Tweaking Sleeping Beatuty

Tweaking Sleeping Beatuty December 13, 2013

Here’s an enlightening though spoilerific commentary on the new Disney princess movie, Frozen.  Gina Dalfonzo liked the movie well enough (not everyone did), but thought the denouement of Prince Hans was unnecessarily cynical and harsh. She says (REMEMBER, I SAID SPOLERS):

The naïve and lonely Anna has fallen in love with and become engaged to Hans in the course of just one day. As her other love interest, Kristoff, tells her, this is not exactly indicative of good judgment.

However, there is something uniquely horrifying about finding out that a person—even a fictional person—who’s won you over is, in fact, rotten to the core. And it’s that much more traumatizing when you’re six or seven years old. Children will, in their lifetimes, necessarily learn that not everyone who looks or seems trustworthy is trustworthy—but Frozen’s big twist is a needlessly upsetting way to teach that lesson.

I haven’t seen the movie, but this article caught my interest because it’s about something that niggles at me:  how to tell lovely, romantic stories to the kids, without giving them dangerously stupid ideas about love?

Disney is doing penance for decades of promoting the idea that a kiss between a strange man and a vacant, helpless young woman can signify true love — and that is a worthy effort.  Maybe once upon a time, it was okay to show a princess who liked being macked on by strangers in her sleep, because everyone knew it was just a story, la di dah.

But today?  Listen, I’m no “rape here, rape there, rapey-rapey everywhere” anti-princess zealot, but people today are so clueless, so utterly innocent of a basic understanding of virtue, that we have to be really careful.  We can’t assume that mom and dad are teaching kids what love and marriage are really about.  I recently read an article by a teacher after the Steubenville rape.  She said that her students had learned that you’re not supposed to have sex with someone who says “no.”  But a sleeping girl isn’t saying no.  To them, this was a dilemma.  How are they supposed to know if she consents or not, if she’s not even conscious?  No one had told them (probably out of fear of imposing outmoded standards of morality) why it was important to gain consent. Consent, to them, was just a secret password to gain sex, and in its absence, that had no idea what they were supposed to think.

Anyway, you read enough things like this, and you can’t quite bring yourself to tell your four-year-old that a stranger and a sleeping girl just enjoyed “true love’s kiss.”

PIC Sleeping Beauty figurine with prince under skirt

But I think it’s stupid to tell girls, “Prettiness is slavery!  Romance is for suckers!  Love will always let you down!  Don’t you dare put on a sparkly crown!”  So I tell my daughters stories about beauty and love and caroling birds and shimmering gowns — but I tweak them.  Here is how I adjusted Sleeping Beauty:

The bad fairy, the curse, the spinning wheel, the 100 year’s sleep, blah blah blah.

Here’s the part where I started to improvise:  the prince is wandering around in the woods because all the princesses in his territory are boring, and just want to talk about shoes and hair and parties.  He sees the castle overgrown with roses, with no sound but the humming of bees, and hacks his way through out of sheer curiosity.  When he makes his way through the sleeping castle, he finds the princess at its center, fast asleep, and she is lovely.

Worn out from all that hacking, he sits down, and before he knows it, he starts to talk.  He talks and talks and talks, about all the things that he’s interested in, but nobody in his kingdom wants to hear about.  He pours his heart out to her, because he know she’s not going to spill the beans, because she’s asleep.  Then he goes back outside and, unable to make himself go home quite yet, he camps in the courtyard.

The next morning, he comes back, and talks some more.  At first, he was just thrilled to talk to someone who didn’t laugh at him or interrupt.  But gradually, he begins to wish with all his heart that she could answer back.  Her face is so intersting, even in sleep, that he wants to know what she thinks.

That night, when he lies down in the courtyard again, he dreams that she is awake, and tells him everything on her mind — and it is marvelous.  The next day, he comes back again, and so on and so on.

After a few weeks of this, he shakes himself and decides he can’t pursue this fantasy any longer.  Back to real life; time to face the petty and puerile girls in his own kingdom, and settle for one of them so he can further the royal line. Facts are facts:  better a third-rate reality than a gorgeous fantasy.   So he goes back one last time to say goodbye to her.  He leans over to take one final look at her lovely face, and her breath smells so nice that he can’t help himself:  he plants a chaste little kiss on her rosy lips.

