Amid the current monsoon of hit-or-miss product vying for DVD shelf space, a rare film can stand out for its ability to maximize the format, acquiring both visual luster and new layers of meaning. Such is the case with this shimmering version of Walt Disney's cornerstone opus, "Sleeping Beauty."

A correction was made to this review on Sept. 12, 2003.

Amid the current monsoon of hit-or-miss product vying for DVD shelf space, a rare film can stand out for its ability to maximize the format, acquiring both visual luster and new layers of meaning. Such is the case with this shimmering version of Walt Disney’s cornerstone opus, “Sleeping Beauty.” If you think you know it too well to bother taking another look, this presentation will give you Technicolor pause.

The pic cost a then-lofty $4 million, becoming a personal cause for Walt Disney for several reasons. The first animated feature released in 70mm, it was seen as a weapon against the encroaching appeal of television. It also took on a strategic dimension for Disney’s growing empire — its castle became the gateway to Disneyland when it opened in 1955, before the film was even complete.

The DVD offers a wealth of black-and-white footage from those 1950s origins, including live dancers whose pirouettes were copied by animators. Among the many intriguing featurettes is one called “Four Artists Paint One Tree,” about the innovative detail work applied to the lush backgrounds. When the artists speak of using medieval art history as inspiration, it isn’t just the usual DVD twaddle; it actually makes you examine the film in a fresh way and literally see the forest for the trees.

Painstaking restoration work on every frame, which necessitated 24-7 shifts by the same computer specialists who reinvigorated “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” pays off handsomely. Comparisons with the original theatrical version reveal richer reds and more finely realized facial features.

The final grace note is a group commentary track featuring original animators and Mary Costa, who sang and voiced the title character. A moderator keeps anyone from rambling and comments relate directly to what is on screen. Any viewer who has suffered through unfiltered, egocentric group commentaries will appreciate the clarity and brevity.

Sleeping Beauty

Release: Sept. 9

Production

A Buena Vista Home Video release of the 1959 Disney film. Producer, Walt Disney; Script, Milt Banta, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Erdman Penner.

Cast

With the voices of: Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Joan Allen.
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