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Is the story of Sleeping Beauty worth telling?

The prince awakens the princess.
The prince awakens the princess.
© Walt Disney Productions

The story of Sleeping Beauty has remained popular for many years thanks to Disney's animated movie "Sleeping Beauty" from 1959. The Disney production is hailed as one of the classic animated films of all time. This was not the first version of the story of Sleeping Beauty and it certainly has not been the last. The story lives on through many retellings which includes the new Disney movie "Maleficent". Maleficent is the villain from Disney's 1959 "Sleeping Beauty" who really doesn't have too big of a role in that film. In this new movie, she is essentially the main character. One could ask why Disney has gone back to the story of Sleeping Beauty, but a better question would be whether Sleeping Beauty is a story worth telling at all. Well, to figure that out one needs to look back to the original story.

Before I do that, however, I would like to give you a warning: I do not feel I can sufficiently talk about the topics in this article nor answer the questions that arise from them without entering into spoiler territory. I will discuss the endings to the various versions of the story of Sleeping Beauty that are brought up here. I will also discuss briefly the ending to the Disney movie "Frozen". If you do not wish to know the endings to these stories then I would advise you to read or watch whichever ones you wish and then to come back here and read this article once you are done. Otherwise, you may continue reading. Don't say I didn't warn you!

The original story of Sleeping Beauty comes not from the Disney animated movie, but from a story by Charles Perrault entitled "The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood". This story is a short and simple one. Basically, a fairy bestows a curse upon a newborn princess that will make her die upon pricking her hand on a spindle. Another fairy counters this curse by saying that she won't die, but merely go unto a sleep for a 100 years until she will be awakened by a prince. The princess eventually pricks her hand, falls asleep, and a prince does indeed eventually come and she wakes up. There is a little more to the story after that, but it isn't all that interesting or necessary.

There is a moral attached to the end of the story which basically says that true love is worth waiting for and sometimes is actually better because of the wait. There is something worthwhile in that moral in that it is good not to rush into things, especially when it comes to relationships. Then again, it also seems to be saying that a woman should simply wait for true love to find her, spend life in a sleeping state and not live, until a man comes into her life who is her true love. Not such a good moral when thought about that way, is it?

Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" took the character of the evil fairy and gave her the name Maleficent. Otherwise, however, they didn't really add anything to her character. The characters in Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" are just as thin as the original short story. In fact, the story itself is in some ways even less eventful than the original short story. Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" is only 75 minutes long, but even at that length it feels a little stretched out. There is no character development in the movie and the story is as thin as it sounds: a princess is cursed to fall asleep, she does, and then a prince comes and she wakes up. Aside from a brief appearance of a dragon, that's it.

If there is a moral to Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" it would seem to be that every girl will have her Prince to come and save her. Many Disney films seem to follow this trend, but none went quite as far in that direction as this one. In other Disney movies, the female characters are at least characters of their own. Here, Princess Aurora has as much character as someone who is asleep for a whole story because even when she is actually awake she is so inactive she might as well be sleeping. She is a blank slate in eternal sleep before her prince finally comes to wake her up and give her life. Oh, and don't think the prince did anything too interesting to wake her up because he pretty much just decides to do it and then does it with little conflict in his way. This is about as simple a story as they come.

So, why is this movie considered a classic? Is it even relevant in this day and should it have even been popular in the first place? Well, the main good thing about the movie is the animation. The animation in "Sleeping Beauty" is quite beautiful. I'd actually say it is my favorite looking animated Disney movie from its era. Everything has such a clean and sharp look to it. I believe the animation was better than anything else that had come out before. Visually, "Sleeping Beauty" totally holds up. The same cannot be said of its story.

The story of "Sleeping Beauty" is both boring and without any good kind of moral. It is a story that places all importance on the prince and not the princess. It is a story that tells one to wait instead of acting. Sometimes patience can be a good thing and certainly it is good to hold out hope that better things will come in the future, but simply staying dormant like someone who is literally asleep is not something that should be preached. I do not feel that "Sleeping Beauty" gives a good message to those who watch it.

It is because of the boring story and not so wise moral that I would say that the story of Sleeping Beauty both in its original form and in the Disney animated movie does not hold up and that an update of the story could be justified. In this year of 2014, both Disney and The Global Asylum have made updates to this story. Disney has released "Maleficent" and The Global Asylum has released "Sleeping Beauty". Well, how do these movies fare against the original versions of the story? Can changes be made to this very simple and possibly misguided tale to make it worthwhile? I have watched the two movies to find out and now I shall tell you what I have discovered.

