Disney’s First Princess

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Ah yes, Disney. I’m in the generation that grew up during the coined “Disney Renaissance,” the early nineties when they put out some of their best work. Hercules, Lion King, Little Mermaid, Aladdin all had cartoons on the Disney Channel. I love Winnie the Pooh to this day. I sing along with Disney songs almost anywhere. Very nostalgic.

snow white
I’ve been to Disney World once, on a band trip my senior year of high school. This is at the Princess Meet-and-Greet

But, going to start with the first full length animated movie. Released in 1937, it retells a Brothers Grimm tale about an evil sorceress who becomes the stepmother to a beautiful princess, named Snow White due to her “skin as white as snow” (it’s a fairy tale, they can have…not normal names). But the queen is jealous and wants to be known as the fairest in the land (here, they use “fair” as a synonym for “beautiful” because the queen is certainly not kind.) When her magic mirror tells her otherwise, she orders a huntsman to kill Snow White and bring back her heart as proof. Because Snow White is the eternal optimist (her mannerisms remind me of Shirley Temple, a child star of the same era), the huntsman can’t bring himself to kill her. Instead, he tells her to run away into the forest and never return.

That forest has given children nightmares; falling in line with the purpose of original fairy tales to scare children into behaving. Snow’s fear fueled the terrifying images, until she calms down and sees it for cuddly woodland creatures. Those bunnies are absolutely huggable. They lead her to a filthy house in the middle of the woods and they all clean!

Okay, let’s interrupt the narrative a little further to discuss a few things. Modern women look back on this and huff about how the princess just wants to clean and take care of men/children. Let’s remember when this was produced; women were not a major part of the workforce yet. And, the original Grimm fairy tale was unlikely to be proponent for women’s rights. Re-watching this, I take it as, that’s what she wants to do, fine. I don’t have to. However, can someone explain to me when woodland creatures learned how to clean a house?

Returning to the story; they all whistle while they work and take a well deserved nap afterwards. The owners of the house, seven dwarfs, not orphaned children, return from their work in the mine. At first, they’re suspicious about having an intruder in their home, yet that melts away when they discover it’s a beautiful young woman.

They’re smart enough the next morning to warn Snow White that the queen will still be hunting her and to not let strangers in the house (good message for kids). Snow’s not the smartest apple in the barrel and willingly talks to a haggard old woman (personal vendetta: not all witches are evil, and why do they have to be ugly? The queen goes through all that work just to be known as the prettiest? Alas, those all fall into traditional fairy tale tropes). When the birds try to warn Snow White, she takes pity on the woman – and does the thing that the dwarfs just told her not to do! Proving that animals are smarter than humans, the woodland creatures fetch the dwarfs. Sadly, it’s too late. Snow White has fallen prey to the Sleeping Death, though not permanent death, since the queen cackled the dwarfs would bury her alive.

Classic Disney death, the queen falls off a cliff followed by a boulder (though not every death is accompanied by creepy vultures). The dwarfs hold vigil for months; we witness the changing seasons. And the prince has been searching for months for this young woman. Yep, that classic trope of love at first sight, and love’s first kiss. “And they lived happily ever after” completes the fairy tale.

I can understand “I’m Wishing;” she’s a fourteen-year-old princess from some undetermined historical period. Entirely accurate to be wishing for a handsome prince to marry (doesn’t quite jive with modern viewpoints, again, it’s the thirties). Young girls and tweens still wish for a prince to see them off their feet. Fully grown women still secretly wish for love (we just know it’s a lot harder to acquire).

Snow White’s song is interrupted by a strange prince coming up to her, then serenading her. I reiterate my question: how do you love her if all you’ve done is listen to her and see her for thirty seconds? Later, Snow White tells her new dwarf friends she dreams of her prince returning. Okay, first issue, how do you honestly know he’s a prince? He could be lying, a vagabond that stole the prince’s clothes. And you know you’ll be happy, how? We keep circling back to the fact that you’ve known each other all of a minute. That is not love, that’s barely infatuation or a crush. One is essentially saying, “oh he/she is cute.” It means nothing. You’ve never spoken to each other. This is not how marriages worked even in the medieval or Renaissance time. Arranged marriages were negotiated. Royalty had to go through a rigmarole to get married. Guess we’ve got to chalk it up to “because it’s a fairy tale.”

I’ve gotta to compare the dwarfs here to the dwarves of Tolkien, brought to life by Peter Jackson. There are some similarities; they have memorable names: Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Doc, Sneezy, Grumpy, and Dopey vs Balin, Dwalin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Oin, Gloin, Ori, Dori, Nori, Fili, Kili, and Thorin. They’re all miners, though, the Tolkien dwarves are far more traditional. Children, that is not how gems are mined and smart people do not throw away the slightly imperfect ones. They’ve got fun songs: Heigh-Ho vs Blunt the Knives (those dwarves clean up similar to woodland creatures). And they’ve all got beards, for the most part and color-coded garments. However, Tolkien created a wonderful history for the dwarves, rich in culture. His are characters that take part in the grand scheme of things. Disney’s are…lifelike garden gnomes. And would you really want to go up against the dwarves from the Hobbit?

In conclusion, Snow White has never been a favorite Disney movie of mine, but re-watching it, it’s not too bad.  Fine watching if there’s not much else on TV, but not something I would be in a hurry to elect to put on. Kids, do not talk to strangers or accept food from strangers or let them in your house. Most of the other views are honestly outdated, but if you don’t let yourself get distracted…. I respect it for being groundbreaking for animation. I do have to say, I enjoyed the recharacterization that Once Upon A Time made to Snow. I can totally get behind a woman who takes her destiny into her own hands and kicks butt at the same time.

I do not intend to do an analysis on Once Upon a Time. I love the show, but it’s seven seasons.

Questions? Comments? Want me to do OUAT? Let me know.

Next Time: Cinderella

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