As human beings, we are programmed to seek patterns and group seemingly unrelated items into categories. So we might be inclined to group Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Cinderella (1950), and Sleeping Beauty (1959) into one big Disney princess classics category, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sleeping Beauty, on the contrary, should be shunned like how The Lion King (1994) should be shunned. Yes, all the fantastical elements from Snow White and Cinderella return in this one, but without a Disney princess to make its inevitably shallow story any less shallow and its misleading message any less misleading.
Once again, this film suffers plot problems. It begins with the birth of a princess who receives magical traits from three fairy god mothers. One of them gives her the trait of beauty, the second gives her the trait of song, and the third one gives her the trait of dance. Oh wait, the villain shows up and sets a curse on the baby? Well, in that case, the third one gives her the trait of falling asleep after being pricked by a spindle instead of dying. And just like in Snow White, she will awake from love’s first kiss. How creative… so they fear that the princess will prick her finger prior to finding true love I guess, and the fairy god mothers take Aurora into a secret hideout until her 16th birthday, which is to mark the end of the curse. The fairy god mothers slip up on precisely this day trying to do something special for her, and their whereabouts is revealed to the villain. Meanwhile, Aurora has found true love in Prince Phillip (he has a name!) by singing one song together, just like in Snow White. And look, they dance together like in Cinderella. How creative… the fairy god mothers reveal to Aurora that she has been arranged marriage to the prince from birth, and unknowing that her true love is that prince, she cries. As the fairy god mothers transport the now somber Aurora back to her parents to celebrate the end of the foreboding curse, she gets hypnotized by the villain into pricking her finger and falls into deep sleep. The prince gets captured by the villain, the fairy god mothers rescue the prince, the prince kills the villain, the prince kisses the princess, and happily ever after.
Before I get to the bad stuff, let’s talk about the good stuff: the villain is freakin’ awesome. In my mind, she is right behind the queen from Snow White, only because her motivation for being evil doesn’t really seem present. But if you are as menacing as she is, who cares about the motivation. Also, the fairy god mothers provide much needed juice to keep this movie watchable. The stuff they can do with their wands and the way their personalities clashes or meshes together makes for a surprisingly fun time, even as it seems borrowed from Cinderella. The last compliment I’ll give this movie is the idea to turn the villain into a dragon. It makes for an epic closing battle, which epitomizes what this movie is—an insubstantial visual pleasure.
In Snow White, the princess was a good mother to the seven dwarfs. In Cinderella, the princess was a kind daughter to her unloving step-family. In Sleeping Beauty, Aurora is… well, she sings… and she looks beautiful… and she dances with a prince… and she is absolutely nothing more. In fact, every trait we get to know about her is established at the very beginning with the fairy god mother’s gifts. Everything good about Aurora came from them.
Then the fact that Aurora gets her obligatory happy ending means that beautiful people who can sing and dance well deserves to have good things happen to them. What sort of a parent would want to give this false impression to their children? I can honestly say that I will not show this to my kids, especially my daughter, because Aurora is not a role-model princess. This error is not as egregious as The Lion King’s long list of grossly inadequate moral teachings, but at the same time, it does not seem as innovative. Snow White was a real stepping stone in cinema history, setting itself as a standard for future animated films, and I can honestly say Cinderella took those elements and made a more didactic family classic. Sleeping Beauty, on the other hand, feels lazy in comparison, opting to recycle these elements without having anything new to add to them. Sure, it looks great, but I’m looking for a movie, not a montage of the things that made Snow White and Cinderella great.