Thursday, October 9, 2008

From the Archive: "Sleeping Beauty - Platinum Edition" Blu-Ray Review

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original Blu-Ray Review of “Sleeping Beauty - Platinum Edition”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
“Sleeping Beauty
Platinum Edition”
Blu-Ray Review originally published October 9th, 2008

I’m a Disneyphile; I absolutely love Disney movies, and have reveled in the joy of seeing the classics re-released in Disney’s Platinum Edition line, probably the best DVD series ever, with great picture, sound, and extras.  Now, the Platinum Editions make the move to Blu-Ray, something I am ecstatic about.  The first classic-Disney Blu-Ray is Sleeping Beauty, infamous as a film that took a decade to make.  There’s no better film to show off animated-hi-def with.  How does this Platinum Edition stack up to others?  Read on in my review of Sleeping Beauty Platinum Edition on Blu-Ray.


At the time of its release, Sleeping Beauty was Disney’s third film based on a “princess” fairy tale.  That the film manages to separate itself from Snow White and Cinderella so effortlessly is a testament to its quality.  The film took, in Walt’s own words, “six years and six million dollars” to create.  Every dollar shows; it’s up there on screen, in the writing, the music, the voice acting, and most of all, in the astounding visuals. 

None of the Walt-era Disney films are exactly heavy on plot, but Sleeping Beauty is particularly light on story.  Other Disney fairy-tale films took the classic stories and expanded them, adding sub-plots and twists to make them feature length.  Beauty takes a different approach, in that there are no sub-plots, and that most of the film happens in one day.  The film’s pace is slower and more meditative then other animated features, with individual scenes taking up large chunks of time.  But it all works so perfectly; the way the various elements come together make the film feel like a living, breathing storybook.  That, above all, is what sets it apart from other Disney films.

The characters are fun and engaging, and it’s interesting to note the odd choice the studio made in character focus.  Briar Rose (or Aurora) is the titular princess, but has a rather small amount of screen time, with her biggest scene being the dance sequence in the forest; she’s not really the main character.  The characters most pivotal to the plot and from whose point of view the story is told are the Fairy Godmothers.  While they serve as comic relief in some scenes, the film still keeps a serious tone while still having humor. 

The movie does not have an original score, instead using music from Peter Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty, which was the primary inspiration for the film.  The music adds such incredible depth to the film, and while there are relatively few songs in the film, because they use the ballet’s music, they seem richer then many other Disney songs.

The most amazing thing about the film is the animation.  Animated in Cinerama at an Aspect Ratio of 2.55:1 and shot on 70mm film, the film easily has the most detailed, colorful, and breathtaking animation that the studio has ever done.  The film looks like a moving tapestry, with amazing backgrounds that make the entire environment feel three-dimensional.  The character animation on the humans is also of note; there are no central animal characters, just humans, and they look and move more fluidly and realistically then in any other Disney film.

The brilliant mix of a simplistic story, delightful characters, wonderful music, and breathtaking animation make Sleeping Beauty one of Disney’s best classics, definitely worth mention alongside any other Disney film.
Film Rating: A-


Oh man do I love Blu-Ray.  It’s not the new, shiny films that make me love it—it’s the classics, and I’ve been waiting to see a classic animated film on the format for a long time.  This sounds very clichéd, but it’s true; Sleeping Beauty is an absolute feast for the eyes on Blu-Ray.  You’ll have to watch the film over and over to truly see everything this image has to offer.  The film is presented, for the first time on Home Video, in its Cinerama aspect ratio of 2.55:1, meaning the bars on the top and bottom are thicker than usual.  Seeing the film in its original ratio is amazing, because the animators made good use of every inch of this incredibly wide frame. 

In hi-definition, the first thing you’ll notice is the colors, which are incredibly vivid and vibrant in the way only cel-animation can deliver.  The first scene is the long processional into the castle, and you can clearly see every piece of animation in the frame, and there’s a lot to see.  Inside the castle, you can clearly make out every bit of detail in the brickwork and structures.  The most amazing scene, though, is the sequence in the forest, where you can see every bit of detail in every tree, rock, branch, etc.  This was one of the most complex sequences to animate in the history of animation, and it shows.  I had absolutely no idea as to the amount of detail animated into every frame of the movie.  Each frame could be a brilliant wall-hanging; my jaw dropped about every three seconds while watching the film.  The image is simply perfect; I detected no imperfections, which is shocking for a film that is celebrating its 50th anniversary. 

The audio matches the video.  The Tchaikovsky score has an incredible clarity, to the point where you can truly hear individual instruments.  Dialogue is crisp and clear, though it occasionally sounds a bit dated (understandably).  The audio is very descriptive, and like the video, shows what Blu-Ray can do.  No Disney film has ever been presented this well on Home Video, and I can’t wait to see more classics released on Blu-Ray.

Video Rating: 20/20
Audio Rating: 18.5/20


In 2001, Snow White was the first entry in the Platinum Edition series, a collection of the best Disney films featuring top-quality, video, audio and extras.  Snow White is still one of the best DVD’s in my collection, but Platinum Editions since then, while consistently impressive, have never matched the quality of that set in terms of extras.  It’s safe to say that Sleeping Beauty easily boasts the largest, most comprehensive set of extras on a Platinum Edition since Snow White.  There’s tons of stuff, and I’m going to go in the order it’s presented over the two discs.  Every single bonus feature is presented in hi-definition, as far as I could tell.

