Sleeping Beauty, from 1959, was the final fairy tale produced by Walt Disney himself and remains one of his studio’s most under-cherished works. Suffused with celestial metaphors and flights of visual fancy informed by pre-Renaissance art, the film’s economical story is played for cosmic pathos and staged as pagan ritual. Stylist Eyvind Earle and background artist Frank Armitage were more or less allowed autonomy over the production and their freedom is felt in the limber, giddy stylings of the film, a far superior work than its earlier kissing cousin Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Through the startlingly jagged animation and moving cutouts of the film, Earle and Armitage’s crew of animators and painters evoke an expressionistic netherworld influenced by numerous Gothic, Persian and Medieval sources. The familiar story concerns a 16-year-old beauty, Princess Aurora, who dies when she pricks her finger on the needle of a spinning wheel and is subsequently revived by the Prince Charming she was destined to marry. In her attack against Aurora, the ferocious Maleficent (Eleanor Audley) appears to take on the fairy-tale cliché itself. After the story’s three fairy godmothers bestow their cosmic gifts on the baby Aurora, Maleficent curses the child with death because she wasn’t invited to her über-Christening. Her bitchery is of the highest order, seductive and titanic, and she is almost postmodern for her time. (Dreamworks’s awful Shrek basically recycles the film’s close-to-meta premise, but to annoying effect.) Just as the film’s gorgeous backdrops suggest characters trapped in suspended animation, the many colorful balls of light that frequently circle their heads hauntingly convey the filmmakers’ idea of fate and love locked in a cosmic struggle.
Apparently we didn't see all of Sleeping Beauty when she first came to DVD in 2003. For this Platinum Edition, which boasts an all-new digital restoration, you get to savor the film in succulent 2.55:1 anamorphic widescreen. But if the image on this DVD edition is superior to the earlier disc's presentation, then I must have been on something when I gave the previous DVD a five-star rating for image: Because while this is a sparkling transfer, digital artifacts crazily abound, no surprise-and to an extent, forgivable-given the film's hierarchic design. Sound is solid on all tracks, including the restored original theatrical soundtrack, with Maleficent's entrances making the most significant impressions.
Surprisingly, miraculously even, there's little overlap between the extras on this DVD edition and the ones found on the earlier 2003 edition. On disc one you'll find: a composite commentary track chockablock with giddy reminiscences from some of the talent responsible for the film; the "Briar Rose's Enchanted Dance" and "Sleeping Beauty Fun with Language" games; a horrid music video ("Once Upon a Dream") by Hannah Montana's Emily Osment (relation to Haley Joel unknown but likely); a "Princess Fun Facts" subtitle commentary; all sorts of song selections; the Grand Canyon theatrical short; and an epic excerpt from The Peter Tchaikovsky Story. Disc two is aimed at the film geeks: a making-of documentary; a featurette on the art of Eyvind Earle; a focus on "Sequence Eight"; an alternate ending; deleted songs and storyboard sequences; live-action reference footage; a bunch of stills galleries; a castle walkthrough; publicity teasers and trailers; and an excerpt from Four Artists Paint One Tree.
It's always cool to spend time with Sleeping Beauty, but without a game that allows you to determine if you're more like Aurora or Maleficent, this Platinum Edition package falls just shy of definitive.