The third Disney princess movie, and the last one to be released before Disney’s Renaissance Era was 1959’s Sleeping Beauty. And in a lot of ways, I feel like this is a movie I should hate. I should be calling it out for all the same things that I called out the last two princess movies for – the protagonists are uninteresting, the villain is a powerful woman, the prince defeats the powerful woman so that he can rescue the passive damsel. And I will awknowledge that all of this is true about the movie – however, that being said, this is my favourite Disney princess movie to be released outside of the Renaissance Era.
If I had only one word to relate to this film, it would be beauty – because by god is this a beautiful film, in every definition of the word. The animation is beautiful, the story is beautiful, the music is beautiful, Mary Costa’s voice is beautiful. It is just a beautiful fairy tale that I can watch again and again without ever getting bored. And the strange thing about this is, whenever I hear this film being referred to at all nowadays, it is for two reasons: 1) Maleficent is awesome and 2) Aurora is a useless protagonist who sleeps through half of her own movie.
So let me address number one first, because that’s the easiest one: Maleficent is awesome. Eleanor Audley returns to voice her, and by god is her voice perfect for a Disney villain. And by god is Maleficent ever a perfect Disney villain. She is the Mistress of all Evil, cruelty personified, a wicked fairy who curses a baby just because she wasn’t invited to a party. Is that problematic? Could they have gone around this another way? Maybe – but she’s still awesome, and every once in a while it is fun to just enjoy the simple, uncomplicated evil of a fictional villain.
But what about issue number two, the fact that Aurora is a useless protagonist? Well… yeah, she kind of is. She’s mostly there to look pretty, sound pretty, and then fall asleep, and she does all of this very well, but is it enough? Some people have made it very clear that, no, it isn’t enough – but in my opinion, that’s only if you consider this to be Aurora’s movie. And despite the fact that this is a Disney princess movie, and therefore you would expect the princess to be a protagonist, she always felt more to me like a device. She was an infant to be protected, and then she was a grown woman subjected to a terrible curse, and then her reawakening heralds in a more joyous time with the ending of the movie. That’s really her whole purpose.
So if this isn’t her movie, then who’s is it? Well, much like with Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, much of the film’s time is dedicated to the sidekicks – this time being the three good fairies who protect her. In both prior movies, I complained that the sidekicks were much more oriented for a child audience than an adult one, but I don’t necessarily think that’s true this time around. This time around, the fairies are genuinely funny and enjoyable and even, to a certain extent, kind of badass. The prince gets all the credit for saving the day in the end, but really, he’d be completely lost without the fairies. They break him out of Maleficent’s dungeon, they give him his sword and shield, they remove all dangers from his path. The only thing he does is ride a horse and look terrified while they help him. And there’s certainly sexism in the idea that a group of women do all the work and then happily allow a man to take all the credit, but if you keep in mind that the movie was released in 1959, it’s still kind of awesome that the fairies play such an integral part in saving the day. (On a personal note, Merryweather has always been my favourite fairy, and she was completely right in saying that Aurora’s dress should be blue.)
And just like with the prior two movies, there are a lot of things in this movie that you’ll just have to accept as being part of the genre if you’re going to fully enjoy it. The trope of ‘love at first sight’ is very blatantly employed (they actually make a point of stating that Philip and Aurora have fallen in love before they’ve even learned each other’s names), marriage is just automatically assumed to be the natural and inevitable end for all pure forms of love, Aurora is hopelessly and single-mindedly obsessed with romance. And if you have a hard time accepting these tropes, you might have a hard time accepting this movie, but I personally find that the overall beauty of the film eclipses all of this.
Is this a perfect movie? No, of course not; a perfect movie is incredibly rare. But this movie is still pretty good – or, at the very least, it’s very pretty. It’s a movie that should be experienced at least once, so if you haven’t yet, I would definitely recommend checking it out.