Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sleeping Beauty - The Most Romantic Awakening

Sleeping Beauty

The Fairy Tale of Sleeping Beauty has a Long and Colorful History

One of everyone's favorite princesses is Sleeping Beauty. As with the story of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty comes out of the mythic foklore of Europe. The first major version was by a French author, Charles Perrault, who some consider the father of the modern fairy tale. While the Brothers Grimm are much better known these days, it was Perrault who wrote up earlier versions of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Puss in Boots. While they are not the versions we know today, they show the long tradition of the classic princesses, especially when you consider that Perrault was simply transcribing stories that had existed long before him. Perrault included a second part to the tale that is not widely known and usually is left out of modern re tellings.

Sleeping Beauty and the Prince
The classic Disney portrayal

Earliest Versions of Sleeping Beauty

As usual with fairy tales, there were versions kicking around Europe for centuries became they became codified into a final form not long after the invention of the printing press in 1453. An Italian namesd Giambattista Basile wrote "Sun, Moon and Talia" in 1634. The further back you go, the less familiar the story sounds, but there are striking similarities with what we know now as the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. The story is a bit raw for modern eyes, though, showing that our times remain more politically correct than during medieval times.
Giambattista Basile
Giambattista Basile

Basile's "Sun, Moon and Talia"

Upon the birth of a great man's daughter Talia, the court Astrologers and assorted Wise Men predict that Talia will be harmed by a splinter of flax. The father immediately bans flax from his castle. When Talia grows up, though, she becomes curious about how clothes are made and finds an old woman spinning flax on her spindle. Talia spins the flax, but quickly gets a splinter of flax under her fingernail. The pain is so intense that Talia falls unconscious and is presumed dead. Her father can't bear to bury her and instead has her body brought to one of his other villas.
Talia at the flax wheel

A king later is hunting in the area and finds the house. He follows his falcon inside and finds Talia, still unconscious. He cannot awaken her.After making love to her, he leaves. Talia later gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl. The little boy one day manages to suck the splinter out of his mother's finger, which awakens the sleeping girl. She names her children "Sun" and "Moon" and the continue to live in the house together.
Talia Sleeping
Finding Talia

The king returns and finds Talia awake with his two children. Being already married to the queen, however, he cannot marry Talia. He is so besotted with her, though, that he calls out her name in his sleep. The queen hears this, and then commands that the children be brought to her immediately. Ordering the cook to kill the children and prepare them for the king's supper, the queen prepares to take her revenge. However, the cook hides the children and substitutes lamb instead. The queen still thinks it is the king's children that he is eating and makes fun of him while he eats.
Thorns and prickers protecting sleeping beauty
The castle overgrown with thorns

The queen then has Talia brought before her. Ordering a huge bonfire lit, the queen commands that Talia be thrown into it. Talia asks that she be allowed to take off her fine clothing before being burned, to which the queen agrees. While undressing, Talia screams with each garment that she removes. The king hears this, but when he arrives, the queen reveals that he ate his own children. Incensed, the king orders that the queen, his secretary and the cook be thrown into the bonfire instead. The cook talks his way out of this fate, though, by revealing that he saved the children. The king rewards the cook by making him his personal servant, and the king marries Talia.

