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Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
5 Stars
Supplements
1 Stars
High-Def Extras
4 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Sleeping Beauty: Diamond Edition

Street Date:
October 7th, 2014
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
September 29th, 2014
Movie Release Year:
1959
Studio:
Disney/Buena Vista
Length:
75 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated G
Release Country
United States

Introduction

The Movie Itself, the Video, the Audio and portions of the supplements were previously published in Peter Bracke's review of Sleeping Beauty (1959): Platinum Edtion

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

I'm sure I'm not the first to make the observation that the villains of Disney's animated features are often more interesting than their heroes (and heroines). Think Cruella de Vil in '101 Dalmatians,' the Wicked Witch of 'Snow White,' or the Beast of 'Beauty and the Beast,' and it's easy to savor all of the cruel wickedness far more than the blandly-vanilla sweetness. Nowhere may this be more true than with 'Sleeping Beauty,' a perfectly fine fable in the Disney canon, but one where its titular Princess Aurora and her romantic melodrama are overshadowed by the vividly drawn supporting characters, and particularly the delightfully-demonic Maleficent. That doesn't make 'Sleeping Beauty' a bad film at all, but it's one where all of the story and character elements are certainly not created equal, and furthermore, take a back seat to Disney's technical artistry.

By now the story of 'Sleeping Beauty' is known by just about anyone who ever had a fairy tale read to them as a child. Based on the first section of Charles Perrault's short story "La Belle au Bois Dormant" (published as part of Perrault's 1697 book "The Tales of My Mother Goose"), it's only fair to Disney to say the source material is slim at best. Culled from a mere four paragraphs from Perrault, the tale is quite straightforward and simplistic. Running a scant 75 minutes, the film oddly short-thrifts its main human characters (who are generic at best). The villain, Maleficent, energizes the film, and even the animal characters seem more, well, animated. The real beauty of 'Beauty,' then, is in the details -- it's supporting characters, its wondrous visual acumen, its memorable songs and its beautifully-rendered animation.

If not exactly a failure as a story, 'Sleeping Beauty' is nonetheless remembered as much, if not more, for its sights and sounds. 'Sleeping Beauty' was produced at a crucial period in American cinema, as television was sweeping the nation and moviegoers were rapidly abandoning the theater seats for the comfort of their couches. Like all of the major studios at the time, Walt Disney was looking for something new to attract its dwindling audiences. 'Sleeping Beauty' was the first Disney feature to adopt many technological advances of the time, including 70mm (dubbed Technirama) and six-track audio. The film is also a widescreen beauty, composed in 2.55:1, and produced in three-strip Technicolor. It is also the last hand-drawn Disney feature to be inked entirely by human hands.

The result is that despite narrative weaknesses there is much to savor in 'Sleeping Beauty.' The film is absolutely and undeniably beautiful -- it's animation is as splendid as any of the unquestionable classics in the Disney pantheon, including 'Snow White,' 'Cinderella' and 'Bambi.' Marking a further creative departure from past Disney features, 'Sleeping Beauty' has a more arch and defined visual style. (Next to the Barbie-like Aurora and angular evil of Maleficent, the plump Snow White seems positively cherubic by comparison.) The color palette, too, is darker and more foreboding. The forest is teeming with menace, thanks to the use of rich, deep purples, green, and reds that are gorgeously realized. The contrast with the far more cheery world of Aurora is also thematically ripe, adding a suggestion of complexity to a story that is greatly in need of depth.

