Each time I watch Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, I am obliged to find this draft and rewrite it.
The first time I rewatched it as an adult (or, a kind-of adult) (I use the term ‘adulting’ a lot) I realized that I must’ve been a pretty patient kid, as nothing happens for the first hour of the film.
The second rewatching, this past May, I was struck by the film’s dichotomous nature. The titular character, Aurora the sleeping beauty, is only on screen for about fifteen minutes of a total 78 minute running time, and she doesn’t do much while on screen. Nevertheless, the film passes the Bechdel test within the first quarter-hour, thanks to the back-and-forth bickering of the Good Fairies: Merryweather, Flora, Fauna.
Aurora is typically ranked as the least feminist of the Disney princesses (although she has stiff competition from Cinderella and Snow White) but, of the Disney princesses (up until Pocahontas), Aurora alone has female friends (the aforementioned Good Fairies). It’s not until the Disney Renaissance (1989-1999) that the princesses became more than glorified dolls; yet 1959’s Sleeping Beauty far surpasses every Disney princess movie in regards to the ratio of female-to-male dialogue until 2012’s Brave. But! the movie in no way breaks with the backwards gender ideals of mid-20th-century America. For all its visual beauty (courtesy the art direction of Eyvind Earle) the film is flawed, especially in regards to its lack of gender equality. The original fairy tales aren’t any better.
So. If you like to debate and critique gender roles in 20th century Disney films, I’d definitely recommend Sleeping Beauty; if you’d rather your heroines actually do something; you can never go wrong with Mulan (1998) or Pocahontas (1995)¹, or their 21st century counterparts, Tiana (Princess and the Frog, 2009) and Merida (Brave, 2012).
¹ Yes, I will defend Pocahontas, even if it is historically inaccurate. The movie depicts a strong female character, perhaps the first of Disney’s female leads. This is not to say I’m willing to disregard the apologist nature of the film’s creators towards the English colonists.