The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents February 2009 Return to Table of Contents
International Awardee
Just Not That Into You
Short Takes
Post Focus
DVD Playback
Last Laugh
Sleeping Beauty
The Day The Earth
ASC Close-Up
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
50th Anniversary Blu-ray Platinum Edition
2.55:1 (High Definition 1080p)
DTS HD 7.1 Surround
Walt Disney Home Entertainment, $34.99

In a faraway land, a king and queen are finally blessed with the birth of their first child, a daughter whom they name Aurora. Well-wishers from near and far, including a nearby king and his very young son, Prince Phillip, the future husband of Princess Aurora, attend a lavish ceremony in the newborn’s honor. Three benevolent fairies —  Flora, Fauna and Merryweather — also attend. As the three fairies begin to bestow magical gifts upon the princess, a dark cloud forms over the ceremony, and, to everyone’s surprise, the vulpine Maleficent descends from it. Incensed that she was not invited to the ceremony, the vengeful sorceress bestows a lethal gift upon the infant. Furiously condemning the kingdom and the child, Maleficent declares that on her 16th birthday, the princess will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall dead. As Maleficent disappears in a burst of flames and smoke, the shocked crowd gathers while Merryweather, unable to reverse Maleficent’s terrible curse, bestows her gift — Aurora will merely fall asleep when she pricks her finger and be awakened by the kiss of true love.  

In 1959, Walt Disney Productions released one of its most accomplished and spectacular animated fantasies, Sleeping Beauty. Preproduction began as early as 1951, when Disney announced his intention to return to the company’s familiar world of the fairy tale. Disney knew this return would have to be different in tone and style from his earlier films Snow White and Cinderella, and he set out to create his most lavish and richly detailed animated world.

In spite of the 1950s being a very busy time for Disney, who was working on the opening of his first theme park, Disneyland, as well as a weekly television series, he remained committed to unique plans for his fairy-tale project. With his general team of animators in place and Clyde Geronimi at the helm as supervising director, Disney took a risk on an unusual and meticulous background artist, Eyvind Earle, as the key color stylist and design consultant for the film. Following Earle’s heavy influence from intricate, Gothic medieval artwork in early paintings and tapestry, Disney’s team developed the pronounced, detailed style that was ultimately Sleeping Beauty’s greatest asset. 

Disney insisted Sleeping Beauty be on the cutting edge of technology, so the film features a stereo surround-sound mix and, most important, was photographed in the grand Technirama 70 Process. Similar to VistaVision, Technirama featured the film running horizontally through the gate. The process allowed for exposure of a frame that was eight sprockets wide for maximum image information as compared to the standard four-sprocket-tall size when the film ran in the traditional vertical mode. With the oversized 2.55:1 animation plates meticulously crafted by the animators and shot through Disney’s standard multiplane system using the Technirama camera, Sleeping Beauty’s images are, indeed, some of the legendary studio’s most memorable. This was also the last of the studio’s films to be entirely hand-drawn.

The first of Disney’s animated classics to make the jump to home-screen high-definition, Sleeping Beauty has been released on Blu-ray as a Special Platinum Edition. Transferred directly from the recent digital restoration of the original negative-source elements scanned at 4K, the film is finally presented in its intended aspect ratio of 2.55:1, allowing for maximum picture information to be seen on home screens for the first time. The film has been digitally scrubbed of any surface dirt and appears in pristine condition. The remarkable image transfer is a benchmark in the Blu-ray format’s history, with exceptional reproduction and density of hues, including visible gradations of paint textures in numerous backgrounds. This sharp, well-contrasting presentation, full of vibrant detail and exceptional warmth, is breathtaking. The audio has also been restored and is presented in a 7.1 DTS track that is smooth and satisfying, with surprising tonal range on the film’s legendary Tchaikovsky-based score. There also are pleasing amounts of directional sound effects and heavy bass presence, particularly in the film’s final battle sequences. 

In addition to the sensational feature presentation, this Blu-ray edition comes with a royal dowry of supplements, including a solid audio commentary with Disney animators and historian Leonard Maltin that comes with picture-in-a-picture onscreen clips of the commentators; a fun visit with “the dragon” in surround audio; music videos; sing-a-longs; a hi-def presentation of the Academy Award-winning short subject Grand Canyon, which originally played with the feature presentation in theaters; and Disney Blu-ray live features that include chat, games and other interactive features (if a viewer’s player is connected to the Internet). A second disc features interactive games and a bountiful Disney Backstage file that is filled with hours of making-of documentaries, restoration information, promotional materials, behind-the-scenes footage and a multitude of art galleries. Finally, as icing on this formidable cake, a standard-definition DVD of the feature presentation is also included.

Fans and first-timers alike will find themselves drawn into this terrific new presentation of one of Disney’s most beloved creations.

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