Thursday, June 5, 2014

Maleficent and Sleeping Beauty: Where Did She Come From?

Other fairy tale bloggers are doing a much better job of covering Maleficent news. Film is part of Gypsy's passion at Once Upon a Blog, for example, so I am inclined to leave most of the news and discussion to her. My greater passion is for books and the old tales--not that Gypsy doesn't love those, too, and I love film, too--but time and desire don't always match, so I emphasize books more.

But Maleficent is out and I plan to see it sometime this month--I have a nephew and niece to take along--so I will probably share thoughts on it when I do.

For now, I am wanting to share some thoughts on the tale itself. It's no secret that one of my first volumes in the SurLaLune series is Sleeping Beauties: Sleeping Beauty and Snow White Tales From Around the World. So I've studied the tale a little. Or a lot, depending on your perspective. One of the fascinating facts about Sleeping Beauty is just how few variants there are for such a popular tale. Women and men under sleeping spells are fairly common in folklore, but not ones with the tropes found in Sleeping Beauty.

However, the tale, once you study it, is closely related to Snow White which has many, many more variants. Which makes me think of Maleficent, actually. Disney's Sleeping Beauty borrows from both the Perrault and Grimm's versions of Sleeping Beauty, removing the second part by Perrault and most closely resembling Grimm's Little Briar Rose, which reads to those in the know as a Reader's Digest version of the story. In none of these versions does the malicious fairy reappear to insure her spell is cast or to wreck havoc in Sleeping Beauty's life. Which is more accurate to those of us who know Faerie and its peculiarities. They don't care enough about humans to pursue a decades long vengeance.

So where does Maleficent come from? She's certainly not the ogre mother of the prince who tries to eat Sleeping Beauty's children as well as Sleeping Beauty. That's Perrault. Grimm's doesn't have a proper villain past the first act of the sleeping death curse at all.

We all know that Disney's first successful feature length fairy tale was Snow White. In that we have the evil stepmother who tries hard to kill Snow White--and her motivations are more valid when we consider them. Snow White is the fairest in the land, a threat to her royal status and potential children's status. Disney knew the evil queen was responsible for much of the success of the Snow White film and wanted--in what we now consider Disney-style today--to give us an over-the-top villain to hate in Sleeping Beauty. Not very easy considering the family-friendliness demands of the story. We certainly couldn't return to the rape themes of one of the earliest Sleeping Beauties, Italy's Sun, Moon, and Talia, perhaps one of the most shocking fairy tale variants of a popular fairy tale, perhaps the most. It is to me.

So we get Maleficent. Who, to me, owes more to Disney's Snow White than any actual fairy tale. We also owe Maleficent to the Snow White tale variants for the villain in those is unreservedly one of the scariest in fairy tales, ranking with Bluebeard, since both the stepmother and Bluebeard are supposed to care and nurture members of their family, but seek to outright murder them instead.

So at least the new Maleficent film offers us a better backstory and motivation for a villain that doesn't really have strong reasons to so actively pursue Aurora's destruction. Overall, in the original Disney animated, she is evil for evil's sake, a psychopath pursuing revenge beyond all reason on an innocent girl, up to her own destruction. Which isn't very satisfying, is it? Is she just bored out of her mind and seeking death by cop?

And I'm not offering that as a criticism. Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorites of the Disney canon with the Sleeping Beauty waltz scene as one of my favorites in all of the films.


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I hadn't really realized until there was all this discussion surrounding Maleficent how far removed she is from other versions of the tale (one of the affects of being exposed to Sleeping Beauty via the Disney version first). Still a sucker for the Disney version myself...I think it's the best Disney animated movie as far as visuals

  2. Interesting connection between Maleficent and Snow White's stepmother--something to think on. Thank you. Because of the strong visuals and faerie link, I'm planning to see the film, but will wait till it comes out on DVD. I'm more of a reader. I finally saw Tangled recently and noted the links to Cress, the most recent Rapunzel I've read. Disney has such major influence in the fairy tale world.

  3. I was wondering, did Tchaikovsky give the 13th fairy and expanded role in the Sleeping Beauty ballet? We do know that, at least musically, they drew a whole lot from the ballet. Maybe they drew on more than that.

  4. She does have a larger role, at least in the version I've seen-- she curses the baby, shows up later to personally give her a spindle, and is present at the curse breaking (although there isn't nearly the epic battle there is in the Disney movie). Also, in the ballet, she has a different name: Carabosse.


  5. Very interesting post! I regularly teach a Fairy Tales course at Miami University and feel that I am in perpetual catch-up mode re all things Disney with my young American undergrads. (Being both much older than they and not American I simply was not (over?)-exposed to Disney the way the vast majority of them seem to have been. So I just recently saw both Disney's Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty for the first time and I was surprised at how much better I Iiked Sleeping Beauty! Partly because of the Briar Rose aspects,and yes I also really liked the Waltz scene. I loved Maleficent and her dragon avatar, which reminded me a bit of Ursula and her giant octopus transformation in The Little Mermaid. (I love Ursula!).