Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Sleeping Beauty

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly watch of something in my movie collection.  We haven't done anything animated in a while, so today, we tackle the legendary Disney animated film Sleeping Beauty.  This is originally dated in my notes at February 10, 2013.

Well, for my lazy Sunday afternoon, I had it narrowed down to this or Basic Instinct, so I decided to let Disney and true love win out over erotic thrillers and pure lust.

This is another installment of "Crap I Still Own on VHS," as I have yet to upgrade my copy of Disney's Sleeping Beauty to DVD or Blu-Ray.  And I probably never will.  In fact, I remember buying this VHS back in the day purely for the novelty that it's in widescreen.

I think I've blogged before that, when I discovered widescreen editions on VHS back in the mid-1990s, that's what I started leaning towards.  But maybe you're asking, "Why bother with those black bars at the top and bottom of the screen?" and "Why is it a big deal that Sleeping Beauty was released in this format?"  Well, then, let me give you a little lesson in aspect ratios.

So, in movie speak, the "aspect ratio" is the ratio of the picture's width to its height.  When movies were first invented, they had an aspect ratio of 4:3...just a little wider than a square.  And early TVs were modeled on this aspect ratio.  But then, in 1950s, when TV started become a thing, Hollywood panicked, and they retaliated by making the silver screen wider and wider and wider.  There were all kinds of aspect ratios in the 1950s with catchy names for marketing gimmicks.  By the time the dust settled, Hollywood kind of settled on 16:9 for an aspect ratio, which is what your modern widescreen flat screen TV has for an aspect ratio.  And you'll find many movies are still made in wider aspect ratios, which is why even on your modern flat screen TVs, you'll still have slivers of black bars on the top and bottom for some films.  The typical wider aspect ratio is 2.35:1 

Sleeping Beauty was Disney's first film done in one of the widescreen processes.  It was made in "Super Technirama 70," which had an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. 

But that's not all that Disney did in order to differentiate this from their previous animated films.  They also brought in some outside artists to bring a more modern sensibility to the art style.  In this film, you'll find things are lot more angular...there's hardly any curves.  The most notable are the square trees. 

And then for the score, rather than original music, they decided to adapt Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty ballet.  In fact, to promote this film on The Wonderful World of Disney, Walt Disney even produced a bio of Tchaikovsky...I remember watching it in music class when I was a kid. 

When Sleeping Beauty finally hit theatres in 1959, all of these technical innovations drove up the cost to $7 million, making it the most expensive movie ever made at the time.  And, if I remember right, it bombed.  Yup, double-checking on Wikipedia, it bombed and convinced Walt Disney that fairy tale adaptations where dead as a genre of animated film.  Disney didn't do another fairy tale adaptation until The Little Mermaid

So, anyway.  The novelty of widescreen.  Here I was, finally able to see Sleeping Beauty as Walt Disney conceived it.

Dare I recount the plot?  I'm certain you know it.  Once upon a time, a long time ago, a king and queen were blessed with a daughter, whom they named Aurora.  At the ceremony celebrating Aurora's birth, the three good fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather show up to bestow gifts on the little princess.  Flora grants her great beauty, Fauna gives her an amazing singing voice, and before Merryweather can grant her gift, the evil sorceress Malificent shows up, jilted at having not been invited.  Malificent uses her powers to curse the infant Aurora...before the sun sets on her 16th birthday, Aurora will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die.  After Malificent leaves, Merryweather steps up.  The fairies aren't powerful enough to undo Malificent's curse, but they can soften it.  Merryweather alters the curse so, rather than death, Aurora will simply fall into a deep sleep, only to be awoken by true love's first kiss.

But still, to be doubly safe, the king orders a ban on spinning wheels in his kingdom, and has all the spinning wheels destroyed.  But, our three good fairies know that Malificent will never stop until the curse comes to be.  So, with permission from the king and queen, the three fairies take on human form (so their magic won't reveal their position to Malificent), and raise young Aurora on their own deep in the forest.

Many years later, on Aurora's 16th birthday, the three fairies send Aurora out into the woods to gather berries.  The three fairies are going to throw Aurora a gigantic birthday party, and reveal her true identity to her.  While out in the forest, we're treated to the Disney fairy tale trope of the princess singing and enrapturing all the forest creatures to help her out.  And also hearing her song is our handsome Prince Philip.  Now, as we saw earlier in the film, Philip and Aurora are betrothed to each other, as their marriage will unite their two kingdoms.  But, Aurora doesn't know she's a princess, and Philip doesn't know that Aurora is the princess-in-hiding he's been told about all these years.  So they stumble across each other in the forest, and it's love at first sight.  Aurora has to run back to the cottage, but she and Phillip vow to see each other again.

