Sleeping Beauty is Walt Disney's 16th animated feature, and it's first attempt at a movie in 70mm film. This format was much larger than previous ones used by the studio and the sets took longer to finish. This was only one of the many reasons why the movie was the most expensive production to date by Disney.
The first version of the script, an adaptation of Pierrault's tale (written in 1697 and reinterpreted by the Brothers Grimm in 1812), was presented in 1952, but as many other Disney projects, was put on stan-by by Walt Disney. The main reason for putting the movie on hold was that Walt felt that the story bared to many similarities to Snow White and Cinderella, and although both films had been tremendously successful, he wanted to deliver something new.
But instead of changing the story, Walt Disney thought of a better way of setting this film apart from its predecessors: making it aesthetically different. To achieve this, Walt Disney chooses Eyvind Earle as creative director for the film. As Gustaf Tenggren and Mary Blair had been in previous films, Earle would be responsible for most of the picture's visuals (and, consequently, it's great success). But this time, Walt wanted to merge the backgrounds and composition with the animated characters, something that had been really difficult with Mary Blair's style and had rarely been successful in previous attempts. So Earle would not only be in charge of designing backgrounds and color and all the environments but would also supervise character design.
The artists were inspired by gothic paintings and tapestries, to help set the mood of a pre-renaissance era.Mixed with some of the 50s illustration style, the sets are beautiful works of art. And although blending this style with what the animators had in mind was really difficult, in the end the result is very impressive.
There is one scene in particular that really stood out for me. The one where Maleficient's minions are dancing around the fire. If you look closely, it kind of looks like one of M.C. Escher's drawings called Encounter. This actually makes a lot of sence, since Escher was inspired by cities like San Gimignano and Florence and gothic architecture in general.
As in previous films, live action sequences were filmed to help the animators do their job. In some cases the same actors who voiced the characters jumped in to act their parts, but in others, as in the case of princess Aurora, other people were hired to do the live action.
This is one of those movies which I'd seen when I was little but only a few times, and it had been a long time since I'd seen it. Watching it again now, I can say that it is my favorite movie visually from the first 16. Although it doesn't have as strong a story as Peter Pan or Alice (for me), this one really stands out for its design.
Anyway, Sleeping Beauty was a great success, and was even the second best grossing movie of the time, but because of the incredible amount of money used for its production, the budget was paid several years later.