How Was 'Sleeping Beauty' the Pinnacle of Classic Disney Animation?

'Sleeping Beauty'
'Sleeping Beauty'Credit: Disney
How did 1959's Sleeping Beauty become the culmination of the classic era of Walt Disney Animation Studios? 

I never watched the animated princess movies when I was a kid, but during quarantine, I've watched them all on Disney+ with my girlfriend, and I have to admit, I was blown away by Sleeping Beauty

It's one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen, from the cinematography to the costumes to the characters, and it's all animated. Someone carefully and meticulously designed every aspect of the movie, and it didn't happen by chance. It was the culmination of everything Walt and the company had learned over the years. 

Check out this video from Matt Draper, and let's talk more after the jump. 

How was Sleeping Beauty the Pinnacle of Classic Disney Animation? 

Every era of Disney animation tries to build on the ones before it. You learn specific lessons and try to apply them. Well, Sleeping Beauty was a very specific end of an era. It was the amalgamation of technology and art coming together to deliver a movie that would push Disney forward. 

It was also the last animated movie that Walt worked on full time. Kind of his opus for the fairy tale genre as well. The studio did not return to the genre until 30 years later, after Disney died in 1966, with the release of The Little Mermaid in 1989.

It was released in Disney's widest aspect ratio ever, the stunning 2.55:1 Super Technirama. This was an expansive widescreen ratio that allowed animators to play with foreground, background, and action moving between the two. 

'Sleeping Beauty'
'Sleeping Beauty'Credit: Disney

The film's musical score and songs featured the work of the Graunke Symphony Orchestra under the direction of George Bruns, with arrangements and adaptations of numbers from the 1890 Sleeping Beauty ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

This kind of stunning assembly showcased the growth and experience in the studio had found since Walt founded it so many years prior. And it would pay off, as in 2019, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

It was a meditative movie, not relying on the comedic interludes of movies prior, but okay with being a slow burn that highlighted visuals. The very idea for the movie came from the "Unicorn Tapestries" from the 1500s. 

The seven individual hangings known as "The Unicorn Tapestries" are among the most beautiful and complex works of art from the late Middle Ages that survive. 

'Sleeping Beauty'
'Sleeping Beauty'Credit: Disney

There's motivating camera work here that takes us in and out of scenes, giving the story a lyrical quality that perfectly fits the narrative. 

One of the things that struck me most was how empathetic the characters were. Part of that I think is because the movement and action in the movie were all adapted from the way people really move and talk. Walt actually demanded that every scene in the film be shot live-action, then had animators animate cells based on real peoples' movements. 

This process took years, but it was a huge payoff when seen on screen. 

Still, the lengthy process meant this movie was created thanks to a chorus of voices, as people came in and dropped off to work on different ideas until the film was released. The film was directed by Les ClarkEric Larson, and Wolfgang Reitherman, under the supervision of Clyde Geronimi, with additional story work by Joe Rinaldi, Winston HiblerBill PeetTed SearsRalph Wright, and Milt Banta.

But all these names and their contributions paid off for a movie that changed the way Disney did things. It encouraged them to use a deeper depth of field, to animate based on real life, and it got them thinking about the theatrical experience as well. 

'Sleeping Beauty'
'Sleeping Beauty'Credit: Disney

When was the last time you watched Sleeping Beauty? Let us know what you think in the comments!     

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