Diaries of a Cartoon Critic: Narcolepsy and True Love
Editor's note: Diaries of a Cartoon Critic is a recurring feature written by staff reporter Eliana Goldstein in which she re-reviews classic Disney flicks from a high schooler's perspective. This week she writes about Disney's 1959 animated film "Sleeping Beauty."
When reviewing Cinderella about a month back, I realized how much I miss the cheesy charm of Disney love stories. I definitely went through a princess phase, as most young girls do, but I thought it had ended way back in kindergarten, when my Mulan dress became inconvenient for intense games of tag during recess. But as it turns out, that part of me hasn't quite been buried under the cynicism of high school.
So my next foray into nostalgia was the good vs. evil, true-love-prevails story of "Sleeping Beauty." "Sleeping Beauty" is the classic fairy tale of a fairy-cursed girl who is saved from a nice one-hundred year nap by her dream man (literally, she first meets him "once upon a dream").
"Sleeping Beauty" begins with the opening of a medieval-style illuminated book, plunging into a 14(ish)th century tale of good and bad magic, a gorgeous princess, and, since this is Disney, a happily ever after ending. The infant Princess Aurora is receiving gifts at her christening, watched over by her slightly neurotic father, King Stefan, and her nameless mother. The first gift given to her is handed over by a young Prince Phillip, to whom Aurora's hand in marriage has just been promised. This is explained about three different times within the thirty seconds of screen time young Phillip gets, because Disney doesn't do subtle foreshadowing.
Next up are three good fairies, two of whom bless her with generically nice personality traits. Then, the ultimate medieval party crasher shows up: Maleficent, the bad fairy with the stunningly obvious name, Batman-esque cape, and shiny dress. Amidst dramatic, weirdly animated green fire, she curses the innocent baby to die on her sixteenth birthday from a grave spindle-induced wound on...the tip of her finger? The final fairy changes this so Aurora will simply fall asleep, only to be awakened by true love's kiss.
I don't see why this is so bad -- I'm sixteen and I'd sure as heck appreciate a good nap.
As a result of all this hullabaloo, Aurora (under the assumed name of Briar Rose) goes to hide in the forest with the three grandmotherly good fairies, named Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. For sixteen years, she lives with them. The fairies, to avoid detection, use no magic for all 16 years. On her sixteenth birthday, they surprise her with her true identity and a nice cake. Because Aurora is a wee bit spoiled, the news makes her cry. She also just met the man of her dreams, the slightly goofy but still heroic Prince Phillip, whose name she doesn't actually know.
So she assumes that the prince she was set to marry and the guy she fell for while wandering in the forest with all the cute and fluffy wild animals were two different people. Love stinks, but if I told the kid I raised from birth that she was closet royalty and she decided to go cry in a corner, I might actually slap her. So anyway, the girl goes home to her massive castle in her pretty pink dress (slapping, seriously) and the first thing she does is prick her darn finger (idiot!).
To make a long story short, she falls asleep, and Prince Phillip is kidnapped by Maleficent's piglike goons so he can't go wake her up. The three good fairies spring the prince and give him some shiny weaponry. He heads off to Aurora's tower to kiss her awake. Maleficent, who clearly has no concept of quitting while ahead, surrounds the tower with thorns. After this horticultural barrier goes down, Maleficent goes dragon on Phillip, who whips out his sword and makes short work of her. Phillip kisses the sleeping princess and she wakes up. There's a nice big ballroom and a romantic waltz, fulfilling the obligatory happily ever after.
So after that crazily long-winded summary, let's discuss the artistic merit of this movie. And does it have artistic merit. The animation actually incorporates art styles of the late 50s in its elaborately drawn and totally stationary three dimensional backgrounds and occasional trippy, spin-y, silhouette-filled interludes. The settings are particularly set off against the curiously two-dimensional animation of the characters. This amalgamation of these two very different animation styles flows together into a totally remarkable, stare-at-able movie. The animators pull out a great moment with Maleficent's dragon form, combining both styles and a few cool lighting tricks to make a monster that's just the right amount of scary.
The characters are also surprisingly fun, although the character I hate most is in fact Aurora. She's pretty much just a catalyst for all the action that happens around her. She is the "cardboard cutout" character of this story.
Her adopted fairy mothers (who says that people of the same gender can't raise a family together?) are much more entertaining. There's the bossy, loud, pink-wearing one; the skinny, spacey, green-wearing one; and the short, cranky, blue wearing one. Their interactions are pretty hilarious, as they're all inept in a special and unique way.
Another comical character is Prince Phillip's overbearing, rotund father, whose drunken friendship with King Stefan borders on poor role modeling for the movie's target audience of three to ten year olds. Prince Phillip is a surprise favorite, as he's actually pretty fun to watch. He gets up to some silly antics with his irreverent horse, but he manages to be charming and heroic for most of his time on screen. The slightly creepy nature of the first kiss he shares with Aurora is mitigated by the fact that they sang a duet, which is the only thing that really signifies true love in the Disney universe.
Going into this, I was honestly planning on hating this movie. Frankly, though, I think it's pretty cute. The dialogue is oversimplified, of course, and the plot is predictable, but "Sleeping Beauty" is a fun movie to watch on some lazy afternoon.
(For extra awesome, look for hidden Mickey silhouettes! They're everywhere.)