Blu-ray Review: Sleeping Beauty (1959) - Diamond Edition

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Disney has reissued their beloved 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty on Blu-ray as a Diamond Edition, six years following its original Platinum Edition Blu-ray debut. The release will undoubtedly be met with mixed reaction. On one hand it’s great for anyone who missed out on the 2008 Platinum Edition, which has been fetching high prices on the collector’s market. On the other hand, the Diamond Edition offers no upgrade in terms of visual or audio presentation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The 1080p restored image is marvelous, bursting with color and completely concealing the fact that the film is 55 years old. The real disappointment is that Disney didn’t see fit to include all of the special features found on the older release, though a few brand new ones have been added.

Sleeping Beauty DE_1 (380x147).jpgThe movie itself is still funny (thanks to the three good fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather), scary (thanks to the evil Maleficent), and tuneful (thanks to the Oscar- and Grammy-nominated score by George Bruns). It’s admittedly a bit hard to be moved by the “romance” between Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip, especially after the delightful fun poked at the “love at first sight” clich├ęs in 2013’s Frozen. Sleeping Beauty definitely presents an old school (and quite shallow) concept of so-called “true love.” Aurora (voiced by Mary Costa), hidden from society in an attempt to protect her from a dreadful curse and rechristened Briar Rose, isn’t the most interesting character in the esteemed Disney filmography. Phillip (voiced by Bill Shirley) is even duller, if anything.

But the bitterly malevolent Maleficent (perfectly voiced by Eleanor Audley), who promises Aurora will die on her sixteenth birthday after pricking her finger on a spinning wheel, leaves an indelible impression. Earlier this summer Disney hit pay dirt with a live-action remake, Maleficent (due on Blu-ray November 4, 2014), starring Angelina Jolie in the title role. There was a certain amount of risk associated with that project, but despite generally mixed reviews it was widely embraced by general audiences. The timing couldn’t be better for revisiting the original, more frightening incarnation of the character.

The plot itself is a little thin, but luckily the dotty fairies provide plenty to chuckle at as we wait for the climatic showdown. Flora (Verna Felton), Fauna (Barbara Jo Allen), and Merryweather (Barbara Luddy) are actually more charmingly humorous than their more recent live-action counterparts in Maleficent. Their antics during such tunes as “Magical House Cleaning/Blue or Pink,” however lightweight, provide a fun diversion from the feeling that the film’s directors were marking time more or less. The narration by Marvin Miller is almost painfully old-fashioned, but it does fit in with the overall style of the storytelling. It just won’t sound especially hip to today’s generation of kid viewers.

Sleeping 1 (380x250).jpgAgain, as already stated, more than a half-century melts away when watching this spotless high definition presentation of Sleeping Beauty. There’s a nearly three-dimensional depth discernible in the imagery. Kids reared on digital animation may still turn their noses up, but that’s only because they’re not used to hand-drawn animation. This is beautiful stuff and it’s hard to imagine it looking any better. The colors are simply magnificent. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix is, like a lot of vintage soundtracks expanded beyond 5.1, perhaps a bit overkill. But it sounds awesome, especially the music.

Sleeping 2 (380x214).jpgThe big letdown here is the absence of many of the special features found on the two-disc Platinum Edition Blu-ray from 2008. There are a few new pieces, led by three previously-unseen “deleted scenes” (offered as a series of storyboards and newly recorded audio). “The Art of Evil: Generations Of Disney Villains” is a ten-minute piece about the many bad guys in Disney’s animated classics, not limited to Sleeping Beauty. “Once Upon a Parade” is a Sarah Hyland-hosted commercial for Disney theme parks. “DisneyAnimation: Artists in Motion” runs just four minutes and there’s also a sing-along video for “Once Upon a Dream.”

Ported over from the older release are audio commentary, a short sound restoration featurette, a piece about Beauty’s art director Eyvind Earle, and a substantial (45 minutes) making-of featurette, “Picture Perfect.” That leaves a lot of interesting stuff on the cutting room floor from the far more expansive previous Blu-ray, which is kind of puzzling (and inevitably disappointing for completists). The Diamond Edition Blu-ray also includes a standard DVD and a digital copy.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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