Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The Spinning Wheel
Part of Aurora’s “fall” into Maleficent’s spell—her finger pricked on the spinning wheel—refers to her approaching maturity or awakening. When Rose dips her foot into the water by the river, for example, she appears to be testing it out, awakening to new, mature knowledge of the world. This maturity could ultimately mean a flowering into sexual awareness, since she is, after all, sixteen and dreaming of a Prince, or simply a general adolescent growth into adult knowledge. The film never takes a firm stand on what sort of maturity Aurora grows into, but the overall conceit of Aurora “awakening” to a man’s kiss suggests that her maturity may indeed be a sexual one.
A spinning wheel often symbolizes the unstoppable revolutions of the years, and in the film it encourages the contemplation of time and how it changes things. Spinning wheels also refer to creation, since they’re used to weave yarn or string into cloth. Most simplistically, the spinning wheel is a literal manifestation of the old phrase “spinning a spell,” which means to curse someone. Aurora, under Maleficent’s power, is made to touch the spindle—the wheel appears precisely at the crucial moment of the curse’s fruition.
Colors and Shapes
Sleeping Beauty establishes a palette of meaning by associating certain hues and saturations with certain qualities of character. Everything painted in black, green, scarlet, or sickly purple hues is evil. These colors mark Maleficent’s clothing, her castle’s interior, and the atmosphere outside of her castle. These colors are also heavily saturated, deep and harsh, and often fit into a coded shape pattern. The darker colors usually appear in less pleasing, angular shapes, such as Maleficent’s sharp, lanky dress, her jagged castle jutting into the sky, or her talon-like fingers.
Aurora and her father’s kingdom are painted warmly in an array of bright colors: oranges, blues, pinks, and yellows. Anything rendered in these colors in the film appears happy, friendly, relaxed, and loving. The borders around these colors are less harsh, more softly edged. Aurora’s soft profile, the sumptuous feast of Hubert and Stefan, and the cuddly animals of the forest are colored in this spectrum. Every dominant color in the film corresponds to a specific person or place. Samson’s white hide, Merryweather’s blue dress, and Maleficent’s henchmen’s brownish cast all indicate something crucial about their characters.
Since the prominent animals in the film do not really exist outside of their relation to a human, the role of these animals is to serve as indicators of the humans’ own characteristics. The cute, friendly animals in the forest, such as the smiling owl, the pair of wide-eyed rabbits, and the loping chipmunk, are all associated with Briar Rose. Because of them, her character appears gentle, free, playful, radiating good will for all, and, most of all, innocent. Samson, the strong white horse of Prince Phillip, reinforces Phillip’s nature as innately pure, a master of beasts, and powerful, but also friendly and kind to all good creatures. Finally, Maleficent’s raven insinuates that she is a spying, secretive, harsh creature. This style of communication is crucial to Disney films. Before the human characters act or speak, animals or other figures give an idea of how to understand them. These characters don’t have to say much. Through the colors in which they are rendered and the animals that accompany them, they are clearly coded to be read in a certain way.