I’m loving my Blu-ray player and, inspired by the fact that a number of film critics I like have named Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ as one of the best releases of the past year, have been watching this fifty year old cartoon in ten minute bursts since the Netflix copy arrived on Monday. It’s twee and sentimental, but also happens to be visually astonishing. The backgrounds in particular are feats of the imagination that amaze; the wicked queen’s (if indeed she is a queen - I haven’t really been following the story) lair has the detail of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ while also reminding me of the production style Tim Burton used more recently in ‘Sweeney Todd’; and the character images are elegant and evocative - a comedy fat king, an embosoming fairy or three, a jutting-chinned handsome prince. Beyond that, the way the Blu-ray makes the film look is almost too good; I like a bit of grain in my old film transfers rather than feeling like I’m watching a robot painting in ‘THX 1138′, but I suppose that’s churlish when faced with the upgraded image available on the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ blu-ray.
Having said that, I’m not writing here to encourage you to watch a Disney fairytale cartoon with Freudian resonance, engaging as that may be. It’s the short film special feature included on the disc that blew me away. ‘Grand Canyon’, a 25 minute live action film putting incredible photography - much of it aerial - of the canyon to the music of Ferde Grofé. I remember seeing such nature documentaries when I was a kid, as the ‘B’ film before movies like ‘The Dark Crystal’; I remember being bored, the anticipation of the main event making patience impossible. I’m guessing that ‘Grand Canyon’ might have been one of the film I couldn’t wait to end; and like many things I wasted as a child, having watched it again the other night, I wish I hadn’t.
Disney’s ‘Grand Canyon’, directed by James Algar is, quite simply, my film of the week; maybe the month; maybe the year. The images evoke the stargate sequence of ‘2001′, making it one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen; the fact that the images are timeless - the Grand Canyon was here before any of us, and will still be here after we’ve gone (if indeed we ever do leave here - but we’ll get to the theology of the afterlife in a future episode ;-)) makes it one of the most disturbing. The lack of tricks available to film-makers in 1958 compared with today makes it a far more naturalistic short than might be made with a computer or IMAX; all to the good, as far as I’m concerned. It’s like a live action ‘Fantasia’; and I’d guess that your feelings about ‘Fantasia’ will largely shape your response about ‘Grand Canyon’.