And she wakes up. And says, “Oh, were you going somewhere?  We were having such a nice conversation!”  Bafflement ensues, and gradually it turns out that, just as he has been dreaming of her, she has been dreaming of him.  His words found their way past the enchantment and into her subconscious mind, and, in her dream, she answered him back. They feel like they know each other, and they do — because they are so perfectly suited for each other that their dreams conversations were identical.

So then they get married.  The princess wears a shimmering wedding gown, and then they have eleven children.  The end.

Now, I realize this is more or less the naked fantasy of a 38-year-old woman:  True love is someone who will sit there and listen to me talk!  So sue me.  I still think it’s better than “And as soon as their eyes met, they knew they were in love, and got married the next day.”  Bah.  I fell in love like that once, and it took me two years to realize that the guy just found me convenient, and treated me like poo.  I like my version because there is a romantic dream that really does come true — but they have to work their way up to it.  It preserves the idea that the kiss is a magical turning point, but the fellow has to earn it, and she has to have some reason to return his affections.

So, to sum up, I don’t  shriek and turn blue at the very mention of the word “princess,” and I am so done with the edgy new takes on princess culture.

PIC Snow White kids house husband nightmare

I think little girls need to hear about silvery ballgowns and falling in love while birds sing overhead, especially when the world tells them that you can either be pretty like this:

PIC Monster high dolls

or accomplished like this:

PIC Nancy Pelosi face

but nothing in between.  But I can’t quite swallow the “strangers–>kiss–>happily ever after” line, either.  

How do you handle it in your house?  Does the whole princess thing bother you?  Do you make it work somehow?  Or what?

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  • Sherry

    Simcha, write the story again. It would be a worthy remake.

    • Seconded, because wow, what a great interpretation. And much better than the original, where it’s not a kiss that wakes her up. ;>

      • Heather

        Yeah. The Disney version is quite heavily bowdlerized. In older versions he impregnates her in her sleep and she wakes up when one of her twins, trying to nurse, sucks the enchanted splinter out of her finger. Then there’s the weird bit with the cannibalistic mother in law.

  • Elaine t

    There’s at least one novelization out there that does something like your story. It’s called CASTLE OF THORNS by Helen Lowe. Her spirit can wander and meets the prince so they get to know each other before he gets in to the castle.
    And, hey, Disquis cooperated today, so I’ll throw in my alphabet book recommendation that I could never get to post the other day! THE PRAIRIE ALPHABET.

  • Cheryl Sanders

    Isn’t Disney’s version, though, one in which Aurora and Phillip have met before, in the woods (Once Upon a Dream), and have fallen for each other (admittedly quickly) from that?

  • Jennifer Hartline

    I haven’t seen Frozen so I can’t comment, but I have to protest your characterization of Sleeping Beauty. There’s enough skanky, tacky crap out there today without sullying an otherwise beautiful love story. That caption under the photo made me cringe and the more I think of it the more annoyed I get.
    C’mon… that kiss was brief and simple and tender. The prince barely touched her! Maybe put his hand on her shoulder. That was about as pure a kiss as you can get, and yes, I think it was true love. He’d just finished slaying the evil dragon, for heaven’s sake! He risked his life to save her and the kingdom. Sounds like love to me.
    Sleeping Beauty was probably Disney’s best… “the shield of virtue and the sword of truth” and all. I don’t mind a little good fairy magic thrown in. But the Prince proved himself and proved his love. Don’t muck it up with icky sexual insinuations.

    • simchafisher

      Honestly, my main issue with the Disney version is the abominable animation. I know it gets passed of as “stylized,” but it’s really just South Park levels of laziness. I find it very hard to get past that.

      No, a kiss isn’t icky or sexy. But the whole damn movie is. It has a thick layer of oozy unwholesomeness that makes me dizzy. This princess would fit in very well in an Alfred HItchcock movie, where almost all the women have smooth brows, impeccable makeup, trim waists, and zero personality.

      • Jennifer Hartline

        Which movie you talking about? Sleeping Beauty or Frozen? Abominable animation? Unwholesomeness??

        • simchafisher

          Sleeping Beauty. I haven’t seen Frozen.
          I don’t mean that anything unwholesome HAPPENS. I’m talking about the overall atmosphere. It has that reptilian flatness so characteristic of the late ’50’s. As my mother says, the 1960’s didn’t just come out of nowhere! The culture of 1950’s America was so artificial and rotten, it’s no wonder things went ka-blammo.

