Those of you who know your Disney classic films know that the Three Good Fairies are from Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Flora, Fauna and Merryweather pretty much take the lead in this animated feature motion picture. The two romantic leads don’t really have that much to do, so the story line is pretty much driven by the Three Good Fairies who truly direct the narrative. The three lovely ladies have pretty distinctive personalities and we get to know them over the course of the film. Flora, voiced by Verna Felton is the elder who usually takes the lead, while Fauna (Barbara Jo Allen) is often clueless and a bit ditzy. Feisty, little Merryweather (Barbara Luddy) is not only fearlessly opinionated, she is also a scene stealer. As you can imagine, the three fairies are the characters we watch in the Walt Disney retelling of the classic European fairy tale.
Sleeping Beauty was a completely hand drawn animated motion picture and it was released near the final decade of the Old Maestro’s brilliant career. It was Disney’s intention to push his animation team to create the finest animated film to come out of the studio in years, and the artistic standards were high. There were three unofficial levels at Walt Disney’s animation studio back then. They consisted of the television units, the shorts units and the feature. Naturally, Walt’s top talent gravitated toward the feature where you were considered members of the “A” team.”All young artists began their Disney careers in television, but only a handful would eventually qualify for a spot on, “the feature.” Once you did, your animation boot camp began.
Let’s consider something you probably don’t hear that much today. Back in the fifties one question was continually asked when a young man or woman was being considered for a position in a feature animation unit. “How well do they draw?” This was question number one requested by the old guard. Not one animator ever asked about the animation skills of the applicant. It was always, how well do they draw? You probably get the idea where this is going, right? Should you be considered for a place on Walt Disney’s animated feature film, your drawing skills were paramount. And this, boys and girls is why the three fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are the subject of today’s post. You see, not only did I have to garner the approval of my assistant animator, Chuck Williams, I also needed approval from our unit lead, Freddy Hellmich. Next, approvals were required from the animators, Hank Tanous or Don Lusk. However, we’re not done yet. Every pencil sketch of the animated scene had to pass the scrutiny of directing animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. If we paid particularly close attention to the quality of our drawings, you can see why. I haven’t worked on the three good fairies in over fifty years, but I remember every single thing about them. I think now you know why.
Working on Walt Disney’s feature animated film, Sleeping Beauty was a considerable challenge but it was also an honor. I shared this magnificent motion picture with some of the most talented and amazing artists in the animation business. All were animation “A” players that included color stylist, Eyvind Earle, and layout artists such as Victor Haboush, Homer Jonas and Ray Aragon. Walt’s venerable “nine old men” led the animation team that included a group of unknown but brilliant artists who created the thousands of drawings that brought the film to life. This color sketch of the three good fairies is simply a reminder of a Disney studio that once was …and can never be again.