the title character doesn't have more to do. Aurora (named after the daughter of the title character from Perrault's version, while her alias - Briar Rose - is the title character of the Grimms') is beautiful and pleasant and has her own opinions about things, but she never gets to do anything about them. Penner and Company add a nice element by having Aurora meet Phillip before they're supposed to so that they fall in love without realizing who each other are. This calls into question the arranged marriage and leads to some nice teen rebellion, but of course it's all temporary and ultimately meaningless since the conflict isn't real. It's just an easily resolved misunderstanding.

Outside of just how gorgeous the film is (artist Eyvind Earle's concept designs and background paintings are breathtaking and it's amazing how successfully they're incorporated into the film), its hard to see the point of the story. No one learns anything. The stated message in the film is that Love Conquers All (primarily illustrated by Phillip's determination to defeat Maleficent and rescue Aurora, but also in the power of Love's First Kiss to awaken the princess, something that this film came up with as far as I can tell), but it's a hollow idea. Phillip and Aurora barely know each other, so while I believe that they're attracted to each other and have the beginnings of a fine relationship, it's too flimsy to hold the weight of the professed theme.

Rating: Four out of five crazy kids in love.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I’m often surprised that the source material receives credits in these adaptations given how fast and loose they are presented. I suppose that’s why the poster calls it “Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty”. We know who’s really calling the shots.

The design is FANTASTIC. It’s very much of the 1950s with that flat and graphic look and is unique even among the remarkable Disney pedigree.

I enjoy the back and forth banter between the three fairies and wondered why we hadn’t had another Disney with that kind of female trio ensemble... then I remembered “Home on the Range” *shudder*

I want to love this movie because it is a truly a spectacle, but Auora just sitting around while the fairies lead the prince to victory is quite a hurdle for me to jump.

I’d love to have stills in a coffee table book so I could appreciate its beauty that way.

Michael May said...

I would totally buy that coffee table book.

And one of these days I will watch Home on the Range. I'm too curious not to at this point.


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