"The Beauty Sleeping in the Wood" by Charles Perrault

A king and queen long have hoped for a child, and when a girl is born, they invite seven fairies to be the child's godmothers. There was an eighth fairy, though, who was not invited because she had been missing for many years, locked up in a nearby tower and presumed dead or incapacitated. This fairy shows up, however, and is offered a seat, but not one as luxurious as those of the other fairies because she was unexpected. Six of the seven fairy godmothers offer the child enchanted gifts of talents and natural grace and beauty that will enrich her life. The eighth fairy, irked at being slighted, offers her own enchantment: the baby princess, she proclaims, shall prick her hand on a weaver's spindle and die. The seventh fairy godmother then amends the curse so that the princess shall only fall into a deep sleep for a hundred years and then be awoken by a prince.
Sleeping Beauty sleeping
This is probably a little closer to how the medieval folks really thought about this fairy tale
The king, fearful of his daughter's safety, orders all spindles destroyed. When in her mid-teens, though, the princess stumbles upon an old woman within the palace who still has a spindle, the last in the kingdom. The princess, curious, tries her own hand at spinning, and pricks her finger, falling into a deep sleep. The king orders the princess carried to the finest room in the palace and placed upon a bed covered with the finest fabric. The seventh fairy, the one who changed the curse from death into a deep sleep, arrives in a chariot of fire drawn by dragons. She orders the castle sealed and puts everyone remaining within it to sleep so that the sleeping princess shall not be alone in her dreams. The good fairy godmother then casts a spell so that prickers and thorns shall grow around the castle so that the princes shall not be disturbed in her slumber.
One hundred years later, a handsome prince is hunting near the princess's castle and is told by an old man about the sleeping princess. The prince enters the castle, the prickers and thorns parting to allow him passage. He awakens the princess, the castle comes back to life, and the prince and princess are married in the castle chapel.
Beauty asleep
Beauty fast asleep
In part two, the Princess bears the Prince two children, L'Aurore (Dawn) and Le Jour (Day). The Prince keeps the children a secret, for his mother the Queen is an Ogre. The Queen mother does not like the children, and orders the Princess and her children taken to a secluded house in the country. There, the Queen mother orders the Princess's son killed and prepared for her dinner. The cook substitutes lamb, which tricks the Queen mother, and when the Queen mother demands to be served the Princess's daughter for dessert, the cook substitutes a young goat. The Queen mother then orders the cook to prepare the Princess herself to be served next. The Princess, thinking her children dead and eaten, does not care to live any longer anyway. The cook, though, once again decides to trick the Queen mother. This time, though, the Queen mother is not fooled, and orders a vat prepared in the courtyard filled with deadly vipers and other creatures, into which the Princess is to be thrown and killed. When the Prince returns at the last moment and threatens to kill the Queen mother, she throws herself into the vat to avoid being killed by her own son.
Sleeping Beauty Brothers Grimm beauty sleeping
"Dornröschen" is an alternate German name for "Sleeping Beauty"

The Brothers Grimm: "Little Briar Rose"

Over a hundred years after Charles Perrault wrote his story about Sleeping Beauty, the Brothers Grimm were compiling their own collection of fairy tales. Instead of calling it "Sleeping Beauty," though, they gave Sleeping Beauty a name but left almost everything the same as in Perrault's version. The Princess now was called "Briar Rose," though in some versions it became Rosamund. The Brothers Grimm also ended the tale before the Ogress mother-in-law came into the picture. This is the version that became widely known as the "official" version, even though it was almost a completely plagiarized from Perrault.

The Walt Disney Version

Walt Disney Studios had its greatest hit with the 1937 animated classic "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Disney could just as easily have done "Sleeping Beauty" then instead. After World War II ended and the studio returned to normal, Disney finally decided to tackle the tale of Sleeping Beauty. As will be seen, Disney adopted the Brothers Grimm version of the tale, with some minor changes, in their classic 1959 animated film, "Sleeping Beauty." 

"Sleeping Beauty": Maleficent on the Prowl Against Princess Aurora

DVD Cover Sleeping Beauty 1959

Everybody knows the fairy tale story of the Walt Disney movie "Sleeping Beauty" (1959). Princess Aurora (Mary Costa) is the beloved only daughter of her loving royal parents, who name Aurora that because she brings sunshine into their lives. A neighboring kingdom, ruled by King Hubert (Bill Thompson), has an eligible suitor, Prince Phillip (Bill Shirley). A marriage is arranged to bring the two families together.

Maleficent enters the castle in Sleeping Beauty 1959
An uninvited guest
There are three Good Fairies who come to bestow blessings on the match and lavish gifts upon young princess Aurora: Flora (Verna Felton); Fauna (Barbara Jo Allen); and Merryweather (Barbara Luddy). They are good-natured, though quarrelsome. There is an uninvited Fairy, however, and when she shows up, that is when the trouble starts.

Aurora and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty 1959
Touch the spindle!
The uninvited guest in this Disney movie is Maleficent (Eleanor Audley), who is known to all as The Mistress of All Evil. Maleficent has come down from her lonely perch on Forbidden Mountain because she is upset at being excluded from the festivities. Just like with "The Godfather,"you have to show a little respect, so it isn't all her fault. Maleficent curses Aurora, and Maleficent is someone you don't want cursing you. Maleficent states that at the age of 16, Aurora will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die.

