“Sleeping Beauty” considered

The other day I posted in defense of several of the Disney princesses. Hey, it surprised me, too. Part of that was I’m tired of people getting so worked up, and acting as though one viewing of those movies will do terrible things to their children and give them bad ideas of what women can expect in life. I found that for the most part, these criticisms were snarky and misdirected, if not wrong, except perhaps in the case of Ariel from The Little Mermaid. 

It so happens that on a recent visit my in-laws, we went to a yard sale and picked up a bunch of Disney movies, on VHS (yes, we have VHS players still), for fifty cents each. This included movies like Sleeping BeautyBeauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Mulan as well as Fantasia and a couple of others. The other day, I sat down with my daughter, who is five, and watched Sleeping Beauty. If I’d seen it before, I don’t remember; I may not have seen it before, not all the way through At any rate, it was like watching it for the first time and may have been the first time. My daughter was occasionally interested but more intrigued by games on the iPad.

The “lesson” from Sleeping Beauty that some critics find is that a pretty girl must do nothing but wait to be saved by a handsome stranger. But Disney’s movie has some darker undertones, and I’d say being saved by the handsome stranger is a well-deserved treat for our heroine.

As I noted before, many of these movies are set in an implied Middle Ages-ish setting, probably necessary because so few countries today have royalty that have any real power. I’ve noted that when many of these fairy tales are modernized or otherwise updated (including my own Light and the Darkness, a vampire tale inspired by Beauty and the Beast), the “princess” theme is just discarded. It’s less necessary that the woman be royalty than that she be in certain circumstances.

Back to Sleeping Beauty — can we get some sympathy for the titular character? Let’s see — the girl, Aurora, is betrothed to a boy when she is less than week old. This will no doubt cut into her future dating life. Some woman in a funny hat, pissed that she’s not invited to the baby’s coming out, curses her. When she is sixteen, the witch says, the girl will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. A little harsh, if you ask me, not to mention totally uncalled for. It’s not like the child had a say in the invites.

The good fairies do what they can; unable to stop the spell, one of them alters it so that instead of dying, the princess will sleep. In an effort to prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled, the King and Queen ban spinning wheels from the kingdom and burn the existing ones. (I’m assuming this means a serious increase in clothing imports; I hope this doesn’t cripple the area’s economy.) Realizing that the princess will still be visible and easily found by the witch (named Malificent; great name) for other possible bad things, the good fairies propose to take the girl into the forest and raise her themselves in hiding. Desperate and unhappy, the King and Queen agree.

The fairies change their appearance, resolve not to use magic in order to keep themselves and the child secret, and go off to a cabin in the woods (but thankfully not one Joss Whedon designed). The girl, renamed Briar Rose, lives with the fairies, is quite happy in her isolated life, and just before she’s to be returned to her parents, she meets a handsome man in the forest. Neither of them know that they have found their already-betrothed (small world, indeed) and many tears are shed. Once back, she of course pricks her finger and falls asleep.

So what we have here is quite possibly the most passive heroine in Disney history. She does nothing to advance her own story, but then she can’t unless it’s accidental, since she doesn’t know her own story. Aurora has had no control over her life; she was engaged before she could focus her eyes, she was cursed by a woman with (again credit to Joss Whedon) breath-taking anger management issues, is taken into exiled and then returned with a) no time to process that her life has been a lie and b) no chance to avoid the witch’s spell.

These, to me, are far more dangerous issues for adults to take out of this movie. But the problem is of course that children don’t watch movies like adults do (thank heavens). Much subtext is lost on them, although they likely absorb more than we think. They do not see that all of Aurora’s choices have been taken from her or made for her. These are things that we should teach our children to avoid — to make sure they do not cede control over themselves to anyone — never mind the fussy clothes.

Once again, I find a lot of sympathy for Aurora and am pleased that she was found by her prince. I could digress here — who’s this putz who’s ready to throw over this established alliance for a stranger? Does he not know what happens when promises like this are broken? Did he not see the Red Wedding?!?! But I think what we need to take away from the Prince’s experience is that he fell for his princess without knowing she was one; he fell for her and not all of her trappings. So that’s a plus.

And thankfully, no one played ‘The Rains of Castamere” at the wedding ceremony. Because we all know that’s just bad news.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by jam on June 11, 2013 at 12:27 am

    i liked how you inserted GoT here 🙂

    Reply

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