First, let's talk about "Maleficent". "Maleficent" is a live-action version of "Sleeping Beauty" told from the perspective of the animated movie's villain. Because "Maleficent" is told from the villain's perspective, we now get much more character development for this titular character. It turns out that Maleficent was not always evil. She began her life as a good fairy until some bad things happened to her and she stopped believing in true love and perhaps any good in the world in general. Basically, she went through what most people in life go through: a bad break-up. Instead of getting over it, she took the route of cursing a baby to sleep for eternity unless she is awoken by true love's kiss. Maleficent does not believe in true love and so she figures this curse will make the princess as good as dead.

So, does true love exist anymore or has Disney, like Maleficent, given up on believing in it? Basically, Disney still believes in true love, but not so much the moral of the original story. "Maleficent" is, of course, no longer so much about a princess as it is about a fairy. This story is really Maleficent's story and so the moral of the girl waiting for her prince doesn't have much place in this story. Oh, of course there is a prince, but he is not the one who saves the princess in the end. No, the prince is not the one to awaken the princess from her slumber. The one to awake the princess from her slumber is, GASP, Maleficent herself?! Wait, but isn't Maleficent the villain? Isn't she supposed to be evil? Oh, that's right: she was a good fairy once. She wasn't always evil and thus still has the potential to become good once again. She realizes the error of her ways in the end and more importantly realizes her love for the princess which is the only thing that can awaken her and so it does.

On the surface, this ending with the prince not being the true love of the princess could be seen as unnecessary and a little late to the game as "Frozen" already did this ending recently. There is truth in this. I did have a feeling of "been there, done that" watching the ending of "Maleficent". Unfortunately, there can only be so many endings to this story. I mean, they could have gone with the original ending where the prince does indeed awake the princess, but what would be the purpose in that? Would that not be incredibly boring? I mean, if this is going to be a new version of this tale then it should offer some new things, right? It is true that this ending is not totally new in the grand scheme of movies as a whole, but it is new to this particular story and that might make it justified enough.

What this new ending really creates is a much better message than the previous versions of this story ever had. The story is not one about waiting for your true love, but finding true love when you thought there was none. It is about believing in true love in the first place. It is also about believing in the good within others. It is about the potential for rehabilitation. It is about giving a three dimensional personality to a person who was once only seen as solely evil. This is a much more worthwhile message than that of the original story.

The story of Disney's 1959 "Sleeping Beauty" gave me nothing to think about except how boring and misguided I felt it to be. The main song in the movie is titled "Once Upon a Dream" and basically the movie seems to say that you don't really need to follow your dreams so much as to just wait for them to come to you. If you have a problem then just wait and someone will come and fix it. Not very good advice. "Maleficent", on the other hand, made me think about hope. It made me think about holding out hope that love exists in the world when you feel none of it. It made me think about hope that there is good in another when their actions speak otherwise. These are good things to think about and can conjure up good morals for the people who watch the movie.

Now, the ending of "Maleficent" is really only one small part of the movie. A large chunk of the movie unfortunately falls victim to its original simple source material. "Maleficent" starts off interesting because it starts in a place that the previous versions of this story never dared to examine. The movie starts with the story of Maleficent as she grows up to become the villain she is in the 1959 Disney movie. This part of the movie is interesting because it has lots of bright colors and a happy vibe that contrasts with the later parts of the movie where everything is covered in darkness. It doesn't take long before Maleficent becomes evil and after that the story begins to suffer from its original source. I mean, in the original story, nothing much happens in the time between the princess being cursed and going into her slumber. Even less happens once she is in her slumber. For Maleficent, nothing at all happens in this part of the previous versions of this story. So, "Maleficent" does struggle a little to find ways to keep the story interesting in this part where we don't really have much going on.

Basically, the original story is so simple and the characters are so thin that it is hard to make a feature length movie out of them. In "Maleficent", there is more depth given to the titular character, but the princess' character and the prince's character are still pretty thin. Fortunately, the movie is only one hour and a half long and has a good enough beginning and ending to at least make the movie more interesting than the previous versions.

Then we have the other version of this tale from 2014: The Global Asylum's "Sleeping Beauty". This movie follows more closely the story of the Disney "Sleeping Beauty" in that the ending is essentially the same. The prince does indeed save the day. Well, sort of. There are some twists in this concept, but essentially, in the end a prince does awake the princess from her slumber by true love's kiss. Where the story deviates from the original is that the prince is not yet a prince in the beginning of the movie. It is never a question, however, that the prince we do see throughout the movie will not be the one to awaken the princess from her slumber. The princess' true love is known from the first moment he is seen on screen. So, while the story may offer a twist to the original story, it is one that is not of any surprise.