Maleficent plotting in her castle in Sleeping Beauty 1959
Maleficent has an idea
The Good Fairies cannot stop Maleficent, but they can help in other ways, and boy do they help. Merryweather places Aurora into a deep sleep until the spell can be broken, and the fairies carry Sleeping Beauty Aurora off into the forest so she can hide, incognito, under the name "Briar Rose." King Stefan (Taylor Holmes), frantic to save Aurora even though she must leave him forever in order to survive, orders all the spinning wheels in the land destroyed, and they are - all except one. An evil creature like Maleficent will not be deterred, however, so Maleficent scours the kingdom to find Sleeping Beauty Aurora and make her prophecy turn into reality.

Maleficent gesturing in Sleeping Beauty 1959
Maleficent talking to her bird
While this Disney movie follows the basic "Sleeping Beauty" fairy tale closely, it makes a few modifications. The prince, who in fairy tales usually only arrives at the last minute and does very little, is very active in this film. Prince Phillip battles dragons and witches, actively courts Aurora in the forest even though he doesn't know her identity, sings and dances more, and generally acts like the first super-hero. Comparing this film to "Snow White," you see the stylistic changes that Walt Disney probably, in hindsight, wishes that he had incorporated into that earlier film rather than in "Sleeping Beauty."
Maleficent in all her glory in Sleeping Beauty 1959
Maleficent in her palace
The really startling character of this Disney movie, though, is Maleficent. The fearsome Maleficent is brilliantly drawn, quite beautiful in her own way, with garish stylistic similarities to the Evil Queen in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and the cackling laugh of the Wicked Witch in "The Wizard of Oz." The evil oozing out of Maleficent is all the worse because it stems from common emotions such as petty jealousy and spite that we all can understand. When the furious Maleficent turns into a dragon and threatens Prince Phillip with "Hell," a rarity indeed in a Disney movie), it is obvious that it is not just any old dragon, but a dragon embodying the fiery spirit that drives a Maleficent crazed with hatred and frustration. Maleficent is voiced by Eleanor Audley, who also did Lady Tremaine in the original "Cinderella," so she was an old hand at creating classic characters in Disney movies.

Mary Costa Aurora Sleeping Beauty 1959
Mary Costa, voice of Princess Aurora

As portrayed, the character of Maleficent is one of the great villains of all literature. From time to time, you even read about someone like Tim Burton being interested in making a film focusing squarely on her. There actually is a film called "Maleficent" nearing completion, starring Angelina Jolie. It will be interesting to see a Disney move fairy tale villainess from her own point of view. "Sleeping Beauty" may be a fairy tale you subconsciously have filed away in the back of your brain as passé, but it is has been and remains front and center to very powerful people in the creative arts in the past, today, and always.

Aurora asleep in Sleeping Beauty 1959
Aurora, beautifully drawn
"Sleeping Beauty" Aurora also is one of the great creations of Disney movie animation, though Maleficent is a hard act with which to compete. She is beautiful, and must be for the story to resonate. Mary Costa as Aurora demonstrates a fantastic operatic singing voice, and never got her full due for voicing this classic role of "Sleeping Beauty's Aurora." Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty Ballet" is used throughout, and the original song "Once Upon a Dream" is one of the great tunes of all animation. George Bruns scored the film with cutting edge 6-track stereo which he went all the way to Germany to find (the Beatles several years later had to make do for much of their existence with four tracks, and began with only two) and was rewarded with an Oscar nomination.

