A worthy successor to the early classics Snow White and Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty is the one great fairy-tale adaptation of Disney’s post-war period, outshining Cinderella and unrivaled until 1991’s Best-Picture candidate Beauty and the Beast.
Cinderella’s singalong tunes might be more hummable than Sleeping Beauty’s Tchaikovsky score, but Sleeping Beauty more authentically captures the fairy-tale spirit of the Perrault fairy tale, filling out its third act with a mythic battle of knight versus dragon rather than trotting out cute animal sidekicks.
Compared to Perrault, Disney neglects to establish that the occasion of the confrontation of the fairies over the fate of the infant princess is in fact the child’s christening; but on the other hand incorporates traces of Christian imagery in the climactic battle: The good fairies equip Prince Philip with armor reminiscent of Ephesians 6 — a “shield of virtue” that actually bears the emblem of a cross as well as a “sword of truth” — with which he stands against Maleficent, transformed into a dragon who expressly declares herself to embody “the powers of hell.”
The animation, partly inspired by medieval illustrations but also reflecting 1950s minimalism, makes grand use of its widescreen format — the first time the format was used in a Disney cartoon. Cruelly truncated by fullscreen VHS, the film is newly available in a two-disc plantinum-edition DVD with improved framing over the previous DVD.
I’m very much open to fairy-tale revisionism in general, and to feminist critiques of classic fairy tales in particular. As a father of three daughters, I chafe at the passiveness of so many traditional fairy-tale princesses waiting for their prince to come and rescue them. Give me princesses like Leia from Star Wars, Merida from Brave or Tiana from The Princess and the Frog any day. But there’s a difference between creative revisionism and simple inversion.
A story like this demands to be seen through the lens of what biblical scholars call “redaction criticism,” which basically means “What was changed, added or deleted in this retelling of the story, and what do those changes tell us about the storyteller’s intentions and outlook?”
Angelina Jolie is perfect for the part of Disney’s most iconically evil villainess. If only they’d let her play it for more than one scene.
It’s fair to say that Disney’s Maleficent plays to an extent as warmed-over Frozen. This is not a good thing, even, I think, if you are a fan of Frozen.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.