Okay, I have to admit the title of this chapter is actually the name of an amazing documentary, Waking Sleeping Beauty, that chronicles the rise and fall of the Disney Golden Age (Snow White, Bambi, Dumbo, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty) and the Disney Renaissance (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, Mulan). If you love Disney even a little, you’ll probably love this documentary, too. The secret behind the resurgence is a dedication to quality, thorough research and planning, strong and supportive leadership and making the commitment to discover new technology to tell the story in the best way. What made these golden eras fall? A shift in the culture of the company. In the early years of Disney, it was the strike. In the later years, it was the change in leadership that sliced and diced the animation department in the cruelest of ways.
The world has now changed again, and perhaps gotten a little bit smaller. Robert Sherman, one half of the Sherman Brothers composition and songwriting duo that changed Disney musicals forever, passed away on March 6th, 2012. The sun shone a little less bright, music was a little less sharp, and the whole music world bowed its head in sadness. Or at least I did. The Sherman Brothers joined the Disney Company in 1960, the year following Sleeping Beauty’s release. They wrote hits for Mary Poppins, The Parent Trap, The Jungle Book, Charlotte’s Web, and many, many more. They wrote over 150 songs for Disney and worked directly with Walt for his last 6 years. Although Robert didn’t work on the film for this chapter, this chapter is dedicated to him nonetheless. May his legacy live on in the same way Walt’s has: may he only be spoken of in present tense.
I have very strong memories of the first time I saw any part of Sleeping Beauty. I was very small, maybe three of four years old. My sister was having a sleepover with the girl down the street, Katie, and I desperately wanted to go. Of course, my sister and Katie did not want me there. They were four years older than me and best friends; what use did they have for a three year old? It would have been my very first sleepover. I begged and pleaded and finally my mom insisted I go. I think she thought if I had my first sleepover just down the street, I would be okay and she could be there right away if I needed her.
Before I left, she sat me down on the sea that was my full-size bed and reminded me that she wouldn’t be there and blahedy-blah-blah be nice blah. I was so excited to be having my first sleepover that I doubt I heard a word. I scampered off down the street with Jamie and Katie, who I’m now convinced were purposely walking faster to try and freeze me out. When we got to Katie’s it was already fairly late and she put in a movie: Sleeping Beauty. I think I got all the way to the part where Maleficent appears in the castle at Princess Aurora’s baby-party (at the beginning, where the fairies give her gifts). I saw Maleficent’s green-smoke-and-fire appearance and burst into tears. I wanted to go home right away, but it was pitch black outside and Katie lived at the end of the street. Katie’s mom called my mom, who wanted to speak to me.
“Are you sure you want to come home?”
“Yes! The lady is scary!”
“What lady? Katie’s mom? You know Katie’s mom.”
“No, the lady in the T.V.!” I think at this point my mom figured out it was a movie, but thought it was a scary movie.
“What’s on the T.V.?”
“Oh. Are you sure you want me to come get you? You can’t go back—you’ll have to stay home with just me,” she warned.
“Come get me!”
“Okay,” she wearily agreed. And so she came and got me and took me home. But, in my defense, I was pretty much afraid of everything because she and my sister liked to tell ghost stories and watch super scary movies all the time (I mean super scary—like Poltergeist, Arachnophobia, etc.). But that walk home, in the Oklahoma darkness, took about four years in my mind. In reality it was more like four minutes. And now that I live in Alaska, I know what real darkness is. That cul-de-sac with street lamps and people’s houses equal distance apart was nothing. True darkness is late at night, Aurora searching in Alaska in winter. That’s pitch black. Thankfully Oklahoma cut me a break that oh-so-scary night twenty-plus years ago.
So clearly my first SB encounter was less than enjoyable. When I finally saw it in its entirety a few years ago, I was so thankful I went home that long-ago night. Prince Phillip battling the dragon-Maleficent is quite possibly one of the scariest animated sequences I’ve ever seen. It’s also the first time I’ve seen blood coming from someone in Disney feature animation. In Tarzan, there are bloody paw prints from Sabor, but Tarzan’s parents aren’t bloody. But in Sleeping Beauty, we literally see Maleficent bleed from her mortal wound.
Part of what makes this particular villain terrify me so, other than my childhood trauma, is that she’s very satanic. During her fight with Prince Phillip, she says, “Now you shall deal with me, O Prince, and all the powers of hell!” The minions dancing around the fire and her spells are disturbing because they are innately evil. The good fairies can only do good things, but Maleficent doesn’t know love, doesn’t understand it. She has no good in her. Her name means ‘evil-doer’ and she has devil horns on her head. Her dragon form was based on the movements of a rattlesnake about to strike. She and the voo-doo man from Princess and the Frog scare me the most, which may be why they have the most graphic and intense death scenes (no implied death there). Ironically the same voice actress voiced both Maleficent and Lady Tremaine from Cinderella.
Prince Phillip is one of the more developed Prince characters from the Disney fairytales. He’s certainly the biggest princely presence so far (chronologically, not in the order I’m watching them). Later on, Prince Eric is also very involved in The Little Mermaid. He and Prince Phillip battle their respective villain and fight for their lady love. Prince Phillip and Eric are both also willing to marry peasant girls; although of course their peasant loves end up being princesses. We also meet both princes early on in the film. And I do love the “I met you once upon a dream” sequence. The reflection techniques used are really admirable (and oddly appropriate, since Mulan focuses much on reflections as well). Another Mulan parallel is the lovable horse character. Although I like the name Sampson, but the horse names definitely improve later on (Maximus and Khan). The Lion King still has a reference: the briar/thorn patch is very reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty’s forest of thorns that poor Prince Phillip has to charge through.
The animation is…interesting. The colors are spectacular (except in the scene where Prince Phillip approaches Aurora/Briar Rose and her hair has changed from golden to brown…weird!), but the style is very medieval. No, I don’t mean that insultingly as I know they didn’t have animation in the medieval era. What I mean is that the art director looked at medieval paintings and stained glass and all sorts of art from medieval times, an era not particularly well known for its art or style…or well, anything of value, really (no offense, medieval-ites, but it’s called the dark ages for a reason). That style just isn’t that appealing to me. Thankfully for Disney, the story of Sleeping Beauty coupled with the music and characters still makes it one I love (and, quite frankly, really should own (hint, hint to my husband who swears he’s reading this)).
I also love the name Aurora. Probably because we live in Alaska, one of the places where the aurora borealis is visible (or so they say; we’ve only seen it super lightly once). This weekend solar flares have created a spectacular aurora show, so James and I will once again be out aurora-chasing. Wish us luck! And if we luck out, so do you: I’ll post photos/videos of any aurora we spot on the blog along with some Iditarod restart photos and videos.