Originating in France, Sleeping Beauty is a worldwide phenomenon that found its beginnings in literary works in the 17th century, though the earliest known version of the story can be traced back as far as 1330.
Charles Perrault who was also responsible for the introduction of fairy tales such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood first penned the story of ‘The Beauty Sleeping in the Wood’ - a story which later influenced ‘Little Briar Rose’ by the Brothers Grim some 200 years later.
“Gold of sunshine in her hair, lips that shame the red red rose. In ageless sleep, she finds repose.”
Sleeping Beauty Lives On
For a story written almost 400 years ago, it still continues to stake its claim on the 21st century. Since its inception, Sleeping Beauty has continued to be revised and adapted for new audiences.
Some of the more popular adaptations and pop-culture appearances include:
- 1890 Russian ballet composed by Tchaikovsky
- Pre-Raphaelite paintings by Henry Meynell Rheam
- Two poems based on Sleeping Beauty by Lord Alfred Tennyson
- 1949 Finnish Film Prinsessa Ruusunen
- 1959 Disney animated film Sleeping Beauty
- Series of four erotic novels by Anne Rice
- 2011 period film about a sex worker in a high end brothel
- 2014 Disney live-action film Maleficent
- Incarnations of Aurora, Stefan, Phillip and Maleficent in television series Once Upon A Time
- Appearance of Flora, Fauna, Merryweather and Aurora in Disney Junior series Sofia the First
- In June of 2015, the remains of a woman uncovered by archaeologists digging up a biblical city was dubbed ‘Sleeping Beauty’
“The princess shall indeed grow in grace and beauty, beloved by all who know her.”
Disney’s Sleeping Beauty
In 1959 the Walt Disney Company graced the silver screen with their musical version of the fantasy film, making it the 16th film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series.
Because of its largely negative reception, the film marked the last Disney adaptation of a fairy tale for 30 years, until the release of The Little Mermaid. However, like most art, it was under-appreciated in its time but is now hailed as one of the greatest animated films of all time.
The plot deviates slightly from the literary tale, but opens with King Stefan and his wife welcoming the birth of their daughter Princess Aurora with a gathering at the royal court to celebrate her christening. Among the guests is the infant Prince Phillip to whom Aurora is betrothed, and three good fairies who bless the child with their gifts before the arrival of the evil witch Maleficent who curses the princess.
With the curse due to take effect on her 16th birthday, the fairies disappear into the woods with baby Aurora and rename her Briar Rose, raising her in isolation until after the date has passed. On the day of her sixteenth birthday, Aurora meets Prince Phillip. The pair cites love at first sight, unaware they are already to be married.
Later that same day, Maleficent discovers Aurora’s location and lures her into the castle where the curse comes to fruition. In true Disney style, the curse is broken when the prince comes to the rescue and awakens the princess with a spell breaking kiss. The story ends with the defeat of the villain, the kingdom rejoicing and the couple living happily ever after.
During its release, the film earned just over $5 million, a figure which left the production at a loss of almost a million dollars. This was partly due to the production being the most expensive to that date, with the budget doubling that of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan.
Sleeping Beauty was one of the longest animated films to create, taking over a decade to finalise. This was partly due to technical issues, but was also contributed to by the building of Disneyland which was underway at the same time. With the park being Walt’s first priority, the film naturally got shelved and picked up in between projects, when time allowed.
On re-release, the film grossed over $51 million, and earned it the ranking of the second most successful film of its time, second only to Ben Hur. Since its re-release, the film is now considered a cult classic and is acclaimed worldwide for its stylized themes and animation.
One critic writes that;
"This Disney dreamscape contains moments of grandeur, with its lush colors, magical air, one of the most menacing villains in the Disney canon.”
The film eventually went onto win an Academy Award, a Grammy and was nominated for several other awards include ‘Best Villain’.
“You poor, simple fools. Thinking you could defeat me.”
The Mesmerising Maleficent
Due to the overwhelming popularity of the 1959 film’s villainous character and the decision of Disney to release live-action remakes of films from their line of animated classics, 2014 saw the release of Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie as the iconic mistress of all evil.
The remake broke several Disney molds by telling the story from the perspective of the antagonist and filling in backstory from the 1959 film.
The story portrays the story of Maleficent, a fairy living in a magical forest referred to as ‘The Moors’. Maleficent falls in love with a human boy ‘Stefan’ who chooses to betray Maleficent in an attempt to exert his way to the top. On the way he breaks her heart and cuts off her wings. Grieving, Maleficent establishes her dark kingdom and waits for the opportunity to arrive when she can exercise her vengeance on the now King, Stefan. This opportunity presents itself when King Stefan announces the birth of his first child….and the rest, as they say... is history.
To date, the film’s profits have sung to the tune of almost $200 million, leading Disney, in June 2015, to announce the upcoming sequel.
“I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream.”
Fast Facts about Sleeping Beauty
- The name and alias used for the princess in the 1959 Disney film are drawn from the two main literary versions. In Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault, the princess is named Aurora, but in the version by the German Brothers Grimm, she is called Briar Rose.
- Sleeping Beauty was in production for all of the 1950s
- Prince Phillip was named after Prince Phillip the Duke of Edinburgh
- Prince Phillip was also the first Disney prince to be named
- Much of the music in the 1959 film was adapted from Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" ballet.
- Live action models were used for the animators to draw movements
- Production designer Eyvind Earle created the medieval landscape which gives the film its distinctive look including intricately detailed castles, ominous backgrounds, square trees and distorted perspectives
- The voice of Maleficent is also the voice of Lady Tremaine in Disney’s ‘Cinderella’ and Madame Leota in the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland California
- The voice of Flora and Queen Leah is lent by the same voice of Dumbo’s mother, the Fairy Godmother in ‘Cinderella’ and the Queen of Hearts in ‘Alice in Wonderland’.
- The cookies baked by the good fairies are shaped like a Mickey Mouse head
- Aurora speaks the least of any Disney princess with only 18 lines of dialogue throughout the entire movie.
- At the time, the production was the most expensive cartoon to date and was the first film to post a loss for Disney in 20 years
- Frozen was the first Disney fairy tale film since Sleeping Beauty to use ultra wide screen
- Aurora’s thin, willowy figure was inspired by iconic actress Audrey Hepburn
- The running joke throughout the film about the color of Aurora’s dress came from a disagreement among the filmmakers as to deciding the color of her dress
- The book that appears in the beginning of the film was real and handmade by the film’s designer
- Aurora is barefoot throughout the entire film, with shoes only appearing on her feet for the last scene
- The castle built in Disneyland California was not originally Sleeping Beauty’s castle. It was originally intended for Snow White but was dedicated to Sleeping Beauty at the last minute as a way of assisting the film’s promotion. The walk-through diorama was added later.
If you enjoyed this article, then check out our range of exquisite figures from this fantastic film: