Sleeping Beauty at the El Capitan
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Were losing a generation folks. Pay attention. Pay the kind of attention Andreas Deja was paying. The kind of attention that he spoke of when talking about how Marc Daviss performance as Maleficent kept coming to mind when he, Deja, was animating Jafar in "Aladdin". The same kind of attention that allowed Deja to deliver a lightening fast response to Mr. Pennacchios question "When you look at these characters now, Andreas, when you look at Briar Rose for instance what do you see that you would do differently? What would you do to improve it?"
"Are you kidding?!!" Deja flashed, "How can you possibly improve on what Marc Davis did with Aurora or Maleficent. Thats ridiculous. I cant imagine. It simply doesnt get any better than that. The design, the animation, its all there."
That animation historian and author Charles Solomon -- who also sat on the panel last night -- wasnt also in charge of leading it can only be attributed to some misguided executive decision to give ABC some credibility by letting their local "expert" pose such uninformed and un-researched questions. A note to whoever thought that was a good idea: leave your synergy at the door and have some respect for the real talent next time.
With or without commentary, its evident that Walt Disneys "Sleeping Beauty" is a watershed moment in the history of animated film. Starting with marketing - a topic that was oddly brushed over by the panel, even with a lobby full of great vintage "Sleeping Beauty" merchandise. It goes beyond products, however. The film played a fairly significant role in the larger vision of the Disney company in the years 1958 and 1959. Weve all read about the comparative cost of the film as the most expensive animated production of its day (and arguable still so in relative dollar value.) But we dont hear as much anymore about how the film played an integral role in advancing awareness of animation and branding Disneys (then) new theme park in Anaheim. To just get a small taste of how ever-present Briar Rose and company were back then, one need only surf eBay (where, no doubt, eventually the bones of Judge Crater will come up for auction) to find rare and highly prized items such as guides to the walk-through "Sleeping Beauty" dioramas in "Sleeping Beautys Castle." Or the much sought-after first edition of author Bob Thomass "The Art of Animation" which showcased "Sleeping Beauty." That book remains, in this writers opinion, the best book on the making of a Disney animated film (bested only by John Canemakers equally rare account of the making of John Williams "Raggedy Ann and Andy" published by Bobbs-Merrill in 1977.) Mary Costa herself was paraded across our living room in appearances on the "Mickey Mouse Club," and Walt Disneys Disneyland television program devoted more than one episode to promoting the film (long before the Movie Surfers or their parents were born!)
But "Sleeping Beauty" also represents a continuation of Walts devotion to pushing the envelope - a phrase that seems almost too cliche in todays hyperbolic Hollywood spin. Nevertheless, theres no better example of a complex and sophisticated blend of stylings in any other animated feature, with the possible exception of "Fantasia." In fact, "Sleeping Beauty" was the first Disney animated feature since "Fantasia" to feel such a strong influence of the classical music and other fine arts.
The films score - freely adapted from Tchaikovskys "Sleeping Beauty" ballet - has had some fairly vocal critics who found the "bastardization" more low brow than innovative, but ultimately history has drowned out those critical voices and proven Disneys approach more "high brow" than low. While far from an academic deconstruction of the ballet, using a known classical composition so unapologetically as the platform for the score and character themes wouldnt be this boldly heard by film goers again for nearly two decades. Panelist Alex Rannie had some smart observations of George Bruns amazing accomplishments, and also treated the house to two out-takes from Mary Costas recording session that also included a chance to hear the late Eric Larson providing direction from the booth.