Sleeping Beauty is one of our very favorite Disney animated classics. It doesn’t look like any other animated film (ever) and that bold stylization translates into idiosyncratic story choices. As such, we wanted to take a look back at the movie’s long and involved production and release, searching for things that, even the biggest Sleeping Beauty devotee might have missed (possibly while sleeping).
1. It took a long time to make.
When Sleeping Beauty was released in theaters in 1959, it was advertised as being “six years in the making,” except that wasn’t exactly true, since work was formally underway on the project way back in 1951. This was an expensive, time-intensive production, full of opulent design work and complex technology (more on that in a minute). And Walt himself, who had originally envisioned the project as his masterpiece, became disinterested and distant as he became more involved in his California theme park. This also explains why …
2. Sleeping Beauty Castle was used as a promotional tool.
Disneyland opened in 1955, almost four years before Sleeping Beauty was released. That means there were almost four years of visiting tourists asking, “What is that castle from?” Eventually, in 1957, a walkthrough exhibit was installed in the castle. But what is really cool is that since the film was still in production when the exhibit was installed, it featured some sequences that didn’t make it into the final version of the film. It was like a living collection of deleted scenes.
3. It was the last animated film to feature traditionally inked cels.
The films that would come after Sleeping Beauty would employ then cutting-edge Xerox technology to make cels, which is a somewhat less painterly process but allowed for the animators’ line drawings to actually make their way to the big screen.
4. Several characters from Sleeping Beauty also appear in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Maleficent has been utilized in a number of scenarios, including the Kingdom Hearts videogame, fireworks shows and, of course, her own spin-off movie, but Maleficent’s little goblin henchmen appear in the Maroon Cartoon studio lot in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and the bluebirds from the film appear to circle either Roger Rabbit or Eddie Valiant’s heads in two separate sequences.
5. The film is very similar to the fairy tale, except with fewer fairies.
While the story for Sleeping Beauty is based largely (and rather faithfully) to the 17th century Charles Perrault fairy tale (translated into “The Beauty Sleeping in the Wood”), one of the major changes is that there were originally seven fairies, reduced down to three. It’s a fairy tale with fewer fairies.
6. It was the last animated Disney fairy tale movie until The Little Mermaid.
The initial box office disappointment of Sleeping Beauty led to the studio holding off on producing another animated fairy tale until The Little Mermaid 30 years later. That’s a long time for the Disney princesses to be asleep.
7. It was screened in a giant format.
One of the bigger technological challenges on Sleeping Beauty involved the film being released in Super Technirama 70 mm, meaning the artists could achieve a higher level of detail and stylization since they were drawing on giant pieces of paper the size of bed sheets. Of course, since the movie took so long to develop, by the time it was released, 70 mm had largely fallen out of favor and it was mainly released in standard 35 mm, robbing many theatrical exhibitions of the grandeur that Walt and the artists had intended.
8. The theatrical release was accompanied by an experimental, Oscar-winning live-action short.
Accompanying Sleeping Beauty’s theatrical release was a 29-minute experimental live action short called Grand Canyon that was based on a 1929 musical suite composed by American pianist Ferde Grofe. More a live-action segment of Fantasia than an actual documentary short, it contained no dialogue or narration. Its boldness was rewarded, however, when it won an Academy Award. Walt was obviously a fan of the Grand Canyon; it debuted in Disneyland the year before Sleeping Beauty was released (see above).
9. It was re-released 4 times.
Sleeping Beauty would eventually make money; all in it wound up being the second most profitable movie of 1959 (after Ben-Hur). But this was only after several splashy theatrical rereleases (in 1970, 1979, 1986 and 1995).
Do you know any Sleeping Beauty trivia? Tell us in the comments!