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10

Sleeping Beauty

75 in x of animated feature film history
Release: Jan. 29th, 1959
Country: USA
Director: Clyde Geronimi, Les Clark, Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman

“Sleeping Beauty was the 16th film released from Walt Disney, and was the first animated film to be photographed in the Super Technirama 70 widescreen process.

Princess Aurora is cursed by the evil witch Maleficent, who declares that before the sun sets on Aurora’s 16th birthday she will die by pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. To try to prevent this, the king places her into hiding, in the care of three fairies. They raise Aurora as their own, calling her Briar Rose and letting her know nothing of her true identity. On the day of her 16th birthday, she unknowingly meets her betrothed prince, as well as reignites Maleficent’s wrath. 

The name given to the princess by her royal birth parents is ‘Aurora’, as it was in the original Tchaikovsky ballet. In hiding, she is called Briar Rose, the name of the princess in the Brothers Grimm’s version. Prince Phillip has the distinction of being the first Disney prince to have a name.

Following the critical and commercial success of Cinderella, writing for Sleeping Beauty began in early 1951. Partial story elements originated from discarded ideas for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella. By the middle of 1953, director Wilfred Jackson had recorded the dialogue, assembled a story reel, and was to commence for preliminary animation, but Walt Disney decided to throw out the meeting sequence between Briar Rose and Phillip, delaying the film from its initial 1955 release date.

In December 1953, Jackson suffered a heart attack, by which directing animator Eric Larson of Disney’s Nine Old Men took over as director. Disney instructed Larson that the picture was to be a ‘moving illustration, the ultimate in animation’ and added that he didn’t care how long it would take. Because of the delays, the release date was again pushed back many times. Milt Kahl would blame Walt because ‘he wouldn’t have story meetings. He wouldn’t get the damn thing moving.’ Relatively late in production, Disney removed Larson as the supervising director, and was replaced with Clyde Geronimi.

The artistic style originated when John Hench observed the famed unicorn tapestries at the Cloisters located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

For Sleeping Beauty, Eyvind Earle said he ‘felt totally free to put my own style’ into the paintings he based on Hench’s drawings. Furthermore, Earle found inspiration in the Italian Renaissance as well as Persian art and Japanese prints. When Geronimi became the supervising director, Earle and Geronimi entered furious creative divisions. Geronimi commented that he felt Earle’s paintings ‘lacked the mood in a lot of things. All that beautiful detail in the trees, the bark, and all that, that’s all well and good, but who the hell’s going to look at that?’

Because of the artistic depth of Earle’s backgrounds, it was decided for the characters to be stylized so it can appropriately match. While the layout artists and animators were impressed with Earles’s paintings, they eventually grew depressed at working with a style that many of them regarded as too cold, too flat, and too modernist for a fairy tale. Nevertheless, Walt insisted on the visual design. Marc Davis drew from Czechoslovakian religious paintings when designing Maleficent.

In 1952, Mary Costa was approached by Walter Schumann who told her, ‘I don’t want to shock you, but I’ve been looking (for Aurora) for three years, and I want to set up an audition. Would you do it?’ Costa accepted the offer and landed the role. Marc Davis served as directing animator over the title character with the character’s figure and features based on those of Audrey Hepburn as well as her voice actress, Mary Costa. Helene Stanley was the live action reference.

During its original release in January 1959, Sleeping Beauty earned approximately $5.3 million, not reaching its production costs of $6 million. The high production costs, coupled with the underperformance of much of the rest of Disney’s 1959–1960 release slate, resulted in the company posting its first annual loss in a decade for fiscal year 1960, and there were massive lay-offs throughout the animation department.

At first, the film had mixed reviews from critics. Nevertheless, the film has sustained a strong following and is today hailed as one of the best animated films ever made. Like Alice in Wonderland, which was not initially successful either, Sleeping Beauty was never re-released theatrically in Walt Disney’s lifetime. However, it had many re-releases in theaters over the decades.

This was the last Disney adaptation of a fairy tale for some years due to its mixed critical reception and performance at the box office; the studio did not return to the genre until 30 years later, with the release of The Little Mermaid in 1989.”

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Sleeping Beauty is available on YouTube.

10

Peter Pan

51 in x of animated feature film history
Release: Feb. 5th, 1953
Country: USA
Director: Clyde Geromini, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske

“Peter Pan, one of Walt Disney’s favorite stories, is based on the 1904 play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up by J. M. Barrie. Peter Pan is the final Disney animated feature released through RKO before Walt Disney’s founding of his own distribution company, Buena Vista Distribution, later in 1953 after the film was released. Peter Pan is also the final Disney film in which all nine members of Disney’s Nine Old Men worked together as directing animators. 

The film begins in the London nursery of Wendy, John, and Michael Darling, where the three children are visited by Peter Pan. With the help of his tiny friend, the fairy Tinkerbell, Peter takes the three children on a magical flight to Never Land. This enchanted island is home to Peter, Tink, the Lost Boys, Tiger Lily and her Native American nation, and the scheming Captain Hook who is as intent on defeating Peter Pan as he is from escaping a tick-tocking crocodile.

