Thursday, January 09, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Sleeping Beauty (1959) at the El Capitan Theatre

SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959) has always been my favorite animated Disney film. I own more editions of it than any other Disney movie: a widescreen VHS tape, a 2-Disc Special Edition purchased a decade ago, and then a 2-Disc Platinum Edition purchased in 2008.

When I got an all-region DVD player, my first purchase -- thanks to a tip in a Leonard Maltin column -- was a beautiful 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of the film which came in a box with a cover modeled on the film's opening title; along with the DVD, the set includes a wonderful book on the film. Photos of this very special set are below. To my knowledge this set was only released in the UK.

It will thus come as no surprise that when I heard a few days ago that SLEEPING BEAUTY would be featured as a "one night only" Throwback Thursday film at the El Capitan Theatre, I immediately bought a ticket. I hadn't had the opportunity to see the film on a big screen since my husband and I saw it when we were dating, which is a lot of years ago!

As always, seeing a movie at the El Capitan is a wonderful experience. Throwback Thursdays are a great deal, with discounted tickets including popcorn and soda in the cost.

The movie started late, but that wasn't an issue as we were treated to an extra-long concert of Disney music by the El Capitan's house organist, Rob Richards. Richards has been playing the "Mighty Wurlitzer" at the El Capitan for 15 years as of this year.

The picture and especially the sound were excellent; you just can't beat seeing this film in its original widescreen. (It was originally presented in "Super Technirama 70.") Seeing the film reminded me all over again why I love it so much, starting with the beautiful stylings of Eyvind Earle. Some of the scenes, such as the opening celebration sequence at the castle, almost have a 3-D effect.

The use of the Tchaikovsky music to score the film is brilliant, and there simply isn't a better Disney scene than "Once Upon a Dream," sung by Mary Costa. I don't mind saying that the combination of the beautiful music and animation makes me tear up a little, and the music evokes the same reaction in the final scene.

At 75 minutes the film is perfectly paced, balancing emotional depth and action without making the audience spend a great deal of time focused on the dark sides of the storyline. It moves, and this benefits the film greatly.

It also has a nice sense of humor, including a court attendant who drinks himself literally under the table (his face reminds me of character actor Gus Schilling) and the delightful alternating pink and blue dress in the last scene. Prince Philip's wonderful horse, Samson, seems as though he may have been an inspiration behind a Disney horse with an even more developed comic personality, Maximus in TANGLED (2010).

The voice cast is superb, including Mary Costa voicing Princess Aurora and Bill Shirley as Prince Philip. Eleanor Audley voices Maleficent; she was also the voice of mean Lady Tremaine in CINDERELLA (1950).

Verna Felton, who voices Flora, was the voice of the Fairy Godmother in CINDERELLA. The other good fairies are voiced by Barbara Jo Allen and Barbara Luddy. Luddy voiced Lady in LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955).

Additional voices were provided by Taylor Holmes, Bill Thompson, Pinto Colvig, Candy Candido, Dal McKennon, and Thurl Ravenscroft. The narrator is Marvin Miller.

The film was directed by Clyde Geronimi.

Seen at right: a photo of a poster on display in the El Capitan lobby.

As a postscript, some may have heard the news that this week a certain Oscar-winning actress took it upon herself to slander Walt Disney as a "gender bigot," among other things, without considering all of the facts, not to mention historical and social context. In doing so, she made herself look small, maligning someone who is not here to respond to the attack.

One of those who worked on SLEEPING BEAUTY was Floyd Norman, who happens to be a black animator who worked directly with Walt Disney. Mr. Norman published a rebuke of the uninformed comments. He points out that, as with many other people of the era, Disney's views of working women evolved quickly with the times, nor did he ever see any evidence that Walt was a racist or anti-Semite; his firsthand experience was quite the contrary.

The Walt Disney Family Museum also posted a detailed response. I appreciated the Museum "favoriting" my own Tweet saying "Suspect Mary Blair, Alice Davis, Dorothea Holt Redmond, Harriet Burns would be surprised he was sexist."

Left: I have this certified Sericel of the "Once Upon a Dream" scene hanging on my wall.

Related posts: Photos of original Eyvind Earle designs for Disneyland's Fantasyland can be seen here and here. My photos of the remarkable Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Paris, also known as Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant, are here.

Update: Revisiting Sleeping Beauty (1959) at the El Capitan Theatre. A wonderful anniversary screening 60 years to the day from the movie's original Los Angeles premiere.

Previously: Tonight's Movie: Lady and the Tramp (1955) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Cinderella (1950) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Peter Pan (1953) at the El Capitan Theatre, Tonight's Movie: Mulan (1998) at the El Capitan Theatre, Tonight's Movie: The Little Mermaid (1989) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Mary Poppins (1964) at the El Capitan Theatre.


Blogger JavaBeanRush said...

I have a similar affinity for Cinderella.

Now what's this about a Disney scandal? I unplug myself from time to time just to restore my sanity.

There's so much information out there.

Well, they've weathered publicity storms worse than this; Disney should be fine.

Now, you've got me on the hunt for more of the story.


- Java

9:05 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's wonderful about CINDERELLA, Java! I just saw that for the first time at the El Capitan in 2012. It's kind of odd I had somehow not seen that one for so long, and of course I really enjoyed it, especially being introduced to it on a big screen!

I decided not to give the original absurd comments any more credence by linking directly to them myself, as they are easily accessible -- just throw the word "Disney" in Google News and you'll pull it right up. :)

A new article quotes Floyd Norman, in part, "People have been taking pot shots at him for years and will continue to do so. Authors and filmmakers such as myself and others will tell the'd better back up your comments with facts whenever there are people around who knew Walt Disney."

Best wishes,

9:14 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

My son absolutely adores "Sleeping Beauty". When he's angry with us he goes all Maleficent: "Stand back you fools!". We get the picture, but quick!

I would love to be able to take him to see "Sleeping Beauty" on the big screen. It must be magical.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I love how devoted you are to this film and all things Disney. I myself adore The Little Mermaid and have held onto my original VHS copy that I got when I was around 10 years old, even though it no longer works. Its just a treasure. Thanks to my husband I now have the Blu-Ray.

Anyways, this sounds like a lovely experience. I would love to see something at the El Capitan. It seems like they show a lot of animated movies. Is this something they are known for?

7:56 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It really is magical, Caftan Woman! I hope your family has the chance to see it on a big screen one day, especially as you all appreciate animation so much!

Best wishes,

9:10 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your comment, Raquel! I can definitely relate to your feelings about THE LITTLE MERMAID. :) That's a very special film to me as well, in part as I associate it with my oldest daughter's childhood!

Yes, indeed, the El Capitan is very special. Disney did a huge restoration of the theater about a quarter century ago and subsequently did a second stage of restoration. Disney operates the theater and -- other than something special like the TCM Classic Film Festival -- it exclusively shows Disney films. They alternate showing brand-new movies such as FROZEN with revivals of older Disney movies, and fairly recently they also instituted "Throwback Thursday," special one-night-only screenings of older Disney movies.

I hope that the El Capitan will be part of the TCMFF again next year; perhaps you'll be able to see a movie there then. It's a special experience, including the pre-show entertainment from the "Mighty Wurlitzer"!

Best wishes,

9:16 AM  

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