“Sleeping Beauty” (1959) Film Review
“Sleeping Beauty” opens with a royal baby shower dedicated to the newly born Princess Aurora, but this quaint celebration is interrupted by the evil Sorceress Maleficent, who feels offended that she wasn’t invited to the event. In revenge, Maleficent curses the princess, stating that the girl will die on her 16th birthday when her finger pricks a spindle.
Luckily, three kind fairies counter the curse by changing the threat of death to peaceful sleep, and proclaim that only true love’s kiss will be able to wake her up. To further protect the princess, the fairies volunteer to raise the child themselves in the woods; while disguised as peasants. Years pass, Aurora (who goes under the alias of Briar Rose) celebrates her 16th birthday and ends up meeting the man of her dreams, a man called Phillip (who, unbeknown to either of them, just so happens to be the Prince arranged to marry the Princess herself).
Unfortunately, Aurora has to leave the woods and return to the Kingdom to serve as the Princess. There, Maleficent hypnotises Aurora into pricking herself on a spindle, and her highness is sent into a deep slumber. To lessen even more hope, Maleficent kidnaps the Prince to reduce any chance of true love’s kiss saving Aurora. It’s up to the good fairies to save the day by helping rescue the Prince and getting him to the castle to save their Briar Rose.
Now, I will admit that I just explained 90% of the movie’s narrative right there. I do feel as if that the movie feels more like a stretched out setup for a bigger film, which means that watching it does fly by. It’s further let down by having an entire scene dedicated to Phillip & Aurora’s fathers drunkenly arguing about wedding plans, which is funny, but wastes valuable time that could have been used for character development.
You see, Aurora herself is less of a character and more of a plot device. Because of this, she’s not very interesting, and there’s nothing remarkable about her that sets her apart from other Disney princesses. Sure, she’s very sweet and has a connection with cute animals of the forest, but is that really anything special? I’ll confess that any scenes centred on her were the most boring parts of the film.
Prince Phillip is certainly more active, charismatic, and humorous than other Disney princes of the Golden Age. However, I really don’t like how he first approaches Aurora, he’s a bit too forward and grabby considering that they’ve only just met. He even keeps trying to touch her after she pushes him away, which is quite discomforting to watch.
Aurora looking startled by this stranger’s touchy hands
Which brings me to the movie’s biggest weak point, the romance. After Prince Phillip gets a tad too forward with Aurora, she suddenly stops looking uncomfortable and seems to be “in love”. Young teenagers can be easily smitten, but the movie doesn’t frame it as naive youthful love, and actually uses it as the true love to awaken Aurora’s slumber.
Yes, it’s important that Aurora has a true love to serve as the key to save her from sleep, but that doesn’t mean we have to quickly rush a spontaneous romance to foreshadow this. It’s hard to feel the emotional weight behind Prince Phillip’s role as true love’s kiss, when he and Aurora have as much screen time together as David Bowie’s cameo in “Zoolander”.
The thing is though, this movie’s real heroes are the good fairies! Oh yes, these three are the true stars of this fairytale and they are AWESOME. They each have their own unique personalities ranging in maturity, optimism, and temper; it’s these contrasts that create a fun dynamic between the trio.
They truly care about raising Aurora, do everything they can to protect her, and even play a vital part in helping the Prince save the day. Flora, the leader of the group, does come up with some very sensible and clever tactics to be one step ahead of Maleficent too.
I kind of wish that the film was called “The Three Fairies”, because they have way more fleshed out development than the royal leads. My only criticism against them, is that they don’t warn Aurora about Maleficent, said warning could have at least better prepared her or kept Aurora on her toes; but I still adore these three.
I’d say that the Fairies steal the movie, but I think that they actually share it with the flamboyantly despicable Maleficent. Sure, Maleficent is evil for the sake of being evil, but she has this powerful screen presence oozing with class, style, and flair.
Yes, her villain motive is based on being uninvited to a baby shower, but this petty motivation is a way more realistic and interesting ambition than the overdone “World Domination” cliche. We all know the feeling of being left out of something special, and I feel as if this relatable dilemma adds human dimension to her as an antagonist.
What I love the most about Maleficent is her presentation! She talks with this intimidating slimy confidence, walks with a sense of regality, and always makes lavishly flamboyant entrances. The music supporting her presence is surprisingly scary too, and helped me fear her as a villain when I was a kid. Oh and it’s also pretty badass that she turns into a dragon in the finale!
To Conclude, “Sleeping Beauty” is very short and rushed, but the Fairies and Maleficent make up for the lack of content. If you want to see a simplistic Disney fairytale with fun supporting characters, then I advise you check this one out. However, if you’re after something with interesting leads and deep storytelling, then “Sleeping Beauty” isn’t for you.
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