Peter Pan was originally intended to be Disney’s second film after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However he could not get the rights until four years later, after he came to an arrangement with Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, to whom Barrie had bequeathed the rights to the play. The studio started the story development and character designs in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and intended it to be his fourth film, after Snow White, Bambi and Pinocchio.

During this time Disney explored many possibilities of how the story could be interpreted. In the earliest version of the story, the film started by telling Peter Pan’s back story. Walt also explored opening the film in Neverland and Peter Pan coming to Wendy’s house to kidnap her as a mother for the Lost Boys. Eventually, Disney decided that the kidnapping was too dark. In another version of the film, Nana went to Neverland with Pan and the Darling children, and the story was told through her eyes. In other interpretations of the story John Darling was left behind for being too serious, practical and boring.

It was not until 1947, as the studio’s financial health started to improve again after WWII, that the actual production of Peter Pan commenced, even though Roy O. Disney did not think that Peter Pan would have much box office appeal.\

Milt Kahl, the supervising animator of Peter Pan and The Darling Children, claimed that the hardest thing to animate was a character floating in mid air.

Rumor has it that Tinker Bell’s design was based on Marilyn Monroe, but in reality her design was based on Tinker Bell’s live-action reference model, Margaret Kerry. Margaret Kerry posed for reference film shots on a sound stage; the footage was later used by supervising Tinker Bell animator Marc Davis and his team when they drew the character. Like Kerry, Bobby Driscoll was both the live-action reference model, mainly used for the close-up scenes, and the voice actor for Peter Pan. Peter’s flying and action reference shots, however, were provided by dancer and choreographer Roland Dupree. Similarly, Hans Conried, the voice of both Captain Hook and Mr. Darling, also performed the live-action reference footage for those characters (it was one of the few elements left over from the play, that Hook and Mr. Darling were played by the same actor). 

The film was a commercial success and was also the highest-grossing film of 1953. In 1955, it was reported that the film had earned $7 million against its budget of $4 million. Peter Pan was praised by most critics during its initial release. The New York Times gave the film a mixed review, praising the animation itself, but also declaring that the film was not really true to the spirit of the original Barrie play. Walt Disney himself was dissatisfied with the finished product, feeling that the character of Peter Pan was cold and unlikable. However, experts on J.M. Barrie praise this as a success, as they insist that Pan was originally written to be a heartless sociopath.

Peter Pan has been seen as racist in recent years due to the way Disney portrayed the Native American “Indians” in the film. They are displayed as wild, savage, violent and speak in a stereotypical way. These stereotypes are present in J. M. Barrie’s play. Marc Davis, one of the supervising animators of the film, said in an interview years after the production that ‘I’m not sure we would have done the Indians if we were making this movie now. And if we had we wouldn’t do them the way we did back then.’”

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10

Saludos Amigos

19 of x in animated feature film history
Release: Aug. 24th, 1942
Country: USA
Director: Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, William Roberts

“Set in Latin America, Saludos Amigos is made up of four different segments. 

Pedro involves the title character, a small airplane from an airport near Santiago, Chile, engaging in his very first flight. In another segment, American tourist Donald Duck visits Lake Titicaca and meets an obstinate llama. Gaucho Goofy shows American cowboy Goofy getting taken mysteriously to the Argentine pampas to learn the ways of the native gauchoAquarela do Brasil (or "Watercolor of Brazil”), the finale, involves brand-new character José Carioca from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, showing Donald Duck around South America.

In early 1941, before U.S. entry into World War II, the United States Department of State commissioned a Disney goodwill tour of South America, intended to lead to a movie to be shown in the US, Central, and South America as part of the Good Neighbor Policy. Disney was chosen for this because several Latin American governments had close ties with Nazi Germany, and the US government wanted to counteract those ties. Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters were popular in Latin America, and Walt Disney acted as ambassador. 

The tour, facilitated by Nelson Rockefeller, took Disney and a group of roughly twenty composers, artists, technicians, etc. to South America, mainly to Brazil and Argentina, but also to Chile and Peru. The film itself was given federal loan guarantees, because the Disney studio had over-expanded and was struggling with labor unrest at the time.

The film included live-action sequences featuring modern Latin American cities with skyscrapers and fashionably dressed residents. This surprised many US viewers, and contributed to a changing impression of Latin America. Film historian Alfred Charles Richard Jr. has commented that Saludo Amigos ‘did more to cement a community of interest between peoples of the Americas in a few months than the State Department had in fifty years.’

It garnered positive reviews and was only reissued once, in 1949, when it was shown on a double bill with the first reissue of Dumbo.

The film also inspired Chilean cartoonist René Ríos Boettiger to create Condorito, one of Latin America’s most ubiquitous cartoon characters. Ríos perceived that the character Pedro, a small, incapable airplane, was a slight to Chileans and created a comic that could supposedly rival Disney’s comic characters.“


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