Maleficent: Now you shall deal with me O Prince and all the powers of hell!
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
Sleeping Beauty is one of those movies that most people don’t remember all that much when it comes to the line-up of Disney princess movies much less Disney movies. It’s mixed critical reception and poor box office revenue at the time made it the last Disney princess movie for 30 years. In some ways that attitude towards it is warranted while in others it’s a lot better than most of us give it credit for.
The story is that King Stefan and Queen Leah have given birth to a lovely baby girl named Aurora. At her christening she is betrothed to Prince Phillip in attempt to unite her kingdom with the kingdom of Stefan’s best friend King Hubert. Among the guests at said christening include the three good fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. Flora and Fauna bless baby Aurora with beauty and song respectively. However the evil witch Maleficent turns up and enraged about not being invited curses Aurora that while she will grow in grace and beauty on her 16th birthday she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. While the fairies do not have the power to remove the curse Merryweather is able to make it so that the curse will only put her into a deep sleep that can only be undone through true love’s kiss. Stefan fearing for his daughter’s life orders all spinning wheels in the kingdom to be burned and have the fairies look after her at a cottage until her 16th birthday.
The story has a great deal of filler in it. It doesn’t often focus so much on the main characters as much as the side characters particularly with the bickering of the two kings, which doesn’t really seem to lead to anything.
Perhaps the movie’s strongest aspect is the main villain Maleficent. Both the voice acting by Eleanor Audley and the animation done for the character make her not only one of the greatest Disney villains but also one of the great villains of all time. Her motivation is rather weak in that she wants revenge for not being invited to a birthday party. However the extremes she goes to in getting said revenge is what makes her amazing. She’s sophisticated, despicable, sometimes silly, and all around powerful. Her plan to hold Philip hostage until he’s a ragged old man while Aurora will not age a day under the sleeping curse is so evil you can’t help but love it.
The three fairies are fun side characters. They are faced with looking after Aurora for 16 years of her life and they’re all different in their personalities, which leads to some very comedic moments between all of them.
The animation is a relatively different and interesting style than what Disney normally does and what they would do in the future. The backgrounds don’t look very three-dimensional but rather more like tapestry or medieval paintings. This is a very unique take for Disney and one that looks very nice. The detail put into them envelops the viewer at almost every turn. It’s surprising that it was never used again in any future Disney films.
The songs are also well done taken from the 1890 ballet of the same name. Once Upon a Dream in particular is a very satisfying tune to listen to and one that never gets tired.
The climax is the best part of the movie. It has great music and is well animated with its movement, characters, and colors. It is also full of energy, and both literally and figuratively has a fiery edge to it.
With all this being said there are definitive flaws in this movie and they mostly lie in the main characters. Aurora doesn’t have much in terms of character to her. While no part of her is bad per se of all the Disney princesses she is easily the least memorable. Prince Philip is also not very interesting. While the scene with him fighting the dragon Maleficent in the climax is amazing he gets almost no dialogue. In fact it is only halfway through the movie when he says his last line.
Sleeping Beauty is a movie that is definitely not without fault. As a whole there are plenty of things that leave something to be desired. But like most Disney movies with faults the aspects that work are dialed up to ten such as its villain, its animation, and its side characters. This movie is certainly a beauty and I can safely say it won’t be putting me to sleep anytime soon.