Recently, pictures were released of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. She's shooting a movie about the evil fairy in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. I have mixed feelings about this project, but I'll be seeing it no matter what. I love Sleeping Beauty. It's my favourite Disney movie, challenged only by Mulan or Beauty and the Beast.
When I was little, I watched the VHS of this movie until the tape broke. I was enthralled by every moment of this epic. That's what it was to me, an epic.
Part of it was the incredible amount of effort that went into the making of this movie. When I was that small, I was still under the impression that movies just came out of the ether.The VHS release of Sleeping Beauty had a documentary at the end that detailed the production of this incredibly ambitious movie, from Uncle Walt's decision to film it in Technirama, to showing footage of the actors modelling the characters. It was then I realized that every movie is something of a miracle; a movie requires a huge amount of people getting together and managing to get along long enough to create a cohesive product that ultimately has no purpose.
In short, my love of movies comes from Sleeping Beauty. So anything I say might be slightly biased.
So I saw, and still see, Sleeping Beauty as an epic. Unlike Lord of the Rings or The Seven Samurai, Sleeping Beauty was an epic which followed the actions of women. There was still a standard princess in the castle (and Aurora is about as standard as you can possibly get), and a standard prince (and Prince Phillip is somehow even more generic than Aurora), but it has four really strong female characters.
Yeah, name another high fantasy where the central conflict is between three sweet middle-aged ladies who like tea and an evil entity who has unimaginable power whilst presenting as female.
And this is why Sleeping Beauty is boss.
I suspect that animators enjoy creating evil and not-pretty characters far more than the good-looking protagonists. Every animated movie I've ever seen has far more interesting design for the bad guys and the side characters than for the protagonists. In Sleeping Beauty, either due to a lack of focus during production (which is extremely possible when you read about this movie's production) or perhaps a conscious artistic decision, the three good fairies and Maleficent have a shitload of screen time and lines. They get way more development than Aurora, Phillip, or the two kings. After watching the movie, it becomes clear that they drive the action, and everyone else is just caught up in their grudge match.
I mean, look at Prince Phillip. One of the most incompetent princes ever, and unfortunately pitted against one of the most cold and calculating villains ever, Phillip literally could not have saved Aurora without the intervention of the three good fairies. He has no access to magic, no common sense, and is only a worthy prince because he's got the guts for it. The three fairies spring him from the prison that Maleficent has placed him in. They are the ones who strategize his escape. Flora actually guides the magic sword (which was conjured by their magic) into Dragon Maleficent's breast. If he were any more incompetent, one of them would have kissed Aurora for him. Also, he doesn't talk anymore than Aurora does. For the last half of the movie, he's mute.
So he's not the protagonist. Aurora, who's more of a catalyst for the film's action than an actual character, is not the protagonist.
These badass mofo fairies are the active players in this movie. When you think of Sleeping Beauty as part of an ongoing struggle between the fairies and Maleficent, which just happens to have an entire kingdom caught in the crossfire, and not a princess movie, you are thinking about it as I did when I was little. It dressed like a princess movie, maybe, but it seemed to be about so much more than Aurora and Phillip, who were both boring.
Also, as I was always acutely aware of my preference for girls, but still played house and had baby dolls and whatnot, I was very much comforted by the idea of two older ladies living together in domestic bliss with what appeared to be their daughter.
|Flora, Fauna, and their daughter, Merryweather, who's like on her fourth degree in university. Can't wait for her to move out, but they'll still be sad to see her go.|
Maleficent is Maleficent. Enough said. Though a lot can be said about the fact that the openly intelligent, non-conformist and independent lady is the villainess in this film, I can honestly say it didn't matter to a six-year-old me. I loved this character. I loved the way she moved, the way she talked, the way she turned into a dragon and tried to fucking murder Phillip. She was awesome.
Of course, there was no good fairy or Maleficent merch when I was little. I had a Sleeping Beauty nightgown, just like all the other kids who liked that movie. I wasn't old enough to appreciate the humour in such a gift.
There are so many other things I love about this film (I haven't even talked about the music, which is adapted from Tchaikovsky), but honestly, it's the female characters. It's the sweet ladies who are the heroes even though they don't conform to the visual codes of 'hero' or 'heroine'. It's Maleficent, the beautiful and confident lady who curses a baby girl by making her deathly allergic to womanly pursuits. It's the love and care that was obviously put into these characters, who were allowed to subsume the original fairy tale with aplomb.
Sleeping Beauty is awesome.