Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is celebrating its diamond anniversary this year, as the film marks 60 years since its release. The record-breaking film was a marvel for its time, celebrating a classic fairytale with elaborate animation, classical musical composition, and Disney’s famous storytelling. Sleeping Beauty has long been my favorite animated Disney film, and to celebrate, here are a few unique facts about the creation of this classic.
Once Upon A Dream
Walt Disney had been dreaming of animating the tale of Sleeping Beauty from the time his studio began in the 1920s. But, it wasn’t until January 19, 1950, on the eve of the release of Cinderella, that Disney registered production of this film. He based his idea on a 17th-century version of the tale by famous French author Charles Perrault entitled La Belle Au Bois Dormant (The Sleeping Beauty In the Wood).
Eyvind Earle – The Style Visionary
Disney entrusted the films overall visual theme to artist Eyvind Earle. Taking animation to a place it had not been before, Earle combined Gothic, Italian and pre-Renaissance influences with his own to create Sleeping Beauty’s unique look. Earle himself handpainted dozens of semi-abstract backgrounds and panoramas that were used for the film. Sleeping Beauty was the first animated film to be recorded in “widescreen”, which meant some of the painted panoramas needed to be up to 15 feet in length!
Every frame of the film was a work of art. It took a team of 300 artists and technicians to create each frame, and each could hold it’s own as a framed piece. The colorway of the artwork forced the Disney Paint Lab to innovate new hues and use pigments that had never been seen before in animation.
Gifts of Beauty
Animator Marc Davis was tasked with creating the beautiful Princess Aurora. With golden sunshine hair and lips as red as roses, Aurora was styled in the form of Hollywood beauty Audrey Hepburn. Her petite frame and cheery persona were complimented by large curls of hair and the folds of her dresses. This served as a great contrast to the very linear background style. They used living models and live action footage whenever necessary to get the perfect movement out of their two-dimensional characters.
Maleficent – Mistress of All Evil
Marc Davis was also in charge of creating the evil sorceress, Maleficent. Davis experimented with the idea of taking the shapes from flames of a fire (seen above in the concept art). Playing with those shapes and patterns, he formed the medieval headdress from the horns of a goat and framed her face with bat wings. The animalistic features of her “human” body foreshadowed the dragon form she takes on in the finale of the film.
Flora, Fauna & Merriweather – The Three Good Faries
This trio serves as the true heroines of the film and takes up much of the screentime. For the important task of designing them, Walt appointed two “fairy-godfathers”, Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas. Ollie and Frank spent hours at the local grocery store studying the movements of older ladies. They watched how they moved, how they wore their hats, and how they smiled. The results of their studies are the three plucky fairies we know and love today.
The Dreamy Prince
No fairytale is complete without the dashing handsome price. Walt Disney knew that Phillip had to be drawn as true to life as possible. Animator Milt Kahl was not thrilled at first when Walt asked him to animate the brooding prince. Milt worked closely with live action acter Ed Kemmer for Phillip’s strong, masculine look. He was given sharp facial features, that Disney wasn’t originally too keen on. Many credit Milt with being the first animator to give a prince a personality, in contrast to the princes from Snow White and Cinderella.
A Voice Fit For A Princess
Three years into the Sleeping Beauty project, Walt still did not have a voice for his title character. When he heard a young Mary Costa sing at a party, he knew he’s found his Sleeping Beauty. While the princess only appears in 18 minutes of the film, Mary’s voice in the role skyrocketed her to popularity. She became a famous opera singer, performing for audiences around the world. After all of her success, years later, she still stated that it was her work on Sleeping Beauty that made her most proud.
The Gift Of Song
Walt Disney was determined to use Tchaikowsky’s score from the Sleeping Beauty Ballet as the soundtrack for the film. Composer George Bruns had to pour through the ballet note by note, choosing the perfect themes for the film’s songs. The best recording and stereo equipment at the time were located in Germany. So, Bruns conducted the Berlin Symphony Orchestra to record the soundtrack of the film in 1958. It seems to have been worth the trouble, as the score was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music from a Musical Picture in 1960.
They All Lived Happily Ever After
The film debuted 60 years ago in only a carefully select group of movie theatres. Not many theatres in the country were equipped with the special projectors required for the widescreen Technarama 70 film and stereo sound. Nevertheless, the film became a box office hit and has remained one of the most critically acclaimed animated features.
Sleeping Beauty is due for a royal renaissance this year in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the film. If you haven’t seen it in a while, I encourage you to watch it now and appreciate it for the cinematic masterpiece that it is. And if you don’t… “Fools! All of you!”.
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