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Sleeping Beauty: Special Edition

In Sleeping Beauty — widely considered the grand finale to the golden age of the Disney studio, if only because it was the last to be produced with hand-inked cels — Uncle Walt upped the ante. Literally. Six years in the making, and costing a then bank-breaking $6 million, this was an enormous undertaking meant to dwarf the past achievements in terms of scope and design. Disney sent an unmistakable message to his veteran animators when he uncharacteristically appointed Eyvind Earle, a relatively recent arrival to the studio, to supervise the drawing of the backgrounds and the characters. This was to be, in every aspect, a Disney film without precedent. The problem, though, was that the story of Sleeping Beauty had nothing but precedent in the oeuvre of Disney feature animation. And all the cosmetic enhancements technologically available could easily be rendered irrelevant by the audience's utter familiarity with the narrative. To avoid this potential calamity, Disney and his writers made a very odd choice, which was to have the three fairy godmothers drive the story forward as the film's protagonists, leaving the characterizations of the titular princess and her betrothed dangerously undernourished. That's always been the problem with Sleeping Beauty, and is likely the reason it's rarely recalled with the same fond nostalgia as Pinocchio or Bambi. Admirers of the film tend to lavish most of their praise on its stand-out design; a blending of the Renaissance Era work of van Eyck with the shadowy environs of Gothic art that is frequently breathtaking when the movie is viewed in its intended medium (lovely as it is on this disc, it's so much more astounding on the big screen). And story lulls to the contrary, once Sleeping Beauty reaches its thrilling final battle between Maleficent and Phillip, undoubtedly the most masterfully choreographed and executed sequence in the entire Disney canon, the film roars to life. With a finish like that, most of its flaws are easily forgiven. Walt Disney Home Entertainment presents Sleeping Beauty in a two-disc special edition that should handily satiate the most rabid Disney-phile with its near-pristine anamorphic 2.35:1 presentation (there's a pan-and-scan version on board, too). The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also fantastic, closely recapturing the awesome stereophonic sound in which the film was originally recorded. Extras on Disc One are limited to a commentary moderated by Jeff Kurtti, and featuring insights from many of the talents behind the film. Meanwhile, disc two is divided into two sections: "Games, Music and Fun" for the kids, and "History & Behind the Scenes" for the adults. Features in the former section include "Disney's Art Project," "Rescue Aurora Adventure Game," "Princess Personality Profile Game," "Once Upon a Dream" sing-a-long, "Once Upon a (Another) Dream" music video by No Secrets and the messy sounding "Sleeping Beauty Ink and Paint Game." For the adults there's "The Making of Sleeping Beauty" (16 min.), "Story" and "Production" sections with numerous featurettes, two live-action reference films, a widescreen-to-pan-and-scan comparison, three theatrical shorts ("Four Artists Paint One Tree," "The Peter Tchaikovsky Story" and "Grand Canyon"), two photo galleries, and three theatrical trailers. Dual-DVD keep-case with paperboard slipcover.
—Clarence Beaks

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