Sleeping Beauty - 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review
PictureThis 50th Anniversary Edition of Sleeping Beauty is better than any other version we have had access to previously. The frame has been opened up to it's original 2.55:1 aspect ratio and this is coupled with a clean print and a sterling 1080p transfer using the MPEG-4 codec. That wider screen offers much better detail at the edges with the whole frame now in view, for the first time since the cinema release we can finally see the true vision Eyvind Earle had in mind and all of that frame is used so well.
Disney have made strong noises about this being the best, grain free, release of this feature and in that regard they are correct. There is not one ounce of grain to be seen here anywhere and is certainly a step up from the original disc I have of this wonderful film. Brightness fluctuations, apart from a couple of earliy brief scenes, and colour fidelity are a thing of the past; the colours are so much stronger and that grain has in fact been removed as they state. Now you can argue that this is not true to the original vision or you can argue that the studio is only removing natural artefacts introduced because of the film stock at the time. I'm usually against excessive grain removal especially when it reduces the impact of the overall film, however for this case the correct choice has been made; the image itself is simply glorious.
Colours are amazingly solid, strong and deep and all kept within the confines of the slight blackened borders of all of the characters, the multi-coloured opening scenes of the castle and the clothing our main characters wear are all wonderfully rendered. The individual primaries of the three good fairies and the excellent deep blacks of Maleficent's cloak and horns are absolutely pristine. Detail is stunning with every single scene essentially a work of art; any scene can be paused and then examined in fine detail. Again the clothing the cast are wearing, the textures of the stonework on and in the castle, the rugged barks of the trees in the woodlands or even the multitude of sundry static characters in the castle courtyard. Coupled with the multi plane animation technique this level of detail creates a true three dimensional image for this feature. This is apparent on the supplied DVD also, and I hasten to add the earlier release, however this BluRay disc is so crisp, so fine, that pop is better defined here. Look at the fairy dust surrounding the three good fairies for instance and you will be able to see the better sharpness on this release.
Encoding wise there are no faults at all, with edge enhancement obviously not needing discussed at all. Swathes of colour with no hint of banding or blocking and there's never any noise to infuriate your viewing pleasure. No smearing on faster moving scenes predominantly towards the end; as such this is almost demo material. It misses out on that top shelf because of tha intial brightness fluctuation and there are a couple of occassions in the woodland scenes with Briar Rose and Prince Philip where the image is just a tad soft, not excessive by any stretch of the imagination but just that hint enough to take a small point off the final score.
SoundOriginally recorded on 4 track stereo and released in 6 track stereo to try and encapsulate the viewer with sound, Walt Disney was always at the forefront of modern techniques, trying to provide a more engaging experience for his audience and this disc continues that trend. There is a full DTS-HD MA track here in 7.1 and although the rears and surrounds are not in constant use when they do kick in this new mix makes the very best use of them.
The dialogue is crisp and usually centred up front and always able to be heard without fiddling with the volume controls, I say usually though because occasionally voices will echo from all of your speakers giving the impression that said voice is almost hanging in the air, not having any directionality whatsoever. Maleficent's discussion to an incarcerated Prince Philip or when she foretells Princess Aurora's doom are fine examples of this technique.
Effects are superb, the crack of Maleficent's rod on the stone floor of the castle or her own Forbidden Mountain rings out well and is compared well to the dull thud the same movement had on the wooden floor of the three fairies' cottage. Tonal range is exemplary with no compression to be heard, the low tones of that thud of rod on wood, the bombastic climatic scenes to the slight realisations of the fairies magic dust are incredibly well presented.
Surround use is neither excessive nor held in check it simply is used as necessary and when it is, it is handled with great effect. The singing of Briar Rose in the woods when Prince Philip is looking for her for instance. At times her voice emanating from the fronts, at times from the surrounds and rears but always where you expect her character to be at the time. As Prince Philip moves then so does the sound. Equally Maleficent's determination on top of her tower that Prince Philip will not reach his goal is another excellent use of placing and steerage. The end climatic scenes speak for themselves with the surrounds kicking in where you expect flame and fire to be.
