Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
In the fourteenth-century world of Disney’s very 1950s fairy tale, pure, innocent love possesses such tangible strength it can defeat anything, even seemingly unbeatable curses or fearsome dragons. Unlike the vague and elusive real-world concept of love, true love within the film’s storybook world has definite qualities and characteristics, and its rules are easy to grasp. True love is instant and permanent. Once Briar Rose sees the mysterious stranger, she falls for him completely and irrevocably. The fairies can’t faze Rose even when they tell her she’s really a princess and will soon marry a prince. Instead, Rose flees to her room, distraught at the possibility that she’ll never be with her true love (whose name, incidentally, she does not yet know). Second, true love has utter faith and never questions itself. As soon as Phillip and Aurora admit to themselves that they love the other, neither ever doubts his or her decision, and each assumes that their union is the only right path. For instance, as Phillip hacks his way through Maleficent’s henchmen and falls off crumbling cliffs, with the future of an entire kingdom resting on his success, he never questions once why he’s doing it. Once the couple is united, they will indeed live happily ever after. The final dissolve of the film transports the dancing couple from the floor of Stefan’s ballroom into the clouds and serves as visual proof of the perfection of their relationship and their faith.
The success of true love matters not only to the lovers involved, but to other people as well. If Phillip and Aurora do not unite, the entire kingdom crumbles. Maleficent will reign victorious, the kingdoms of Stefan and Hubert will not merge, and chaos will presumably splinter the land, given that a giant dragon is on the loose. Since true love is rare and special, not everyone can have it. It becomes a model for others to look up to, and the glue that holds a kingdom together. Indeed, above all else, the film posits that true love conquers all. It can defeat and dismiss every obstacle, every evil, and every unloving person who comes into its path.
Home environments provide the crucial foundation for the love and goodness that the characters in Sleeping Beauty value so highly. The characters who have families have love and support, even in times of strife. Stefan and his wife have each other and share a longing for their daughter, the three fairies have one another, and Hubert has his son and, presumably, a wife back in his kingdom. The only character with no other human companionship, of course, is Maleficent. The evil fairy’s inability to love and be loved (she calls herself the “mistress of all evil”) is suggested by her lack of proper companionship. She keeps a raven and a horde of subhuman henchmen within her castle walls, which suggests some sort of perversion. Even the loving cottage of the fairies and Briar Rose is a humans-only affair. Maleficent is also excluded from another kind of domestic relationship: that between parent and child. Stefan and Hubert are both fathers, and even the fairies raise Briar Rose for sixteen years. Maleficent has only “my pet,” her raven, which is an inadequate substitute for, and a perversion of, true human family relations. A moral of the film is that families provide support and should join to create even larger families to generate even stronger support. Stefan’s and Hubert’s joint kingdoms will certainly prosper for generations to come.