Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sleeping Beauty's Birthday!

January 29, 1959 saw the release of arguably one of the most beautiful animated features Walt Disney had ever released. Ken Anderson, Walt's "Jack of all trades" may have been assigned as the Production Designer but it was the singularly original style created by Eyvind Earle that gave the film it it's memorable look. 

Since the studio had already conceived such classic fairy tales for the screen such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Cinderella", Walt felt they needed to approach this one in a very unique visual style that would make it stand out.

Rare photo of the Disney Xerox station
A little known fact overlooked by some film historians is that "Sleeping Beauty" marked the first feature to use the new xerox process which was employed in a couple of the opening panorama shots of the guests coming to the royal celebration and for the film's "fight against evil" finale. Woolie Reitherman, another of Walt's 9 Old Men, told me how they used the new process to help resize some of the dragon animation and it was also employed to realize the "thorn growing" effects animation during the storming of the castle alongside the fully traditionally inked scenes. Keeping the complicated shapes dark helped to hide the rough linear quality.

Although it worked well for that instance, it didn't match as well as was hoped due to the rough appearance in comparison to the smooth ink line but that problem would be solved in the very next feature with yet another unique albeit more contemporary production design.

Eric's masterful animation
Although Maleficent was animated by yet another of the 9 old men, Marc Davis, her alter ego of the dragon was animated by Eric Cleworth who told us the body of the dragon was modeled after a rattlesnake. He based the dragon's movement on the snake's ability to use its powerful muscles to move a bulky torso over rocky terrain. Another bit of trivia is that famed Warner Brothers animator and director Chuck Jones came to Disney for a job during Sleeping Beauty after the Termite Terrace closed for awhile. When it opened a few months later Chuck returned to his old paper flipping grounds at the WB after he confined to Walt that the only job he was really interested at Disney Studio was Walt's, to which Walt replied, "...that position is already filled."

Marc Davis goes over his sketch of Aurora to her voice Mary Costa
"Sleeping Beauty" was the very first animated film to be photographed in the Super Technirama 70 widescreen process (what a mouthfull!), as well as the distinction of being the second full-length animated feature film to be filmed in ultra widescreen, following Disney's beautiful "Lady and the Tramp" four years earlier. The film was presented 6-channel stereophonic sound in first-run engagements featuring the rich work of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, with arrangements or adaptations of numbers from the 1890 Sleeping Beauty ballet by Tchaikovsky. 

That was the delightfully elegant version I saw as a young lad at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans in what we used to refer to as movie palaces. Only one other animated film, Disney's "The Black Cauldron" (1985), was shot in Technirama 70, but that as they say is another story. 

This was the last fairy tale issued by the Walt Disney Studios until 30 years later with the premiere of "The Little Mermaid". Both of those films had a huge influence on me as the former was the first film I saw in a movie theater while many years later the latter was the first film I art directed. While some may claim to have "awakened" her, I never felt she was ever truly asleep, so allow me to wish a Happy Birthday to "Sleeping Beauty!"