The third Disney Princess arrives to a suitable fanfare at the opening of this movie and the “hail to the Princess Aurora” song is irresistibly catchy. But the movie really kicks into gear with the arrival of Maleficent (Eleanor Audley), one of Disney’s best villains.
I can’t think of another kids’ movie where the villain is such an overpowering presence, even in Disney flicks that include baddies like Ursula, Scar and Jafar, the heroes match up to them, but here the iconic image of the movie is Maleficent in her dark, regal glory.
Annoyed not to have been invited to the christening of the newborn, rocks up and curses her, possibly providing an insight into why she doesn’t get invited to parties. The curse? When the Princess is 16 she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Luckily good fairy Merryweather (Barbara Luddy) steps in and changes the curse so it’s not death, but rather a deep sleep until true love’s kiss wakes her. Still, the King isn’t happy and burns every spinning wheel in the country, which seems a short sighted move as what will happen when people need new clothes? Also, you had sixteen years!
The good fairies, Merryweather and her sisters Flora and Fauna (Verna Felton and Barbara Jo Allen, respectively), match the King’s overreaction by kidnapping Aurora and going into hiding until her sixteenth birthday, renaming her Briar Rose. Unbelievably, as the big day approaches she is still hidden from Maleficent, because her minions have still been searching for a baby. How much more successful would Disney villains be if they hired better help?
Briar Rose (Mary Costa) now an adult goes into the forest as her three guardians plan to surprise her for her birthday, because apparently revealing that she’s a princess and that they are her kidnappers isn’t going to be enough to drop on the poor girl. While out she meets a handsome young man, who turns out to be Prince Phillip (Bill Shirley), who is captivated by her singing (princes appear to have a major weakness for singers). They fall in love, neither knowing they’re actually already betrothed, and Phillip (named after Britain’s own Prince Phillip, fact fans) heads off to tell his dad that the arranged marriage is over, planning to return to Briar Rose.
The love story here is done quite well, and the sequence where the two meet and dance together to the glorious “Once Upon a Dream” is wonderfully charming. Sure, it feels rushed, but just go with the love at first sight conceit, and it’s rather sweet and well executed. At least there’s actual conversation here.
Unfortunately, despite not using magic for almost sixteen years, the fairies are useless practical skills like making a cake (even I can do that) and dress making (I’d struggle with that, admittedly), and resort to breaking out their wands. But this catches the eye of Maleficent’s raven sidekick Diablo, who raises the alarm.
I always loved this sequence as a kid, and it’s still very entertaining as the fairies make a pig’s ear of the whole situation. Throughout the movie the three fairies are good fun, bickering with each other and my three sisters each assigned themselves a different fairy.
Briar Rose learns the truth and is taken to the castle, where she is bewitched by Maleficent and pricks her finger. At this point Maleficent adds to her evil stakes with some top quality gloating over her fallen foe before legging it.
Knowing that Merryweather has messed with her plans, she dispatches her minions to grab Phillip and take him prisoner.
The fairies work out that Phillip is the mysterious man Aurora mentioned and, put the entire kingdom to sleep and before setting off to rescue Phillip. At this point, Maleficent cements her place as a great villain with a truly evil plan- she’s not going to kill Phil, she’s going to keep him locked up until he’s old and allowing him to revive the still youthful Aurora. That’s delightfully vindictive.
The fairies save the Prince, and arm him. This is another of the movie’s strengths, in that Phillip is far more heroic than the other princess. He fights off the minions, and rides out to the rescue. And then he faces off against Maleficent who has transformed into a gigantic, menacing dragon.
After slaying the dragon (Maleficent having made the classic mistake of getting caught doing a monologue), he gets to his girl and breaks the curse. And there was much rejoicing.
I used to love this as a kid, and watched it a fair few times, and I’m really happy with how well it holds up. It’s got action, romance and comedy, and benefits from a decent script and some solid characters. The three fairies and their rivalries stop them from being too goody goody, Phillip is a better hero than what had come before and then of course there’s Maleficent and her pure evil. Her imperious mannerisms and voice are fantastic, and it’s so much better that she has no back story. She’s evil. That’s what she is and we don’t need to know how she got this way.
Disney Score: 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.