A Disney Reflection: Sleeping Beauty
By Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull.
For the foreseeable future, at the end of every month, I shall be looking back over some of the classics in the Disney canon and determining just how good they really are.
Tomorrow, one of Disney’s most venomous and steely villainesses will make the leap from animation to live-action as actress Angelina Jolie dons the horns and carries the crow of Maleficent, the deliciously wicked antagonist in Sleeping Beauty. She has gone on to become something of a legend in the film industry. Her design – from the vivid greens and blacks that herald Maleficent’s entrance to her signature pointed headdress – is near flawless and she wouldn’t be anything without Eleanor Audley’s velvety vocal performance. Maleficent might not be the main attraction in Sleeping Beauty but she’s certainly one of the best things about it.
The story is simple. In a far-off kingdom, the King and Queen’s infant child, Aurora is cursed by Maleficent (irate at not being invited to the baby’s christening) though the spell is counteracted by one of Aurora’s fairy godmothers. Now, Aurora shall not die when she pricks her finger on a spinning-wheel aged sixteen but will rather fall into a deep slumber until true love’s kiss awakens her. The Crown still doesn’t want to take any chances and consent to Aurora vanishing, spirited off to an isolated cottage under the supervision of the three fairy godmothers, disguised as commoners. From there she is raised and her guardians still must try and protect her from Maleficent’s talons.
Sleeping Beauty’s strong points are, undoubtedly, the character of Maleficent and the sumptuous visuals. The fine details of the King and Queen’s castle are of great finesse – and even the humble cottage that is Aurora’s (or Briar Rose, as she is renamed) home is masterfully drawn. Simple scenes such as the forest sequence where Aurora meets her true love (spoilers) are a gorgeous sight.
That’s not to besmirch the vocals. Barbara Jo Allen, Barbara Luddy and Verna Felton have excellent chemistry as Fauna, Merryweather and Flora, the fairy godmothers. Mary Costa’s honeyed tones perfectly fit the now iconic anthem, “Once Upon A Dream” – though, singer Lana Del Rey recently proved that even the lightest song can take a Gothic turn.
Sleeping Beauty has problems, it’s uneven, by and large, and there’s little to no character development but it’s classic Disney. An uncomplicated story breezily told with a good old-fashioned (in 2014, the happily ever after ending seems primordial) love story and some nicely-aged comic relief in the form of the three fairies. Having recently watched Disney’s latest effort, Frozen, for the four hundred and seventy-ninth time, Princess Aurora pales considerably when compared to the realistic Princess Anna and Queen Elsa. She’s a bit too vapid, though it isn’t really her story despite her name being in the title; the scope is considerably wider.
Sleeping Beauty remains a classic because there’s something very quaint about it. While it might not pack the pluckiest of heroines (essentially, Aurora only has one job: not to prick her finger – and guess what she does) or heroes – Prince Phillip is a pretty bland leading man – it is saved by the glorious animation, some excellent vocal performances and a sublime villain who will live in infamy forever to boot. While we may not have seen the late Eleanor Audley onscreen, Angelina Jolie still has a sizable pair of shoes to fill.