A worthy successor to the early classics Snow White and Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty is the one great fairy-tale adaptation of Disney’s post-war period, outshining Cinderella and unrivaled until 1991’s Best-Picture candidate Beauty and the Beast.
Cinderella’s singalong tunes might be more hummable than Sleeping Beauty’s Tchaikovsky score, but Sleeping Beauty more authentically captures the fairy-tale spirit of the Perrault fairy tale, filling out its third act with a mythic battle of knight versus dragon rather than trotting out cute animal sidekicks.
Compared to Perrault, Disney neglects to establish that the occasion of the confrontation of the fairies over the fate of the infant princess is in fact the child’s christening; but on the other hand incorporates traces of Christian imagery in the climactic battle: The good fairies equip Prince Philip with armor reminiscent of Ephesians 6 — a “shield of virtue” that actually bears the emblem of a cross as well as a “sword of truth” — with which he stands against Maleficent, transformed into a dragon who expressly declares herself to embody “the powers of hell.”
The animation, partly inspired by medieval illustrations but also reflecting 1950s minimalism, makes grand use of its widescreen format — the first time the format was used in a Disney cartoon. Cruelly truncated by fullscreen VHS, the film is newly available in a two-disc plantinum-edition DVD with improved framing over the previous DVD.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.