By 1959 the Disney studio had stopped churning out timeless classics, as simple as that. Minor gems were still to come in the form of '101 Dalmatians' and 'The Jungle Book', but until the 1990s the studio would never make pictures on par with the extraordinary skill and genuine heart and soul visibly imbued in the features of the late 1930s and early 1940s. 'Sleeping Beauty' alas, while still being an interesting addition, is far from that previous magic.
It's a shame because it starts out brilliantly, showing a more experimental bent to alter its artform to give each feature a distinctive look. Bright colours and engular, stylised design give it the look of a comic-book, which equates automatically with instant coolness. Then there's an incredible amount of personality injected into the Fairies, startling for traditional Disney comedy side-kicks. But, eventually, you come to realise there are some big flaws that scupper the film immensely.
The first is Maleficent. First and foremost she is far too scary for children. Not even Scar or the Queen from 'Snow White' match her for psychological fear, particularly with the loudest and most vicious sound effects being reseverved for everything she does.
Then there's Beauty herself. Even by Disney standard's she's little more than a high-voiced genre convention, with a particularly 1950s anti-feminist element: she sings, talks to woodland creatures, dreams about romance and yet is scared stiff of boys, totally helpless and faceless in every way. Hell even Snow White made the Dwarfs wash their hands before eating dinner; 'Rose' can't even prick her finger properly.
Perhaps the biggest flaw is Prince Phillip, a transparent Prince Charming clone who sounds about 30 and yet tries to go all James Dean on his dad's ass. Most infuriating is what happens about half way through: he becomes a mute. Did the guy who voiced him just walk off and no one could be found who sounded like him? The guy never speaks, he doesn't even grunt in pain at being stabbed by a forest of thorns. It's ridiculous how it's glossed over him not speaking, and extremely obvious, which makes it lame. End of discussion.
There are plus points. The two kings are great comic foil, as is the drunk waiter.
But at such a short running time you can't help but think if it was longer more craft could've been put into it. Instead it feels bare and barren, the kingdom populated by non-moving non-talking citizens. And this film is further burdened by having a truly terrible score. Did someone at the studio office add up the budget wrong for this? It seems to have had as much spent on it as everyone who was involved with creating the Sultan in 'Aladdin'.
A big disappointment, not rescued by some charming characterisation of the Fairies or a slick comic-book atmosphere. Strictly for masochistic children and infantile teenage girls only.