The voice was so creepy and cold it sent shivers down my spine. Yet, I immediately recognized the voice of the brilliant actress, Elinor Audley. After all, she had given life to another famous Walt Disney character. I’m speaking of the wicked stepmother, Lady Tremain from the animated feature film, “Cinderella.”
It was Monday morning at the Walt Disney Studio in early 1957. This would be our first look at the new animated motion picture, “Sleeping Beauty.” The movie was mainly in story reel with a fair amount of rough pencil animation. No scenes, with the exception of a couple from sequence eight were even in color. After the opening song which was still in storyboard form we moved into the interior of the castle. The celebration is going well until a cold blast of wind and the boom of thunder interrupts the proceedings. Crackling lightning reveals the evil fairy, Maleficent as she suddenly appears along with her pet raven. I’m sure you know the scene well. Maybe you can still hear Maleficent’s cold, sinister voice as she realizes she’s not wanted. What was it that made the dark fairy so unwelcome, you might ask? This was a story thread still left unexplained.
As animators we had no time to deal with this fascinating plot point. Walt Disney had given the order to get the film completed and completed quickly. Walt’s brother Roy was growing impatience with the motion picture that had been in development for years and was gnawing away at the company’s finances. Disneyland Park had opened in Anaheim and Walt was moving into television. There was simply no time to waste.
As animation geared up for production, you might have thought I was assigned to the Maleficent unit - but such was not the case. Instead, I found myself working on fairies all right. However, they were the three good fairies, Flora, Fauna and Meriweather. Our colleagues upstairs would be handling the clean-up chores on Maleficent, and they included, Dale Barnhart, Bob Longo, Fernando Arce and Ruben Apodaca. Of course, the Directing Animator was none other than the gifted, Marc Davis, one of Disney’s Nine Old Men.
Although she doesn’t have that much screen time, the evil fairy Maleficent certainly has her impact on the Walt Disney masterpiece. The Disney villain pretty much steals every scene she is in and there’s little doubt Maleficent will go down in Disney history as one of Walt’s most compelling evil doers. While the Disney princesses and heroes have a special place in our hearts, the evil villain Maleficent will be a character I doubt we’ll ever forget. Now, let’s listen to that creepy laugh one more time, shall we?