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Sleeping Beauty

The Story and Score of Sleeping Beauty Through the Ages

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Visual Style and Mise-en-Scène (the physical environment of the film)

Previous versions of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale date back to the fourteenth century, in which the film is set. A fourteenth-century romance called Perceforest (printed in France in 1528) contains an embryonic version of the story we know today. An Italian soldier, Giambattista Basile, adapted the tale for his “Sun, Moon, and Talia” story printed in 1634. Details of these versions are shocking, even repulsive. For instance, in some of these early versions, the King, or sometimes even the Prince, impregnates the Sleeping Beauty character as she’s sleeping, and then leaves her. She awakens not at the kiss of the Prince, but at the birth of her twin children.

The credits of the film maintain that Charles Perrault’s version, “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood,” was the model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. The story appears in Perrault’s famous 1697 Histories, or Stories of Past Times. Extreme violence permeates his version, which continues the story after the Prince and the Princess are united. As Perrault tells it, the blissful couple do indeed marry and bear two children. But the Prince never tells his family about the marriage, and Sleeping Beauty never questions his decision. Soon the Prince must leave for war. He finally tells his mother about the marriage and leaves his wife under her care. But the Prince’s mother hates children and practices cannibalism, and she viciously persecutes Sleeping Beauty. Moments before the mother throws her two grandchildren into a pit of venomous vipers, the Prince fortuitously returns from war and pushes his own mother into the deadly pit.

No version of the story previous to Perrault’s has Sleeping Beauty awaken with the kiss of the Prince. The version penned by the Brothers Grimm called “Briar Rose,” from their Children’s and Household Tales (18121815), not only includes this element but ends the story when the Prince and the Princess reunite. Their tale involves no rape or cannibalism, and, therefore, despite what the credits say, the film bears the closest resemblance to this version.

Disney’s version was not the first film adaptation of the Sleeping Beauty tales, nor was it the first animated version. German pioneer animator Lotte Reiniger, who was best known for shadow puppet animation, produced at least two artistically advanced animated adaptations of the Sleeping Beauty tale. One version appeared as early as 1922. Friz Freleng, who directed Bugs Bunny cartoons, made a 1942 adaptation called “Foney Fables” that incorporated elements of many old fairy tales. In the “Sleeping Beauty” segment of this cartoon, Prince Charming yells at Sleeping Beauty for sleeping in. Izzy Sparber, who directed Popeye cartoons, then entered the mix with 1947’s “Wotta Knight.” Bluto and Popeye fight over Olive Oyl, playing tug-of-war with her pigtails in a battle for her love.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky created the score of The Sleeping Beauty for the Imperial Ballet at St. Petersburg’s Maryinsky Theater. First performed January 3, 1890, the now-classic ballet was originally created by Ivan Vsevolozhsky and choreographed by Marius Petipa. In a legendary demonstration of passion, Tchaikovsky composed the entire score in only forty days. Walt Disney actually wanted an original score for his motion picture and spent a great deal of time attempting to develop one. In the end, however, he decided that the classical grandeur of the ballet’s score, full of waltzes, did not need to be mimicked, but rather used outright. George Bruns adapted it.

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