As I completed my color sketch of Briar Rose and Prince Phillip I happened across a delightful column written by Bobby Johnson some years ago. Mr. Johnson makes an effective argument that “Sleeping Beauty” is the most feminist Disney movie they’ve ever made. It certainly gave me pause because I worked on this Disney classic many years ago and much of the film remains fresh in my head even today. However, this column by Mr. Johnson makes me look back at the Walt Disney motion picture in a whole new way.
First of all, Mr. Johnson makes his case that Aurora or Briar Rose is pretty much a nothing character who wants to marry a guy she danced with in the forest one afternoon. However, she doesn’t do much after that but fall into an unending slumber and doesn’t wake up until the same dude shows up and molests her in her sleep. On the other hand, Maleficent is a kick ass villain who isn’t defined by her relationship to a dude. She’s ticked off because she was snubbed by the royals and decides to make the king and queen pay for their rather cold oversight. Maleficent is ready to lay a lot of hurt on the kingdom and she doesn’t care who gets nailed in the process. She’s a pretty strong character in the Disney film. Certainly a good deal stronger than Aurora who spends the major part of the movie in bed.
Of course, Prince Phillip tries to be the bad ass hero but he’s quickly dispatched by Maleficent’s henchmen. before Phillip knows it he’s sitting chained in a cel while Maleficent gleefully spells out his future. A cruel punishment, the Prince will not be united with his beautiful princess until he’s a frail old man ready to begin collecting social security. So much for our protagonists. It would appear both are losers. So far it would appear that the strongest character in the Disney movie is the villain and a woman at that. Perhaps not the best example of feminist ideals in the Disney movie, but there you go.
But, here’s the really cool part. Much to my surprise it would appear that the true protagonists of Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” are three middle-aged women. The very same three women I worked on back in 1957. The three good fairies are truly the main characters of the film. When Maleficent puts the curse on Aurora, it’s the fairies who step in and do what’s necessary. Remember, it’s the protagonists who make the important decisions in a story, and the three fairies are right on top of things. They’re clever, resourceful and they have a plan. Things only go sour when the three women get into a stupid argument over the color of the dress. Having given themselves away, Maleficent is onto their game and she springs into action and the third act begins.
Even after the three fairies break Prince Phillip out of prison it appears he’s still not ready to tackle the all powerful Maleficent and she knows it. Once again, Phillip is getting his butt kicked until the three fairies after giving him a shield and sword, tell him what to do next. Using their magic to show Phillip the target, the prince hurls the magic sword into the heart of the dragon who screams and crashes to her doom on the rocks below. With that out of the way, Phillip goes to Aurora’s bedroom and gives her a big wet kiss. It’s okay because mom and dad are still asleep anyway. She wakes up and - well, you know the rest. But who would have thought it? Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip are not the heroes of this Disney animated motion picture. It’s three middle-aged, overweight little old ladies who make the important decisions and ultimately win the day. It’s an important lesson we can all learn from. No matter your age, weight or gender you can still be a hero. If you’re looking for a feminist message in a Walt Disney film, you’ll find a really good one in this animated motion picture.