Elle Fanning says her Sleeping Beauty in Maleficent is no bimbo

Actress Elle Fanning grew up identifying with the character of Sleeping Beauty, a role she plays in the movie Maleficent (above). -- PHOTO: WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES, SINGAPORE
Actress Elle Fanning grew up identifying with the character of Sleeping Beauty, a role she plays in the movie Maleficent (above). -- PHOTO: WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES, SINGAPORE
Actress Elle Fanning (above) grew up identifying with the character of Sleeping Beauty, a role she plays in the movie Maleficent. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Actress Elle Fanning (above) grew up identifying with the character of Sleeping Beauty, a role she plays in the movie Maleficent. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

In the pantheon of Disney princesses, Aurora - aka Sleeping Beauty - is the ultimate archetype: blonde, pretty and always happy.

As such, she has a lot to answer for in terms of perpetuating a certain twodimensional female stereotype. And Elle Fanning, the actress who plays Princess Aurora in the new movie, Maleficent, knows this all too well - even though she herself was a big fan of the original 1959 Disney animated film, which popularised a story adapted from a 17th-century French fairy tale.

The sunny 16-year-old admits she thoroughly identified with the character as a child.

"I felt like I looked like her the most - she had blonde hair and a pink dress, which was my favourite colour, and she's also the tallest princess, which was nice for me," says the 1.72m-tall actress, who is the younger sister of another Hollywood star, 20-year-old Dakota (War Of The Worlds, 2005; the Twilight movies, 2009 to 2012),

But it was important for her that the new version of Sleeping Beauty did not portray her as some kind of grinning idiot.

"Because that can get pretty boring, you know - the girl who smiles all the time," Fanning tells Life! and other reporters at a press event in Los Angeles. "In the original, I think that kind of happened a bit, she was a little passive and kind of that delicate little princess, singing to the forest."

This new version presents a more complex and realistic Aurora for modern audiences.

"We wanted to make her have more layers to her and more depth," says Fanning, whose breakout role was J.J. Abrams' 2011 science-fiction film Super 8. "And she's a very complex character if you think about it - there are so many secrets that are hidden from her and when those secrets are unveiled, we wanted her to show real emotion, and for us to make her a bit stronger as well to be able to overcome those emotions."

Played by Angelina Jolie, the title character, Maleficent, also appears in the 1959 film: she is the evil fairy who casts an unbreakable spell on the infant Aurora, saying she will prick her finger on a spindle before she turns 16 and die.

But this time, the story will explain why Maleficent did what she did. "We have a different spin on it and pretty much all the questions that you had in the original will be answered in ours," Fanning promises.

"Because she's such an intriguing character - she pops up in the original, does all these evil things and then goes away. And you're like, 'What is up with that, why is she so mean?' Because I don't think anyone's born evil, something had to have happened in his past."

She also appreciates how positive and progressive the underlying message is in the new movie.

"I feel like messages in Disney films are kind of like the hidden vegetables. Because there's this spectacle for kids to watch, but there is always a moral hidden underneath."

Unlike the original, this is not going to be "just a romantic love story between a boy and a girl, where the guy kind of saves the day".

"There's a little more of a friendship- type of love and the love for one's homeland, and also maternal love."

Fanning says she is still pinching herself about the fact that she gets to play a Disney princess at all, a dream come true for many little girls.

"Yeah, it was kind of crazy to be welcomed into the Disney community. Because I feel like the Disney princesses are kind of the elite princesses - everyone knows Cinderella and all of them.

"This little girl came up to me the other day after the trailers for Maleficent came out, and said, 'Are you Aurora?' And I said, 'I guess I am.' It was funny to say that. I guess that's going to start happening more."

Alison de Souza

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