Sleeping Beauty, in the most literal sense, is the quintessential fairy tale. While the sixteen-year-old Princess Aurora sings, falls in love, pouts and ultimately... sleeps, we are witness to a classic tale of good versus evil between one wicked fairy and three good fairies – you know, A FAIRY TALE! Even though she serves as the catalyst for much of the action, the eponymous Sleeping Beauty only appears in eighteen of the movie's seventy-five minutes. And sure, Prince Phillip proves to be quite heroic himself, but it's three frumpy little fairies who steal the show as they stick it to that tough ol' fairy broad Maleficent while saving the Princess, the Prince and two whole Kingdoms.
Beyond killing Princess Aurora, Maleficent's, “the mistress of all evil,” true motives and endgame are vague. It would be hard to believe all this would stem from deliberately being left off the guest list for the royal gathering celebrating the christening of Princess Aurora, the announcement of her betrothal to Prince Phillip and the subsequent uniting of kingdoms but, perhaps that's the true mark of evil: chaos and fear just for the sake of it. Although, one could posit that her intentions are purely political since if she could dispose of the only heir to the kingdom, as well as her betrothed in Phillip, she could ultimately rule the realm. Then again, with her unmatched powers, why involve the complicated curse of Aurora pricking her finger on a spinning wheel during her sixteenth birthday? That's why I'm convinced Maleficent is one of those classic, fun loving villains who just wants to watch the world burn for no reason in particular other than she can and maniacally cackle while it happens. That's why everyone is so scared and intimidated by her – there's no telling what that old hellcat might do!
If Maleficent is the most compelling, Aurora the most absent and Phillip the most dashing; the heart and soul of the story belongs to Flora, Fauna and Merryweather. At each plot twist and every point of conflict, these three little fairies would prove to be the most resourceful, determined and unlikeliest heroes of any Disney Classic up to this point and probably ever. After Maleficent puts her death curse on Aurora, it's Merryweather who combats it with a sleeping spell that can be broken with “love's first kiss.” When they need to come up with a plan of how to hide Aurora from Maleficent for those sixteen years, it's Fauna who realizes the key to tricking her is through love which leads to Flora hatching the scheme to raise her in a cottage deep in the woods disguised as three peasant women while forgoing their magic. Then, finally, when Phillip is imprisoned in Maleficent's dungeon, it's the three fairies that spring him and then arm him with the Shield of Virtue and Sword of Truth which aid him in killing Maleficent as the dragon. Seriously, what can't these three do?
But really, how did the outmatched good fairies defeat the “all powerful” wicked fairy. It would be easy (and cliché) to chalk it up to the power of their love for Princess Aurora but there's more to it than that. We're really only privy to a few days at the beginning and end of the story with a whole sixteen years in the middle virtually unspoken for. However, it's during that time when Flora, Fauna and Merryweather truly get the advantage on their nemesis. By Maleficent's own account, she hardly slept during those sixteen years and her frustration showed – the fairies wore her down! Who knew that the way to defeat absolute power was to sacrifice theirs by living as mortals? In this fairy tale, the key to good triumphing over evil is as simple as fairies not being fairies... for a while at least.
On a more whimsical note...
Sleeping Beauty features a decidedly different and controversial style of animation from all other Disney Animated Features that I would best describe as layered stained glass taken from a storybook and I love it!
It's fitting that the final movie in Disney's unofficial “First Golden Age of Animation” is Sleeping Beauty. Also, this would be the last of the Fairy Tale/Princess genre until the “Second Golden Age of Animation” kicked off with The Little Mermaid in 1989. It's hard to believe that this genre, which Disney is so well known for, would lie dormant for thirty years.
With a grand total of four fairies, Sleeping Beauty dwarfs (pun INTENDED!) the two prior Disney fairy tales as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) has zero while Cinderella (1950) boasts a mere one.
Maleficent is technically a fairy, but she's almost Greek Godlike as she evokes both Zeus and Hades in her manipulation of humans like pawns while her “wrath and frustration” thunders down on the kingdom from her Mount Olympus-esque evil domain, the Forbidden Mountains. She also has some sort of dominion over the underworld as she employs a demonic group of goons and calls upon the “powers of Hell” when transforming into a dragon.
Long before McKayla Maroney wasn't impressed, Prince Phillip was meeting his infant betrothed for the first time.
Exactly how much older is Phillip than Aurora? Seven, ten years??? That makes him at least twenty-three when he weds his sixteen-year-old princess bride.
Aurora is named for the dawn... more like the yawn! AMIRITE???
King Stefan's wife and Aurora's mother doesn't even get a name – she's merely known as “the Queen.”
While clunky and misplaced, the scene between Kings Stefan and Hubert getting drunk and singing about “Skumps” in anticipation of the impending wedding and merging of kingdoms, provides a nice scene of two dudes just broin' down.
When it comes to the three good fairies Flora is the leader, gives Aurora the gift of Beauty and wears red; Fauna is the sweet one, gives the gift of song and wears green; Merryweather is the brawn, combats the curse and wears blue.
The three good fairies are addressed as “Most honored and exalted excellences,” while Maleficent is just referred to as “Your excellency.” This leads one to wonder whether the King and Queen's titles of “Majesty” outrank “Excellency.”
Maleficent's pig-like minion looks an awful lot like one of the Gamorrean Guards from Return of the Jedi (1983).
Maleficent is quite the procrastinator, she only thinks to send her raven in search of Aurora on the very day before her sixteenth birthday.
Keeping up with the ethereal theme of the good fairies, an on-the-lam Princess Aurora is given the alias of “Briar Rose.” In other matters concerning nomenclature, Phillip's horse is named “Samson.”
This is Disney's first movie with no talking animals since Snow White (1937).
For how awesome they are, the fairies aren't nearly as good dressmakers as the birds and mice from Cinderella (1950).
There are many similarities among Disney's three Princess/Fairy Tale stories but a few of the more noteworthy are the Evil Queen's crow and Maleficent's raven and how both Snow White's and Aurora's narcolepsy can be cured only by “Love's first kiss”... lame.
Merryweather won the battle over whether Aurora's Birthday Dress would be blue or pink since it was blue for the majority of the movie. But Flora won the war as Aurora's dress is pink in most representations throughout popular culture.
In case you wondered, the story takes place sometime in the 14th century as Prince Phillip constantly reminds us when complaining to his father about his arranged marriage.
If you had any doubt that this is, in fact, a “fairy tale,” Maleficent admits as much when she mocks a chained Prince Phillip calling him the “Destined hero of a charming fairy tale come true.” It looks like the “Mistress of all evil” spent her sleepless nights reading the 14th century's version of romance novels.
For my money, that final battle between Phillip and Maleficent as the Dragon has to be the finest and most dramatic action sequence Disney has produced up to this point.
I would estimate that I misspelled “Maleficent” no less than seven different ways during the course of blogging this blog.
We love Disney. Period.