Meanwhile, back at the cottage, our three fairies have been having a tough time getting ready for the party.  So finally, they say, "Fuck it, there's just a few hours left in the curse, what's the worst that could happen?" and they bust out their magic wands and get to magicing.  But, it's just enough to alert their position to Malificent.  Aurora returns, overjoyed at the handsome man she met, but the three fairies finally reveal that Aurora is a princess and betrothed to a prince.  Rather than be overjoyed that she's living the dream of every 12 year old girl by finding out she's really a princess, Aurora is heartbroken that she'll never see than random stranger that she barely knew for an hour again. 

From here, we're treated to some comedic relief while the two kings talk about how their kids are going to get married and make them lots of grandkids, when Prince Philip arrives and tells his father about how he's madly in love with this peasant girl he met in the woods.  Of course, the king is upset by this, but the lovestruck Phillip heads back into the woods for his moonlight rendezvous with Aurora. 

At that very moment, the three fairies are secretly escorting Aurora back into the castle, but she's still heartbroken.  They decide to give Aurora some alone time to compose herself, and that's when Malificent strikes, luring Aurora down a hidden corridor and conjuring up a spinning wheel.  Aurora pricks her finger, and falls into her slumber.  To save the kingdom from heartbreak, the three fairies decide to put the entire kingdom asleep, to awaken when Aurora awakens.  But, lucky for the fairies, Prince Phillip's father talks in his sleep, and from his midnight mumblings, the fairies are able to figure out that Prince Philip is the random stranger that Aurora met in the woods, and the one who can kiss Aurora and break the curse.

But, Malificent has figured this out, too, and has capture Prince Phillip and locked him in her dungeon.  Rather than just kill him, she decides to keep him locked up for 100 years, so that way when he's finally able to awaken Aurora, he'll be old and icky and no 16-year old sweet thing would want him.  But, as part of this torment, Malificent reveals to Prince Philip that Aurora is the peasant girl he met in the woods and got all hot for.  So, in pure Bond villain fashion, now that she's revealed her entire evil plan and locked up the hero in a death trap, Malificent just leaves, certain that things will go according to plan.  But that's when the three fairies show up and free Philip.  They get him all geared up with a sword and shield, and he goes charging off to rescue Aurora.  The fairies accompany him, providing magical protection from all of Malificent's soldier's defenses.  Finally, in one last ditch effort, Malficent turns into a giant dragon and tries to take down Philip.  But in true hero fashion, Philip slays the dragon, and all of Malificent's evil vanishes from the land.  Philip kisses Aurora, she awakens, they get married, and live happily ever after.

Fun trivia fact:  to record the sound of the dragon breathing fire, the Disney sound designers recorded a US Army flamethrower firing. 

Another fun trivia fact:  despite being the titular character, Aurora only has 16 minutes of screen time.  And that's the one thing that struck me about this film.  Aurora's not so much a character as she is a McGuffin.  Again, in case you need to know the terminology, as defined by Alfred Hitchcock, the McGuffin is the object that all that characters are after.  To quote Hitchcock, "In heist films, it's always the diamonds.  In spy films, it's always the papers."  And that's what Aurora is...the object that all the characters desire.  She's the object of Malificent's wrath, she's the object of Philip's affections, even the kings can't help but talk about her.  She is the object that everyone wants.

If anything, the heroes in this film are the three fairies.  Pretty much everything that happens in this film happens because of them.  They protect Aurora for the 16 years.  They free Philip, and we see during the climactic battle that Phillip would be pretty much clueless without their magical help.

Ya know, they're making the gritty reboot right now, following in the footsteps of such films as Snow White and the Huntsman...that's how I'd like to see them do the gritty reboot.  It's a magical war between good fairies and evil fairies (that would be Malificent in this case), and the humans are but pawns who get caught in the crossfire.  Kind of like Clash of the Titans

But the gritty reboot they're making right now is the tale told from Malificent's point of view, And that would be interesting.  Again, we don't get to know her or why she has it in for this kingdom and curses their infant child.  We're led to believe that she's just pissy that she wasn't invited to the party.  As one of the fairies describes her, "I don't think she's known lover or friendship...I doubt she's ever been happy."  It'll be neat to see what they cook up.

But with all that taken into account, the music is good, it looks good, and it's truly worthy of its status as a Disney classic.

One last little thing I'd like to say before I go.  When this VHS came out in 1997, it was when DVD was starting to become a thing.  Disney was rather slow to get on board with DVD, so to compete with DVD, this VHS is loaded with bonus features!  We've got a featurette about the making of the film, the original trailer, and a clip from The Mickey Mouse Club that plugged the film when it first came out.

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