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December 22, 2008
Sleeping Beauty Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
10/9/195926/11/2008Walt DisneyClyde Geronimi
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1GMary Costa (voice)

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Sleeping Beauty heads towards the Spinning Wheel.
Before I start this review I have to say that while I have appreciated animation over the years, it has never been my real love in cinema. In recent years though that has changed - partially due to my wife who is a Disney fanatic and partially due to my love of CG animated movies which has seen me branch out to more traditional animation.

Sleeping Beauty's timeless story tells of Princess Aurora, cursed by the evil sorceress Maleficent to die on her 16th birthday after pricking her finger on a poisoned spinning wheel. Despite being brought up in secret by three good fairies as Briar Rose, the curse comes true. Can her true love, Prince Philip, battle Maleficent and her spells and wake Aurora from her ageless sleep?

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Looking at the castle in the distance.
In terms of storyline Sleeping Beauty follows the best Disney movies with a heroine needing saving from doom. Nothing too original there, but it worked in the past and it works again here. Sadly though the movie does tend to plot along a little bit as the Princess grows up and lives with the three fairies. It isn't until she gets poisoned and the Prince battles Maleficent in one of the most impressive animated battles ever that the movie picks up.

Deserving credit are the numerous voiceover cast used in this movie including Mary Costa as the voice of the Princess and Bill Shirley as the Prince - both hand chosen by Walt Disney himself. As with most Disney movies it's the music that brings it to life and Sleeping Beauty is no exception with Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty Ballet" being superbly integrated by composer George Bruns.

Personally I don't think that Sleeping Beauty is the best of the Disney animated movies, however it is still a fantastic picture that almost everyone on this planet would be familiar with. The presentation here in the super widescreen aspect ratio of 2.55:1 really brings the movie to another level and even owners of the DVD version will certainly want to consider updating to this release.

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Visually Sleeping Beauty is spectacular.

Drop Dead Gorgeous. That's the only way to describe the transfer of Sleeping Beauty to Blu-Ray. I've seen the movie a couple of times over the years - on VHS and DVD, but never has it looked so astonishingly wonderful. When the film was released to cinemas it was presented in a Super Technirama 70mm film format. Over the years the VHS and DVD releases chopped this down to full screen or 2.35:1 aspect ratio however this Blu-Ray release has been fully restored and has been encoded at the films intended aspect ratio of 2.55:1 (which many cinemas in 1959 could not even display!).

The movie has been encoded in Blu-Ray's standard resolution of 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 codec which seems to hover around the 30Mbps mark for the majority of this movie but occasionally spikes higher or lower when required.

Sleeping Beauty was originally released to cinemas with "Sterophonic Sound" which was groundbreaking at the time - and Walt Disney Studios have gone all out with this Blu-Ray release to ensure the movie has never sounded better, and will probably never sound better in future. Indeed the filmmakers at Disney were fortunate enough to find the original master recordings of the Orchestra in Germany and have remixed the music back into the movie. To ensure the best quality this disc has been encoded with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track.

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Another gorgeous scene from Sleeping Beauty.
Unfortunately effects and dialogue were originally recorded onto magnetic tape, and haven't stood the test of time, but what is here is still quite impressive. To add a little more impact some of the audio effects and speech have been remixed to make use of the surround sound channels, and it works well.

Other languages on the Sleeping Beauty Blu-Ray disc include English Audio Descriptive which is Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192kbps and Portuguese, Polish, Russian and (something) Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 640kbps. Each track sounds quite delightful and there's little chance that you'll be disappointed. Subtitles include English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Portuguese, Polish, Russian, and something else which we don't know, and isn't on the cover.

Sleeping Beauty comes to Blu-Ray as a three disc set - two Blu-Ray discs and another discs which has a Digital Copy of the Film on DVD. The extras provided here are magnificent and really show off the Blu-Ray format, and Disney's abilities to create an astonishing disc.

Cine-Explore Mode and Audio Commentary: We're bundling these two extras together as the audio track is, well, simply the audio found in the Cine-Explore track. In this track John Lasseter (Pixar), Leonard Maltin (film critic), and Andreas Deja (Disney Animator) talk about all aspects of this production, cinematic releases, restoration and what effect the film has had on history. As the commentary runs still images, or video footage is shown in windows around the screen. These often include sound bites or clips from other people associated with the film. Quite detailed, and quite brilliant.

