With anticipation building for Angelina Jolie's "Maleficent," due May 30, it's worth noting that the source of her live-action remake, Disney's animated "Sleeping Beauty," marks its 55th anniversary this week. Released on January 29, 1959, the movie was only a modest hit at the time, but over the years, it earned acclaim for its gorgeous wide-screen visuals, its memorable music, and its unforgettable villainess.
Disney / Everett Collection
It's a movie you probably watched many times as a child, and yet there are still some things you probably don't know about "Sleeping Beauty," including its connections to Bugs Bunny, "The Andy Griffith Show," and the British royal family.
Here's a list of 25 such items you can stack on your spindle -- but be careful to shield your fingertip.
1. "Sleeping Beauty" is adapted from both the Charles Perrault and Brothers Grimm versions of the classic fairy tale. In Perrault, the princess's name is Aurora; in Grimm, it's Briar Rose. In the movie, she's born Aurora but takes on Briar Rose as an alias during the years she spends hiding out from Maleficent.
2. Aurora's true love, Prince Philip, took his name from the British prince of the same name, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, then still new to the throne.
3. Much of the musical score is adapted from Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" ballet. But George Bruns, who arranged the music, took much of the credit for the score.
4. In 1953, Legendary Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones worked on "Sleeping Beauty" for four months, at a time when the Warners animation shop was shut down. He did not receive a credit on the film.
5. "Sleeping Beauty" was the first animated feature to be filmed in the wide-screen 70MM Technirama format.
6. It was also the last Disney cartoon feature to use hand-inked cels (the foreground transparencies on which the characters are painted).
7. Walt Disney wanted to make sure the film wasn't just a retread of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," but there are a lot of plot similarities: an evil witch jealous of a young and beautiful princess, the princess hiding out in a woodland cottage with a group of comic-relief caretakers (three fairies instead of seven dwarfs), and the witch putting the princess into a deathlike sleep, from which only true love's kiss can awaken her.
8. Production designer Eyvind Earle, the person most responsible for the film's look, took great pains to make the movie look different from "Snow White" and other previous Disney cartoons. To that end, he created a medieval landscape of tall, meticulously detailed castles, square trees, and other stylized backgrounds with distorted perspectives. The animators (and some critics) found the look cold and incompatible with the characters, but other critics praised the design's elaborate and intricate detail and ominous atmosphere.
9. Mary Costa effectively began her operatic career with the role of Aurora / Briar Rose. She landed the part at 22, after a 1952 audition; it would be years before the animators completed the footage to match her recorded vocals.
10. Bill Shirley was near the end of his film career when he played Prince Philip. It was his last credited movie role, though he went on to do uncredited singing vocals in 1964's "My Fair Lady."
11. Eleanor Audley, who had played the evil stepmother in Disney's "Cinderella," was offered the role of wicked witch Maleficent. Disney lore has it that she initially turned down the role because she was battling tuberculosis at the time and couldn't summon the vocal chops required for the role. Of course, she did take the role eventually and made Maleficent one of Disney's most memorable malefactors.
12. Verna Felton, whose Disney voice roles had included Dumbo's mother, the Fairy Godmother in "Cinderella," the Queen of Hearts in "Alice in Wonderland," and Aunt Sarah in "Lady in the Tramp," voiced both the fairy Flora and Queen Leah, Aurora's mother.
13. Barbara Luddy, who had starred as Lady in "Lady and the Tramp," voiced the fairy Merryweather. Another Barbara, Barbara Jo Allen, voiced the role of fairy Fauna.
14. The cookies that the good fairies bake are shaped like Mickey Mouse's head.
15. Aurora speaks less than any lead character in a Disney cartoon feature except the silent Dumbo. She has only about 18 lines of dialogue and doesn't speak even after she's awakened from her magical slumber.
16. The animators used live-action models to draw the characters and their movements. An actress named Helene Stanley danced as the princess. Modeling Prince Philip was Ed Kemmer, who had played Commander Buzz Corey on TV's "Space Patrol." Audley modeled Maleficent herself, and production photos show how closely the character's facial expressions match Audley's own features. One of the actresses who modeled the good fairies was Frances Bavier, the future Aunt Bee on "The Andy Griffith Show."
17. The movie took seven years to make, the longest production schedule for any Disney animated feature until 1985's "The Black Cauldron," which was also shot in 70MM Technirama.
18. One possible reason it took so long to finish the movie: Walt Disney preferred to sign off on every creative decision, but for the first time in his company's history, he also had the construction of his first theme park and his three weekly TV shows to oversee. Plus, "Sleeping Beauty" animators were often called upon to do design work for the park and the TV episodes. "The top priorities were Disneyland and the television shows," Earle recalled, years later. "Then, whenever you could, back to 'Sleeping Beauty.'"
19. "Sleeping Beauty" cost $6 million to produce, making it the most expensive cartoon Disney had yet made.
20. The movie's initial release was a hit, but it wasn't a big enough hit to earn back its cost. In fact, losses from "Sleeping Beauty" caused the Disney company to post a loss for the first time since the 1940s.
21. Re-releases, however, have made it the second most lucrative 1959 film, after "Ben-Hur." Over the years, it earned $51 million in North American theaters. Adjusted for inflation, that's about $607 million, making it the 31st biggest domestic box office hit ever.
22. The film earned only one Oscar nomination, for Bruns's Tchaikovsky-based instrumental score.
23. Audley went on to enjoy prominent recurring guest roles as a TV actress, playing Oliver's mother on "Green Acres" and Jethro's school headmistress on "The Beverly Hillbillies."
24. "Sleeping Beauty" was Disney's last cartoon based on a fairy tale for 30 years, until 1989's "The Little Mermaid."
25. 2013's "Frozen" is the first Disney fairy tale movie since "Sleeping Beauty" to use the ultra wide-screen format.