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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Original Production Animation Drawing of Maleficent as Dragon from "Sleeping Beauty," 1959


 Original production animation drawing of Maleficent as Dragon in graphite pencil from "Sleeping Beauty," 1959, Walt Disney Studios; Numbered D-17 lower right; Size - Maleficent/Dragon: 11 1/2 x 8", Sheet 12 1/2 x 15 1/2"; Unframed.


“Now you shall deal with me, o prince, and all the powers of HELL!”
―Maleficent before transforming into the Dragon

"Sleeping Beauty," 1959 is an animated musical film produced by Walt Disney based on two stories: "The Sleeping Beauty" by Charles Perrault and "Little Briar Rose" by The Brothers Grimm. The film was released to theaters on January 29, 1959, by Buena Vista Distribution. This was the last Disney adaptation of a fairy tale for 30 years because of its initial mixed critical reception and because of under performance at the box office. The next Disney adaption of a fairy tale would not occur until 1989 with "The Little Mermaid."

"Sleeping Beauty" was directed by Les Clark, Eric Larson, and Wolfgang Reitherman; under the supervision of Clyde Geronimi. Additional story work was by Joe Rinaldi, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright, and Milt Banta. The film's musical score and songs, featuring the work of the Graunke Symphony Orchestra under the direction of George Bruns, are arrangements or adaptations of numbers from the 1890 "Sleeping Beauty Ballet" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. "Sleeping Beauty" was the first animated film to be photographed in the Super Technirama 70 widescreen process, as well as the second full-length animated feature film to be filmed in anamorphic widescreen (following "Lady and the Tramp" four years earlier). The film was presented in Super Technirama 70 and 6-channel stereophonic sound in first-run engagements.

Initially Marc Davis, the animator for Maleficent, had wanted to use a black and red color scheme for the character however; Eyvind Earle, the background artist for the film, protested. Walt Disney had taken some criticism over his recent films for their lack of artistic achievement and so he had decided to put in charge an already accomplished Disney animation artist. Eyvind Earle had already been working at the Disney Animation Studios and was receiving acclaim for his artistic vision and technical skill and so he was chosen by Disney to supervise the styling, color, and backgrounds for "Sleeping Beauty." The film took six years to complete due to Earle's extreme attention to detail. Normal backgrounds for prior Disney films would take a day, however the Earle backgrounds could take up to ten days. In addition, Earle reworked not only the colors for Maleficent but the character design for Briar Rose so that she would work better with his pre-Renaissance Gothic vision for "Sleeping Beauty." "Sleeping Beauty," 1959 was the last of the Disney films that all the cels were both hand inked and hand painted, and many believe it to be one of the most beautiful and one of the greatest Disney films ever!


Close up of the Maleficent as Dragon original production drawing.

If you ask people to name their favorite Disney Villain, chances are you will one of three answers; The Evil Queen/Witch from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," Cruella DeVil from "101 Dalmatians," or Maleficent from "Sleeping Beauty." Two of the three, Cruella and Maleficent, were created/drawn by the great animator Marc Davis. Davis was part of what has been dubbed Disney's Nine Old Men; the core group of animators, some becoming directors, that created the finest animated films ranging from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", 1937 to "The Rescuers", 1977.

The voice of Maleficent was performed by Eleanor Audley. She had worked for Disney prior by also being the voice for the cold and calculating Lady Tremaine (The Stepmother) in "Cinderella." If is known that Frank Thomas for Lady Tremaine and Marc Davis for Maleficent, incorporated facials features of Eleanor into both characters.

Wolfgang Reitherman (known as Woolie) began working for Walt Disney in 1934, and is credited in films from Pinocchio, 1940 (Monstro the Whale) to The Fox and the Hound, 1981 (co-producer).  His masterful animation work includes the climatic dinosaur fight in Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring in Fantasia, the Headless Horseman chase in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow section in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, the Crocodile in Peter Pan, and of course Maleficent as a dragon in Sleeping Beauty. An interesting side note is that all three of Reitherman's sons; Bruce, Richard, and Robert  provided voices for Disney characters, Mowgli in The Jungle Book, Christopher Robin in the Winnie the Pooh films, and Wart in The Sword in the Stone.


Close up of the production number.

The climatic ending of Sleeping Beauty is the transformation of The Mistress of all Evil - Maleficent into a massive black and purple Dragon capable of breathing green fire. Children were absolutely terrified of the Dragon, with her large teeth, powerful claws, and expansive wing span. The success of the Dragon is owed to Reitherman's remarkable drawing and animation skills. In this very large and powerful drawing, Maleficent's Dragon form head and neck are beautifully rendered in graphite pencil. She is both eyes and mouth open, and her forked tongue can be seen poking out between her very sharp teeth. This is an absolutely beautiful piece of animation art, from one of the best sequences in the finale of the film!