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Hail to the Princess Aurora
by Asa Butcher
2009-01-29 10:09:25
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Sleeping Beauty
Directed by Clyde Geronimi
1959, Walt Disney Productions

"I'm Princess Aurora and you can be Prince Charming," explained my daughter last week, while we played together. She is three years-old and heavily into her "Princess" phase, with the beautiful dresses, the pink paraphernalia and, of course, the Disney films that do nothing to diminish this obsession that has currently taken grip. Cinderella, Snow-White and Princess Aurora each take their turn during our games, but it is the latter that is closest to my daughter's heart, even though she gets nightmares after watching Sleeping Beauty.

Sleeping Beauty is rated as safe for over-threes, but with a death curse bestowed upon an innocent baby, giant fire breathing dragons, heavy drinking and an eventual murder, it sounds more like a Hitchcock film than a production from the Happiest Place on Earth. Despite all that, Sleeping Beauty is a stunning film that never fails to entice my daughter for repeat viewings and even I can't help watching a few minutes when passing through the living-room.

Strangely enough, Sleeping Beauty isn't about Sleeping Beauty, a.k.a. Princess Aurora, with the Princess having the second fewest spoken lines of any hero/heroine in all Disney movies (Dumbo is the first with no lines). Aurora's first spoken line is 19-minutes into the film, she sings two songs and then her last line is at 39-minutes, which probably makes you wonder just who does drive the film, or should that be animated feature, along?

Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, three good fairies, are the heart of the film and it is basically because of them that we get a story. Granted, the reason the evil queen Maleficent places a spell on baby Aurora that states she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel at age 16 is because she didn't receive an invite to the baby's christening, so let that serve as a warning to you all when planning guest lists, but after that the fault lays squarely at the feet of the good fairies.

The curse states that she will prick her finger and die at the age of 16, yet the fairies whisk baby Aurora away and keep her hidden in a cottage deep in the forest for almost 16 years - why not just take her away on her 15th birthday? Anyway, the good, but not so clever, fairies decide to return Aurora to the castle before, yes before, she is 16, thereby allowing the positively evil, yet quite sexy, Maleficent to follow through on the evil curse - "Why is she nasty, Daddy?" is a question I find hard to answer.

Even though Disney is known for tinkering with stories, such as giving The Hunch-Back of Notre Dame a happy ending, they didn't change the basic plot for this classic fairy tale. Aurora doesn't sleep for a hundred years and there are a few more songs than in the classic, but the story remains dark, occasionally brightened by the actions of the three good fairies.

Flora, Fauna and Merryweather (voiced by Barbara Luddy, who also did Kanga in Disney's "Winnie-the-Pooh") almost get all the good lines (Prince Phillip's father King Hubert gets a few).

Director Clyde Geronimi, also the co-director on Cinderella, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp and One Hundred and One Dalmatians, worked extremely well with colour stylist Eyvind Earle, who was responsible for the colour styling, background design and the overall look of the film. It was the first time on a Disney film that one man was in charge of this and Eyvind Earle eventually gave Sleeping Beauty a unique art style in comparison to previous Disney animated features.

Disney productions are famous for their music and, even though Sleeping Beauty doesn't feature that many memorable songs compared to modern productions, it did manage to get George Bruns nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture. The opening song "Hail to the Princess Aurora" is a touch on the pompous side, but the songs soon soften and bring us "Once Upon A Dream", written by Sammy Fain and Jack Lawrence. The latter is sung by Aurora during a forest sequence that is highly imaginative in its execution, plus contains Disney's traditional forest animals!

Overall, Sleeping Beauty is a jewel in Disney's crown and it is hard to believe that it is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. There maybe some elements that seem dated or out-of-place, such as the heavy drinking in a children's film or the sexual harassment of kissing sleeping princesses (a cup of coffee or shaking her would seem more appropriate), but it still has the power to hold the attention of both child and parent, plus inspire imaginative play well after the DVD has ended - perhaps next time I will be Maleficent to my daughter's Aurora:

"Forest of Thorns shall be his tomb! Borne through the skies on a fog of doom! Now go with the curse, and serve me well! 'Round Stefan's Castle, CAST MY SPELL!"

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Emanuel Paparella2009-01-29 12:49:40
Indeed, you are quite right Asa; it’s the fairies that drive the story of Sleeping Beauty doing one better on Wagner’s fairies. Perhaps it is indeed the rich symbolism of the fairy that does the trick. A common interpretation of the wings of a fairy is that they are a manifestation of the human psyche and symbolizes magic and mystery. The ancients in fact represented the soul as a butterfly. Wings also convey the liberation females and female strength, what Jung called the anima, needed to complement man’s virility for a holistic humanity. Most importantly those wings denote a sort of childlike innocent state. Of course the ancients also had negative images of fairies as tricksters and seducers but I suppose we prefer to call those types witches. With all that symbolism evident in the very name of the sleeping princess, it’s no wonder that children and adults alike continue watching Sleeping Beauty fifty years later.

Emanuel Paparella2009-01-29 13:46:21
P.S. As far as the literary origin of the fairy tale, on which the movie is based, is concerned, Italy Calvino in his book Italian Folktales traces it all the way back to 1634 to a variant found in Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone thus proving erroneous that the first Sleeping Beauty (La Belle au Bois dormant) was Charles Perrault tale found in his Tales of Mother Goose (Contes de ma Mere l’Oye). In any case, both versions have the kiss as a symbol of true love that redeems and saves. Merely shaking the princess would have deviated from the original story.

Asa2009-01-29 19:09:47
How about having the Prince shout, "Oi, Princess! Are you awake?"

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