SLEEPING BEAUTY at the Historic El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood

     September 3, 2008

Written by Jonah

You know how sometimes you watch a “classic” film and it just doesn’t seem to live up to the hype? (For me the best example I can think of is Kubrick’s THE SHINING. I saw it the first time in college and I must say that “the scariest film ever” left something to be desired.) Or other times you watch a classic and you can tell why it was a classic, but now it just seems outdated? (This example also comes easily to me. I must say that while is still a brilliant film to watch for style and pacing and as a landmark of the genre, THE MALTESE FALCON is a classic that is best appreciated as an antique.) There are, however, those rare occasions when a classic is so obviously above and beyond that it still resonates years and years after its initial release. CASABLANCA is one that springs to mind. Another, WALT DISNEY’S classic SLEEPING BEAUTY, can currently be seen in all its glory at Disney’s historic El Capitan Theatre.

This limited engagement three week engagement commemorates the film’s restored release on Special Edition DVD and Blu-ray. I must confess that SLEEPING BEAUTY has always had a special place in my heart. My mother is a certified DISNEYOPHILE and I grew up watching the “classics” on VHS. One of her favorites was SLEEPING BEAUTY, and I’ve been able to almost quote the film verbatim for years. I was excited about the chance to watch SB on the big screen, and normally this is a bad thing, as the reality rarely lives up to expectations. In this case, however, I was more than pleasantly surprised.

DISNEY’S SLEEPING BEAUTY is still every bit as magical as I remembered from my childhood, perhaps even more so. For this release, the print has been restored as well, both to its original color and to its original technirama size. In addition, to take advantage of new technologies and the stellar sound system at the El Cap in particular, the original stereo soundtrack has been re-mixed to 5.1 surround sound. And the result is nothing short of amazing.

Nowhere is the restoration of the print more noticeable than in the exquisite backgrounds by painter Eyvind Earle. All the colors, however, pop vibrantly. The restored colors and the expanded size of the print emphasize the care that went into this picture initially and the scope of Disney’s 6 million dollar masterpiece. A paltry sum today, the film was at the time exorbitantly expensive by Disney standards. It’s clear though, that this film was a labor of love.

As a further treat, the Opening Night showing was preceded by a panel discussion which included the original voice of Briar Rose herself: Mary Costa. Also on the panel were: famed animator Blaine Gibson, background artist Frank Armitage, author of THE ART OF ANIMATION Bob Thomas, and Imagineer Tony Baxter. All had stories about the film and about Walt himself.

Mary Costa told several excited tales about how a southern girl became a Disney Princess. Frank Armitage and Blaine Gibson both talked of working for a genius. Bob Thomas shared his stories about working on TAOA—a seminal and influential work. And Tony Baxter shared what it was like to walk through Sleeping Beauty’s castle as a child when it was first built in Disneyland as well as what plans Disney has for re-opening the exhibit this winter. After it was all over Mary Costa signed autographs for several grateful fans, including this author’s delighted girlfriend.

All in all, the night was spectacular. In this day of rising ticket prices, it is so rare to feel like you weren’t cheated when you walk out of a theater. But even with a ticket that could cost as much as $22 (VIP seating), I find it hard to imagine anyone walking away from this film unsatisfied. DISNEY’S SLEEPING BEAUTY still gets an A in my book. Go see for yourself. But don’t wait too long; you have until September 18th before it’s gone again.

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