The Disney Twisted Tales series has been a mixed bag so far. So This is Love pretty much hit it out of the park, and Mirror, Mirror was abysmal for what I was hoping for. And now we have a third volume, Once Upon a Dream, featuring the characters from Sleeping Beauty.
Right up front, I can at least say that we didn’t get another botched attempt at humanizing Maleficent, like those pretty dumb Angelina Jolie movies, the reason being that Maleficent is not the central focus of this story. Actually, we get a compelling look at the twisted psyche of one of Disney’s more polarizing princesses, Princess Aurora.
Instead of waking up when Prince Phillip kisses her, Aurora continues to slumber in a twisted dream world where Maleficent has taken over as queen, and Aurora is her ward. Aurora has been fed stories all her life about the war her own parents started, the resulting apocalypse, and the dangers of leaving the castle, and therefore, Maleficent’s care. But as Aurora finds more and more hints about the outside world, she is drawn outside the castle, where she meets Prince Phillip. Together, they traverse the strange world of Aurora’s dream as they gather the courage to defeat Maleficent and awaken Aurora for real…
I always find it so ironic how Maleficent is such a beloved villain while Aurora is such a polarizing princess. Personally, I’ve always liked Aurora just fine; I never loved her, like I love Snow White, Belle, or Merida, but she certainly never got on my nerves. So I was pretty excited to see her get a little more fleshed out in this story.
Except, she was fleshed out in a way that I did not expect.
Okay, so I want to ask you guys a question. And some of you might have asked the same thing in light of watching the progression of female protagonists in media. The norm with these heroines is to be a sword-wielding, kick-ass woman who is so ANGRY ALL THE TIME, and takes things very SERIOUSLY. They don’t have time to be saved by a stupid man; they’re a capable person, gosh darn it, and they’ll forge their own paths.
Hey, it’s great to show women in more progressive roles, but…is it the only way we’ll take heroines seriously anymore?
Here’s my little confession: I’m getting kind of sick of pushing that “strong” agenda with female characters. That the only way they can be “strong” is if they wield a weapon or get angry easily. A character can be strong, but still be gentle and kind and curious. There is absolutely no need to take a gentle, kind, and curious character like Aurora and turn her into an angry, sword-wielding badass.
Aurora has one of two modes in this book: her normal curious self, and then ANGRY. Like, really ANGRY. Almost every other scene has her either shouting at someone, or stomping around like a gorilla. It was such a complete one-eighty that I couldn’t even see Aurora half the time.
Look, I know Aurora is not the most modern Disney Princess. And it’s great that several modern adaptations are finding ways to make her more active and interesting (look at Lexa Hillyer’s Spindle Fire, or even Elle Fanning in Maleficent). But just because you put a sword in her hand and make her angry, it does not make her “strong.” It’s just like with Snow White; Aurora’s greatest strengths are her curiosity and kindness. She does not need to become a revolutionary to be a fully realized character.
But seriously…is this the only way anyone’s going to take the Disney Princesses seriously anymore? Do they all need to lead armies and commit violent acts in order for them to be more “three-dimensional”?
I’m sorry, rant over. I just felt the need to say that it’s possible to have a heroine that does not need a sword to be strong.
And hey, there are some good things about this book.
Unlike Mirror, Mirror, where the dwarves lost all personality, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather still sound like their old selves. They even get a few badass and funny moments when they fight Maleficent.
Prince Phillip plays second string to Aurora here, and he has a few funny lines. Even King Hubert, Phillip’s father, makes an appearance, and is pretty funny in his small role.
But what’s most surprising about this book is how dark it is.
The whole story is a dream conjured by Maleficent inside Aurora’s head, and some twisted, horrible things happen. But the darkest twist of all is the reasoning behind why Aurora pricked her finger on the spindle. In the film, we see Maleficent magically lure Aurora toward her fate, but Aurora explains that she actually let herself be led to the spindle. Aurora, heartbroken over losing Phillip, taken from her familiar home in the forest, to meet parents that gave her up for arbitrary reasons, walked toward the spindle, knowing she would get hurt, and hoping she would die from the magic spindle.
You heard that right. This book tried to spin the famous scene where Aurora touches the spindle as a suicide attempt.
I had no words when I read that part. Of course, you can sort of see why Aurora would have wanted to end it all but it still seemed a little excessive.
On the whole, the story almost felt needlessly dark. It felt like it was trying to compensate for the supposed fluff of the original film by turning Aurora into a gritty fighter and showing every twisted, ugly thought in her head. If that’s your thing, I guess you’ll enjoy this book. But I would have preferred to see Aurora be strong in her own way, not the way that focus groups says she should.