          • Jennifer Hartline

            Okay, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I don’t find Sleeping Beauty “unwholesome” at all. The animation doesn’t bother me either because that was state-of-the-art back then. I find the story beautiful in its purity. I see the virtues of courage, faith, truth, selflessness, sacrifice, all on display against some pretty scary evil, and love wins. I can’t fault that.

          • DeirdreMundy

            The animation was supposed to be ‘Medieval Book of Hours come to life.”

      • Might I recommend, for your Hitchcock-viewing pleasure, “The Trouble With Harry,” in which the women have rather more than zero personality.

        Sadly, however, your comment is true of most of his other works.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    I tell my daughter she is a princess in the kingdom of God. We talk about the virtues, because a princess should act like one, and that doesn’t mean getting your way, it means being virtuous. She’s seven, so when we talk about relationships, we talk about a man like her daddy–a man who loves God, his family, who is trustworthy and respectable. When I think about it, we don’t actually watch to many Disney Princesses; she’s a big fan of Katara in Avatar: The Last Airbender, though.

  • Dan F.

    Easy, we just have boys. 😉

    Oh, and don’t watch disney movies (yet – the oldest is 4).

  • truebluekatie

    Have you read George MacDonald’s fairytale (within a story) called “The Light Princess?”

    • Rebecca Fuentes


    • LiveOaksandSpanishMoss

      George MacDonald is still light-years ahead of where we are when it comes to truly “strong feminine characters.”

  • Blobee

    I was lucky enough to grow up with fairy tales before Disney got a hold of them and made them animated versions of Hollywood movies and changed the message of what was going on.
    Here’s what I thought the message of Sleeping Beauty was as a child. In the joyousness of the occasion of her birth, many fairy guests bestowed on Sleeping Beauty all the gifts of virtue and goodness. But a wicked fairy, in her revenge for a slight (as is the wont of the wicked), cursed the baby to die at 15, just when she was about to enter womanhood. A good fairy partially reversed the curse, and made it she will only sleep (in my mind, preserving her virtue) until a Prince (a virtuous, noble man who is equal in good character and virtue to her, thus deserving of her) finds her, and with his seeing her beauty and virtue, loves her instantly, and in his love, places a gentle virtuous kiss on her lips, thus breaking the enchantment of her passive, quiet goodness, and freeing her to become his partner in marriage.

    A princess in these stories always is a pure, innocent, virtuous, gentlewoman; a noble person of the highest character, only doing and choosing the good. She is meant to be the passive yin (if you will) to the prince’s active yang. They are the two sides of goodness. Her beauty is in her virtue, hidden, but real, only for the man who is deserving to see it. It is not obvious to all. And attaining her is the highest of goals. Because men believe, and rightly so, a good woman, a virtuous woman, makes them better men. She raises the bar, making them strive to deserve her company, and they want her in their lives.
    These stories are stories about ideals, about the best in people. They are black and white characterizations of good and evil to allow people to understand what is good and what is not. The message of Sleeping Beauty to women is not, “be beautiful so a man will love you.” It is, “be virtuous always so that the one God has planned for you to meet and marry will find you pure and good when he comes along.” And to men it is, “strive to find the virtuous woman I have planned for you, so that you may bless yourself and your house forever.”
    That is what I took away from Sleeping Beauty as a child (although I could never have articulated it this way back then.) To make it that women are helpless, weak, shallow creatures who have to wait for a man to validate them is something the women’s libbers read into it. Very sad.

  • Well, I don’t have kids, but I do have to say I find the whole “princess culture” to be very monotonous and annoying and misleading. I was more of a tomboy when I was little, so even though I watched my fair share of Disney movies, the princess bit never really stuck with me.

    As an adult, I have really enjoyed Regina Doman’s Fairy Tales Retold series. She takes traditional fairy tales, sets them in modern time with regular people (so no magic), and makes it work really beautifully. She’s retold Snow White and Rose Red, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty, The 12 Dancing Princesses, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, and Rapunzel. They are all YA, except Rapunzel, but I would recommend them for adults as well. The “princesses” are regular girls, the “princes” aren’t creepy, and the true love isn’t forced!

  • Andy, Bad Person

    Isn’t Sleeping Beauty just a straight up Christ allegory?

  • DeirdreMundy

    Hey, in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, it’s an arranged marriage! Remember, both the kids are running off and rebelling b/c they want to marry the ‘poor woodcutter/poor maiden” they met in the woods…. not the prince/princess the parents picked…. and then… they fall into the coils of the witch!

    Meanwhile, if they’d just gone along with the plan, it would all worked out!

