Since I’m going through every main Disney Studios animated feature ever made, I might as well do a couple extra posts comparing similar movies released close together. So any time there are two Disney Princess movies released in the same decade (or within a few years of each other), I’ll do one of these posts. I’ll likely also do these posts for a few other similar movies, like Lady and the Tramp vs 101 Dalmatians (two dog movies released within 10 years of each other), or Pocahontas vs Mulan (since they’re both based on events that are somewhere between legend and history). But I’m getting way ahead of myself, so here’s my first Disney Animated vs.
Most of these verses posts that I read online give points for each movie winning each category, and the overall winner is the one with the most points. I’m not doing it that way. While I will compare these movies in categories, not all points are equal. One movie may narrowly win in a number of categories, but fails hard in one specific element where the other is a runaway success. I’m also not trying to say definitively which movie is better. I’m just discussing which I prefer and why. So without further to do, let’s compare Cinderella to Sleeping Beauty.
Cinderella is a more complex, compelling character than I expected. She’s stuck living the life of a servant in the manor her father used to own, before he died shortly after remarrying. Despite having so many reasons to just give up or run away, she presses on. She’s always doing her best to perform her chores for her evil stepmother and spoiled, idiotic step-sisters. She remains kind through most of her life, but she does have her limits. She gets frustrated. She gets emotionally tired. She breaks down at a couple points in the movie. Cinderella tries to see the good in her stepmother, to the point where she underestimates how evil her stepmother really is.
I didn’t expect this going in, but Princess Aurora isn’t really the main character in Sleeping Beauty. The main characters are actually the three fairies that take care of her for 16 years. They do this for Aurora’s protection from Maleficent, giving up their magic and living mundane lives for those 16 years. That willful sacrifice alone shows their dedication, and it turns out they’re good mothers as well. They’re all kind-hearted and generally wise, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their disagreements. One of them keeps suggesting they should just use magic for baking, dress making and cleaning easier when Aurora’s not around, while the other two are more resistant. Two of them keep arguing as to whether Aurora’s dress should be pink or blue (they both look good on her), leading to a bit of a magic fight and some comedic relief. But despite their kind nature, when Maleficent starts unleashing her real power on Prince Phillip in the action climax, the fairies show their bravery, their wisdom and their determination.
Cinderella’s a good character, but the three fairies are more complex, more entertaining and they’re more involved in their movie’s climax. That last bit is by no means Cinderella’s fault – she needs saving a couple of times, she does everything in her power to make it to the ball. The fairies from Sleeping Beauty are the better leads though.
When I’m talking about the supporting cast, I’m including everyone else that isn’t the villain. So for Cinderella, this includes the mice, Prince Charming, the king and his main servant, and the fairy godmother. For Sleeping Beauty, it includes Aurora, Prince Phillip, Phillip’s horse, and both of the kings.
The mice in Cinderella are mostly comic relief, but they also build-up to one of the more emotional moments in the movie. There’s a significant portion of the movie that show the mice gathering materials and making Cinderella a dress, while avoiding Lucifer (the evil stepmother’s cat). These scenes are kind of cute and amusing, but that’s the only real purpose the mice serve from an emotional standpoint. They’re also the ones who do pretty much everything in the climax, which kind of makes them the heroes of the movie. I’m not really a fan of the mice, but I don’t mind them either. They’re just kind of there and I’m sure that kids will enjoy them.
Prince Charming basically isn’t in this movie. He dances with Cinderella at the ball and meets up with her after she slips the glass slipper on at the end. He didn’t even bother to go with his servants to find out who the glass slipper belongs to. You could pretty much replace him with a lamp and it wouldn’t change the story. Charming’s King father is solely motivated by his son finding a bride, and while that also leads to a bit of comic relief when he keeps assuming what his servant is telling him before he finishes talking, that’s all there is to his character.
The only supporting character who’s really worth paying attention to in Cinderella is the Fairy Godmother. She’s kind, wise, gives us the most memorable song in the movie, and is a touch forgetful in her old age. She’s not in the movie for too long, but she’s fun.
