A Conversation with Mary Costa of “Sleeping Beauty”
BY KEVIN CARR
This week, the Walt Disney Company is releasing the 2-disc Platinum Edition of Sleeping Beauty to commemorate the movie’s upcoming 50th anniversary. It’s also available for the first time on BluRay in a 3-disc set (which includes hi-def versions of the first two discs, along with a bonus standard DVD of the film).
Mary Costa, who provided the voice for Princess Aurora, as well as a life-action reference for the animator, saw the film this September in high definition at the El Capitan theater.
“I was absolutely enveloped in what I thought was a perfect film,” she said. “I’ve seen it through the years, and I thought Walt Disney must be smiling because he was a perfectionist, and for the first time, it was perfection.”
The experience brought back a flood of memories Costa had about Walt Disney himself and the care with which he handled this project. “He was a perfectionist but had a childlike attitude of enthusiasm,” she said, remembering how he would joke with her about not getting a cold before she recorded her lines.
While many animated projects today rely on temp tracks to be voiced over later by name actors, or require the voice actors to read all their lines in a few sessions at the beginning of a project, Walt Disney worked with his actors over the course of years.
“We started in 1952, and my voice work was done in 1955,” Costa said. She explained that legendary Disney animator Marc Davis. She explained that Davis reminded actors that they weren’t voice-overs. “The voice artists were the ocean of sound upon which he animated,” he would say, emphasizing the need for the voice work to be perfected at the beginning.
Costa, who was discovered by Disney’s musical director Walter Schumann when she sang a song at a dinner party, auditioned for the role with her natural southern accent. During the audition, Davis asked her to do an English accent and coached her into the voice that everyone recognizes in the film today.
Costa explained that he told her that if Vivian Leigh could play a southern belle in “Gone with the Wind,” why couldn’t a southern belle play an English princess?
Even though Disney was present at the audition, he didn’t want to meet her face-to-face because he wanted her voice to define her. When he awarded her the part, Disney called her home and talked to her mother, saying, “Mrs. Costa, I think you have been hiding the Princess Aurora in Glendale, very near our studio in Burbank.”
Years later, after finishing her voice over work, Costa asked Disney why he picked her. “He felt that the placement of my singing voice was so natural that I could use it as an extension of speech,” she explained. “It was classical, but natural. And he felt I used my speaking voice in a melodic way that were perfect for the character. That’s exactly the quality he wanted.”
Even today when she meets young children and puts on her Sleeping Beauty voice, she gets recognized with wide-eyed excitement. “I just feel very honored and blessed to have been chosen,” Costa said about her role as a Disney legend. “It changed my life totally.”