Walt Disney / Mary Evans / Ronald Grant / Everett Collection
She seemed relatively unperturbed when we sat down for this month's Sibling Revivalry screening (perhaps because the film clocked in at a mercilessly short hour and 15 minutes), but it wasn't long until she groaned, "I can't believe I'm watching this!" The conversation's down-versus-uphill momentum from that point will depend entirely on your penchant for extreme sarcasm in the face of childhood fantasy.
Here's what my little sister had to say after her first viewing of "Sleeping Beauty," 55 years after its release.
'These Movies Ruin Lives'
We ran through my sister's personal Disney oeuvre to try and understand why she missed "Sleeping Beauty" -- she'd seen "The Little Mermaid," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Aladdin" and "Lady and the Tramp" as a child. She continually mixed up the events of "Snow White" with those in "Sleeping Beauty" (an issue Walt Disney reportedly worried about constantly during the production of "Sleeping Beauty"). The common thread among all she'd seen? The outdated, unrealistic messages about love and relationships.
Surveying the Damage
When confronted regarding why she thinks these Disney classics are bad for kids, my sister took a strong stance. "Because that's not the way it happens!" she exclaimed. "Like, if you just don't eat and you have a really tiny waist and this amazing perfect hair and long eyelashes and your lips always look sensuously plump and kissable and you dance and frolic and talk to animals in a forest, all of a sudden a guy's going to appear and save your life and you're going to be happy forever. That's basically what it's saying, and that's ludicrous! But for little kids, they just don't understand that -- they think that's the world, and it's so mean! If it were that easy then I'd just head over to Washington Square Park and dance and sing to some birds."
Not That There's Any Animosity
So, is my sister still grappling with the idea of reality versus fairy tale? "Well, now I think I've finally got it," she admitted. "It just took the better part of 20 years of my life. You know, the years when I didn't have grey hair and wrinkles. So I appreciate that, Disney. No, it's fine. Really, it's all good, guys." She did seem a bit heartened to hear about the studio's more recent features, like "Tangled" and "Frozen" that seek to defy the traditional formulas. "Sure, that'll be great for my own kids. Although by the time that happens we'll probably have flying cars, and men and movies will be extinct," she huffed. (There's no winning with her, clearly.)
The Fairy Godmother Gift Guide
Apparently, she just needed to blow off some steam, because when I asked my sister what she'd want as a gift from a fairy godmother (as you'll recall, the infant Princess Aurora received beauty and song before Maleficent crashed the party), my sister said, "Love. Being able to give and receive love. All you need is love, right?" Just when I thought she was getting soft on me, she launched into a cheesy rendition of the Beatles song and yelled, "So where's my prince? I'm singing, so he must be on his way, right Disney?!"
The common thread of "true love's kiss" waking a heroine in peril is almost as old as the art of animated films, and -- as an adult watching "Sleeping Beauty" -- I saw it as a bit more of a metaphor than the surface level read I gave it as a kid. I asked my sister if she believes that meeting the right person can make you feel like you were sleepwalking through your life up until that point, and she said, "Oh, that's kind of pathetic, isn't it? But do I believe in it anyway? Of course. Of course I do. That's why we keep searching!"
Sweet Dreams Aren't Made of These
Briar Rose (aka: Princess Aurora in hiding) touted, "If you dream a thing more than once, it's sure to come true" -- clearly meant as a motivational statement for children. My sister's read? "I heard that, and it resonated. But only because it was kind of scary. I had a dream last night that would be really bad if it came true. So, now on top of being annoyed at this film, I'm worried about going to sleep tonight. I mean, what if you're dreaming something that you don't want to come true? What of that, Disney?" When I told her I don't think children are that dark or cynical, she said, "Yeah, but if I heard that when I was five I just would've willed a bunch of dreams about having four dolls instead of two. How is that any better?" Touché, little sis.
In the Immortal Words of Queen Bey
The heroine of "Sleeping Beauty" is faced with a tough conundrum: She meets a mystery guy on her 16th birthday, but also finds out that she's secretly a princess. She's forced to travel to her family's castle that night and blow off her second meeting with the dreamboat (who just so happens to be her betrothed prince, because of course), and she doesn't exactly head into her opulent new life willingly. "Ugh, drama queen!" my sister yelled, as Aurora cried about it. So, I asked her what she'd do in that situation. "I'd be like, screw that dude!" my sister exclaimed. "I can upgrade! Beyoncé said it best: 'Let me upgrade you!' Like, come on man, you're out of the picture now -- I'm a princess, I can't date you! Anyway, you can't write that down -- nobody will date me if they know I'm just waiting to upgrade them." Oops.