Here we are now with our third Disney Princess: Aurora from Sleeping Beauty (1959)
The story begins with a Kingdom celebrating the birth of the King and Queen’s daughter, Aurora. Then the evil fairy Maleficent curses the child after not being invited to the child’s christening: by the time Aurora reaches the age of 16, she’s prick her finger on a spindle of a spinning wheel and she’ll die. One of the three fairies who came, Merryweather, can’t break the curse, but is able to change it. Instead of death, the Princess shall fall into a deep sleep, and can only be awoken by true love’s kiss. To ensure the curse doesn’t occur at all, the three fairies adopt the child, disguise themselves as peasants, and change the girl’s name to Briar Rose. They’ll be hiding and protecting the girl from Maleficent and she’ll only return and learn the truth by the time she becomes 16. Years pass, and Rose has become a beautiful young lady (but seriously, she doesn’t look 15-16. She looks like 20-something) with a beautiful singing voice. She attracts the attention of a handsome stranger, not knowing it’s the Prince she betrothed to when she was little, and they fall in love immediately. After finding out that she’s Princess Aurora, she becomes upset and heart-broken when she finds out that she’s to marry someone else and never to see the handsome stranger again. But with more bad luck, Maleficent finds out where the Princess is and fulfils the prophecy.
I said I was gonna defend the Disney Princesses… but it’s a bit trickier to defend Aurora. As well as Pocahontas, but I’ll get to her in her own article. I mean, on a personal level, I like Aurora, but as a whole there isn’t much to Aurora as a character. We don’t even spend much time with her. She’s actually in the film for only 18 minutes! Unlike Cinderella where they gave the female heroine a new and interesting layer, Aurora’s pretty much Snow White again minus the innocence. She’s definitely a step down compared to the other two. So I really do get why people don’t like her. She doesn’t really do anything, she doesn’t stand out from the other Princesses to make herself unique, and frankly there’s nothing to really adore about her as a character, and worst of all her motivation is not very encouraging. But I can’t dislike her either.
I do admit that, with the quality of the beautiful and outstanding animation, I love the way she’s animated and designed. Aurora has this elegance and graceful movement that makes her feel like she really does come from royalty. And her voice actress, Mary Costa, performs well and gives a refined quality to her character. She just has a gorgeous singing voice. I do see what the filmmakers intended to do, and I do admire the enthusiasm they had to create this character.
Other people do seem to like her as well, and there are things I can address that they did alright. Unlike Snow White, Aurora is the kind of person who wants to grow up and experience the new, as opposed to Snow White who is pretty much happy with who she is. Aurora may be similar to Snow White (kind, beautiful, and quite a daydreamer), but removing her innocence, she’s given a more rebellious attitude. She definitely still loves and respects her “aunts” and tries her best to do what she’s told. Although she’s told not to meet any strangers or anyone in general, she mentions that she doesn’t want to be treated like a child and constantly dreams of a special stranger. In her mind she wants to break some rules. That is until the day where she finally meets a stranger: an attractive guy, not knowing that he’s a prince. It’s a moment that she’s dreamt all along, and it came true. She met someone “Once Upon a Dream.” With that powerful dream-like experience becoming a reality, she falls in love. That meant something really big to her. She’s then upset because she’s told to fulfil her royal duties and marry someone she doesn’t love, and something she has dreamt of for a long time is being taken away from her. This is a sign of her freedom being denied again. That curse that was placed upon her practically governed her entire life. It was her true love’s kiss who ended up breaking the spell and setting her free.
… Or maybe I’m just being too analytical, but that’s just my wild interpretation. I think that’s what the story meant, or at least tried to tell.