Extras on Disc One start with a Picture-in-Picture Audio Commentary with Pixar Guru John Lasseter, Critic/Film Historian Leonard Maltin, and Animator Andreas Deja.  They have a lot of love for the film, and know quite a bit about its history, and there are almost no silent spots.  The coolest thing about this commentary is that as you watch, videos will pop up in various spots, showing either the three men recording the commentary, clips of Walt Disney, archival storyboards and pictures, etc.  It’s very, very cool.  You can also watch this audio-only, without the PiP feature.

Next is Dragon Encounter, a five-minute CGI video that’s supposed to make you feel like you are travelling through Malificent’s castle; at the end, you see the dragon.  It’s incredibly pointless.  The short film Grand Canyon is much better; this film accompanied Sleeping Beauty in its theatrical run, and is a half-hour of footage of the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas set to Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite.  The music is beautiful and the footage is absolutely breathtaking, a marvel of hi-definition. 

The next section of the disc is Music and More, which starts with a music video of Once Upon a Dream sung by Disney Channel starlet Emily Osment.  They have one of these on every Platinum Edition, and I think I’ve only watched one, which was horrible; I’m guessing this one sucks too.  You can also access 5 song numbers from the film in this section, for the kids who only want to watch the songs, as well as play the movie with song lyrics.  This entire section is fairly pointless.  The final bonus on disc one is Princess Fun Facts, a trivia track that plays over the film aimed at kids.

Disc Two holds the real meat of the extras, starting with a section called Games and Activities.  The first game is Maleficient’s Challenge, which proclaims that it can guess anything you are thinking of through a game akin to 20 questions.  Not surprisingly, it can’t guess anything you’re thinking of (I was thinking “Legos,” and it guessed a bar of soap), but is sort of fun nonetheless.  Briar Rose’s Dance Game is an arrow-tapping game, and sucks.  Fun with Language Game is for three-year olds; the narrator talks extremely slow and teaches kids vocabulary.  Obviously, this section of the disc is not aimed at me.

But the next section, Backstage Disney, most certainly is.  Original Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough Attraction is a CGI recreation of the classic Disneyland Attraction, which was shut down for no adequately explained reason in the wake of 9/11.  You can walk through the CGI-recreation in three different ways.  Accompanying this feature is History of Sleeping Beauty Castle Attraction, a 10-minute featurette about the history of the ride. 

All Platinum Editions feature a making-of documentary, and this set is no exception.  Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty runs about 45 minutes and talks about every aspect of the production, making good use of new interviews and archival footage.  It’s not as riveting as some documentaries, but still quite good.  Eyvind Earl: The Man and his Art takes a look at the film’s art director, who personally animated or touched every background in the film.  His story is fascinating, and it was a great idea to put a featurette about him on the disc.  It runs about seven minutes.

Sequence 8 discusses the long, troubled making of the forest sequence, the most complicated piece of animation the studio had ever attempted.  Alternate Opening is a storyboarded form of an abandoned opening for the film, and like most deleted or alternate scenes, is nothing to get too excited about.  Next are 3 Deleted Songs that I share similar sentiment to.  The 2 Storyboard-to-Film Comparisons are interesting, but not required viewing.  For Sleeping Beauty, the studio shot every scene on a soundstage in live-action, and used that footage as reference for the animation, and the Live Action Reference Footage documents about 3 minutes of this; it’s very cool to see.  Next are the Art Galleries, which contain extensive amounts of various archival drawings, storyboards, and posters.

The Sound of Beauty: Restoring a Classic talks about the sound restoration, as opposed to the video like most featurettes do.  Running 10 minutes, it’s a nice change of pace to see the process behind this kind of restoration.  3 Theatrical Trailers are also presented.  Rounding out the extras is The Peter Tchaikovsky Story, a special aired around the time of the film’s release about the legendary composer.  Introduced by Walt himself and being the first TV broadcast to utilize widescreen footage and stereo sound (by using your radio), it is presented in two versions here; one is the stereo version, and one is the version made for areas without the capabilities needed for stereo.  They both run 50 minutes, are quite fun to watch, and look great in hi-def.

I’m not done: the set also comes with a bonus DVD of the film (basically Disc One of the DVD version released simultaneously with this BD release).  I’m not sure why, because I will likely never watch the film in standard-def again.  I suppose if you have a kid who wants to watch a different movie then you, you could go put it on in the other room, but…well, at least its better than one of those stupid Digital Copies.

Disney has really outdone themselves with this exhaustive and comprehensive slate of extras; it will take a while to watch them all, but it’s definitely worth the time.  The two discs are housed in a standard Blu-Ray keep-case with a cardboard slipcover that actually looks pretty cool, though it’s a bit too loose over the keep-case.

Extras and Presentation Rating: 10/10


This is why I love Blu-Ray.  A great movie in great quality with terrific extras.  As a Disney nerd, my mouth waters thinking about future classic releases on Blu-Ray; until then, this a terrific package worth every cent.  I’ve been giving a lot of 10/10 Overall Grades lately, but studios are doing some truly terrific work on home video.  It’s a great time to be buying discs.

Overall Grade: 10/10

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