Aurora’s mother is such a minor character in Maleficent that it’s easy to overlook her heartbreaking fate. She only has three speaking lines and is not referred to by name, but she is credited as Princess Leila – a slight variation from Queen Leah in Sleeping Beauty, though her name is not spoken in that film, either. She is neither mentioned nor present in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, and of the two films in which she does appear, Maleficent expands the most on Leila’s character, but not by much. Leila’s first appearance in Maleficent is at Stefan’s coronation and her second – and last – is at Aurora’s christening. What happened to her after that has been questioned by fans.
In Maleficent, the first mention of Leila is when she is offered by her father, King Henry, as a bride to whoever can vanquish Maleficent. Stefan, a page boy at the time, betrays his childhood friend and claims his prize: Leila and, consequently, the throne. Leila’s reaction to the imposed union is not shown and it is unclear whether or not she came to love her husband. Shortly after marrying Stefan, she gives birth to Aurora. At her christening, Aurora is blessed with beauty and joy, but is then cursed by Maleficent and immediately separated from her family. Years later, Leila becomes gravely ill off-camera. Stefan, utterly fixated on destroying Maleficent, neglects to join Leila at her bedside during the final hours of her life. Instead of eventually coming to feel remorse for this decision and process the grief of losing his wife, Stefan later remarks that true love does not exist. By this statement, it’s reasonable to assume Stefan did not truly love Leila.
In the midst of all of this is a young girl who never knew her mother. Aurora, believing that her mother has been dead since her infancy, finds a mother-like companion in Maleficent, who has been watching over her since placing her curse. After 16 years of being raised by fairies in the forest, Aurora learns that her father is alive and returns to the castle to visit him. When she arrives, Stefan expresses a twinge of sorrow while telling Aurora that she looks like her mother, which confirmed to Aurora – whether she realized it or not – that her mother had died. And so, Maleficent becomes the only mother figure left in Aurora’s life.
Throughout the film, Maleficent begins to genuinely care for Aurora and this becomes the most significant and close relationship Aurora develops. The irony is that Aurora was taken from her mother to protect her from Maleficent, but, to Aurora, Leila is simply the woman who gave birth to her while she refers to Maleficent as her Fairy Godmother. The closeness that Aurora feels with Maleficent is solidified during Maleficent: Mistress of Evil when Aurora says directly to Maleficent, “You are my mother,” disregarding Leila entirely. That being said, Aurora and Maleficent’s relationship is unique among Disney princess films and is worth recognition for its portrayal of female friendship as well as the importance of non-romantic love.
Possibly just as tragic is the fact that Leila is one of the relatively few mothers of Disney characters who are alive for any screen time at all. Though several recent live-action Disney princess films have included scenes with the heroines’ mothers before their eventual passing, Queen Leah of Sleeping Beauty is the only living mother of an animated Disney princess from Snow White to Mulan. Despite managing to meet the depressingly low bar of being alive for part of the film, Leila is not influential to the plot of the film or in the life of her daughter. Her character is wholly set aside to make room for the story that unfolds between Aurora, Maleficent, and Stefan, which is sad yet understandable. Maleficent is, after all, not Leila’s story.
Next: What To Expect From Maleficent 3