With its action and intensity, 'Sleeping Beauty' is also more aggressive than some previous Disney features. The climactic battle to lift the curse that imprisons the slumbering Aurora, between Prince Philip and a dragon-ized Maleficent, is quite suspenseful and visceral, enough that I'm sure it has scared the bejesuses out of many small children over the years. The reign of misery that Maleficent and her shadow self/raven Diablo cast upon the kingdom is also no child's play. There is a heft to the darkness in 'Sleeping Beauty' that further helps to off-set the cliched and conventional aspects of its romantic confections.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Disney's 'Sleeping Beauty - Diamond Edition' comes to high-definition on a BD-50 Region-Free Blu-ray. It is paired with a DVD and comes with a HD Digital Download. All are housed inside a standard blue keepcase, which comes with a slipcover. Before getting to the menu, there are trailers for the Disney Movies Anywhere app, '101 Dalmatians - Diamond Edition', Cinderella (2015), and 'Maleficent'.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'Sleeping Beauty' has received a wonderful restoration, with this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode offering a beautiful transfer (it is also -- at last -- framed at 2.55:1, showing more area at the top/bottom and sides of the picture than ever seen before). According to Disney's provided press materials, 'Sleeping Beauty' has undergone a meticulous frame-by-frame clean-up, culled from the original nitrate negative and requiring years to complete. The result is clearly superior to any video (or theatrical, for that matter) presentation seen before. If this is indicative of Disney's future Platinum Series presentations, fans are in for a treat.

The source is just about impeccable, with no traces of dirt or blemishes. Blacks are pure, with little of the print fluctuations that usually plague material of this vintage. Contrast is vibrant but retains a film-like look, and there is no faux-digitization of the image. The originally, already-brilliant Technicolor palette is superior and, in some cases, greatly improved over the previous DVD version. Darker scenes, such as nighttime forest scenes and those with Maleficent boast much cleaner and deeper purples, reds and blues. And thanks to the wonders of digital technology, the often disastrous misalignment of three-plate Technicolor is absent here, so the image is always uniform.

Detail and sharpness also receive a noticeable boost. The image is three-dimensional, with appreciable depth and excellent clarity even in the most detailed shots. Shadow delineation sees a jump over the DVD, such as fine textures of Aurora's clothing or minor details in background plates which are now clearly visible rather than vague mush. It's also no surprise that this is a rock-solid encode, with no apparent edge enhancement or motion artifacts.

Are there nitpicks? A couple. The opening minutes made me a bit nervous, as there was some minor print wavering, but it quickly subsides. There is also the sporadic soft shot throughout, but this minor inconsistency in sharpness appears more indicative of the source than a fault of the transfer. Such quibbles aside, 'Sleeping Beauty' is a gem.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Going above and beyond the audio usually offered on remasters of classic titles, Disney offers a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio track for 'Sleeping Beauty,' in 7.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit). It's an excellent remix, with the studio utilizing newly-discovered 35mm 3-track recordings. Certainly, 'Sleeping Beauty' has never sounded better. (Also offered is an English Dolby Digital 4.0 Surround mix, plus English Closed Captioning. I could find no foreign language dubs or dedicated subtitle options.)

'Sleeping Beauty' has been expanded nicely to 7.1. The rear soundstage is nice and full, with the original sound stems utilized to create truly discrete effects that pan smoothly between channels. I did not notice any great exploitation of the two extra surround channels, but certainly the surrounds are full and alive with sound. Minor ambiance is also nicely sustained, particularly during the outdoor and action-y moments. Clarity and depth to dynamic range is full-bodied, with the elements betraying their nearly 50-year age. Low bass is also deep and tight, but not overpowering. The score is also technically impeccable, with a richness I wasn't expecting for an older title.

All that could be considered slightly lacking is dialogue reproduction. Spoken words are no doubt clean and pronounced, but they sometimes sound a tad thin in the high-range, and not as natural as the effects. But no matter. As with the video, Disney has more than earned the Platinum designation with this DTS HD Master Audio 7.1 upgrade.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

This area is where hardcore Disney fans will likely turn on the studio as the title's reemergence from the vault sees the loss of the many bonus features from the Platinum Edition, according to my research. 

For those scoring at home the missing extras are: Cine-Explore, Grand Canyon, Dragon Encounter, Princess Fun Facts, "Once Upon A Dream" Music Video, Games & Activities, Original Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough Attraction, Sequence 8, Alternate Opening, Deleted Songs, Storyboard Sequences, Live-Action Reference, Sleeping Beauty Art Galleries, Publicity, The Peter Tchaikovsky Story, and Four Artists Paint One Tree.