Although I do kinda like her, I don’t adore her. Ultimately her main motivation is directly linked to finding her “dream prince”, which, when you look at it, is a stereotypical trait for a female character, and makes her seem like a typical damsel in distress whose only goal is to have a man save her. That could be a problem, because it’s something quite sexist. Although it also doesn’t make much sense to a lot of people when they look at the set-up. It just felt like she was just waiting for someone to come and didn’t really do anything about it. Really? You’re trapped your whole life in one place and you’re not gonna do anything about it? At least it made sense with Cinderella, because she has nowhere else to go, and needed a positive attitude to cope living in a horrible place. And Snow White is at least acting as a mother figure to the dwarfs while she’s in hiding. To be fair, she did want to respect her loving aunts, which is why she wouldn’t leave. Besides, every human being wants to fall in love at some point in their lives, and it made sense in the narrative and in her character for her to fall in love, but I guess she felt like a lost opportunity. Either way, they made-up for this opportunity with great characters like Ariel onwards, and especially more recently Rapunzel (who had a very similar set-up). To me, it has to make sense with what kind of film you’re trying to make, and it sorta makes sense here, which is why it doesn’t bother me as much. At the same time, I can’t ignore the issue at hand.
Speaking of which, what about the Prince? Actually, WHY is it that the first three princes before were so dull? Or we don’t know anything about? Compared to the previous two princes, Prince Phillip’s more developed: he’s given more lines and more screen time. At least they gave him a decent voice actor, and the actor does try with the little time he has. At least they gave him a freaking NAME! At least we see him interact with his family and with his horse. But we also never actually get a real sense of his character enough to know why he falls in love with Aurora other than her voice and beauty. Maybe (but this is just a theory) it’s the fact that he’s a very rebellious character, like Aurora, to the point that he’d refuse to follow his duties to an arranged marriage, and instead falling for a girl he met in the forest. By the way, have you noticed that half-way through the film he doesn’t say any other lines after “Goodbye father”! Well, people will probably put him on the “dull Prince” category again, but at least they tired a bit more with him. I don’t find him annoying or anything (I like the scenes where he interacts with his horse in the middle of the film), but they’ll definitely do much better later.
When I look at the behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the film, I truly feel the filmmakers did want to give something to Aurora, putting as much ambition to this character as they did with the entire film itself. They wanted us to care about this woman who was destined to a horrible fate. Overall, I prefer the three fairies and Maleficent more than Aurora and the Prince. The fairies are some of the greatest Disney side-kicks ever, and Maleficent is one of the greatest, if not THE BEST Disney villain, and I LOVE THEM! But with that said, is Aurora a truly bad character? Well, I personally don’t think so, but the arguments can easily fall into the other side. Yeah, her motivation is simplistic, and she does embody the traditional image of the Disney Princess which a lot of people criticise, but at the same time it doesn’t ruin the film. If anything, it complemented the film in many ways. The whole film is revolved around protecting this one woman; the characters build-up Aurora as almost a heavenly figure, and when we finally see her grown up, we notice it. We’re able to feel there’s something at stake, and we hope that things go well for her and the people around her. And you could even argue that her rebellious attitude did influence the creation of future Disney Princesses: they took more chances, they broke the rules, they wanted to do stuff their own way, etc. Aurora perhaps could have been a little better, but for what we got, I think I’m satisfied.
Aurora’s probably the least popular along with Pocahontas from the Princess line-up. I don’t think there’s anything that makes her stand out, nor do I think I’m supposed to see anything great or particularly special or interesting from her as a character. She doesn’t really stand on her own. Either way, I like her. Some people like her too, and I think it’s because they’re attracted to Aurora’s presence. I heard someone say that Aurora is one of the most beautiful Disney Princesses of the line-up, and it’s not hard to see why. I agree: I think she’s quite beautiful too.
With all that said, Aurora has received a lot of mixed responses. Some people will call her “dull” or “bland”, and perhaps she is labelled as the weakest of the line-up, but it’s amazing to know that a character who was only in the film for such a short time did attract audiences to her. She did maintain a powerful presence throughout the entire film. Still, no matter what people think of Princess Aurora, Sleeping Beauty looks marvellous and deserves its place as a landmark in animation history!
As it happened, the Disney Princess franchise would be put into a deep sleep until the awakening of the film that continued the fairy tale tradition and began the Disney Renaissance. There we’ll be introduced to an iconic redhead: Ariel.