Poorly received upon its theatrical release in 1959, “Sleeping Beauty” has since been duly recognized as one of the pinnacles of modern animation — an exquisite medieval tapestry of color, music and feeling that showed there was more to Walt Disney’s brand of magic than cute animals and happily-ever-after. The behind-the-scenes extras included on this 50th-anni edition only further burnish the film’s reputation, but the digital restoration alone, presented in glorious widescreen, would make this singularly spellbinding fairy tale worth reviving on any occasion.
The two-disc set boasts plenty of amusing bells and whistles for tots: an interactive dance lesson, a “Once Upon a Dream” musicvideo featuring “Hannah Montana’s” Emily Osment and a basic vocabulary tutorial for the very, very young (“Mop! … mop! … This is a mop! … Mop!”). Fortunately, the bonus DVD devotes most of its attention to the troubled, nearly decade-long production history of what remains one of the most experimental yet harmonious entries in the studio’s canon.
After the smash hits “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) and “Cinderella” (1950), Disney and his animators were in a mood to break with tradition. A detailed making-of documentary acknowledges their bold aesthetic choices, from the numerous pre-Renaissance and Persian-gothic influences on the film’s painterly visual design to the decision to adapt Tchaikovsky’s magnificent 1889 ballet score in lieu of Broadway-style ditties. (An alternate opening sequence, set to a boisterous number sung by the villagers on their way to Princess Aurora’s reception, makes you grateful for its omission.)
Individual segments are devoted to the hard upbringing and brilliant career of Eyvind Earle, the background artist primarily responsible for “Sleeping Beauty’s” unusually stylized look, and the making of the film’s waltz-in-the-woods romantic centerpiece, which proved so drawn-out and costly it nearly bankrupted the studio. Latter featurette serves as a precious reminder of the painstaking, cel-by-cel process of pre-computer animation, as well as the absolute perfection Disney demanded of himself and others every step of the way. Mission accomplished.