With Sleeping Beauty, you’ve got a better variety of supporting characters. First off, there’s Princess Aurora herself. Although she doesn’t get to do too much in the movie, we learn at least a few things about her. She’s kind, loves the outdoors, seems to enjoy exploring, enjoys singing, and she’s emotionally sensitive. It’s not enough for a main character, but it’s more than enough to sympathize for her situation and to want to see her wake up again. And considering she spends the entire third act sleeping under a spell, it’s probably best not to make her the lead character anyway.
Prince Phillip is far more developed than Prince Charming. He’d rather marry for love than settle for his arranged marriage (ironically, he falls in love with the girl he’s betrothed to without knowing it). He also seems to enjoy the outdoors, is enchanted by beautiful signing voices. He’s brave enough to face a dragon in the climax, even if he looks terrified when Maleficent first transforms into a dragon. His relationship with his horse is a mix of amusing and heroic. Again, there isn’t enough here for a lead role, but it’s more than enough for a supporting role.
The kings are in the movie about as much as Aurora and Phillip are. They’re clearly friends, and when Aurora’s father gets worried about his daughter’s return, the other helps comfort him. Their drinking scene is easily the most realistic drinking scene I’ve watched in a kids movie, and it’s entertaining as a result. Especially when it turns into an argument after a while. Phillip’s father is also clearly nervous about telling Aurora’s father that Phillip fell in love with a mystery girl in the woods, so we know that he too is a bit worried about their kingdom’s relationship – he’s just more hesitant to talk about it.
This section is pretty much cut and dry. Although the mice are cute and the fairy godmother is charming, Sleeping Beauty has a much more compelling supporting cast. The prince is actually a character, and that alone is a huge advantage. The kings are treated as people instead of mere plot devices and comedic relief. Sleeping Beauty has the better supporting cast.
In Cinderella, you’ve got a devious, emotionally manipulative stepmother and her spoiled daughters. The stepmother is cold and calculating, but likes to make Cinderella feel like she’s willing to make deals. The stepsisters are more spoiled than they are evil, but as funny as that can be when they’re trying to sing, they do serve as additional problems for Cinderella’s situation. It’s easy to hate the stepmother, and that’s fine, but as an adult, I felt more sorrow for the stepsisters than dislike. That in itself shows strong writing. All in all, they are good characters.
As compelling as the stepmother is though, Maleficent is quite possibly the greatest Disney villain of all time, both animated and live action. She’s meant to represent all that is evil in this world, and she clearly loves that she’s evil. Everyone is clearly afraid of her, even her servants. Her immense magical powers make her a dangerous opponent for all who stand in her way. It’s not really explained why she hates Aurora’s father, other than the hint that she wasn’t invited to Aurora’s reveal to the kingdom, but we don’t need that much of an explanation either. The mystery makes her more frightening in a way. And to top it all off, she turns into a dragon that breathes green fire at the end of the movie. Everything about Maleficent is hardcore.
So it looks like Sleeping Beauty won all three character categories in my opinion. That’s a good start.
Live Action Remake
This is a bit of a bonus category that won’t affect my overall decision. Since Disney remade both of these movies in live action, which one got the better treatment?
To sum up my thoughts on 2015’s Cinderella remake, it’s overly long and boring. The introduction takes up almost half an hour. A lot of the acting in this movie is kind of mellow, making for a bit of a boring flick. For some reason the mice are still helping Cinderella a bit, done completely in CGI, and it looks kind of weird. Cinderella kind of feels like a doormat. She never gets frustrated at anything – just kind of sad in private. In the movie’s attempt to expand on the relationship between Cinderella and the prince before the ball, they made the romance feel artificial at best. They share a brief, very vague conversation about morality, and somehow that’s enough for the prince to completely obsess over her. It feels like they watched 1997’s Ever After and tried to emulate Danielle’s love of books, but failed hard. At least the Prince goes with his servants to find the owner of the glass shoe though – that’s an improvement. I just found this movie boring.
Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty’s remake from 2014, has a different problem. On the one hand, it contains a fair amount of action. Some of it is even kind of epic. The first and third act fully embrace Sleeping Beauty’s darker tone and go further with it. However, the happier, more comedic second act clashes with the first and third act, making for a tonally inconsistent movie. Like Cinderella it spends too much time in the introduction, leaving less than an hour to tell the entire story of Sleeping Beauty. It turns Disney’s greatest villain into an anti-hero, while turning Aurora’s father into an evil, completely remorseless tyrant for no good reason. It turns the three fairies into completely incompetent and annoying comic relief who have no business taking care of a human child. Prince Phillip might as well not be in this movie the same way that Prince Charming might as well not be in the animated Cinderella. It ended up being a movie that kind of angered me, even though I wouldn’t really call myself a Sleeping Beauty fan. Its only saving grace is that Angelina Jolie is kind of awesome in her role as Maleficent.
So it’s between a movie that bored me and a movie that angered me. I’ll choose boring over angering, because at least I can ignore it or use it to fall asleep. So this category goes to 2015’s Cinderella. Either way, I wouldn’t recommend either of these movies.
Cinderella features the more traditional animation of the two. The backgrounds are drawn in a way that makes them look three dimensional, and the characters are cell-shaded in a similar fashion. Cinderella’s transformation sequence in particular is quite possibly the best individual animation moment in all of the classic Disney movies. It’s technically impressive how water flows, how certain shiny objects sparkle and how the general lighting and shadows work. Although there isn’t as much detail as there is in modern animated movies, Cinderella’s aged quite well in the visual department.
Sleeping Beauty on the other hand features backgrounds that look more two-dimensional, and the characters match that feel as well. The backgrounds look like most, if not all of them, are painted. Everything is very well detailed, and the colour combinations are brilliant and beautiful. The style fits very well with the overall storybook feel of the movie, and with so few movies even trying to match this visual style, it stands out a lot. The action also feels big and it moves quickly. The style might not be for everyone (it actually received mixed reception when the movie released), but I think it’s beautiful.
Both of these movies are visually impressive for their time and this is a close call, but I’ll give the edge to Sleeping Beauty due to its more unique visual style and the brilliant use of colour.
For this, I’m going to talk about both the musical numbers and the soundtrack as a whole.
The music styles between these movies couldn’t be much different. Cinderella’s approach is generally whimsical and fun. The mice sing a cute song about making a dress. Cinderella’s “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” is slightly wishy washy but not overly so. The Fairy Godmother’s Bibbidy-Bobbidy-Boo is fun and memorable. “Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale” is a classic-style song thrown in there entirely to show how pathetic the stepsisters are at singing, while Cinderella later sings it to show that it could be a nice song. It’s funny at first and sounds kind of nice when Cinderella takes over. There’s quite a bit of music in this movie, and it’s well varied in style but it’s usually meant to be fun. The main exception to this is “So This Is Love”, sang during the ball and hummed by Cinderella afterward. The soundtrack often either mimics the songs or takes on a more comedic tone. It’s a good soundtrack, but outside of Bibbidy-Bobbidy-Boo and the ball theme, I didn’t find it that memorable.
Sleeping Beauty has fewer songs, and for the most part they feel more traditional and emotionally driven. Due to the movie’s overall storybook feel, that works in this movies favour. “Once Upon a Dream” serves as the movie’s central song, first sang by Aurora not long before she meets Phillip, and reprised a couple times throughout the movie. There’s also “Hail to Princess Aurora” which kicks off the movie and sets up the overall medieval setting and feel. That’s not to say there aren’t fun songs. There’s the drinking song that later turns into a royal argument. The soundtrack features a few fun beats as well, most notably when the fairies start using magic to prepare for Aurora’s 16th birthday, but it generally takes itself a lot more seriously. The themes that play when Maleficent’s around get kind of epic, and the choir backed theme when Aurora falls asleep under the spell is sad.
