Almost everyone remembers the story of Sleeping Beauty---whether it be the Brothers Grimm fairy tale (itself based on a story by Charles Perrault) or Walt Disney's 1959 animated adaptation---but very few would rank the latter with Disney's very best animated productions. At just 75 minutes in length, the film still feels awfully bloated: after all, the original clocks in at approximately 800 words. Yet, like a number of animated classics have proven, lots of dialogue has very little to do with a story's overall effectiveness. From that perspective, Disney's Sleeping Beauty is "atmosphere first, story second" and most certainly worth watching for its spectacular sights and sounds. Those new to the story, then, should expect nothing more than a fluffy, surface-level adventure that still manages to captivate the senses.
Unfortunately, Sleeping Beauty flopped at the box office in 1959, largely due to its high budget (reportedly twice as much as Disney's previous three films) and a long, drawn-out production that lasted the better part of the decade. As a result, fairy tale adaptations were abandoned at Disney for thirty years until The Little Mermaid broke the curse, leading to perhaps the studio's most popular and prolific era during the early 1990s. It's not surprising, then, that Sleeping Beauty has been viewed as something of a scapegoat during the last 55 years...but the film's stunning animation, expressive designs and backgrounds (by celebrated illustrator Eyvind Earle, who served as art director), and stunning Stereophonic sound mix (by many accounts, the first of its kind in an animated production) have ensured that it's aged very well. Theatrical re-releases and home video sales have bolstered Sleeping Beauty's legacy from two perspectives: it's no longer viewed as a financial failure, and films shot in Super Technirama 70 yield stunning picture and sound quality.
It's certainly evident on this new Diamond Edition Blu-ray from Disney...but anyone following the company's high-def output probably knows that already. Sleeping Beauty was the recipient of a lavish Platinum Edition release six years ago (to the day, even!)...in fact, it was so good that they haven't really added much of interest. In fact, they've even taken away almost an entire disc's worth of bonus features, replacing them with a handful of mostly trivial curiosities that feel more like thematic tie-ins to last summer's Maleficent. There's still some quality stuff on here---and the A/V presentation is still mighty impressive, that's how good it was six years ago---but make no mistake about it: if you already have the Platinum Edition or can find a second-hand copy on the cheap, there's absolutely no reason to pick this up. But if you're a completist or not that interested in extras, it's still a decent package that classic animation fans will enjoy.
Disney's previously issued Platinum Edition Blu-ray was the first of its classic titles to get the high definition treatment, and it met or exceeded the expectations of most fans. So don't get too upset that this appears to be the exact same transfer as that one, albeit one that's be re-encoded and compressed with slightly more content on a single disc. It's pretty much a toss-up as far as quality goes but, without question, this is a terrific looking disc that fans of all ages should enjoy looking at. The colors absolutely pop off the screen, image detail is strong and, most importantly, flagrant digital imperfections don't seem to be an issue here. Those familiar with 2.55:1 Technirama releases and Disney films of this era should know what they're getting, but this film really does look that good. It's even better in motion.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
Also similar to the last release, audio options include separate DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio and Stereophonic 4.0 Dolby Digital tracks, along with the addition of a few dubs. The 7.1 option might seem like overkill for a 1959 film, animated or otherwise, but this is a tasteful and effective remix that adds strong channel separation, rear effects, and a nice amount of low end when the situation demands it. Don't get me wrong: I'd probably pick the original 4.0 mix if forced to choose (yes, even though it's not lossless for whatever reason), but it's certainly nice to have the option. Purists will flock to the original 4.0 mix too, and for good reason: it's still clear as a bell, with crisp dialogue and music cues to boot. Either way, this is a fine sonic presentation that fans should really appreciate. Optional English, SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Russian subtitles have been included during the main feature and all appropriate supplements.
The simple interface is cleanly designed and easy to use, providing separate options for chapter selection, setup and bonus features. This two-disc (BD+DVD) set is housed in a standard dual-hubbed keepcase with attractive cover art and a matching slipcover. In what must be a microcosm for this release in general, we get a handful of ad inserts but no actual booklet like last time. Oh, and there's also a Digital Copy redemption slip, if that floats your boat.
Here's where things go a little downhill. The Platinum Edition Blu-ray served up two discs stuffed with extras...and despite the fact that diamonds are worth more than platinum, almost all of those extras have not been included here.
Recycled Extras: a full Audio Commentary with John Lasseter, Leonard Maltin and Andreas Deja, "Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty", "Eyvind Earle: The Man And His Art", and "The Sound of Beauty: Restoring a Classic".
Missing in Action: the invaluable "Cine-Explore" Mode originally paired with the commentary, the pre-show Grand Canyon short, a handful of short Featurettes including a tour of the Disneyland attraction, a few Storyboards and Art Galleries, "The Peter Tchaikovsky Story", Deleted Songs, an Alternate Opening and more. Some of the lesser vintage supplements (a Music Video, Games & Activities, etc.) aren't missed...but most of this material was fantastic, and the loss of it greatly reduces this release's appeal. Luckily, used copies of the Platinum Edition are still easy to find.
So, what's new? Surprise, surprise, most of the new stuff is nothing more than thematic tie-ins for Maleficent. The best of the bunch is "Art of Evil: Generations Of Disney Villains" (10 minutes), in which animator Andreas Deja and other Disney artists explain how the influence of classic baddies has profoundly shaped their artistic style. Also here is "Disney Animation: Artists in Motion" (5 minutes), a like-minded featurette hosted by artist Brittney Lee as she creates a neat Maleficent sculpture out of paper. Three never-before-seen Deleted Scenes (3 clips, 11 minutes total) are also here, albeit in enhanced storyboard form. Of lesser interest are "Once Upon A Parade" (9 minutes, starring Modern Family's Sarah Hyland) and "Once Upon A Dream" (3 minutes), an animated karaoke-style presentation of the famous song.
By design, double-dips are usually disappointing. At best, they offer a few new supplements (or an A/V upgrade, even) that die-hard fans shell out for every few years. Sometimes, they're just the same thing in different packaging. But some are actually downgrades from previous releases, as is the case for Disney's new Diamond Edition of Sleeping Beauty. Honestly, the disappointment stems from the Platinum Edition Blu-ray setting the bar too high...but now that it's long out-of-print, this inferior consolation price is, by default, the next best thing. And don't get me wrong: this is still a solid one-disc release, as it combines a near-perfect A/V presentation with a handful of vintage and lightweight new supplements. If you own the previous Blu-ray or can score a used copy, definitely buy that instead. But if you're late to the party and still interested, two-thirds of a great release is still better than nothing. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.