Oh it had been a soul-sucking few days at work. They just use your mind, and they never give you credit—it’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it. One night I stumbled through the doorway, turned the music on “shuffle,” and in two notes it hit me . . . Ethel, I’ve got an idea! Saved on my computer is a photo of a giddy Dolly Parton on her red Dollywood Ferris wheel, and this little gem started a chat that ultimately saved my sanity. I sent the photo to a dear friend of mine, insisting that the next day we quit our jobs and head immediately to Dollywood. An entertaining and, shall we say, one-upping conversation ensued, including a quick visit to the Dolly’s website and online gift shop. Later I found out that when my friend’s husband asked her precisely when we were going, she assured him we were just joking around. “Um, I know you two . . . you’re going,” he told her, and months later, having perfected our Dolly and Elvis playlists, we were on the road to Dollywood and Graceland.
The typical journey of a hero requires that after the call to adventure, the hero must cross a threshold, perhaps faced with the first in a series of rites of passage. I learned that before I could steal her mother way and set out on our quest, my friend’s daughter insisted I prove my worthiness by watching Disney’s Sleeping Beauty at least nine times. This why I feel that for neglecting to discuss a Disney film after all this time, I should be turned into a fat old . . . hop-toad! As I studied folklore in college, I worried a bit that if I went after a fairy tale, the term paper writer asleep within me (the one whom I myself cursed and put to sleep for eternity), would awaken and go to town with just the facts, ma’am. Now don’t get me wrong here; I have a great respect and appreciation for academic research, and I’m incredibly jealous of the knowledge that folklorists manage to store in those overstuffed minds of theirs. Two shelves of my overcrowded bookcase are reserved solely for folklore texts, and it’s with a giggle or two that I still thumb through them now and again.
However, I knew that in order to write about Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, I had to leave my house and remove all academic temptation. But it is tempting, tempting like a shiny red apple that symbolizes mortality and sinfulness like Motif S111.4 tends to . . . oh come now, let’s not start on all that! Remember children, ignoring the evil fairy is the quickest way to guarantee she comes bursting through your front door. With language like “a spindle should your finger prick,” a deliciously filthy interpretation of our classic tale cannot be ignored. It does not have to be accepted, but it cannot be ignored! Any child can clearly see that the king’s efforts to delay his daughter’s curse for as long as possible—that curse cast by the fourth fairy who is reminiscent of the fourth week in a woman’s cycle—implies that this entire tale symbolically refers to menstruation. Ah the “dirty unmentionables” approach; it still makes me smile.
At the risk of skimping on shock value, it’s true that as a lad I couldn’t care less about the relationship between Aurora and Prince Phillip. Disney’s Sleeping Beauty proved to be one my favorites for a few good reasons: I was in love with two of the mouthiest fairies ever to grace the silver screen, and happily the snoozer of a title character does not appear in much of the film. I was able to admire the battle and wonderfully snide comments exchanged between the four strong supporting female cast members while recognizing the prince and princess storyline as less than entertaining . . . I was a tough audience. As we all know, the making of a healthy marriage and loving relationship require two things and two things only: a cake and a new dress. When my friend and I hit the grocery store and shopped for that evening’s dinner, I took charge for a few moments and pushed my friend’s daughter in the shopping cart. For what seemed like precious hours, we yelled back and forth to each other, “Make it pink!” or “Make it blue!” Apparently this snippet from my favorite scene in Sleeping Beauty never gets tiresome to a three- or 31-year-old, and to this day it gets stuck in my head much like the lyrics of a song.
Now tell me, what’s not to love about these three fairies whom the cast of The Golden Girls could have easily portrayed? Standing in as the dummy while her co-fairy Flora designs the dress, Merryweather tells her “It looks awful.” Flora politely informs her, “That’s because it’s on you, dear,” and in this moment one of the greatest battle scenes in film history starts a’brewing. After the fairies determine that magic is required to get their work done, Flora and Merryweather begin changing the dress from pink to blue with a wave of their wands, now out of retirement. When Merryweather accidentally hits Flora and changes her outfit to blue, Flora shoots back and pinks up Merryweather’s ensemble. A back-and-forth shooting spree tips off Maleficent’s raven (who has been searching for the princess’s whereabouts), and although our little team gets tackled on the one-yard line, happily ever after finally makes its eventual appearance.
So is it possible to love and appreciate a Disney adaptation while understanding (maybe even agreeing with some of) the points made by its Eeyoresque critics? Yes I’ve read the arguments from feminists, folklorists, and concerned parents, all who put forth what they deem sound reasons to shield children from Sleeping Beauty, and Disney in general. At times the above mentioned groups make their cases fueled with anger, making it difficult for me to accept some of their more well-founded points. Presenting me with a bit of researched background is a tack that proves more fruitful than yelling about faithfulness to original text or that four-letter-word that snuck in towards the end of the film’s script.
Where some see a dangerous forest of thorns, I see a golden opportunity to start the conversation with a child about the role of women in the world. I see the perfect platform to expose a youngin’ to multiple versions of a tale, from Basile and Perrault to those Grimm boys. I see Aarne-Thompson tale type 410, a code number that a wonderful professor burned into my memory, and I see a gorgeous work of art (and music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet score) that took six years and six million dollars to make. Looking at any piece of folklore and its variations through a single lens is like buying a pink dress before you’ve seen it in blue.
I’ll get the wands . . .