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Tuesday, 3 June 2014

DVD Of The Week: Sleeping Beauty (1959)


With Maleficent playing at the cinema, I've been reminded of a giant gap in my cinematic geek cred - both as a fan of fantasy films and Disney: I've never actually seen Sleeping Beauty. Until now.

Set in a nameless kingdom in 14th Century Europe, the action kicks off at the celebrations for the birth of King Stefan's daughter, Aurora (voiced by Mary Costa).

In the middle of the baby being granted magical gifts by the three Good Fairies - Flora, Fauna and Merryweather - the proceedings are interrupted by the arrival of an uninvited gatecrasher, the powerful evil witch, Maleficent (voiced deliciously by Eleanor Audley).

Maleficent has her own gift for the young child - a curse that before sunset on her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel spindle and die.

The Good Fairies manage to mitigate this slightly by changing the curse to one of "sleep until kissed by her true love" and then spirit young Aurora away, to raise her - without magic - in secret in the woods, to hide her from Maleficent's schemes until her 16th birthday.

Years pass and it's now the morning of Aurora's 16th birthday - and judging by the evidence of the Good Fairies' attempts to organise a birthday surprise for their guest it's a miracle she's made it this far!

Sent out while her "aunts" prepare the surprise for her, Aurora bumps into Prince Philip (voiced by Bill Shirley) and immediately falls in love with him (being the first man she's ever seen!) - little realising she has actually been betrothed to him since birth anyway, as part of an alliance between her father and a neighbouring kingdom.

Naturally they fail to exchange names, so when the Fairies break it to Aurora that she's  already promised to another, she's rather heartbroken.

Nevertheless, Aurora is returned to her father's castle in secret, unaware that Maleficent has finally tracked her down. The evil witch lures the princess out of her bedroom to a tall tower where she spys a magical spinning wheel, pricks her finger and falls asleep.

Having never really considered the structure of the plot before I was rather surprised that Princess Aurora doesn't fall into her magical slumber until 50 minutes into the hour-and-a-quarter movie. Then the Good Fairies decide to put all the inhabitants of the castle (there for Aurora's 16th birthday celebrations) into a similar slumber until the princess is awoken. I'm not entirely sure that that really qualifies as "only using their powers for good"!

Just to prove how evil she is, Maleficent kidnaps Prince Philip as well, to hold him hostage in her dungeons so he can't awaken Aurora with a kiss.

Luckily the Good Fairies bust him out of gaol, equip him with a magical sword and shield and send him off to lift the curse and slay Maleficent.

It's easy to see why Disney has now decided to make a live-action movie focussing on the character of Maleficent as the scenes in Sleeping Beauty with her are certainly the strongest and most entertaining. She is a wonderfully evil character - presumably driven by jealousy, although this is never really explained - and, despite the Good Fairies saying "there must be some good in her", she isn't seeking redemption, she simply revels in being a Mistress Of Evil.

The highlight of the film is, of course, the well-known final sequence when Prince Philip rides from Maleficent's lair in the Forbidden Mountains to King Stefan's castle, only to find it surrounded by magical thorn bushes, and then once through those he confronts Maleficent herself, who has transformed into a mighty dragon.

The pacing does drag occasionally, for instance there's a scene with King Stefan (voiced by Taylor Holmes) and Prince Philip's father, King Hubert (voiced by Bill Thompson) discussing the impending return of Aurora that goes on just a tad too long, yet, without a doubt, Sleeping Beauty is the definitive fairy story - it has it all: a headstrong princess, a noble prince, an evil witch, romance and magic.

[HOW] GAME MATERIAL:

Sword Of Truth - a "sword of truth" is a powerful magical sword created by the Forces of Good for use during specific quests. Each "sword of truth" has an objective (e.g. rescue the princess, usurp a tyrant, slay a particular dragon etc) and grants its magical bonus (+3DX to hit and +1d6 damage) only in direct pursuit of said goal. Once the quest has been successfully completed, the "sword of truth" loses its magical powers... and becomes simply a sword becomes a 'simple' +1 sword (both to hit and damage).

STRQ: 9; Damage: 3d6+2; To hit: +3DX; ENC: 0.5

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