In some ways, Sleeping Beauty is a revised version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, since both adapt fairly simple fairy tales that don’t seem to lend themselves to a feature-length film. Disney has covered wide variety of subjects in his films so far, so it’s sometimes difficult to compare them, but these two lend themselves to comparison.
Of course, Sleeping Beauty does offer better animation than its predecessor. The backgrounds are gorgeously detailed, and the first part of the film has an unusual, flat look to it from the lack of shading, making it reminiscent of simple storybook illustrations. Snow White is also visually appealing, but the extra two decades of refinement shows in the newer work.
The main difference between them, though, is in how they attempt to fill out an eighty-five minute run time. Snow White did so mostly with music. This kept the film entertaining without trying to pad out a very simple plot, but does have some drawbacks. We know next-to-nothing about the world outside the dwarves’ cottage; all we know about the prince, for example, is that he’s handsome, has a good singing voice, and isn’t afraid to kiss a girl while she’s asleep.
Sleeping Beauty corrects this a little. The prince not only gets a name but a history with Princess Aurora, and though he’s hardly a complex character he does have some trace of a personality. Scenes of the palace and our protagonists’ parents also help flesh out the world a little, so the story feels more substantial than Snow White. The climax is also more satisfying, with Prince Philip having to fight Maleficent, easily one of if not the most threatening villain in Disney’s filmography, culminating in a classic knight vs. dragon duel. Compare that to Snow White‘s climax of a bunch of short dudes chasing an old lady with weapons from the Lowe’s clearance aisle.
That said, most of the film feels like I’ve seen it before, and simply lacks the charm (and historical interest) of Snow White. There are also a lot of little things that, while certainly minor, are annoying. For example, why can’t the three faeries cook, even though they’ve apparently lived alone with Aurora without using magic for sixteen years? Why was it necessary to put the whole kingdom to sleep once Aurora fell asleep? Instead of hiding her in a forest for sixteen years, couldn’t someone have just taped gardening gloves onto Aurora’s hands? Oh, and the reason Maleficent found Aurora on the last day before the curse lost effect was because the faeries basically sent up bright magic flares, advertising their location to her spy, so it’s their own damn fault she found Aurora.
Ultimately, Maleficent is the one who makes the movie. So far, there have been very few credible villains in this marathon, and some films haven’t really had an antagonist at all. Maleficent, though, is very much a credible threat to the protagonists, and indeed almost wins. She seems to relish cruelty; for example, after capturing Philip, rather than simply killing him, she intended to let him free from her dungeon go to wake Aurora, but only after years had passed and he’d become an old man.
I can’t think of many villains so far who can even compare to Maleficent. I suppose it’s tough not to give an award for top villain to Satan (not to be confused with Lucifer, who can go screw himself). Snow White did have a witch, but all she did herself was poison an apple; Pinocchio, being Child Trafficking: The Movie, did have some seedy characters, but no single antagonist; Dumbo just had a bunch of brats; Fantasia doesn’t have anybody besides the Devil, though again, he is quite the trump card in any top villains countdown; Bambi has no villain more specific than unseen hunters; Cinderella just had a bitch; Alice also didn’t really have an antagonist, except maybe the Queen of Hearts, who doesn’t even show up until near the end; Peter Pan‘s Captain Hook is entertaining, but far too comical to be a credible threat; and Lady and the Tramp also didn’t really have a villain, except maybe the Siamese cats or the dog catcher.
All that said, though, Cruella de Vil and Shere Khan are still ahead, so I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic later. Stay tuned!