Sleeping Beauty (Diamond Edition) Review

Sleeping Beauty has long seemed like one of Walt Disney's least consequential animated classics. Everyone knows of it, knows of its princess awaiting a prince, but there's precious little in the narrative detailing that is particularly outstanding when comparing it against so much of the studio's feature output. Seeing it again after several years, I was struck both by how threadbare the plot is and how wonderful some of the animation looks. As shallow of an exercise in fairytale appeasement as it is, the 1959 movie is simply gorgeous to watch.

Its heroine and her love are both afflicted by a dreaded blandness as severe as most any from the classic Disney era. Villainess Maleficent is so clearly the most interesting figure, both in how's she drawn and her general character, that the studio returned to her for a live-action film earlier this year. The expected success of that picture most likely inspired the release of this edition of Sleeping Beauty, which had a perfectly fine Blu-ray done six years earlier. During the brief time Maleficent appears on screen here she's mesmerizing. It's a jolt and difficult to focus elsewhere.

The appeal of Sleeping Beauty obviously goes beyond the spareness of the narrative. The fairy tale structure only does so much to turn a movie just an hour and fifteen minutes in length into what's generally recognized as a classic. Technical aspects and achievements are the bold, beautiful silver lining. The 70mm widescreen format is still a marvel to enjoy. When the film opened in 1959 it was the most expensive picture Disney had ever done (and the modest box office returns quickly stigmatized it as something of a failure), but the richness of the visuals in such a wide aspect ratio helps to justify the risk. Six-channel stereophonic sound available on the 70mm prints must have absolutely engulfed viewers in the layered score and standout song "Once Upon a Dream" at the time of its release.

When Maleficent as the dragon battles the prince near the picture's end it's an utter delight to the senses. Supervising director Clyde Geronimi had Wolfgang Reitherman directing the animation for that particular scene. Art director and noted painter Eyvind Earle had a major influence on the look and design of the picture. The collaborative spirit is felt in most every frame. So as much as Sleeping Beauty is narratively archetypal to the point of feeling underdeveloped its visuals are the huge saving grace. The animation is such that the film registers as iconic on two very different and separate levels - both in the fairy tale princess story and the vibrant sophistication of how it looks.

The Disc(s)

As mentioned above, Sleeping Beauty received a Blu-ray release six years (to the day) previous to this edition. The official distinction, aside from various bonus material differences, is that the previous one was a Platinum Edition and this is a Diamond Edition. Those keen on retaining all of the extras (and there's a pretty long list of things missing here) will need to hang on to the Platinum Edition. This region-free iteration contains a DVD as well as the dual-layered BD.

The film looks startlingly good, and is in its original 2.55:1 aspect ratio. Colors pop and dazzle. The true artistry of the film shines brightly. Detail is very impressive. That said, there are no discernible improvements from that earlier BD transfer. This would not really qualify as an upgrade opportunity.

An English language 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track gives the film a modern listening experience, and doesn't disappoint. It sounds robust, full and active at all times. We're also given the option for the original English Stereo theatrical mix in a separate track. Dubs for French 7.1 DTS-HD High Resolution, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Russian 5.1 Dolby Digital can be found on the Blu-ray as well. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian.

Bonus features replicate some of what was on the earlier edition while adding a few new things. First is the Deleted Scene for "The Curse Is Fulfilled" (2:58) This is voiceover mixed with sketches rather than a fully animated excised sequence. Similarly, an Alternate Scene exists for "The Arrival of Maleficent" (1:57) and a second Deleted Scene, "The Fair" (7:48), is also here.

"Once Upon a Parade" (8:49) is a fun featurette where the young actress Sarah Hyland plays tour guide at Walt Disney World for a group of pre-teens, telling them about the supposed origins of a new character-filled parade. Also new for this edition is "The Art of Evil: Generations of Disney Villains" (9:48), which features interviews with animators like Lino DeSalvo and Andreas Deja on some of the iconic characters of evil in Disney lore.

"@DisneyAnimation: Artists in Motion" (4:27) lets us meet visual development artist Brittney Lee as she creates a three-dimensional paper figure of Maleficent. Last of the new is "Beauty-Oke: 'Once Upon a Dream'" (2:32), a sing-a-long opportunity for the classic song complete with lyrics on the screen.

While a good chunk of supplements didn't get carried over from the Platinum Edition, among the extras that made the cut is an audio commentary with Leonard Maltin, animator Andreas Deja and John Lasseter. The track is chock-full of information and anecdotes about the production of Sleeping Beauty.

Featurettes brought over include "The Sound of Beauty: Restoring a Classic" (10:50), about the audio restoration on the film, and "Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty" (43:32), a lengthy piece on some of the inspirations and intentions behind the film. "Eyvind Earle: A Man and His Art" (7:33) is a particularly interesting, if fleeting, exploration of the art director behind Sleeping Beauty.

Additionally, the disc begins with a selection of Sneak Peeks, including an advertisement for the upcoming Blu-ray release of the animated 101 Dalmatians and a trailer for Maleficent.

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