My love affair for Disney movies started when I was no older than 3 and has continued ever since.
I could always count on those movies to make me smile and watching them today takes me back to simpler times. One of these movies was the 1959 animated classic, Sleeping Beauty. I remembered it well from childhood—the two fairies fighting over the color of the dress, the beautiful “Once Upon a Dream” sequence in the forest, and the frightening appearance of Maleficent.
Watching Sleeping Beauty for the first time in several years brought me an overwhelming feeling or nostalgia and an appreciation for this classic movie.
For several years now, I’ve heard both sides of the Disney Princess argument: Are they really good role models for young girls, or merely remnants of a sexist bygone era? While many of the princesses do take initiative and follow their own paths, the three earliest princesses (Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora) do not and seem to exist only to sing, do chores, look pretty, and most importantly, wait for Prince Charming.
This is all true for Aurora: she barely talks in her own film and spends most of it sleeping. Her role in the film seems only to drive the plot. However, Sleeping Beauty is more than a movie about Aurora and her curse. In fact, most of the movie focuses on the conflict between the Three Good Fairies (Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather) and Maleficent. These four women have meaningful interactions, though not always positive, that very rarely revolve around men. Instead, the Three Good Fairies devise ways to save Aurora, thwart Maleficent’s plans, or bicker over using magic while disguised as peasant women.
Needless to say, Sleeping Beauty passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors: there are more named female characters than male, and these female characters talk to each other about something other than men almost all the time. Sleeping Beauty is so dominated by women that it almost fails the reverse Bechdel Test, where male characters do not talk about anything other than women.
Passing the Bechdel Test or failing the reverse Bechdel Test does not inherently mean the film is empowering for women, but it does prove a strong female presence and promotes the idea that women’s lives do not revolve around men. This is exactly the case in Sleeping Beauty, where the Three Good Fairies work together to solve the issues caused by Maleficent, always in the best interest of Aurora. Even the rescue of Prince Philip was for Aurora’s benefit, not his own. Aurora was like a daughter to them, so they did all they could to save her and eventually succeeded. It’s a testament to the power of teamwork (cliché as it sounds) and the bravery and tenacity of women. Aurora herself may not empower young women, but the Fairies do a wonderful job of highlighting exactly why it’s important for women to defend other women and work together despite personal differences.
As a 5-year-old, Sleeping Beauty was my favorite Disney Princess movie because Aurora wore a pink dress and lived happily ever after. Today, I enjoy the female presence and the ideas that come from it, as well as the light-hearted comedy. Honestly, the “make it pink, make it blue” fight is just as funny now as it was years ago