Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Plot: 4 Stars
Sleeping Beauty is a sweet film with colorful characters and enchanting music, but very little to offer in terms of empowering female role models. Princess Aurora may be the title character, but she doesn’t speak more than 18 lines throughout the entire movie and appears on screen for about as many minutes. The majority of the film is focused on the three fairies who are trying to protect her from Maleficent’s evil curse.
Flora, Fauna and Merriweather are certainly heroes in their own right, even surpassing the gallant Prince Phillip in their efforts to protect the princess. Sleeping Beauty might have scored a bit higher if young girls were more likely to model themselves after Flora, Fauna and Merriweather, but it’s hard for such matronly, silly characters to compete with such a flawless beauty. Princess Aurora herself is endearing and playful during her few short scenes, but she’s still little more than a sleeping princess waiting for love to bring her back to life.
Supporting Characters: 4 Stars (Spoilers)
From the moment Maleficent’s curse is cast, Flora, Fauna and Merriweather do everything they can to protect Aurora from her cruel fate. Merriweather uses her special gift to turn Maleficent’s curse from an untimely death into a deep, dark sleep. And all three women agree to abandon their magic powers - living like mortals to try and keep the princess safe. But even after their efforts fail, and Aurora falls into a timeless sleep, the three fairies venture bravely through Maleficent’s castle to free Prince Phillip and guide him through her horde of demons. In the end, it is Flora’s spell, rather than Prince Phillip’s strength or skill, which ultimately slays the dragon and makes the happy ending possible. Of course, the ending might be a bit more triumphant if the three fairies accomplished some of their impressive feats without magic, but at the very least, Sleeping Beauty does contain a handful of unexpected female heroes.
Gender Roles - Women: 2 Stars
Princess Aurora has been hidden away in a cottage and living as a peasant for 16 years. She knows nothing about her royal pedigree, her betrothal to Prince Phillip, or the curse hanging over her head. Had she some knowledge of the fate that was in store for her, she might have made a more interesting character. She might have snuck away in the middle of the night to find her royal parents, or catch a glimpse of the man she is promised to marry. She might have attempted to outsmart Maleficent, or do something to try and break the spell that’s been placed on her. But as is, she is just a stereotypical girl who wants nothing more than to meet a man and fall in love. She dreams of princes and dances with the animals in the forest, serendipitously singing her way into the heart of Prince Phillip as he’s passing by.
Gender Roles - Men: 1 Star
Prince Phillip is traditionally handsome, confident and romantic. He notices the young princess as he’s riding through the woods, mistaking her for a common peasant girl. He approaches her without hesitation, confident and assured of his own charm. He falls in love after a simple dance, and emphatically tells his father that he’s going to marry her, rather than the princess he’s been promised to. Unlike Aurora, who breaks down into tears when she learns of her betrothal, Phillip has the assertiveness and authority to stand up to his father and argue for what he wants.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 2 Stars
Princess Aurora shows some self-confidence as she’s dancing with her animal friends in the forest. She appears to know what she wants out of life, but she’s also too sheltered and naïve to truly advocate for herself. She’s easily swayed by the fairies when they warn her to stay away from strangers, and later by Prince Phillip when he claims to be the man of her dreams. She’s heartbroken when she learns that she’s really a princess, and engaged to a strange prince whom she’s never met, but she doesn’t have the strength to demand the freedom to make her own choice.
Aurora isn’t given much of a personality, and is celebrated more for her beauty than anything else. When the young princess was born, Flora and Fauna blessed her with the gifts of “beauty” and “song.” When considering the amazing talents and treasures that they might have bestowed with just a touch of their supernatural power, it is disappointing that both fairies chose such superficial qualities. Even worse is the fact that Merriweather, the bravest and the grittiest of the three fairies, is interrupted by Maleficent’s curse before she has a chance to confer her blessing. We’ll never know what Merriweather might have given to young Aurora. Perhaps “wit” or “honesty” or a firm sense of right and wrong. Perhaps the sort of personal strength that might have empowered the princess to free herself from a forced marriage or an evil enchantress’s spell. But of course, all we can do is speculate, since Merriweather was forced to use her gift to dull the impact of Maleficent’s curse. And Aurora was left with nothing but stunning beauty and an enchanting voice.
Character Development: 1 Star
Princess Aurora has a rich story with amazing potential, but sadly, she remains more of a caricature than a real person. Aurora has been raised in seclusion for 16 years, doubtlessly wondering who her parents were and if she’ll ever meet the rest of her missing family. When Flora, Fauna and Merriweather finally reveal the truth, Aurora is more stunned over the news that she’s betrothed to a prince, than the fact that her entire identity has been turned upside-down. We don’t know enough about Aurora to understand where all her hurt is coming from. She might be weeping at the thought of leaving behind her home in the woods and the three women that have raised her since birth. She might be struggling with the anger at being abandoned by her parents, or the anxiety of pleasing them and trying to masquerade as royalty. Perhaps it’s the idea of being married to someone she’s never met and may not ever love. We’re told by one of the fairies that her continuous weeping is over “that boy she met,” and we have little choice but to take her at her word. Sadly, what could have an intense display of complicated emotions, is watered down to nothing more than a simple heartache over a romantic dance in the woods.
Love: 1 Star
Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip fall in love over an enchanting dance in the woods, without even learning each other’s names. Aurora has no idea that she’s just stolen the heart of a prince, and Phillip has no idea that he’s just met his intended bride. The mistaken identity creates some unnecessary heartache, but everything eventually weaves itself together with amazing simplicity. The story has some definite charm to it, but paints a pretty unrealistic picture of what constitutes “true love.”