Sunday, October 12, 2008

Look at how wide Sleeping Beauty is;

That's from the new DVD that came out last week. It's no wonder it's never been released in widescreen before--I can't imagine the average white trash putting up with the massive black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. I was watching on a widescreen television, but even then the bars were big. So the Sleeping Beauty most of us are used to is really only a third of the movie at best.

It'd been a very long time since I'd watched any version--it was practically like seeing a new movie. Maybe I'd have been better off not knowing how poorly written it is. There are a hundred problems with the plot--why do the good fairies bring Aurora back to the castle on her sixteenth birthday? Why does Maleficent lay a trap at the cottage after she's gotten the princess? And why, oh, why does the movie have to spend so much damn time with the three good fairies?

I actually have answers to all these questions. Speculation, anyway. It's useful not to look at Maleficent so much as a character as a device of misfortune for the heroes. She does things not for her personal goals but Because They Would Be Bad But Not Too Bad. Though, on the other hand, proceeding from that I suppose one might view Maleficent, since she is a fairy, as anthropomorphised fear. That's how she worked on me when I was a kid. Though maybe I'm just excusing sloppy writing--things can be both well written and effective on children, after all.

The reason, I think, the movie focuses on the three good fairies as de facto protagonists is because Disney wisely knew that children are only interested in characters that are either flawless or comically ridiculous. The good fairies are both, and in this way represent idyllic mother figures. Sure, Flora and Merryweather have their childish squabbles, but at the end of the day Flora's unstoppable. The one, precious scene of character development for Aurora is the "Once Upon a Dream" sequence. After she falls under the spell of Maleficent, I don't think she has a single line of dialogue for the rest of the movie. Prince Philip is similarly hampered--even during his battle with Maleficent, it's Flora who has to make sure the sword does its job with a little rhyme. Philip may as well be a golem.

Yet, the film is truly gorgeous. Most of the best sequences are filled with lush backgrounds, making the widescreen release a very good thing indeed;

The animation is amazingly fluid and filled with character, particularly when it comes to the film's most interesting character, Maleficent. The only place where I'd say this film falls down visually is in character colouring. Skin and hair tend to drastically change colour between cuts, and there seems to've been a 1950s fear of paleness at work with Aurora's ham-pink flesh.

The music, adapted from Tchaikovsky's ballet, is fine, and combined with the visuals, makes this a nice movie to behold. And makes the writing even more of a shame.

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