A long time ago in a land of royalty, fairies, and noticeably absent female agency, Disney had its third go at a princess. The comatose Snow White rocketed the company to fame in 1937, the dancing inanimate objects of Fantasia were a classical smash in 1940, and 1950’s Cinderella showed what a girl can do if she runs for her life at the end of a date. Disney learned from these successes and injected them into the inevitable classic, Sleeping Beauty. They loved the idea of knocking out the title character halfway into the movie just a few hours after she bumps into a handsome stranger and coincidentally her betrothed prince. Throw in Tchaikovsky’s ballet score and voila! An inevitable success.
Once you make it through the opening credit list of all 40 people who worked on Sleeping Beauty, the introduction feels an awful lot like Tangled. The king and queen are finally blessed with a baby girl and the entire kingdom is in the mood to celebrate. Three fairies, Flora (voiced by Verna Felton), Fauna (voiced by Barbara Jo Allen), and Merryweather (voiced by Barbara Luddy), bless little Princess Aurora with beauty and song. These gifts will surely help her win the heart of her future husband, prince Phillip, but they’re not quite the same level of useful as gifts like bravery, compassion, or (what the hell) wisdom. It could be that Merryweather was about to deliver this package fit for a future queen but was rudely interrupted by the appearance of the evil Maleficent (voiced by Eleanor Audley). Maleficent takes her lack of invitation to the party a little too personally and gifts the royal baby with a promise that she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday and die. It’s an awfully specific curse. Everyone panics and King Stefan burns every spinning wheel in the land, essentially ruining the kingdom’s textile industry. The three fairies try to remedy the situation as best as they can by first promising that the finger-prick will put Aurora to sleep, not to death, and then deciding to hide the baby in the woods until her sixteenth birthday. The fairies follow through and everything goes swimmingly until they jump the gun and return Aurora to the kingdom several hours before the curse it set to expire.
It’s a wonder that they survived for sixteen years at all. To complete their mission, the fairies needed to put magic away and learn how to cook, clean, and raise a child like ordinary humans. From all appearances, they’ve spent the last decade and a half mastering the art of sending Aurora to pick berries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I can only imagine the forest-loving princess showing up at the castle for her sixteenth birthday party and seeing rabbit on the menu. In the fairies’ eyes they had one job: teach Aurora not to talk to strangers.
It’s ironic that Aurora (voiced by Mary Costa) isn’t allowed to speak to anyone since she was gifted with the voice of an angel. Thankfully the forest is full of mockingjays who mimic her songs and understand enough English to give her a boyfriend pep talk. For sixteen years she wanders the forest alone until, with precision timing, the handsome Prince Phillip (voiced by Bill Shirley) comes across this barefooted girl singing to highly engaged animals and he cannot resist the urge to dance with her. It most certainly is not the fourteenth century anymore. Aurora has the time of her life for five blissful minutes until Phillip crosses a line and asks for her name. Woah. Aurora takes off into the forest, hands flailing, woodland animals chasing her, and Phillip desperately asking if he’ll ever see her again. Screaming over her shoulder, she jumps from “Never” to “Someday” to “How about tonight?” You know it’s true love when squirrels and birds are chasing her down and Aurora still pauses to make plans for the evening.
The whole point of staying hidden is so that Maleficent won’t find the princess and thrust her towards the nearest spinning wheel, hands outstretched. Maleficent takes great pride in being evil and lazy, which is far from the empathetic Angelina Jolie version we met in 2014. She’s a monologuing villain with flying henchmen straight out of the Wizard of Oz and it is her duty to be both the character who threatens happy endings and the one who tells Phillip exactly where his is taking a nap. She explains in exaggerated detail that Phillip should not climb the tallest tower and not kiss Aurora because that would wake her and put the entire kingdom back in order. Without Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty wouldn’t have a conflict or a happy ending.
Everything could have been avoided if King Stefan believed in keeping his friends close and his enemies closer and sent a courtesy invitation to Maleficent. Sleeping Beauty is a classic thanks to its simple story, beautifully hand-drawn animation, classical score (literally), and the happiest of happy endings. From Aurora’s perspective, her world was falling apart so she gave up, went to sleep, and suddenly everything had fixed itself by morning. That’s a glowing testimonial for procrastinators. Sleeping Beauty is one of those foundational movies that isn’t going anywhere, no matter how much society changes around it. Sleeping Beauty is a classic and, although a little dated and riddled with plot holes, it’s a 7/10 because we all need a happy ending every now and then.