This one’s actually hard to call. Both soundtracks match their movie’s tone very well. Both soundtracks have at least one memorable song and a few memorable beats. That said, the lyrics in “Once Upon a Dream” helped sell the romance between Aurora and Phillip for me. Meanwhile, the mice’s work song will probably enjoy kids, but it didn’t do anything for me. That’s the difference maker for me. Sleeping Beauty’s “Once Upon a Dream” is my favourite song out of the two movies, while Cinderella’s “Work Song” is my least favourite. I’ll give the overall edge to Sleeping Beauty.
And at last, we reach what is probably the most important category. Which movie has the best overall story? Which story gives us the better lesson? Can Cinderella pull off a big win here after I’ve preferred Sleeping Beauty in every other way?
The story in Cinderella is basically that the Prince doesn’t seem to want to marry anyone, so the King throws a ball, inviting all the maidens in the land to attend. Cinderella wants to go, but her stepmother makes it very difficult. After the step-sisters tear apart the dress that the mice worked so hard to make for Cinderella (kind of an emotionally rough moment), the fairy godmother helps Cinderella get to the ball anyway, and she falls in love with the prince. There’s something about a glass slipper too. It’s a classic fairytale that’s been retold in dozens if not hundreds of ways. It’s about a kind young woman who’s unfairly forced to live a life of servitude being given a second chance at. If there is a positive lesson to take away from Cinderella, it’s that you should never give up because of tough circumstances. Sure, you might need help to get out of a rough situation (like Cinderella needs help from both the fairy godmother and her animal friends). In this day and age though, if you’re willing to put effort into improving your life, you’ll be able to find someone to help you. That’s what websites like gofundme.com are for. It’s a good lesson that is still meaningful today.
Sleeping Beauty is a story about a young girl who was cursed at birth, and of the people who try to help her avoid the curse and later risk their lives to save her from it. It’s an inherently darker story than Cinderella, but it too carries some important lessons. Some things are simply unpleasant and unavoidable, death being a big one. It’s a story that highlights Prince Phillip’s bravery and his willingness to see his decisions through, both of which can be very difficult yet can be very rewarding. It also shows that sometimes, keeping secrets can cause serious problems. For example, the fairies keep Aurora’s true heritage and her curse a secret from her, and that leads to her emotionally breaking down when she thinks she won’t see Phillip again (even though their marriage is pre-arranged), and not knowing of her curse made her venerable to it. These are all lessons that are true no matter where or when you live.
Both of these stories are famous for a reason, and they both carry equally valid lessons. I can also think of some flaws in both movies. In Cinderella, the climax takes a bit too long to take seriously, with the mice taking what feels like 10 minutes getting the key to the door to unlock Cinderella from the tower. In the meantime, the step-sisters come up with all sorts of increasingly hard to believe excuses for why the glass slipper won’t fit. With Sleeping Beauty, my main complaint is that neither Arora nor Phillip speak at all during the climax. Of the two problems, Sleeping Beauty’s bothers me less since neither mute character is the main character, nor does it affect the movie’s pacing. Cinderella’s problem is a pacing problem, and that time could have been spent on either giving Prince Charming more character development, or at least showing Cinderella and Charming talking a bit more at the ball.
Throw in more mature themes, a more consistent tone, an awesome action climax and smarter comedic relief, and I prefer Sleeping Beauty’s story overall.
Before I started working on this post, I felt like I enjoyed Sleeping Beauty more out of the two movies, but I didn’t expect it to be a complete sweep. Both of these movies are considered classics for good reasons, but of the two, I prefer Sleeping Beauty in tone, musical style, visuals and the characters in general. I would recommend that you show kids Cinderella first though – some images in Sleeping Beauty are kind of intense, to the point where it maybe should be rated PG for its potentially frightening images.
In any case, Sleeping Beauty wins.