Sleeping Beauty appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.55:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Sleeping Beauty came with a lackluster transfer.
Sharpness was erratic. Much of the film showed good delineation, but many wide shots – and some not-so-wide shots – suffered from mild to moderate softness. The image could become somewhat ill-defined at times through the movie, often due at least partially to the presence of some notable edge enhancement. Those haloes gave the picture a tentative feel. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and source flaws remained minor. I saw a few specks and some vertical lines, but most of the flick seemed clean.
Beauty featured a vivid palette, and the colors on the DVD seemed terrific. The movie displayed these hues with fine vivacity and accuracy, and they consistently looked bright and well saturated. I saw no concerns connected to bleeding or noise, and the tones were dynamic and vibrant. Faces occasionally looked a little too pink, but otherwise the colors were solid. Black levels seemed wonderfully deep and tight, while low-light shots came across as smooth and well depicted. Sleeping Beauty had some good moments, but the softness and edge enhancement made this a “C+” presentation.
Though it showed its age at times, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Sleeping Beauty seemed quite good. The soundfield presented a reasonably broad spectrum of audio. Music dominated the affair. The score showed nice stereo imaging most of the time and seemed well defined. Some directional dialogue also showed up in the front speakers, and occasional effects emanated from the sides. However, other than the music, much of the track remained fairly monaural. As for the surrounds, they essentially just echoed the forward channels. They reinforced the music and didn’t do much else, but that seemed fine for a flick of this vintage.
Audio quality appeared fairly positive though not as warm as I’d like. Speech always sounded fairly natural and distinctive. The only signs of edginess came with some shouted lines, so most of the dialogue was concise and smooth. Effects favored the trebly end of the spectrum. A few elements like thunder or crashes connected to Maleficent demonstrated moderate bass response, but overall, the track seemed a little on the thin side. Music also lacked great dynamics and depth. The score was clear and acceptably detailed, but it didn’t present much warmth. The mix suffered from no signs of noise or other problems. Despite a few concerns, I felt that Sleeping Beauty offered above average audio for its age, so it earned a “B+”.
This two-disc release of Sleeping Beauty packs a nice array of extras. On DVD One, we open with an audio commentary from art director Eyvind Earle, actress Mary Costa, supervising animators Ollie Johnston and Marc Davis, background painter Frank Armitage, modern Disney artists Mike Gabriel and Michael Giaimo, and historian Jeff Kurtti. The latter participant also acts as “host” for the program. The two present-day animators chat together, but all the others sit on their own for their comments in this edited piece. (Note that the audio commentary only accompanies the widescreen version of the film.)
Not surprisingly, the discussion largely goes over the movie’s visual elements. We get a lot of information about its distinctive look and challenges related to that area. Some provocative moments pop up as we find out that Earle’s ideas didn’t always get a receptive audience. Plenty of other good notes about the flick’s creation also show up, and we even hear a couple of songs not used in the final film. Overall, this is a very informative and clearly assembled commentary.
As the DVD starts, we encounter a mix of ads. We find trailers for The Lion King, Brother Bear, Santa Clause 2, Kim Possible: The Secret Files, the “Disney Princess” line of products, and Finding Nemo. These also appear in the disc’s Sneak Peeks domain.
Next we find the THX Optimizer. It purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition.
The extras on DVD Two split into two areas: Games, Music & Fun and History & Behind the Scenes. As one might expect, the pieces in the former domain emphasize kid-oriented materials. That section opens with Disney’s Art Project. This lets kids “Design a Princess” or “Build a Dragon” with household items like milk cartons and scotch tape. No, I didn’t try either of these, but I’m sure kids will have fun with them.
Next we get a Rescue Aurora Adventure Game. You play as Prince Phillip to awaken Princess Aurora from her slumber. This means you have to answer very simple riddles. No interesting reward comes with successful completion, but at least “Rescue” avoids the annoying guessing games found on many other Disney DVDs.
In the Princess Personality Profile Game, you’ll find out what Disney heroine you most closely resemble in personality. A similar offering appears at Disney parks, though as I recall, it includes different questions. It’s a cute diversion. (For the record, I’m most like Belle – I’m not surprised, but it’s nice to be told I’m quite the beauty.)
A pair of music features comes along next. We get a Sing-Along Song version of “Once Upon a Dream”. This just runs the fullscreen version of that scene with text at the bottom of the screen. We also find a music video for an update of that tune. Cute girl group no secrets perform “Once Upon (Another) Dream”. This overlays the girls as they sing and dance on top of movie snippets. It’s pretty bland.
Finally, the Sleeping Beauty Ink and Paint Game requires you to color in different elements of a variety of characters like face, hair, and shirt. Unfortunately, it allows for no creativity; it will only let you use the correct hues, for if you pick the wrong one, it makes you choose again. You don’t get much for your effort when you succeed. This’d be a lot more fun if you could paint the characters however you’d like.
That finishes “Games, Music & Fun”, so now we move to the more adult-oriented features in “History & Behind the Scenes”. The Making of Sleeping Beauty runs 16 minutes and 22 seconds and includes the usual compendium of movie snippets, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from film historian Leonard Maltin, Ollie Johnston, Eyvind Earle, Frnak Armitage, Marc Davis, Mary Costa, production designer Ken Anderson, Mike Gabriel, Pocahontas director Eric Goldberg, and Pocahontas art director Michael Giaimo. They cover some of the same topics explored in the commentary: the film’s visual look, character design, and the music. However, the program manages to offer unique insights into these realms for the most part, and little material repeats between the two. “Making” becomes somewhat puffy and offers a little too much happy talk, but it seems like a pretty efficient featurette nonetheless.