The score is beautifully defined. Never before has this been so rich and detailed. Fully expanding and widening the frontal stage each individual instrument can be identified from Tchaikovsky's score. Violin strings and glockenspiels from the left, piccolos from the centre, cellos and kettle drums from the right. It's a wonderful score just to sit back and listen to. In all, I couldn't discredit this track and as such gets the full score from me.
- Commentary with John Lasseter, Andreas Deja and Leonard Maltin.
These three have an enjoyable time with this commentary, mentioning the influences that Sleeping Beauty had on the studio as a whole, the characters which appear and their roots in earlier works, the extensive styling and animation techniques and of course just how they love to watch this piece of work. It never gets boring and is I feel a must listen.
- PiP Commentary Track.
Same commentary as above with the same players but overlayed onto the frame of the picture are the commentators, still drawings, interviews with some of the original crew who worked on this. A better way to view this commentary but it does not fit well on screen (or certainly on my software player so this could just be a bug of that system), with some black boxes apparent.
- Dragon Encounter. - 0:04:47 MPEG4/1080p
A non interactive walk through the lower depths of Maleficent's dungeon. Good visuals and excellent use of high res sound but ultimately a waste and certainly no reviewability factor. Our guides are the three good fairies and at one point Maleficent as the dragon makes an appearance.
- Grand Canyon. - 0:28:56 - MPEG4/1080p
An award winning short originally released with Sleeping Beauty. A pictorial representation of Ferde Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite. Live action shots of the Grand Canyon set to this wonderfully modern piece of music. The image is well encoded and is not showing its age at all with this appearing better than some releases in recent months. Not up there with Planet Earth but it's an excellent exploration of this part of the world.
- Emily Osment - “Once Upon a Dream” Music Video. - 0:03:33 MPEG2/1080p
An updated version of this song, and even though I thought it was a little overplayed in the film itself this really is a harsh version, not capturing the fairytale aspect of the original.
- Disney Song Selection.
Including Once upon a Dream, Hail to the Princess Aurora, I Wonder Once upon a Dream (again) and Sleeping Beauty. There is a Play All function. These are sections from the film but here you can sing-along as the lyrics are presented on screen for you to indulge yourself and let rip. If you had turned subtitles on in the main feature you would have been able to achieve this on its own, radical. So really it's just a quick way of getting to certain scenes you might enjoy.
- Princess Fun Facts.
Turn this on then watch the film and interesting snippets of information will pop up throughout... such as who Disney hired to do the original score, the dimension of the opening book, when first released on video, the number of people who worked on this production, the cast who auditioned for the parts and so much more. There's some repetition with the earlier commentary but new pieces of information are given and that will suit any Sleeping Beauty fan. Also a history of real princesses of the 14th century and what they could expect from their lives.
- Maleficent's Challenge.
A Java enabled on-screen variant of the 20Q game where you think of something then by answering some simple questions Maleficent's Orb tries to guess the original item you thought of. It works, sometimes, and like 20Q it's interesting to see how kids get to grips with it.
- Briar Rose's Enchanted Dance Game.
Play the game or take a Waltz lesson. The woodland animals, adorned in Price Philip's cloak and hat, make a few dance moves which you in turn have to repeat, much like the early Seventies Simon game. Keep your eye on the silhouette legend rather than the action by the characters. When learning the Waltz you can do so as Briar Rose or Prince Philip. A non interactive game of sorts where you can learn the steps required for the Waltz, will come in handy before this year's company Christmas Party.
- Sleeping Beauty: Fun with Language.
A very basic game where items on screen are then shown with their corresponding word. Once this introduction is over the words reappear and you have to locate the item on screen using your remote. Aimed at the very young audience indeed.
- Original Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough Attraction.
