films for children

Bean’s Screening Room: Sleeping Beauty (Walt Disney, 1959)

Vintage Sleeping Beauty poster art, property of Buena Vista Distribution

Sleeping Beauty shouldn’t be called Sleeping Beauty. It should be called Fairy Ganglands or Wandfellas or Maleficent’s Sweet Badass Song or something like that. Because, you know, it’s not actually about Sleeping Beauty. She doesn’t really do anything.  She has about as much agency in this film as Oliver Twist does in the book about him. Which is to say, none.

No, the story’s really about a wicked fairy who gets snubbed by a local dignitary, exacts revenge through a curse, and is ultimately thwarted by the interference of what can only be described as a magical sewing circle of ditsy great-aunt types. Like all fairy tales, it has the potential to be a really dark, gruesome story. In the fifty-odd years that have elapsed since the original release of Sleeping Beauty, Disney seems to have worked this out, so on May 30th they will be releasing a film called Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie:

Which looks all right, I guess. I would still prefer to see the original set of fairies hashing out the details of their assault on the Forbidden Mountain like mooks in a Scorsese movie. But you can’t have everything in life.

The original film itself is worth watching, though. Bean likes it for for the scary dragon at the end, and for its “danciness”– having borrowed heavily from Tchaikovsky’s ballet for the score, Disney decided that his animators should put a lot of balletic bounce into the characters, using live-action models who were also dancers in many cases.

And it really shows. I always marvel at how much better the quality of movement and character design is in the older Disneys than it is in the newer ones. Here’s Aurora and Phillip dancing to the “Once upon a Dream” ballad:

It’s just a joy to watch them all move: the animals, the prince and his horse, Aurora. Even though her feet are too small for her body, and her waist circumference is smaller than that of her head, she really has weight and balance like a dancer– she even spots her turns when she spins!

Additionally, her physical proportions are always constant and her looks consistent throughout. This consistency came at a cost– it took seven years to finish Sleeping Beauty, and its insistence on a kind of flat, modernist interpretation of medieval art turned some people off at the time. However, I think it stands up.

Compare that clip to Beauty and the Beast (1991), which was nominated for Best Picture:

Watch Belle in the scenes when they’re outside. Sure, she’s pretty, but her face and eyes don’t always look exactly the same from shot to shot, and the Beast sometimes seems bigger or smaller compared to her in proportion. The black lines outlining their figures seem sketchier– and not in the way that the characters in The Jungle Book were, either. There’s less discipline in the art.

Nowadays, computer animation makes it possible to keep characters looking like themselves no matter what, because you can build yourself a virtual model. And in the right hands, it can make for great fun:

(The dude with the potholders on his hands at 3:01 in that video will never fail to make me laugh.)

However, it lacks a certain charm, don’t you think?