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It's Sleeping Beauty as a baby with her parents.
Dragon Encounter (4:47/HD): A great little 2D rendered walk around the dragons lair. It's not interactive but it certainly looks, and sounds pretty nice with HD visuals and DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio rattling the room.

Music Video Emily Osment sings "Once Upon A Dream" (3:33/HD): A remake of the classic song. Why even bother. No doubt Disney want to sell some records, but this is (how can I put this politely), ermm, rubbish and totally unnecessary.

Disney Song Selection (HD): This Feature allows you to play the five main songs directly without skipping through the video. There is also an option to play the film with lyrics on-screen if you feel so inclined.

Grand Canyon (28:56/HD): Now this is rather interesting inclusion if only because it has nothing to do with the main picture other then it originally played before Sleeping Beauty at the cinemas in 1958. Still, for that alone its inclusion is a delight and this near 30 minute film takes you on another magical journey with scenes from the Grand Canyon with music playing over the top. Stunningly this has been encoded in HD using the AVC MPEG-4 codec with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Despite being 50 years old this has been cleaned up and still looks wonderful today - reference quality even.

Princess Fun Facts: A pop-up trivia track which gives details about 'real world' situations such as what real princes and princesses wear and how they lived years ago. Little about the actual production is given and this is probably suited to a slightly younger audience.

DISC TWO: So now we move onto Disc Two which contains even more content then the first, and almost everything of which really is quite brilliant.

History of the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough Attraction (9:52/HD): A look at the history of the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland including the changes made over the years. The original castle has been made into a Virtual Walkthrough for this disc as well - and can be played before, but we recommend, after this 10 minute featurette.

Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty (43:32/HD): A great documentary which looks at the lengthy creation of Sleeping Beauty with interviews with many of the crew that worked on the film. There is a tonne of archival footage here, and they don't hold back with discussion about the art styles, and even disagreements with Walt Disney himself. Brilliantly produced this is well worth watching.

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Maleficent is one of Disney's best villains.
Eyvind Earle: The Man and His Art (7:33/HD): This featurette focuses on the man in charge of the art styles in this movie.

Sequence 8 (6:30/HD): This featurette looks at what has become one of the most infamous scenes in the movie - when the Prince and Princess dance through the forest. This scene took the longest period of time to complete, went massively over budget, and saw one of the heads removed from the project.

Alternate Opening (3:28/HD): An opening sequence with audio, and storyboarded scenes.

Deleted Songs (6:38/HD): Three songs are presented here with the first having two different versions. These are set to storyboard images.

Storyboard Sequences (4:05): After an introduction from animator Andreas Deja we have two storyboard sequences shown here - "The Fairies Put The Castle To Sleep" and "The Capture of the Prince". Each is only presented in standard definition.

Live Action Reference (2:11): Original reference footage which was filmed to show the animators what the characters should look like on screen.

Sleeping Beauty Art Galleries: Literally hundreds of images are presented here from concept art, to production photos, to promotional pieces.

The Sound of Beauty: Restoring a Classic (10:50/HD): A look at the extensive process that was undertaken to restore the audio to the best possible quality for this latest Blu-Ray release. Exclusive to Blu-Ray this feature includes DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 so you can hear the quality.

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The Prince is about to kiss Sleeping Beauty...
Publicity (6:17): The Teaser Trailer, Theatrical Trailer (1959) and Re-Release Trailer (1995).

The Peter Tchaikovsky Story (49:25/HD): Two versions of this Walt Disney Presents TV show are available here - with one telling listeners how to get Stereo sound, and the other replacing that with other narration. A wonderful archival feature this was truly a highligh on the bonus disc.

4 Artists Paint 1 Tree (16:08/HD): This featurette featuring Walt Disney looks at the work of the artists on a Walt Disney production.

Games and Activities: Three games are available here - "Malfecent's Challenge", "Briar Rose's Enchanted Dance Game" and "Sleeping Beauty Fun with Language Game". All are certainly aimed at a younger market then myself, but from brief samples were well put together.

Sleeping Beauty isn't the best Disney movie in terms of storyline, but there is not faulting the brilliance of the hand-drawn animation which set benchmarks fifty years ago, and still holds true today. The disc is stunning technically, and the extras are plentiful and worthwhile as well. An essential purchase if you love Disney animation. Brilliant.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright Walt Disney. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.