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Category:    Home > Reviews > Animation > Children > Large Frame Format > Sleeping Beauty - Special Edition (1959/Disney DVD)

Sleeping Beauty (1959/Disney DVD Special Edition)


Picture: A     Sound: B+     Extras: A     Film: A-



NOTE:  This is a review of the older 2003 restoration of the film.  A new upgrade has arrived on Blu-ray with its full aspect ratio, which you can read more about at this link:





The new version is also on DVD at the shorter 2.35 X 1 aspect ratio, which will be covered on this site ASAP.  Now the original review…



After seeing some of the more recent attempts from the Disney studio it is hard to imagine that at one time they were at the top of the game.  In some ways their biggest accomplishment was with 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, or at least in terms of large production value with a film that was made to astonish the viewer.  This was the first time that a grand scale animated feature would be used for the widescreen presentation, add to that the fact that they chose to go with Super Technirama 70, which of course uses the more expensive, but far superior 70mm prints and be in the three-strip Technicolor process in 35mm prints.  How many films get this treatment these days?


The sad thing is that over the years Sleeping Beauty has been forgotten and while still considered a ‘classic’ few have revisited the title.  Most remember Cinderella and of course Snow White, but somehow this film gets lost in the shuffle.  Well, it is no wonder with the poor prints that have circulated on various formats and the pan & scan versions that have existed on VHS.  It is fair to say that this film was in desperate need of a restoration and a format like DVD.  In 1994, a restoration was performed on the film to clean it up, but a much larger, more extensive one was done just for its debut onto DVD.  What was accomplished is something unlike any other and the film looks better than it did back in its original release.


The process that was used in order to clean the film up before work was done to actually re-color the film actually took the characters away from the backdrops and allowed for a cleansing process to be done on the backgrounds without any harm coming to the characters.  Then the characters were re-colored and sharpened before being put back into the film.  While this might cause for some tampering, this was surely the best way to clean up the film with the finest results.  For the DVD release the original 2.20 X 1 image has been slightly modified cropping a tad off in order to present it in a 2.35 X 1 standard scope aspect ratio.  The results are astonishing despite a small amount of information missing due to the crop. 


This is easily one of the best DVD’s to own just based on its picture quality and the way it shows off both good animation as well as animation presented in a superb way.  Since a huge restoration was done this gives a better approximation of what a 70mm production should look like.  Note that there are few DVD’s to match such a presentation both live action and animation.  Other DVD’s of equal weight might include Apocalypse Now Redux from Paramount, better portions of Disney’s Tron reissue, Criterion’s Spartacus (another Technirama film shot one year after Sleeping Beauty, also made available in 70mm prints) as well as some of Disney’s newer films including Lion King and Finding Nemo.  Pixar is a slightly different ballgame though with Finding Nemo since it was a straight digital transfer with little information loss, if any.


A better comparison might be to the cleanup Disney did with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, but that is a hard comparison simply because Snow White was a full-frame film, which displayed excellent colors due to its restoration, but Sleeping Beauty was an altogether different process.  It is hard to judge depth as you might in a regular live action film versus an animated feature since the depth never changes; everything is on a one dimensional surface, despite the filmmakers using techniques making depth an illusion.  Color, on the other hand, is something that is either done well, or not.  Color transfers can look astonishing, as the case here, but even restorations have left some films still looking dim by comparison.  Notice on the review on this site for the reissue of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, that the picture still has a lot of work to be done.  That film was also a 70mm production. 


The sad thing is that large frame productions can look so amazing when done well, but for some reason many DVD’s are not meeting the desired needs to make them into amazing DVD’s.  Sleeping Beauty exceeds those expectations, which might prove to be a starting point or at least a reference point for other such accomplishments.  Jacques Tati’s Playtime is an actual 70mm film is dire need of a transfer that will show off its image capabilities as well as its 6-track magnetic sound, which was not apparent on Criterion’s issue, which [was reissued by Criterion again, but again botched.  Restored since this posting, we look forward to a Blu-ray.]  Sleeping Beauty’s 6-track magnetic sound has been reformed into a Dolby Digital 5.1 experience that shows off some of the muscle behind those old systems.  Newer technologies obviously are able to give better sound reproduction, but this film has some muster to it, which the DVD is able to handle and generate a ‘feel’ I have never experienced with this film.  There is more low end during scenes with the fire-breathing dragon, higher fidelity when Aurora is singing in the woods, etc, etc. 


As with the majority of Disney’s classic films that are issued or reissued onto DVD they are going the extras mile or two to make sure that the film looks spectacular and gives something it never did before, plus an abundance of extras to ensure the consumer will be occupied and stimulated for hours.  Disney recognizes that their target audience for these films ranges from birth to death, so that they include supplements that are aimed at adults and kids alike.  Kids will find the games portion of the extras disc quite fun, while adults may enjoy some of the production segments or the commentary that is provided.  There are also a few sections that are devoted to the more technically proficient people, such as the widescreen vs. pan & scan featurette or the restoration segment.  Interestingly enough Disney chose to put the film in both widescreen and pan & scan into this release, which makes me wonder if they really want people to switch over just yet.


Sleeping Beauty is a film that should not be forgotten, but is slowly coming to that.  Perhaps with things besides little in-jokes from Shrek this DVD will bring back a fan-base to a film that belongs high in the ranks of Disney’s catalog.  Certainly this is one of the finest productions to ever make way to DVD that should not be missed before it goes back into the Disney vaults.



-   Nate Goss


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