  • anna lisa

    We took our three little ones to see Frozen. I think what offended me the most about the movie is that the evening cost us almost fifty bucks.

    I had a casual conversation with my ten year old a few days ago about it and said, “hey, wasn’t that *great* that ‘love’s true kiss’ came from her sister??” We both agreed that the old trope about being rescued by a guy on a white steed is smarmy.

    I agree with you about the 60s. The Stepford Wives phenom of the 60s gave birth to a lot of overreaction for good reason.

    Oh, btw, my middle sister married a guy soon after meeting him in a nightclub in San Diego. They ended up sharing champagne straight from the bottle that night. They just celebrated 28 years and have seven gorgeous kids. We still laugh about that, and the fact that only an artist as crazy as he is could have tamed her. There must be something to those tales of “love at first sight”–granted, it’s not really love yet, but wild attraction aint so bad for starters.

    • Eileen

      Hah! The last movie we took the whole family to see was Up. It cost us more than a hundred bucks. That did it for us. Now we just wait until things comes on Netflix. We don’t want to see anything that badly.

      I met my husband in a bar. What had started as a quick office happy hour so one of my girlfriends could meet some eligible men from my new job turned into a full evening of bar hopping. At our third bar that night, my husband told his friends that he was going to marry me and I suppose my friends picked up that this guy was different because by the next morning they had begun calling me Mrs. M. And truth be told we were pretty much inseparable from that point on. Less than a month later, we both knew we were getting married. We waited another four months to tell our families so they wouldn’t think we were nuts. And then we had to wait another six months to get married in Church. I totally believe in love at first meeting – when it’s right, it’s right.

      • anna lisa

        Well, I usually exercise common sense, but the weekend before, when my husband and I were trying to sneak out to the movies ourselves, one of the little guys said (sob!) “you never take us to the movies!” I was overtaken with a pang of guilt, and made that rash promise. We’ve been going to the movies a couple of times a month to make up for a couple of decades of–yeah, you guessed it!

        I’ll bet lot’s of people meet at bars. My husband and I went bar hopping all the time when we were teens. I had my older sister’s ID. We were inseparable. It was more fun being with him than feeling like quarry. By the time I was 19, I was so tired of frat parties and the bar crawl, that I decided it was time to call it a day and settle down. I tell my oldest that he really shut that party down. I was so naive that I thought that not much would change. (!!!)

        We still go to bars–just not ones called “Club Iguana” or “The Wildcat” anymore. You know what’s *really weird*? –Bumping into your own children and your nieces and nephews at one, or feeling the obligation to buy them a round of drinks (but I’m always the Mom, and will interrogate them about who their DD is) Ugh! Or seeing some creepy guy try to hit on my daughter, (–thankfully watching her rise above it)…

        Bars are cheaper than going out to dinner. Some of them have really great views. We just like being in the mix, and getting out of the house on Friday or Saturday night. We order a couple of our favorite appetizers, a couple of glasses of wine or beer, and listen to music. My husband knows this is a great antidote to “cooped up housewife syndrome” too, and no tiara is required.

  • anna lisa

    Thank goodness this is about tweaking instead of twerking Sleeping Beauty. That is a word that I unfortunately had to learn this year.

  • donttouchme

    I think it’s probably good to teach girls not to give up kisses easily, but your story is lame for boys and would make them pansies if they adopted it. The girl would be like, “yeah he slayed the dragon and all but it must have been a fluke because he’s too scared to try to kiss me. All he does is look at me too long and talk about rugby.” The original would probably lead to more satisfying romance for boys and girls both even though or probably because its riskier and patriarchal and the girl is powerless.

    What would your version of the story be for boys? Maybe something about fighting the dragon and all finding the girl and stealing a kiss because it was his reward for slaying the beast or something.

    • donttouchme

      Actually I’ve been thinking more about this and I think the “knight in shining armor” theme has nothing to do with girls at all and everything to do with boys and same with “true love’s kiss.” It’s all about the boy being the Great Male before whom the princess is supine and powerless to resist (in a good way). So when that gets cut it kind of ruins the romance for boys and therefore kind of ruins it indirectly for girls.

  • Eileen

    I’m not a girly girl and neither is my daughter, although she certainly is much more so than I. As a little girl she was much more into dinosaurs than princesses so I’ve never really given the whole princess thing much thought except to be irritated by mothers who wouldn’t buy their daughters princess pj’s or costumes. I’ve never once read or told my daughter (or for that matter any of my kids) a boy meets girl made up story. When my daughter was small I sometimes told her princess stories but they were of princesses doing little girl things. The last thing I want my kids to focus on while they’re still young is meeting “the one”. They’ll get enough of that from the culture we live in.

