"Sleeping Beauty" is a film that I've had an interesting relationship with. It's a film that while not perfect is often considered one of the finest animated movies to come out of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Though I won't lie when I say that when I was younger, I wasn't a huge fan of it at first. I thought the movie seemed not as great as the other Disney films and thought that it had some weak moments. Now that I'm older and have had more appreciation for animation, I can say without hesitation that I now love "Sleeping Beauty". While it is a flawed film without a doubt, I think it overcomes those flaws and I can easily say it's a Disney film worth considering a classic.
In a faraway kingdom, the daughter of King Stefan (Taylor Holmes) and his queen, princess Aurora (Mary Costa) is born. A holiday is since proclaimed and many from across the land have come to see the new baby princess and everyone seems to be happy. Among the guests are the three good fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather (Verna Felton, Barbara Jo Allen, and Barbara Luddy respectively) with the former two blessing the princess with the gifts of beauty and song. Before Merryweather can give her gift though, the evil Maleficent (Eleanor Audley) interrupts the celebration after not being invited and curses Aurora to die after she pricks her finger on a spindle of a spinning wheel before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday. While Merryweather uses her blessing to weaken the curse by making Aurora fall into a deep sleep to be awakened by true love's kiss instead of dying if she pricks her finger, the fairies decide to take the princess into the forest and raise her as their own until she turns sixteen so the curse will be broken. I'm pretty sure you all know the rest of the story from here, but I'm not going to spoil the rest if you haven't seen it.
This was a movie that had a very troubled production and ended up doing some damage to Walt Disney Animation Studios. The film took almost eight years to complete due to delays with the animation and it ended up receiving mixed reviews from critics at the time with some comparing it inferiorly to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and also did very poorly at the box office. Due to this, Walt Disney almost closed down the animation division, but the success of "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" convinced him not too as the newly invented Xerox progress was cheap and quick. Because of all this, Disney didn't release another fairy tale film for thirty years. Today, the film has been considered a classic and I can agree with that. The story is a very strong fairy tale and is a delight to watch. It gives you everything you expect in a fairy tale with a beautiful princess, a handsome prince, an evil villain, and some lovable side characters as well. It even sticks rather faithfully to the original fairy tale as well while adding some humorous bits with the three fairies as well as King Stefan and his friend King Hubert. The climax at the end is as well is probably one of the best in animation history with Wolfgang Reitherman's direction of the fiery scene between Maleficent and Prince Phillip being thrilling and exciting to this day. As far as the animation goes, I can say without hesitation this is one of the best looking animated movies ever. As I said before, the animation was the part that made the film take as long as it did during production mainly because of the complicated backgrounds by Eyvind Earle and the color palette chosen for the movie though it was. worth it in the end. The backgrounds, in particular, are staggering with its blend of modern art and medieval tapestry and how bold striking the colors are. There's a lot of beautiful greens in the film which shines brightly throughout the film. Even the character animation is fluid and beautiful and shows some great work from some of the Nine Old Men, with the animation of Aurora and Maleficent by Marc Davis standing out the most. Speaking of them, let's get to the characters. I think they work as well for the most part. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are simply delightful and fun to watch. They're easily the unsung heroes of the film and they lead to some humorous scenes, particularly a scene where Flora and Merryweather duel over the color of a dress they're making for Aurora. Maleficent is also a fantastic villain as well. She is often considered the mistress of all evil and she lives up to that title in this film. She can do some devious and evil moments in the film and she eats up every scene she's in. She's one of Disney's best villains by far. Even the two kings have a funny scene as they discuss the betrothal of Aurora and Phillip and even get into a silly argument about it while the jester gets drunk on the wine they're drinking. It's a fun scene. Though now you're probably wondering what I think of Aurora and Phillip, and unfortunately they're easily the weakest part of the film. While I certainly don't think Aurora is the worst Disney Princess as I think Merida from "Brave" probably takes that title and I do feel she does have some tender moments with the forest animals, I don't think she has much to do. Prince Phillip though is even worse than her though. He is a dull character and I found him boring throughout the film. Even in the climax, he's silent which doesn't add much to his character. I can certainly understand why Milt Kahl hated animating him and called the task of animating him odiously. That's really about it though.
"Sleeping Beauty" really is a charming fairy tale with a sweeping story, some of the best and most gorgeous animation ever, and memorable characters. It deserves to be considered a classic and I can say that I have loved this movie much more than I did as a kid. It's one of those films that sweep you as an animation enthusiast and I think it easily deserves its reputation. It simply is a marvelous film.