Sleeping Beauty spoiler: Prince Phillip kisses Princess Aurora and she awakens from a sleep. Hurray! *cue trumpet fanfare*
However, it’s well observed that Prince Philip deserves a bit more credit where it’s due – forgive the petty swooning – because he, unlike countless other Disney princes, relinquishes his masculinity in order to obtain his true love. Aww, ain’t that sweet.
Toward the end of the film, Phillip accepts help from the three fairy godmothers during his imprisonment by the evil Maleficent. They protect him with bubbles, flowers and a rainbow during his daring escape – it’s trippy as balls. Most important of all, they empower him with his humungous sword, the single greatest phallic symbol of the medieval world. His manliness is explicitly appropriated by women, but why?
Lest we forget, “Who run the world?” That’s right – the fictional realm of the movie is dictated by women. The fairies and Maleficent are women with unlimited power, a curveball to the traditional bedridden patriarchy of Disney films. Maleficent dick moves everyone and curses Aurora because no one can fuck with her tbh. The only way to protect her (okay, so you’ve probably seen it…) is by leaving her with the fairies, not knights in shining armour. In general, the male protagonists of Sleeping Beauty are plain stupid. The lutenist is a drunkard, and the two Kings, Stefan and Hubert, get royally pissed. King Hubert even engages in a duel using a fish for a sword (a ‘limp’ phallic symbol? *ba dum tss* Disney strikes again!). Maleficent’s orc-minions are also blind dumb. The Male is utterly ridiculed.
However, when both genders are equal in the fight against Maleficent, there is one crucial element: it takes place during a mass sleep. The fairies take it upon themselves to force the people of the kingdom into an indefinite coma to cover their backs and hope to God Prince Phillip can help clean up the shit they caused. While the morals of this are never outwardly discussed, we do know for sure that the deep sleep bestowed upon the kingdom allows a new state to emerge, one where the fairies can collaborate with Phillip to defeat Maleficent.
Ultimately, this implies two distinct conclusions: either an equal society is but a distant dream; or a dream that gives hope to an alternate society, a gender-balanced one that can legitimately be achieved for the greater good (ie. defeating evil). I would like to think it’s the latter. Let’s not forget the ending either, where Philip and Aurora dance in what looks like Heaven. Make what you will from this (‘match made in Heaven’, ‘till death do us part’) but the general message I perceive is that both genders can live harmoniously.
Remember the context here, Sleeping Beauty was released in fifties America, when sexism was rife. Prince Philip, a man, is saved by three fairies, perhaps explaining why the film was a critical and commercial failure at the time. But it’s a harrowing vision of the future of feminism – a satire of the overt masculinity of the times and a homage to the people who try. This is all a game of humble hermeneutics but I hope this argument has altered your attitude to what I perceive as a very original Disney production, one that is their earliest and arguably best interpretive feminist piece.
It’s not the greatest example of equality by any means (just look at Aurora’s waistline and hair colour, stereotyped much?), but there are Disney films that are worse off as you trawl through the back catalogue: Hercules has to be outwardly macho to succeed in obtaining Meg and fulfil his destiny (and we can all identify being born with super-strength, of course…). In Beauty and the Beast, Gaston is perhaps the epitome of the masculine array of Disney characters. Okay, so he’s a villain, but don’t forget the Beast – he imprisons Belle and verbally abuses her, hardly charming at all. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel gives up everything and literally changes herself for that guy she just happened to bump into.
The prevalent theme is that Disney princes do little to ‘get the girl’. It’s worrying how female characters were produced from years gone by. Is this why we hail Frozen so much? Perhaps so – it’s a slow start, but we’re getting there.
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