The “Story” domain splits into three smaller areas. The History of the Story offers some useful text that relates precursors of and influences for the movie. The 1951 Outline presents narrated text. A voice actor reads the long telling of the tale while we read it. The format seems awkward, but it’s interesting to note this early incarnation.
Two different Storyboard Sequences appear. Disney animator Andreas Deja introduces these with a discussion of what storyboards are, and then we see short clips that present split-screen comparisons of “The Fairies Put the Castle to Sleep” and “The Capture of the Prince”. Both are short but fairly fun to see, and Dejas’ comments will prove useful for newbies.
When we shift to “Production”, we locate six subdomains. The Music offers a two-minute and 45-second featurette. We see some production photos and movie clips along with remarks from Disney historian Leonard Maltin and actor Mary Costa. Essentially they just tell us that the music’s great and don’t provide any real insight.
Similar material follows in The Design. The three-minute and 22-second piece includes statements from Maltin, Pocahontas director Eric Goldberg, Pocahontas art director Michael Giaimo, Ollie Johnston, and Eyvind Earle. If you’ve listened to the commentary, you won’t learn anything new, and much of the featurette simply consists of broad praise for the film’s look.
At only 67 seconds, Creating the Backgrounds is our shortest featurette. We hear only from Earle here. Despite its brevity, “Creating” proves more informative than its two predecessors, as Earle lets us know how he worked with others on some backgrounds.
Live-Action Reference divides into three smaller pieces. “Briar Rose Dance Performance” runs 48 seconds, while “Prince Phillip and the Dragon Reference” takes 62 seconds. “Rose” looks like it was staged for TV show, as we watch a dancer stand-in for Rose while animators sketch. “Dragon” feels more legit. It actually consists of a series of stills linked together to create crude motion. It’s a cool piece to see. Finally, “Photographs” presents 23 stills of reference shots.
For information about The Restoration, we get a two-minute and 56-second program. It details the computer-assisted clean up given to Beauty. We see examples and hear from digital restoration supervisor Aaron Dem in this somewhat self-congratulatory but still informative piece. And for those 4X3 holdouts in your life, you might show them the Widescreen to Pan-and-Scan Comparison. It takes three minutes, 50 seconds as Andreas Deja explains the various processes and leads us into a fullscreen comparison of a few shots.
While most of the preceding sections presented short video programs, stillframe lovers get their due in the Sleeping Beauty Galleries. We move into seven categories: “Layouts and Backgrounds” (91 stills), “The Sleeping Beauty Storybook” (10 screens), “Posters” (15), “Disneyland Walkthrough” (16), “Concept Art” (143), “Character Design” (241), and “Storyboards” (42). While most of these use thumbnails, some – primarily the “Poster” and “Disneyland” ones – don’t, as those are a pain to navigate. Because even the thumbnailed ones feature the art in different “rooms”, it can be slow going to proceed through the pictures. This stuff’s cute, but it detracts from the accessibility; I’d prefer a more straightforward presentation.
On the positive side, commentary appears for many of the pieces. Featured in the “Layouts”, “Concept Art”, “Character Design” and “Storyboards” realms, a total of 92 bits of commentary appear. In an interesting touch, most are intended for adults, but a “crown” icon indicates those meant for kids. The statements are generally useful, though of course the kiddie ones are pretty simplistic.
Publicity presents a few ads. We get the flick’s original teaser, its 1959 theatrical trailer, and a 1995 reissue trailer. The Sleeping Beauty Scrapbook contains three elements. “Behind the Scenes” presents 27 stills of animators and others involved in the project. “Promotion” features ads and some photos of theaters set up for the film. “Merchandise” shows 18 items, most of which are books and records. Lastly, “Theme Parks” offers 26 images, mostly of the castle at Disneyland Paris.
A few period pieces round out the DVD. The most interesting one comes first. Originally part of the April 30, 1958 episode of Disneyland, Four Artists Paint One Tree lasts 16 minutes and seven seconds. In this we encounter four Disney artists – Marc Davis, Eyvind Earle, Josh Meador and Walt Peregoy - and watch as they work on parts of Beauty. Then the four guys go outside and each paint the same tree, albeit with very different results. It's an informative and well-done program.
Another Disneyland program appears next. Aired January 30, 1959, The Peter Tchaikovsky Story runs 30 minutes and 22 seconds. Melodramatic, poorly acted, and sluggishly paced, Tchaikovsky isn't much of a biopic. Despite all of those flaws, it maintains a few entertaining moments, and it merits a place here due to its historical significance.
A short featurette called Grand Canyon ran prior to Beauty during its premiere theatrical run. The 28-minute and 53-second film offers film footage of the Canyon accompanied by the music of Ferde Grofe. Presented non-anamorphic 2.35:1, Canyon kind of reminds me of Beauty itself: love to look at but somewhat boring. Still, it’s great to have it here as part of the package.
While I really like Disney animated films, I maintain mixed feelings about 1959’s Sleeping Beauty. The movie lives up to its name with arguably the most gorgeous visuals ever to grace an animated feature. However, the pedestrian and ordinary story and characters make it somewhat tedious to watch. The DVD suffers from erratic picture quality, but it offers good audio and a very solid complement of extras. Despite my ambivalence about the film itself, there’s definitely enough here to entice Disney fans, so Sleeping Beauty comes with my recommendation.