Sleeping Beauty was released on January 29, 1959 and was made due to the overwhelming success of Cinderella. Therefor the Disney Studios got right to work revisiting the fairy tale formula and developing a new version of the classic story. It was decided early on that this film would have to surpass its predecessing fairy tale films.
Background artist Evynd Earle was hired to develop a new look which combined both medieval and modern art forms. His designs were unique in that they were dominated by definate vertical/ horizontal lines and geometric shapes. This would have a lasting effect on the future design for Disney's third princess as she would have to be designed to not clash with the angular style.
When coming up with a name for the princess, Disney had two options. In early translations of the Brothers Grimm story Little Briar Rose, the princess's name was Briar Rose and her mother was named Aurora (sunlight bringing forth flowers and all that poetic symbolism stuff). Then in Tchiakovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty the princess was named Aurora. As it fit into their new plotline, Disney used both names making Briar Rose a pseudonym for the Princess Aurora in hiding.
One of Disney's greatest muses was the young Audrey Hepburn starring in her 1953 debut film Roman Holiday. In an Oscar-winning performance, Hepburn plays a Princess Ann from a nondescript country visiting Rome. After a slight emotional breakdown, the princess sneaks out of the royal embassy and enjoys living as a regular person for a day going by the name Anya. (which would later be the name used for Don Bluth’s misplaced princess Anastasia) She meets a guy, they fall for each other, her bodyguards come after her so she ultimately has to make a choice on whether or not to return. ~Great movie. Watch it!
Audrey Hepburn's character in this film has had the greatest impact on Disney films than any other woman as she influenced every single Disney Princess since in some way.
Early concept designs for the princess were left to Disney artist Tom Oreb known for his stylized 1950s animation. He derived much of his inspiration from Audrey Hepburn herself. Aurora’s peasant outfit was a direct result of using Roman Holiday scenes with Princess Ann [Hepburn] for reference material. The same black & white color scheme was even used from the film and a black bustier was added to make it appear more period.
With the name Aurora, meaning ‘dawn’, it was decided upon that she would be a blonde rather than brunette. Walt Disney himself felt this also helped in setting her apart from Snow White and Cinderella. (according to Disney Color Archives, Cinderella's hair was ‘burnt orange’) But a classical piece of inspiration was a painting from the turn of the last century by John Collier of The Sleeping Beauty. The two handmaidens dressed in red and blue may have aided in the color-coding of Flora and Merryweather.
The job of animating Aurora was handed over to Disney veteran Marc Davis who was also responsible for such characters as Cinderella, Tinker Bell, Maleficent, Alice, & Cruella De Vil to name a few. In addition he brought in Helene Stanley would once again be used as the live action model since her work modeling for Cinderella had been so successful. She would return a final time to model as Anita in 101 Dalmatians, a film that would ultimately reuse the angular style of Sleeping Beauty for its characters but atop a messy, modern background.
It is rumored that during the design of this dress, deciding upon a color was a matter of some debate. One artist wanted pink while another stubbornly insisted on blue. The humor in this situation was spotted at a meeting and this very feud was incorporated into the story as the rival between the fairies Flora and Merryweather adding a magical element to the dress. A great comprimise.
In the end, Sleeping Beauty has come to be one of my favorite Disney films. The artists' gamble in making an all-new style was nothing less than a triumph, becoming one of most successful films of the entire decade. It also set the par for future animated films and sparked the desire to give every new film a new artistic style. If any of Disney's work is worthy of such a title as 'Masterpiece', it is indeed Sleeping Beauty.