Tony Baxter and Chris Merritt take you on a semi controllable virtual tour of this original Walt Disney visitor attraction. At certain points throughout the 'tour' the three fairies pop up and selecting one will allow you read the book, explore the scene or 'turn on the lights' with the Disney imagineers. The latter option is the best when it's available as it takes you back to the two imagineers where they not only discuss the attraction in question but also some animation techniques.
- History of the Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough Attraction. - 0:09:52 - MPEG4/1080i
As the name suggests how this visitor attraction came to life on July 17 1955, how Earl helped deign the castle using the same techniques he implemented on the film itself. Not only is this an extension of what is seen in the previous extra insofar as it expands on the sets you can see within the castle but is also a brief history of the early years of Disneyland.
- Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty. - 0:43:32 - MPEG4/1080i
A number of different animators and historians discussing the whole almost ten year production of Sleeping Beauty and how it fitted into the Disney genre at the time. How it differed from the other works the studio was releasing at the time yet still held its roots in the the original fairy tale story. Obviously when discussing any Disney film the animation is usually at the forefront, this though goes on to discuss the casting and voices Walt wanted, the music, effects and transfer to celluloid as the final product emerges.
- Eyvind Earle: The Man and His Art. - 0:07:23 MPEG4/1080i
Eyvind Earle was born in 1916 and at a young age developed polio ultimately making face slightly distorted. His early life seems a rather harsh affair with an overbearing and brutal father but it shows how he developed into an artist before finally going onto Disney. First and foremost an artist though, not an animator and returning to this solo discipline in his later career.
- Sequence 8. - 0:05:30 - MPEG4/1080i
The dancing sequence in the woods is examined, who directed (Eric Larson), who animated (Don Bluth on clean up) and how the costs for that one individual sequence went through the roof. It worked out that it took three days to get one second of film drawn.
- Alternative Opening. - 0:03:28 - MPEG4/1080i
The alternative narrative opening with some rough drawings of the book which is being read, the original 'Holiday' song which was supposed to kick this off. This song is pure Disney and doesn't really fit with the style of the film which was ultimately produced. A good piece of history but thankfully they dropped this before it reached the cinema.
- Deleted Songs. - 0:06:38 - MPEG4/1080p
A presentation of some original songs set to to some storyboards. 3 songs in total with a Play All function. Holiday is re-shown with the Kings drinking, the fairies practising their magic in the cottage and an alternative version of the fairies putting the courtyard to sleep. Like the alternative opening the better versions hit our screens.
- Storyboard Sequences. - 0:04:05 - MPEG2/480i
Andreas Deja introduces 2 storyboards, the final scene also being shown. The fairies putting the courtyard to sleep and the capture of the prince are both available. Like other storyboard extras on other discs these are once watch affairs but informative nonetheless. The same introduction is the same for both scenes so it's a little unfortunate that there's no Play All function.
- Live Action Reference. - 0:02:11 - MPEG2/480i
The scenes from the film and their associated live action counterpart from which the animators took their references, play individually or with the useful Play All function. The princess dancing, the prince battling his way through thorns and facing Maleficent's dragon and finally the queen with a rather odd looking good fairy.
- Sleeping Beauty Art Galleries.
A huge self navigational feast of shots from pre-production, images from the film, post production, and publicity shots. Many hours could be spent in here alone.
- The Sound of Beauty: Restoring a Classic. - 0:10:50 - MPEG4/1080p
How this 7.1 mix was created for this new BluRay release. The original stereo track is discussed, its recording in Germany and how they took this to the multi channel environment we love today. Naturally this small extra is presented in DTS-HD, there would be little point otherwise. Although the background score was in pretty much pristine condition the dialogue and effects track were separate and needed some work done on them to tightly integrate them back into this release.
- Publicity. - 0:06:17
Three trailers in total, the original teaser and theatrical trailer from 1959 along with its re-release trailer from 1995. The first two are rather quaint affairs with the first having no voice over but plenty of text splashed up on screen and the second introducing something of which we are more used to these days. The last of the three is what we have come to expect from a recent trailer, quickly paced and sharp edits for effect.