    As far as watching the movies, we did own the Cinderella video when my big kids were small and I took them to see Beauty and the Beast. I don’t think I’ve seen any other princess movies. I suppose my kids have seen some other ones on Netflix but I’m not even sure. I remember once Snow White was on TV but her voice to us sounded like fingernails on a blackboard so we turned it off. My now almost 17 year old daughter took one of her little brothers to see Frozen. She loved it, he wanted to leave about half way through. She laughingly admitted that she never saw the plot twist coming.

    • anna lisa

      Lol, Eileen, you warm my heart. I sweat the big stuff too, but it took me a while to learn it.
      …and my girl-girl just asked her Dad for a stun gun for Christmas. She has to get on the bus in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco after work., On the way into the city she gets in on rapid transit and then poaches on some tech company’s bus. When her brothers heard that it is a video gaming company their eyes positively glistened in admiration.

      I’d like to say Hogwash! about the prince thing, but here are the stats on her boyfriend: (Swear I’m not exaggerating) He’s 6’4″, athletic, handsome, and drives an Infiniti. He dresses so impeccably that I sometimes catch a glimpse of his Burberry boxers over his jeans. He just graduated in Engineering at Berkeley. His family invited her to fly with them to the Bahamas and then New York for Christmas on a private jet. …His Dad just flew out for the big game between Stanford and Berkeley with his entourage. Their “tailgate” party consisted of a private chef, with bartender and tent.
      I can’t tell you how apprehensive this makes me.
      Sophia had absolutely no idea that he was so wealthy when they started going out. He’s very sweet and down to earth. Something MUST be wrong! TGTBT! Oh yeah, and he says he wants to marry her, but she just turned 20 and considers this to be inappropriate.

      Yes, this is one of the big things that I AM SWEATING.

  • Barbara

    This is so interesting and timely. My 3 y/o girl has just started to get into Fairy Tales so I have been “re-telling” Cinderella along the same lines. Basically in my version, the prince is bored out of his mind at the ball. All the girls he dances with are only interested in him because they want to become the next princess. When he and Cinderella dance together they have a long conversation and he realizes he has found someone who is interested in him as a person, but then midnight, shoes etc… I am going to tell her your version of Sleeping Beauty, I got the movie to show her but I was as bothered by the story version as you were.

  • Susan

    Actually it’s the original Frog Prince that bemuses me: “I know there’s a young man in my bed, Daddy, but when I went to sleep, he was a frog.”

  • LiveOaksandSpanishMoss

    That’s why I liked Tangled (as an adult no less). There’s the love of beauty, love of parents (the real ones), and even a self-sacrificial love between Flynn and Rapunzel in which they both sacrifice their own happiness for the other. And none of this non-consensual mess. I would also challenge those who think “it’s just a kiss.” What would your reaction be if a strange boy kissed your teenage daughter while she slept?

  • Eileen

    I’m wondering how many moms here actually tell fictional love stories to their kids? I’m thinking I never felt the need to rewrite fairy tales because I wasn’t that invested in them and I don’t think my kids are either. I’m more inclined to offer running commentary as we’re watching or reading something that irks my sensibilities than I am to rewrite to rewrite the story. I might have said things like, “Geez, what a martyr complex!” or “What an enabler!” (Cinderella) or “What a creeper!” (just about any prince) or “It’d be great if she woke up now just in time to pop him!” (Sleeping Beauty). Just like now when my teenage daughter and I watch “Sister Wives”, I always point out the instances that show what a jerk the husband is and how low the self esteem is of the women. Not so much trying to correct things, just pointing out what’s unhealthy/wrong.

  • I loved your retelling of Sleeping Beauty! I don’t have any kids yet, but I am a huge sucker for fairy tales and princesses. Being aware of how unrealistic and insipid they can be, one of my favorite ones that’s come out more recently was Disney’s ‘Enchanted’. She starts out an airhead and your typical Disney ‘first guy I meet I fall for’, but she learns more about real life and marriage by the end. Not that its perfect from a Catholic standpoint(she marries a guy who was married before and has a little girl), but she learns as much about real love as he learns about happy endings, and I think it strikes a really nice balance. Have you seen it? I’d be interested in your thoughts.