Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sleeping Beauty

It's been an absolute bear of a day. I spent all morning with my lawyers, Fajer and Hellmann, negotiating an iron clad contract guaranteeing me the rights to my new Broadway stage spectacular, Mother Teresa: The Musical and locking in complete artistic and creative control. I've survived in this business we call show for quite some time now and I know that there'll need to be some changes made to suit my style and my public and I don't need any composer or original author putting their oar in. When we had finished, I called Bob Mackie and met him at Skybar for a little drink and some discussion on possible costume designs. I'm seeing some lovely aqua and puce chiffons for the first act ballet where I cure the lepers and lead them on a joyful celebratory tap dance through the slums of Calcutta. I just want to make sure the fabrics complement the new foundation I'm using and don't clash too much with my mascara and eye liner.

I returned home to Chateau Maine to find things very much in disarray. Several pictures had been knocked off the wall and a lovely ornamental figurine I had kept as a souvenir from the set of Saved By The Bell after a guest appearance as an assistant principal, was positively smashed against the parquet. I questioned my cat, Patrick Flanagan, closely about what might have been going on in my absence, but he apparently had been asleep in an upstairs windowsill the whole afternoon. I was even more dismayed when I entered my boudoir to find that someone had written 'ITSMEN' on my mirror in my very best Lesterene Jungle Red lipstick. I called the security firm and told them to come out at once to fix the system. I will not have strange people writing things on the mirrors any time they choose.

While waiting for them to show, I retired to the home theater for a little rest and relaxation. On the top of the 'To View' pile was the new DVD release of Sleeping Beauty from Walt Disney. This film, from 1959, was the culmination of Disney's animation art during its classic phase. Taking seven years and costing nearly seven million dollars, it was released in wide screen and became the second highest grossing film of the year, earning six million. The financial loss more or less doomed the old ways of Disney animation with its lavish attention to detail, leading to the freer style which premiered a few years later with One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

Sleeping Beauty, based on the classic fairytale, follows the basic outlines of the story. The lovely princess Aurora is born to a childless king and queen. They hold a great feast in celebration to whom all are invited, except for the evil witch Maleficent. In revenge, Maleficent curses the princess to die before sundown on her sixteenth birthday, after pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. All is not lost however, the good fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merriweather, convert the curse, should this dire event come to pass, into a sleeping spell. Determined that it shall not happen, however, they take the child and disguise themselves as peasant women, raising her in secret away from the castle, as a girl known as Briar Rose. Beauty's father, meanwhile, takes the more practical approach of outlawing spinning wheels.

Briar Rose grows to be sixteen and, one day while playing with the animals of the forest, meets Prince Philip of a neighboring kingdom, betrothed to her in infancy. They of course fall madly in love, not realizing they're destined for each other. This is interrupted by Beauty's need to return to her hidden life as princess where, as predicted, Maleficent works her evil magic. In enchanted sleep she waits for true loves kiss while Philip has to win his way to her through Maleficent and her evil henchmen. Needless to say, all ends well.

The new DVD release allows the film to be seen in all its original wide-screen splendor. The art direction is based on French art and architecture of the 12th through 15th centuries and is gorgeous. The backgrounds are chock full of detail reminiscent of medieval tapestries and paintings and the characters are drawn with exquisite care emphasizing look and style. Completing the palette is the score. Rather than composing new music, the Disney artisans turned to Tschaikowsy's classic score to his Sleeping Beauty ballet. They snipped here, added there, placed in a few lyrics (the grand waltz from the first act becoming 'Once Upon A Dream', for instance) and the mixture of color and sound creates a rich world.

The film is like a Dickens novel. The romantic leads are a bit on the bland and boring side, but they're surrounded with a plethora of supporting characters with vivid personality quirks. Maleficent is one of Disney's most brilliant villains. She's majestic, rather than beautiful, fully assured and full of raw power. Why she would surround herself with idiotic toadies is not explained. The good fairies all have distinct personalities and the color rivalry between two of them is a distinct comic highlight. Even Philip's horse has a certain élan.

Besides the film, a trim 75 minutes, the DVD contains multiple extras including an audio commentary, a special on the making of the film, some Disney type games, and a few other odds and ends. It's worth owning for the film alone which remains a classic and as good as anything Disney has ever done.

Royal bassinet. Burning spinning wheels. Owl in red cloak. Rabbits in boots. Streamside waltz. Evil green light. Slinky crow. Ferocious dragon. Drunk minstrel.

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