The Global Asylum's "Sleeping Beauty" faces the same problems that all versions of this tale face: the original story is very simple, the characters have no depth, and the story was made to support a misguided moral. To combat this problem, this version of the tale focuses on the eventual prince more than any other character in the story. The story is now his quest to become a prince and save the princess from her curse. This does help in making the story more interesting because it does give the prince some character. Mostly though, it gives an excuse for the prince and those he is joined with to get into a series of fights along the way to the princess' castle. These fights are usually not that great as they involve badly computer generated creatures. In terms of special effects, "Maleficent" is the clear winner as the effects in that movie are of the highest caliber. There are a few moments of practical effects in The Global Asylum's "Sleeping Beauty" and those are some of the movie's best moments. If the creatures had been more practical than computer generated then this movie might have fared better.

As it stands, simply adding action to the story doesn't really change much to make the story any more interesting. The Global Asylum's "Sleeping Beauty" proves that it is hard to hide the flaws of something by simply dressing it up in slightly new clothes. More drastic changes are needed in order to really change something without much worth into something worth one's time. There are some fun moments in this version of the tale, particularly in the ending, but this version of the tale doesn't offer much in the way of a good moral for any viewer to receive. The Global Asylum's "Sleeping Beauty" is a simple action/adventure tale where the action often falls flat due to poor effects. As I said before, it has its small charms, especially in its ending, but really this movie still suffers from the same problems that all the versions of the Sleeping Beauty story seem to suffer from: the story is too simple, the characters lack depth, and the story was made to support a misguided moral.

If I were to pick which 2014 version of the Sleeping Beauty story is better then I would probably go with "Maleficent". I wouldn't say "Maleficent" is that much better than The Global Asylum's "Sleeping Beauty" as "Sleeping Beauty" has some fun to it, but "Maleficent" certainly looks better and it at least tried to update the moral of the story into something better. Also, both movies had a line about impenetrable walls, but only "Maleficent" followed that line with Sharlto Copley yelling "NOTHING. IS. IMPENETRABLE!" So, there's that.

Perhaps the most interesting way to do a retelling of the story of Sleeping Beauty is to not really retell the story at all though. There is, after all, the 2011 "Sleeping Beauty" which is not about a princess, but about a woman who gets paid to literally sleep in bed next to people who can do what they want with her. Actually, this story isn't even original as a new version of the Sleeping Beauty story because the same basic premise was already done in "House of the Sleeping Beauties" which was both a novel and a movie. Of course, these stories don't really have anything to do with the original story of "The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood" aside from the title, but it is clear that the use of a similar title was very much intentional.

The thing is, however, that I have not watched or read any version of "House of the Sleeping Beauties" and don't have much intention to. In that sense, perhaps these retellings are not as interesting as Disney or The Global Asylum's offerings. It all goes back to the problem that many adaptations have: if you deviate from the story too much it loses the intent of the original, but if you stay too much the same then there isn't much point is there? Many movies face this problem. "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is just one recent movie that comes to mind with this problem.

In the end, retelling a story will always have its drawbacks. In the case of "The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood", however, I would say that the newer adaptations are more interesting than either the original story or the first Disney adaptation that has kept the story popular throughout the years. No, none of the versions of this story have fully broken free of the faults of the original story, but the story and its moral have improved in these new versions of the tale.

So, is "Sleeping Beauty" a story worth telling? Well, I would generally say that the answer is no. The original story is of no importance to me. Its story is too simple and its moral too flawed to be of any worth. The various adaptations of this tale only seem to attain relevance from elements that have nothing to do with the original story. The animation in the 1959 Disney version is the only thing about it that I see as being worthwhile. Many people also enjoy the music in the movie, but that is also something not present in the original story. "Maleficent" is a worthwhile movie only when it deviates from the source material. The same could be said of The Global Asylum's "Sleeping Beauty".

Basically, the worth of the story of Sleeping Beauty to me can be measured by how much any adaptation of the original story deviates from that source. However, once the story deviates too far from the source, it because something else entirely. This is why I cannot give credit of any worth to the original story of "The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood". A story with a moral that involves someone ignoring the problems in their life and eventually sleeping through life until someone else saves them is not worthwhile and nor should it have ever been seen as so.

No one should sleep through life. It is great to hold onto the dream of love, but it is better to take steps to make that dream a reality. I feel that all the versions of the story of Sleeping Beauty lack this message of taking action just as the original story did. "The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood" can be dressed up in many different suits, but its flawed moral, simple story, and thin characters will always show through. This is why I believe the story of Sleeping Beauty is one not worth telling.

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