Possibly the definition of style-over-substance, I can barely explain why I love this film above all other Disney films… It almost ditches everything narrative to provide one of the greatest villains of all time. For me the film is hardwired: I love it.
The story is as simple as they come. When Princess Aurora is born, she is blessed by the three good fairies with life-long gifts of beauty and song, but another fairy, the wicked Maleficent, curses the child to be killed before her sixteenth birthday. Only one true love can possibly save Aurora should the curse be fulfilled.
Even though my feelings for this film are deep, deep down in my heart and cannot be explained (when I started Cinema Cocoa, on my Top 50 films, this came 16th) I will admit there are issues with it.
It is terribly simplistic. Our characters have next to no motivation or any character outside of classic archetypes. Aurora could be any number of Disney princesses; she starts out life hidden away from Maleficent’s knowledge by the ditzy three fairies Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, and while nowadays she might have become ditzy herself (ie Tangled) Aurora becomes… completely unassuming and quite bland. She walks in the forest, singing about her one true love, talks with animals, sings some more. But you can see she is at least curious, if a little ignorant. Our Prince, Prince Phillip, is even more generic and not very memorable (his noble horse is of course a classic Disney character).
No… all of Sleeping Beauty’s power (and terror) radiates from the merciless Maleficent, and while she too has virtually no characterisation either outside of being the antagonist (she wasn’t invited to the Royal party?? That would make anyone mad!) the film gives her so much gravitas and absolute menace. She hardly shows herself, but her scenes are easily, easily the most memorable moments and will sear themselves into any young child’s mind forever. From her curse, to the mesmerising and haunting Spinning Wheel scene, to of course… the finale. The finale to end all finales, so short but so intense. I could happily go on and on about her.
So do I purely enjoy this film for its antagonist? Probably; Maleficent is at the centre of my love for villains, but Sleeping Beauty’s soundtrack is wonderful, haunting and very memorable. I’ve not watched it in years but the visuals are very striking too. Even on the old posters it says: “Wondrous to see, glorious to hear”.
A lot of it is aimed at girls, I admit. Most of the film is following the three fairies taking care of Aurora in their hideaway (failing to bake cakes and make dresses) and with only their mistakes to drive the plot forward. Aurora’s constant singing about her elusive dream of her Prince Charming. A couple of kings who rather needlessly fill time with comedic singing and drinking (reminds me of another favourite: The Sword in the Stone) there’s plenty to find irksome for the modern viewer.
I guess I am just smitten with it. I still get chills towards the end. A film normally requires good characters to envelope me into caring and fearing for their lives by the end… but Sleeping Beauty doesn’t do that (at least not for me); it instead sells one of film’s greatest villains and the terrible wrath she happily bestows upon the hapless.
I love it.