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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

Week # 21: "Sleeping Beauty"

(Originally published on 5/27/22)


Sleeping Beauty

Run time: 75 min.

Release Date: January 29, 1959.

Where/when I first saw it: On video, 1986.

How I watched it today: Blu-ray, Wednesday evening

One of the best times I’ve ever had in a movie theater was seeing “Sleeping Beauty” in a rare 70mm screening at the Music Box Theater in 2017. How the Music Box convinced the folks at Disney (who are notorious for denying retro screenings of their films, unless there’s a pandemic going on) into sending over a 70mm film print of one of their classics will remain a mystery. It was quite a coup and it did not go unappreciated. It was a flawless print, too. You could see every brushstroke and the colors burst to life like they never had before. It gave me a greater appreciation for the film than I ever had before.

Watching it now, in the context of this Disney viewing project (in which I watch a different Disney animated film each week for a year, in chronological order) also gave me a great appreciation for the artistry on screen. Without a doubt, this remains the most gorgeous and richest Disney film at the time since “Fantasia.” The widescreen format suited the studio well back in the day and the artists are even more up to the task of filling in the space than they were with “Lady and the Tramp,” itself a beautiful piece of work. It brings the studio back to the golden days when every detail of every background was given the utmost care. Every crack and crevice of the castles, every ground surface, every color of every dress has love and care behind it.

It is also the tightest narrative they had during this period, with almost zero fat or animal-based subplot to get in the way or any musical numbers to slow it down. One real song, that's all they needed and it’s one for the ages. Sure, on its surface, it’s the third time around for the studio with princess-based material, but this one remains the pinnacle, even while the other two are still great in their own right.

I quite like the symmetry of these three princess movies coming out at crucial times for the studio. Going back to the well, a tried and true formula, doesn’t necessarily mean every aspect of the film will be phoned in. Every time George Miller goes back to Mad Max, he makes it into something new and innovative (yes, even “Thunderdome”). Same thing here. While the prince-saving-the-princess formula might seem antiquated, the film overcomes those tropes with charming characters and visual splendor alone. Today, a story like this has to be told with a sense of irony, self depreciation and a wink to the audience. “Sleeping Beauty” can still feel of its time in certain places, but I dare say, there’s still something to be said for the simplicity of it all.


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