Once Upon a Dream


It’s been some time since my last post on a Disney movie. Blame my wife, who’s been busy doing such things as working. Anyway, at long last, here’s Sleeping Beauty, from 1959. The most noticeable thing about this film is its appearance, based on medieval paintings, with much more angular characters than usual for Disney. I’m not sure if the castle in the actual movie was based on Neuschwanstein or that’s just true for the model in Disneyland. Neuschwanstein was actually built in the nineteenth century while the film takes place in the fourteenth (oddly specific for a fairy tale film, really), but King Ludwig intended his castle to be a throwback to an earlier style.

This was the third Disney animated feature to be based on a traditional fairy tale, and the last within Walt’s lifetime. It’s said that poor box office showings made them avoid fairy tales until The Little Mermaid thirty years later. That one is based on a fairy tale by a single author (Hans Christian Andersen), but it was followed two years later by Beauty and the Beast. Getting back to Sleeping Beauty, it was based on Pyotr Tschaikovsky’s ballet, which in turn drew inspiration from Charles Perrault’s version of the tale. The Brothers Grimm also had a version, but it wasn’t all that different from Perrault’s, aside from the fact that it cut out the second part about the prince’s stepmother being an ogress who tried to eat her grandchildren. Obviously this didn’t occur in the Disney version either, and you’ll note that Prince Philip only has a father throughout the film. Aurora, the name of the sleeping princess, was originally that of her daughter, but Tschaikovsky gave it to the heroine herself and Disney followed suit. When being raised by the fairies, however, she’s called Briar Rose, which was her name in the Grimms’ version. Prince Philip was apparently named after the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. Philip comes into Aurora’s life a few times before the spinning wheel does its dirty work, first at her christening when he’s arranged to be married to her, then again in the woods when he falls in love with her without knowing who she is.

I have to wonder if this was done so that it would be less creepy than having him kiss a total stranger on the mouth. Granted, that’s nothing compared to an earlier version of the story in which the prince rapes the princess and she bears him children before awakening, but it’s still a little unsettling. As such, Aurora is only asleep for a very short time, as opposed to the hundred years of the traditional story.

As it turns out, Aurora isn’t even in the film that much, despite being the titular character. Instead, much of the focus is on the good and evil fairies. Early versions of the tale seemed to draw on traditional fairy lore, in which fairies basically do what they want rather than acting according to human notions of good and bad. One fairy curses the princess because she feels slighted, with the impression given that this could have been the case with any one of them. In Disney’s take, however, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are truly good; while Maleficent is purely evil.

Indeed, she refers to herself as Mistress of All Evil, and says that she commands the powers of Hell. I would imagine she’s exaggerating somewhat, but she is quite nasty, and obsessive as well. At one point, she claims she hasn’t slept well in sixteen years. You know, if she’s really the Mistress of Evil, you would think she would have done a bunch of other foul deeds in that time and not been so concerned with that one.

I know it’s the in thing to try to explain villains’ motivations and it doesn’t always work, but I have to suspect Maleficent might be bored and lonely. Why else would she dress like she does? {g} I know Tim Burton is working on a film about Maleficent, but his recent work doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. While on the subject of fairies, I’ve discussed before how some earlier Disney animated films had human-sized fairies and others tiny ones. Sleeping Beauty actually does both, with the good fairies normally human-sized but shrinking down when they fly.

From what I understand, this movie never achieved the fame of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Cinderella. I didn’t see it all the way through myself until I was an adult. And while Aurora is represented with the other Disney Princesses, I get the impression she’s not as popular. It’s kind of a shame, as this film is definitely worth seeing, particularly for the fairies and its interesting style. It’s probably partially due to this style, however, that Aurora doesn’t come off as being as glamorous as the other princesses. I also have to say she looks older than sixteen, but some people do mature faster than others.

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6 Responses to Once Upon a Dream

  1. My princess-obsessed 3yo loves Aurora, oh my lord, because she has a pink dress. We had a bit of a row this morning because I tried to get her to put on a pair of green shorts with her pink shirt, and she said “NO! I want pink shorts! I like pink and purple!” “But you’ll look like a flower with green shorts and a pink shirt!” “NO! I want PINK!” Gah, where did this COME from? I didn’t instill it in her, I can vouch for that. I blame my mother in law. Anyway.

    They actually have only seen the movie this week, because we’ve got it out of the library. (She knew Aurora from her Disney Princess underwear and a Look and Find book). I’m not sure what they thought of it, because they watched most of it while I was at work. I didn’t see it that often as a child, either. We didn’t have a copy of it.

    But “Once Upon a Dream” is one of my all-time favorite Disney movie songs. I guess I can thank Tchaikovsky for that, though. The rest of the movie’s songs are generally forgettable.

    • Nathan says:

      Interesting that Aurora’s dress is always pink in other media when it’s sometimes pink and sometimes blue in the movie, depending on which fairy has gotten in the last shot. As for the songs, I think all of them might have been based on Tchaikovsky, but I agree that only “Once Upon a Dream” is particularly memorable.

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