Sleeping Beauty: Lying in wait

Disney’s third Princess movie does not stray far from the formula that was established by the first two.  There’s not much character diversity from the first two Princesses.  Princess Aurora is beautiful and she can sing.  She falls in love in the space of one song.  She is raised in humble circumstances, though this is where the story begins to diverge.  She is not forced into servitude or raised without a loving environment.  The villain of the piece does not dislike her personally, but tries to harm her in order to cause pain to her family.  She is not targeted because of her grace and beauty, but because of her royal connections.  One could easily imagine the story being equally valid with a cursed prince.

No matter the change in subtleties Aurora is still basically a damsel in distress waiting for her prince to find and rescue her.  In fact, reviewers at the time criticized the movie for being the same story told yet again.  The cost of the movie and its poor performance caused the Walt Disney Corporation to report its first annual loss in a decade and lay off large numbers of staff in the animation studios.

In modern times, the movie has been criticized by those wanting more self-determined heroines.  Aurora literally just lies there asleep while Prince Phillip adventures through the countryside saving everyone from the evil villain.  Though it is interesting to note, while Aurora has little more depth than her predecessors, her supporting cast does.  Her prince gets a name and a life beyond being a plot point.  Her protectors are strong and powerful women.  In fact without their aid, Phillip would not have been able to defeat Maleficent and rescue Aurora.  He would have languished in a dungeon for the rest of his days.  Continuing in that vein, Maleficent herself is one of the scariest of all the Disney villains.  She makes almost all the top ten Disney villain lists (though interestingly not mine).  Disney continues to use her (despite her apparent movie death) in contemporary media including the Fantasmic show in the parks.  It is worth noting that when a live action reboot of this story happened, it was Maleficent, not Aurora who was the focus of the movie.

How does our sleepy damsel in distress stack up?  Surprisingly well.

Bechdel test*:  Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather due great service for this movie.  Not only do they talk a lot, they also talk about everything: the villain, the struggle of raising a child, the curse, fashion advice, and more.  They comment on every aspect of the plot, most often to each other.  Result:  PASS

Percent of words spoken by women**: 71%.  Again, we have a movie plot driven almost entirely by women.  Maleficent is formidable by any standard.  The three fairies, while providing comic relief, are essential to the ultimate rescue of Aurora.

*The Bechdel Test evaluates film based on whether there are at least two named women who talk to each other about something other than a man.

** The data comes from linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, who have been working on a project to analyze all the dialogue from the Disney princess movies.  The project was reported in The Washington Post by Jeff Guo.


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