New bonus material available on both the Blu-ray and DVD of the Diamond Edition includes:

  • Deleted Scene: The Curse Is Fulfilled (HD, 3 min) - Storyboards of Aurora being tricked into touching the wishing wheel
  • Alternate Scene: The Arrival of Maleficent (HD, 2 min) - Storyboards of the dark fairy's entrance.
  • Deleted Scene: The Fair (HD, 8 min) - Storyboards of Aurora disguising herself as a servant and sneaking out to attend the fair.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Bonus material from the Platinum Edition available on the Diamond Edition:

  • Audio Commentary – Together on the commentary are Pixar guru John Lasseter, film critic and historian Leonard Maltin, and Disney animator Andreas Deja. The trio offers a nice balance of perspective. Deja illustrates the technical aspects and changes in animation styles that 'Sleeping Beauty' ushered in, as well as some behind-the-scenes Disney politics; Maltin gives his typical lavish spin on the film's legacy within the Disney canon, while Lasseter is the most persuasive in detailing the lasting influence the film has had on the medium.
  • "Picture Perfect: The Making of 'Sleeping Beauty'" (HD, 44 minutes) - The centerpiece making-of, this fresh doc mixes newly-discovered production footage, vintage interview material with Walt Disney, and new chats with Disney historians, animators and industry luminaries (among them Pixar's John Lasseter). It nicely encapsulates the production troubles that befell 'Sleeping Beauty,' which at the time represented a considerable cost investment for Disney, as well as a shift in the studio's animation techniques (among them being the fact that this was their last hand-inked feature). Kudos to Disney for not whitewashing the story (details of wild cost overruns and internal politics are not discarded), which makes for fascinating viewing.
  • Eyvind Earle: The Man and His Art (HD, 7 min) – A celebration of designer Earle's wonderful work, which remains instrumental to the magic of 'Sleeping Beauty.'
  • The Sound of Beauty: Restoring a Classic (HD, 12 minutes) - This is an excellent look at the extensive work required to restore the audio of 'Sleeping Beauty.' An exhaustive search went all the way around the world to Berlin to uncover rare elements, and the result is ably honored here in HD and full 7.1 Surround.

New bonus material available on the Diamond Edition:

  • Once Upon A Parade (HD, 9 min) - Sarah Hyland of 'Modern Family' tells some kids, and, viewers a story about Walt Disney's Festival of Fantasy Parade in an unnecessary bit of synergistic marketing.
  • The Art of Evil: Generations of Disney Villains (HD, 10 min) - A look at the approach over the years of Disney animators creating villains, including one of Disney's Nine Old Men, Marc Davis, who drew Maleficent and Cruella de Vil.
  • @DisneyAnimation: Artists in Motion (HD, 4 min) - Walt Disney Animation's Visual Development Artist Brittney Lee uses paper to create a 3-D sculpture of Maleficent and discusses the process.
  • Beauty-Oke: "Once Upon A Dream" (HD, 3 min) - Sing along as the words play before you.

Final Thoughts

For the Disney completists, the limited new extras likely aren't enough to cause a double dip, but for those that didn't get the Platinum Edition before the film was placed in the Disney vault, 'Sleeping Beauty: Diamond Edition' is well worth owning.  The classic fairy tale is exquisitely presented in high defintion. Highly recommended.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.55:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
  • French DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
  • English Original Stereo Theatrical Mix
  • Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
  • Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
  • Russian 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian

Supplements

  • “Once Upon A Parade,” in which “Modern Family” star Sarah Hyland tells us the tale of Walt Disney World’s new Festival Of Fantasy Parade, “Art of Evil: Generations Of Disney Villains,” a legacy piece spotlighting Disney’s favorite villain animator and Maleficent creator Marc Davis, and “@DisneyAnimation: Artists in Motion,” in which Walt Disney Animation Visual Development artist Brittney Lee goes through the process of creating a three dimensional sculpture of Maleficent, completely out of paper

Exclusive HD Content

  • Never-before-seen deleted scenes “The Fair” (with Deleted Character The Vulture,) “The Curse is Fulfilled” and “Arrival Of Maleficent,” plus the Beauty-Oke sing-along to “Once Upon A Dream.” The Blu-ray Superset also includes classic DVD bonus features and more!

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