Princess Aurora (also known as Sleeping Beauty or by her alias “Briar Rose“) is a fictional character who appears in Walt Disney Pictures’ 16th animated feature film Sleeping Beauty (1959). Originally voiced by American singer Mary Costa, Aurora is born the only daughter of King Stefan and Queen Leah. As revenge for not being invited to Aurora’s christening, an evil fairy named Maleficent curses the newborn princess, foretelling that she will die on her 16th birthday by pricking her finger on a spinning wheel’s spindle. Determined to prevent this, three good fairies raise Aurora in seclusion as a peasant in order to protect her, patiently awaiting her 16th birthday – the day the spell is to be broken by a kiss from her true love, Prince Philip.
Aurora is based on the princess in Charles Perrault’s fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty”, as well as the heroine in the Brothers Grimm’s retelling of the story, “Little Briar Rose”. For several years, Walt Disney had struggled to find a suitable actress to voice the film’s heroine and nearly abandoned the project entirely because of this dilemma until Costa was discovered by composer Walter Schumann. However, Costa’s strong southern accent nearly cost her the role until she proved that she could sustain a fake British accent for the entire film. In order to accommodate the unprecedentedly detailed backgrounds of the film, Aurora’s refined design demanded more attention than had ever been paid to an animated character before, drawing inspiration from Art Nouveau. Animated by Marc Davis, Aurora’s slender physique was inspired by the elegant features of British actress Audrey Hepburn. With only 18 lines of dialogue and equally as few minutes of screen time, the character speaks less than any speaking main character in a full-length Disney animated feature film.
When Sleeping Beauty was first released in 1959, the film was both a critical and commercial failure, which discouraged the studio from adapting fairy tales into animated films for decades. Aurora herself received negative reviews for her passivity and overall similarity to Snow White, and thus would remain Disney’s last princess until The Little Mermaid‘s Arieldebuted 30 years later in 1989. However, Costa’s vocal performance was praised, which inspired her to pursue a full-time career as an opera singer, to great success; the singer was recognized as a Disney Legend in 1999. Chronologically, Aurora is the third Disney Princess. Despite having since established herself as popular character for her beauty and fashion, Aurora’s personality continues to receive negative press, particularly from feminist critics, and has thus earned her a reputation as one of Disney’s worst princesses. Additionally, the character’s lack of involvement in her own story has led to discussions about whether or not Aurora is the film’s protagonist. Critics have also observed themes of womanhood within the character, receiving Aurora as a metaphor for one’s sexual awakening.