- The Peter Tchaikovsky Story. - 0:49:25 - MPEG4/1080p
The first ever Simucast between radio and television, but due to the limitations, some radio stations could not broadcast that signal so two versions of this presentation were created. Here we have the opportunity to experience both. The technical details do not end there, this was the first time that TV went 'widescreen' when the television programme shows excerpts from Sleeping Beauty. Essentially though this is Disney's over dramatic, own version of Tchaikovsky's life story and how he went onto compose the ballet we now know and love. The second version is more or less the same but having no mention of the audio stereo functionality.
- Four Artists Paint One Tree. - 0:16:08 - MPEG4/480p
An original featurette with Walt encouraging the viewer to paint as they see fit, to paint what they want to see, to be inspired by but not to imitate other works. It goes onto show some animators at work in the Disney Studios and eventually how 4 artists all paint the same tree in different ways.
Disney have always been about family entertainment, from its myriad of animations through to the theme parks it has built over the years; this disc is no different. Young children will have fun with their family and the few simple games on there. The whole package though for me opens up after this with a wonderful commentary realised in two different ways and a wealth of additional material. As a set this has everything the Sleeping Beauty fan would ever desire to indulge themselves in.
As a bonus the standard DVD of Sleeping Beauty is also included in this set. This has the same movie with Once upon a Dream Video, Disney Song Selection, the commentary Grand Canyon Featurettes and The Peter Tchaikovsky Story as extras. Although the film is a good enough watch the BluRay version beats it hands down with only brief brightness fluctuations and extra detail in those glorious backgrounds. Much the same can be said about an audio comparison. The audio on the DVD being acceptable but the HD equivalent beating it at every corner with better definition and steerage. This is something then that you can pass onto the younger members of your family in the knowledge that they won't be needing their sticky little hands on your pristine BluRay version.
This disc updated the content for BDLive, at this point the things became a little trickier and after that update one of my software players refused to play the disc, as such I was reluctant to do the same update on my other player and I have been unable to cehck the BDLIve content. Before this update takes place technically you have to wade through reams of ULAs and terms of acceptance. This is really taking things a little too far. What next, sign a disclaimer on entering the cinema, or an NDA so that you can't discuss it with anyone? Disney have always been at the forefront of animation, going on to advance protection on their discs, now it seems as though they are going down a legal route here as well and I can't say I'm too impressed. That being the case though the content on this disc is excellent and really pushing the boundaries of what we have seen on BluRay so far. Once the players technology catches up then this will be an interesting medium indeed. Even so this additional package set cannot be criticised.
VerdictOK so the story is not that great, unless of course you like Prince/Princess love stories, but then for me that's not what Sleeping Beauty is all about. It's about those glorious visuals that stun your senses in each and every single frame. In my own opinion it was not bettered by Disney until perhaps some CGI shots in Beauty and the Beast, and even then you have to take your hats off to the original animators and stylistic director Eyvind Earle for their sterling contribution to cinema history.
It's a two dimensional animation which literally leaps off the screen at you and in terms of the actual transfer this has never looked or sounded better on any home cinema system. If you're a lover of this film then this set is worth it from that upgrade point of view on its own. The additional materials are extensive with Disney making excellent use of the new technology available, even though that implementation certainly tested my three software players to their maximum potential and at one point even crippling one of the players needing a reinstall. Some of the extras are carried over from the 2 disc collector's edition I have but not all; but then there's so much more on this disc to examine and enjoy it can't be regarded as a let down. Completists though might like to keep their hands on that original disc.
That aside though it's a definite purchase, and with this the first in Disney's new reissues planned for BluRay this will only go from strength to strength, I just hope that from a software point of view some of the bugs are ironed out in their BDLive sections before the next release. I look forward to seeing them all on BluRay and I can only recommend that you start your collection all over again with this pristine disc.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply. Write your Sleeping Beauty - 50th Anniversary Edition review.
- Commentary with John Lasseter, Andreas Deja and Leonard Maltin.