Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty quietly turns 55 this year. I’m betting there’s more fanfare when Maleficent comes out later this year, but until then, we’ll do our best to pick up the slack with a few facts you probably didn’t know about this ‘50s fairy tale.
1. Versions of Sleeping Beauty have been published by both Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. Perrault called his heroine Aurora, while the Grimms' "Little Briar Rose" referred to their princess as, well, Briar Rose. Disney split the difference and used both names.
2. Prince Phillip is said to have been named after another royal that Americans would have been familiar with during that time period: Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. They had only been married for 12 years at the time Sleeping Beauty was released, and she had been Queen for just seven.
3. Instead of three quirky fairies, the original version included seven, as in Perrault's story. (Other versions include up to 13, making the evil fairy the unlucky addition.) The gifts the seven fairies bestowed in Perrault's tale were beauty, wit, grace, dance, song, and music. In Disney's Sleeping Beauty, this was truncated to beauty and song. Hm.
4. Mary Costa, the voice of Sleeping Beauty, is a professional opera singer and has performed in more than 40 operatic roles on stage. She sang at a memorial service for John F. Kennedy at the request of Jackie Kennedy after Jackie heard her sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Academy Awards. She was also one of the original Chrysler Girls. Here she is with Bing Crosby in 1971.
5. Costa is originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, and her southern accent almost prevented her from getting the job. Animator Marc Davis said that after some deliberation, the team decided that if an Englishwoman like Vivien Leigh could pull off a southern accent for Gone with the Wind, a southern girl could sustain an English accent for Sleeping Beauty.
6. Though Mary Costa provided the voice for Aurora, Helene Stanley was the live action reference. She also served as the reference for Cinderella and Anita from 101 Dalmatians. Here she is providing movements and expressions for the animators on the Disneyland TV show.
7. So now you know that Helene Stanley provided the live-action model and Mary Costa provided the voice—but there was at least one other inspiration for Princess Aurora’s features and body type: Audrey Hepburn.
8. When the fairies discuss how to help the king and queen early on in the film, Merryweather makes cookies in the shape of a classic Mickey Mouse head.
9. Although it’s a classic now, Sleeping Beauty was not a darling at the time. Critics thought the movie moved slowly and lacked character development.
10. In fact, Sleeping Beauty was such a box office bomb (at least, compared to the cost of production) that the company decided that princess movies weren’t exactly the wave of the future. They didn’t make another princess movie until 30 years later, when The Little Mermaid was released in 1989.
11. Another reason it took six years to bring Princess Aurora and friends to life was that Walt was kinda sidetracked with another project at the time: Disneyland. The castle there was originally supposed to be named after the original Disney princess, Snow White, but in order to promote the film, Imagineers changed it to Sleeping Beauty Castle.
12. The fairytale book that opens the movie was real and was entirely handpainted by Eyvind Earle, the man responsible for the entire look and feel of the movie. It was restored in 2008 and is now part of the Disney Archives, where it is sometimes put on display at events.
Photo by Stacy Conradt
13. Walt worried about the constant comparisons to Snow White and Cinderella, so he worked with Earle to come up with the stylized, angular Sleeping Beauty look, which was very painstaking and time consuming. “That’s why it took us six years and $6 million to make Sleeping Beauty. But to us, it was worth it,” Walt once said. Earle also worked on Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp, among others.