In light of Disney’s recent live-action re-imagining of this film’s antagonist, it’s worth a look back to see how the original still stands up. It’s interesting that, such is the power of the House of Mouse’s global branding, that people refer to their 1959 film as “the original”, seeing as it’s one of several adaptations of 18th and 19th century European folk tales. It takes elements of Little Briar Rose by Charles Perrault (who they also based much of their Cinderella adaptation on), and more from what was essentially a rewrite of the same story by The Brothers Grimm (who they also owe a debt to for Cinderella, as well as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), as well as musical cues from the Tchaikovsky ballet, combining them all with the usual Disney approach of songs, comedy and romance.

The film has an arresting and unique art style, inspired by medieval paintings rather than the smoother, rounded work in Disney’s earlier fairy tales, and this extends to the characterisation. The three good fairies all take visual cues from friendly grandmothers, in contrast to Maleficent’s stark, thin lines. Sadly, beyond their appearances, very few of the characters have any depth or development at all. Aurora herself is almost numbingly bland, as is her paramour Prince Philip – the decision to focus on Maleficent for the recent live action film must have been an easy one. There’s also something depressingly dull about its old-fashioned sexual politics, but at least the rich orchestral score and sumptuous animation can distract from that. Not that it was entirely appreciated at the time – after an initially lukewarm box office performance, Disney dropped their habit of adapting fairy tales and didn’t return to them for another thirty years. Of course, posterity has been kind to it – some things never go out of favour.

Bold, inventive animation that was pretty daring for its time8
Boring, one-dimensional characters with little depth...4
...except Maleficent, who justifiably got a film to herself 55 years later9
Predictable old-fashioned gender politics3
One of those full-orchestra musical scores that just sounds fantastic9
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • n/a
7Overall Score

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