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A New Perspective: Sleeping Beauty Revised

“Let us tell an old story anew... And we will see how well you know it.”
Maleficent (2014)

What is one of the most famous and well-known sources of magic? Right, fairy tales! To be more specific, there is one fairy tale in particular which I have been researching: Sleeping Beauty. Written by either the Grimm Brothers or Charles Perrault (this is uncertain), it has become one of the most well-known stories, as well as an immensely popular tale for modern adaptations.

Most young girls have seen the 1959 Disney adaptation , where Aurora – at the time a peasant girl - falls in love with Prince Philip. After she falls under the spell, Philip will come to rescue her with the help of the three good fairies. This is all old news. This year, however, a new adaptation of The Sleeping Beauty was released, and it appeared in a currently favoured method: the movie contains bits of the original story, but has a twist. The writers and directors have given the tale a complete make-over and have spun the plot around.

I am, of course, talking about Maleficent, directed by Robert Stromberg. Beware: spoiler alert! Angelina Jolie, fulfilling the role of Maleficent magnificently, brings us back to our childhood memories of princes, princesses, and fairies. No longer is she the evil and arguably ugly witch, but, despite her appearance, we can now see beauty behind Maleficent’s mask of hatred. Why? Because Walt Disney Pictures shows us her background and history. Not the one described by the Grimm brothers or Perrault – namely that there were not enough golden plates/caskets for the thirteen/eight Wise Women/Fairies – but a completely new story about a young girl who fell in love with a boy.

Knowing her past the audience is much more likely to feel for Maleficent when her lover Stefan leaves her, never to return to be with her. She has fallen in love with a young boy, and during their time apart one follows their aspirations to gain power: young Malifecent grows up to become the guardian of the Moors. Maleficent, as is shown in various shots, is a free creature because of her wings. When Stefan does return, he robs her of this freedom by taking her wings. Stefan becomes king of the kingdom of humans, and Maleficent, with growing hatred inside her, takes over the kingdom she once protected.

This is the turning point in the story: we have seen Maleficent’s history and it is now time to return to the more well-known part of the fairy tale. A baby is born and since Stefan still fears Maleficent’s power he does not invite her to the celebration of the birth of his daughter; the three fairies who have escaped Maleficent’s grasp, however, are present. The entrance of these fairies — who are not named Flora, Fauna and Merriweather as they are in the Disney version, but Knotgrass, Thistlewit and Flittle — leads to the start of an almost exact copy of the scene in the older Disney version.

The Disney figures have turned into real people, but the dialogue is the same. The only difference is Maleficent’s curse: “Listen well, all of you, the princess shall indeed grow in grace and beauty, beloved by all who meet her. But before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, and fall into a sleep like death! A sleep from which she will never awaken. The princess can be woken from her death sleep, but only by true love’s kiss. This curse will last till the end of time. No power on earth can change it”. The first part is the exact same as in the 1959 version, but the addition about how she can be woken comes from Maleficent herself, instead of from the third fairy.

This first part will be her own undoing, as we are shown in great detail when Aurora grows up. The idea remains the same: the three fairies take the baby to a cottage in the woods and bring her up there. The almost mature girl starts wan-dering through the woods and comes into contact with, among oth-ers, a prince. However, there are some key differences that shine a fresh light on our perception of the existing story: the famous thorns around the castle in which the prin-cess sleeps have been turned into the thorns protecting Maleficent’s king-dom from the armies of king Stefan; due to the inability of the fairies to take good care of the baby, Malefi-cent steps in to nurture the baby; and, most importantly, Aurora meets and in a way befriends Maleficent, thinking she is her ‘fairy god-mother’.

At first, Maleficent is just making sure her curse will stand and keeps an eye on the little girl. Her right hand, Diaval – commonly known as the raven in Disney’s earlier version – functions as her consciousness and ensures that the girl will live. By shadowing the slowly growing girl, Maleficent starts to develop love for the girl, to such an extent that with the child’s birthday nearing she tries to revoke the spell. To her despair, this is not possible and she can only helplessly stand by as Aurora finds out Maleficent’s and her own true identity. When Aurora runs back to her father she activates the curse. A key element here is that Aurora actually wanted to stay with Maleficent in the Moors, because she can see the beauty beyond the outside strangeness of the creatures living there.

The climax is when Maleficent tries to take Aurora’s ‘true love’ to the castle to wake her and fails. It is only then that Aurora awakes after Maleficent’s kiss on her forehead. Afterwards, they plan to go to the Moors and stay there, but then Maleficent is captured. With Aurora’s help, however, she is able to defeat King Stefan’s army when she has regained her wings and she is once again free.

Through Aurora, Maleficent has become good again as she once was. She brings down the wall of thorns and restores the Moors in their original state, and Aurora be-comes queen of both kingdoms. Our Prince Philip from the 1959 version has only a minor role in our ‘love story’: it focuses more on Malefi-cent’s perspective of this fairy tale and shows us a very different view on villains.

On IMDB, Maleficent is rated with a 7.1; this makes it number 102 on the list of best 2014 movies. I agree with most commentaries that Angelina Jolie carries the movie. But I do not and will not agree upon the fact that despite the beautiful CGI, there is not much more to say about it. Malificent shows us that there are more transla-tions of famous – very short – fairy tales possible than the already existing ones.

By Josephine Mackenbach


Works Cited

Grimm, The Brothers. "Sleeping Beauty." Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales. New York: Fall River, 2012. N. pag. Print.

Maleficent. Dir. Robert Stromberg. Perf. Angelina Jolie, Ell Fanning, Sharlto Copley. Walt Disney Pic-tures, 2014. DVD.

Sleeping Beauty. Dir. Clyde Geronimi. Walt Disney Productions, 1959. DVD.