What was it really like to work with Walt Disney?

Mary Costa, the original voice of Sleeping Beauty, reveals the words of wisdom Walt passed on to her

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What was it really like to work with Walt Disney?
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Songstress Mary Costa leant her voice to Princess Aurora in Disney’s original Sleeping Beauty cartoon in 1959. It took her three years in total to complete the voice work, on what remains one of Disney’s most popular fairy tales.

This year’s live-action re-imagining of the story, Maleficent, stars Angelina Jolie in the title role. The film turns the tables on the traditional tale to tell the story from the dark fairy's perspective. Elle Fanning and Jolie’s own five-year-old daughter Vivenne take on the role of the princess.

But what was it like when the original story first came under Walt Disney’s wing?

“He was always listening,” Costa reveals. “After every session, he would call on the phone, either in the booth in the sound studio or he would call me at my home later in the day. I met him a number of times and we would talk.

“He would love to hear [the songs] and not be influenced by your personality in person. He wanted to hear it first. Then he could talk to you.”

Disney, Costa admits, set her up with a work ethic for life.

“He was a perfectionist, he was wonderfully amusing and funny and creative. He could almost finish your sentences.

“He always said you could achieve your dreams if you added the other three ds – dedication, determination, discipline. The discipline really wraps it up.”

Disney wasn’t one for scripts either. Costa had to learn all of her lines before she went into the recording booth.

“I want you to know your character so well that you use all of the colours in your mind,” Costa says Disney told her. “You know what a kaleidoscope is?” he asked, “Think about that being in your brain and how it changes.

“I want you to know how she feels about her godmothers, how she feels about the prince, the animals, the aroma, the fragrance in the forest, the colours of the leaves. When you get to that microphone, I don’t want you to have any papers in front of you. I want you to know your lines and I want you to use those colours. I want you to drop them to your vocal cords and paint with your voice.”

Paint with her voice indeed she did, as all of the artwork for Princess Aurora was created after Costa’s vocal work. When asked by a fan how it feels to have provided the voice for a Disney princess, Costa remembers how animator Marc Davis would respond: “Madam, the voices were the ocean of sound upon which we animated.”

Turning the spotlight on Maleficent doesn’t seem to have ruffled the feathers of this original princess.

“Having worked with Eleanor Audley, who did the voice for Maleficent [in Sleeping Beauty], we all used to get in the sound booth and listen to her record. She was a sleight person, not large at all, but when she would get behind that microphone, the voice would BE LIKE THIS. We would absolutely be just amazed.

“And I was thinking how happy she would be that there is the story of Maleficent.”

Costa’s pretty chuffed to see Jolie step into the role too saying she’s her “favourite movie star”.

“I’ve always admired her. I think she has a mystique and a beautiful acting ability. She is to me, unique. She’s like the stars used to be in the 50s and 60s when they were all totally different.

“Angelina’s little daughter is playing Aurora as a little child, that’s just adorable.”

And Costa, who admits she still catches herself singing the songs around the house – and even finds herself “very much at home” in the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland – is certainly looking forward to seeing the film on the big screen.

From the comfort of a cinema seat, mind: “I’ll love it. She can’t get ahold of me from there!”

Maleficent is in cinemas from Wednesday 28 May. Plus, look out for The Disney Villains Collection and the Sleeping Beauty Diamond Edition (available on Disney Blu-ray and DVD) from 2 June