Animated Ladies: Sleeping Beauty

Or: Why I Love Merryweather.

Merryweather argues... as usual.

Merryweather argues… as usual.

Sleeping Beauty is another story that, while on the surface appearing to be a typical if Disneyfied fairy-tale, is completely motivated by female characters. Aurora is the Victim, and a fairly standard one – pretty, sweet, and ultimately helpless. Maleficent is of course the Villain… but the Hero isn’t Prince Phillip, who’s likeable but helpless in the face of of Maleficent’s magic. Phillip is a stooge for the real Heroes of this story – the Three Good Fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. They deflect Maleficent, hide the princess, rescue the prince and pretty much carry him to the final battle, arming him with magic and all but drawing a target on Maleficent for him. If a Hero is defined not as ‘the principal male character’ but as ‘the principal active or motivating character’, as generally I think they should be, it’s definitely the Good Fairies in that role here.

If it weren’t for one thing, I’d suspect the Good Fairies of having some kind of master plan. The movie opens with them unable to move directly against Maleficent, but by the end Maleficent is dead and their twinkly little hands are technically clean. Given that they’re the ones who set up the amelioration of the initial curse, then are also the ones who put Aurora within reach just in time for Maleficent to enact it, then set Phillip on Maleficent with all the force of their magic behind him, it could be a clever plot.

Except for the fact that Flora and Fauna are as thick as bricks.

And they are. There are exactly two moderately bright people in the whole damn movie. Maleficent, who has terrible taste in minions but takes sensible precautions like locking up the True Love, and is only foiled because King Hubert lets something slip in Flora’s hearing. Maleficent knows the fairies are idiots, and couldn’t have expected them to react so effectively or so fast.

The other one, of course, is Merryweather. The youngest (her hair is still black, not grey like the others) and the most confrontational, she’s the only one with a grip on common sense. When Flora suggests sneaking off and raising the baby themselves, Merryweather’s response is a practical query as to who’ll do the housework. Flora assures her ‘Oh, we’ll all pitch in’, but Merryweather’s expression indicates that she isn’t fooled. Flora is the boss. Fauna just wants to take care of the baby. And who’s going to be doing everything else? Junior Fairy Peasant Woman Merryweather, that’s who. She’s also the one who wants to confront Maleficent directly, which the others won’t do because of the Good Fairy Rules.

Much later, when Aurora is turning sixteen, Flora and Fauna decide to make her a pretty dress and a fancy birthday cake respectively. Merryweather’s response to Flora? “But you don’t know how to sew! And she’s never cooked!” Yep, Merryweather’s been doing the grunt work for the last sixteen years all right. She drags the other two down to earth, insists on using magic to do something that Aurora/Rose will actually like, and is graciously allowed to clean the house with magic for a change. Okay, yes, it’s her squabble with Flora that tips Maleficent off, but she’s still far and away the brightest of the fairies.

She’s also the stoutest, which I love. Instead of being the ‘pretty’ one, the youngest fairy is a short, round, sassy little badass who takes Maleficent’s crow down with one zap and is clearly going to Get Shit Done as soon as she’s the Senior Fairy. She’s one of the only examples I can think of of a fat female badass in animation – the only other one leaping to mind is Ma Dola, the feisty pirate captain in ‘Laputa: Castle In The Sky’, though my memory is lousy and there are probably more.

There is a Maleficent movie coming out, which I’m looking forward to. But I’m sad that there’ll probably never be a Merryweather movie, in which a stout, confrontational little fairy kicks some fairytale butt. It’d be great.

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