by Chris Lucas
July 20, 2020
Here are a few things you might not know about 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, Disney’s 16th animated classic.
- Production on the film started in 1950, but Walt’s ventures into television and theme park design slowed progress until 1956, when it began again in earnest. It was the longest working time ever devoted to one animated film.
- Costs ballooned, in part due to the delays, and at close to $7 million, Sleeping Beauty wound up being the most expensive animated film ever made (a record that lasted for decades.)
- Based upon the Charles Perrault version of Sleeping Beauty - though the story goes all the way back to the 1300s and has been adapted hundreds of times - the film’s exquisite and elaborate look was designed by artist Eyvind Earle, who also created the live action story book that opens the film. It now rests in the Disney Archives and is often sent out for display.
- The music was based on Tchaikovsky’s 1890 Sleeping Beauty ballet and was recorded by the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. Tchaikovsky is the same composer responsible for Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.
- George Bruns and Sammy Fain added modern songs and lyrics like “Once Upon A Dream” and “The Skumps.”
- In the ballet the princess is called Aurora, in the fairy tale she’s called Briar Rose. The screenwriters split the difference by using both names. Many people still just call her “Sleeping Beauty.”
- Aurora doesn’t have a spoken line in the film until nineteen minutes in. Her last line comes twenty minutes later. She only has eighteen lines in the whole movie. In total, she is in less than 1/3rd of the story named after her.
- The animators couldn’t decide whether Aurora’s dress should be pink or blue, so they just turned it into a joke in the film.
- Three famous TV “Aunts” were the live action models for the three fairies: Madge Blake (Aunt Harriet from Batman) Frances Bavier (Aunt Bea from The Andy Griffith Show) and Spring Byington (Aunt Daisy from Laramie). None of their voices were used in the final film.
- Ever the shrewd promoter, Walt named the castle at Disneyland after Sleeping Beauty, even though the movie wasn’t released until four years after the park opened.
- Sleeping Beauty was given a lukewarm reception by audiences and critics and made less than $6 million in its initial release. Not a flop, but not enough to return a profit, either. The biggest hit for Disney that year was actually a live action film, The Shaggy Dog, which cost just a million to make and took in almost ten times that amount.
- Until Mary Poppins came along, Walt considered Sleeping Beauty his studio’s masterpiece. Its lack of success was said to be one of the reasons he began to increasingly show a loss of interest in his studio’s animated films - which often took years to make with little return on profit - while spending more time on live action films and on developing attractions for Disneyland and the 1964 NYC World’s Fair.
- Sleeping Beauty was re-released to theaters in 1970, 1979, and 1986. Each time it was a box office hit. It’s now regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces in animation.
- This was the final classic fairy tale Princess animated film made during Walt’s lifetime. The studio wouldn’t return to the genre until 1989’s The Little Mermaid.
Chris Lucas is the author of Top Disney: 100 Top Ten Lists of the Best of Disney, from the Man to the Mouse and Beyond.
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