Aurora in forest in Sleeping Beauty 1959
Aurora, like Snow White, is a friend to nature
There are many scary scenes in this Disney movie. The background music adds an air of foreboding to "Sleeping Beauty," and some of the scenes almost appear psychedelic, such as the evil Maleficent inducing Aurora to touch the deadly spindle, leading her there with a spectral ball of green fire. Even Maleficent doing simple things like oozing up the stairs of her dark palace, or her pet raven looking back with malevolence, are spooky. The "Sleeping Beauty" artwork was the brainchild of Eyvind Earle, officially the color stylist, who lavished inordinate time and detail on the backgrounds and the artwork. "Sleeping Beauty" has a unique look that combines the medieval and the modernistic, something a modern-day computer simply can't replicate in quite the same way.
Aurora asleep Sleeping Beauty 1959
Aurora in her chamber
The most surprising thing about "Sleeping Beauty" is that this Disney movie, the most expensive animation ($6 million) made by the Disney movie studio up to that time due to Walt's rigid refusal to accept less than perfection for the fairy tale story of "Sleeping Beauty" Aurora, was a financial failure when it came out (though it was re-released many times and thereby ultimately became the second-highest grossing film of 1959). Clyde Geronimi, who had helped direct "Cinderella" back in 1950,gets the directing credit for "Sleeping Beauty," but this was Walt's pet project from start to finish, almost an all-star affair. Even the great Chuck Jones worked on "Sleeping Beauty" during a brief time when Warner thought that 3D was going to take over, but it didn't matter. The time simply was not right for animation, or a classical fairy tale, or both. Also, the tale and style is very similar to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," enough so that it seemed as though Ol' Walt had run out of ideas and was repeating himself (and he even originally wanted seven fairies, not three....). It didn't matter that his mantra throughout production was "It can't be like Snow White," when you see Aurora in the forest mingling with the gentle forest creatures, it almost seems like a remake of that classic Disney movie - and no remake was necessary, the original still held up quite nicely. Several scenes discarded from "Snow White" were used in "Sleeping Beauty," underlining the similarities. In addition, the heroine almost disappears for much of the film and only has eighteen lined of dialogue in the entire Disney movie, so essentially this becomes a Disney movie about the supporting players such as the royal parents, Maleficent and the fairies. The fairies are all very nice, but the film is "Sleeping Beauty," not "The Three Good Fairies." A final problem was the rise of Television: Disney had a weekly program on throughout the '50s, and the "common wisdom" was that there was no reason to pay to see something you could see for free on the little box in the living room anyway. The entire film industry quaked in terror, not just the Disney movies studio, leading to the first "3D" craze (sound familiar?). Of course, there was nothing quite like a quality Disney movie such as "Sleeping Beauty" on the tiny black-and-white sets most people were using then, but many people at time followed what seemed like common sense like sheep. A fine example of peer pressure in action, or maybe mass psychosis.

Prince Phillip battles the dragon in Sleeping Beauty 1959
Maleficent the Dragon
Disney lost money on "Sleeping Beauty" that year, apparently a lot of money, but was saved by the Disney studio's huge television revenues. Walt Disney, badly burned, became gun-shy. Wouldn't you if you had other sources of revenue that were steady, growing and enabling you to expand to new, profitable ventures such as theme parks? Walt Disney even talked about shutting down the Disney movie feature film animation operation entirely, though he never actually followed through on that threat. Disney did look for ways to cut costs on the production of Disney movies and had to lay off a lot of people. In any event, the Disney movies studio didn't experience a true revival, despite occasional huge financial successes such as "The Jungle Book" and "The Rescuers," to its former heights of glory until it finally, at long last, took a chance on another fairy tale in 1989l, thirty years later, with "The Little Mermaid." When that Disney movie succeeded, "Beauty and the Beast" (1991) followed and cemented the Disney Renaissance, pumping new life into the whole animation genre. Disney movies returned to being the powerhouses in animation that they once seemed destined to become. But, despite the problems this Disney movie caused and its initial lack of popularity, "Sleeping Beauty" holds up well beside any of those later films, and perhaps above them all. "Sleeping Beauty" is one of the absolute classics and delights in the Disney movie library is this tale of love and redemption.

Prince Phillip finds his Princess in Sleeping Beauty 1959
The Prince finds his love in front of a looming enemy. Isn't this animation design awesome?
You could say that "Sleeping Beauty" is a film only for little girls. You can say that "Sleeping Beauty" is old and tired and nobody now needs to view it to understand animation's possibilities. You can say that all of women's troubles in the world are caused by wanting the "Sleeping Beauty" fairy tale to be true for everyone, when it can't be. You can say that animation has surpassed "Sleeping Beauty" and that this Disney movie wasn't ever as good as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" anyway.

Prince Phillip Aurora in Sleeping Beauty 1959
True love's kiss is what it takes
You can say all that about "Sleeping Beauty" - and you'd be wrong. Ask yourself a question, but answer secretly, only to yourself, and never tell a soul, especially me - in your heart of hearts, when all is said and done - wouldn't it be nice?

Below is a link to the entire film.


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