Once Upon a Movie: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. Disney's first feature-length animated film was based on a fairy tale and would become the first in a long line of Disney animated fairy tale movies. But how does Disney's story stack up against the original Brothers Grimm fairy tale?
The movie begins with a book labeled Snow White opening to this first page.
There is no mention of the Queen forcing Snow White to wear rags in the fairy tale. This may be related to the big change Disney made in making Snow White much older for their film. The fairy tale says that Snow White is only 7 years old when she became more beautiful than the Queen. In the movie, she is 14. Keep in mind Snow White’s intended age as we go through this fairy tale. Once I read that at the beginning the rest of the tale took on a whole new feeling.
The movie begins with the Queen consulting her mirror to hear that Snow White has surpassed her own beauty. And then we meet Snow White, scrubbing stairs with a bucket of water, surrounded by white doves. Snow White isn’t the only Disney princess to have a connection with wildlife. This trait is given to Cinderella and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) as well. I think this comes from traditional lore which would use an animal’s trust as a sign of a young woman being pure (virginal), as in unicorn lore. (Only a female virgin is said to be able to befriend a unicorn.) So, in this first scene we learn that Snow White is not only beautiful but happy, despite being forced to do manual labor, “pure”, and like any 14 year old girl, “wishing for the one I love”. Oh, and she has a very high-pitched (annoying, I say) voice and likes to sing.
And, right away the Prince is introduced. In the fairy tale, there is no mention of any prince (probably because she is only 7 years old) until after she is in her death-like slumber. I assume that Disney added this nameless prince at the beginning of the story so they could say the two of them had some sort interaction before the “true love’s first kiss” nonsense. This is another plot device we see in future Disney fairy tales, the introduction of the prince briefly in the beginning and then he isn’t seen again until he is needed to save the princess in the end.
Well, the Queen sees the Prince singing to Snow White which increases her envy and hatred, so she tells her huntsman to take Snow White into the forest, kill her, and bring back her heart as proof. This rings true to the fairy tale. The huntsman cannot bring himself to kill the beautiful Snow White and tells her to run into the forest to hide. The movie makes quite a show of all the terrors of the forest that Snow White encounters while the fairy tale says she ran through the forest unharmed.
When Snow White makes it to the dwarfs’ cottage (with the help of her new animal friends) she finds it full of cobwebs and dust whereas in the fairy tale it is said to be "neater and cleaner than you can imagine.” The movie fits in a couple more songs while Snow White cleans and the dwarfs come home from the mine to find their home has been cleaned and Snow White asleep on their beds. She quickly takes on a motherly role, offering to clean, sew, and cook for them if they let her stay. The dwarfs like the sound of that. In the fairy tale, it is the dwarfs that propose the deal of having her cook & clean in order to stay.
And now we come to the first example of original fairy tale gore being taken out of Disney’s versions of fairy tales. Originally, the Queen has Snow White’s (really a pig’s) heart cooked for her and she eats it. This is left out of the movie. In both, she asks the mirror her favorite question again, only to find out that Snow White is indeed still alive and living with the dwarfs. Upon hearing this revelation, she swoops down to her evil dungeon of evil and formulates her plan.
In the original fairy tale, the Queen tries three times to kill Snow White and succeeds on the third. The movie skips the first two, only including the poison apple. The Queen first tricks Snow White by selling her pretty laces (for her corset/dress), which she laces so tightly that Snow White cannot breath and falls down, but when the dwarfs get home, they unlace her and she comes back to life. Despite the dwarfs warnings, the little Snow White (only 7 years old, remember) is fooled the next day again with a poison comb. The dwarfs remove the comb and warn Snow White again. But when the old lady selling apples proves that the apple is not poison by eating one half (the not-poisoned half), Snow White cannot resist and bites the poison apple.
The movie only uses the poisoned apple trick, but makes it into a very long and dramatic scene with the old woman coming into the house and convincing Snow White to eat it as the woodland animals try to get the dwarfs home in time to stop her. The Queen gets what’s coming to her and falls off a cliff trying to escape.
The movie is wrapped up nice with the Prince, who has heard of the glass-coffined fair maiden, coming to kiss Snow White and they ride off into the sunset together (with no words exchanged). The fairy tale has a far less romantic ending. A prince comes across Snow White in her coffin and insists that the dwarfs give her to him because she is so beautiful and they do. As his servants carry her coffin, they stumble over a tree stump and that bumps the bit of poison apple out of Snow White’s throat and she wakes up. (She never completely ate the poison apple, so instead of dying just went into a sort of coma, I guess.) The prince explains what happened and she agrees to marry him. (She’s been “dead” for a while, but she’s still 7 years old.) They go off and get married and invite the Queen who is still seething with jealousy. When she arrives at the feast, she is forced to wear red-hot iron slippers and dance until she dies.
Compare & Contrast
: Disney made Snow White 14 instead of 7 which reduced the images of child-labor and pedophilia.
: Disney removed the Queen eating the heart and the Queen’s torturous ending.
: Disney filled up the movie with unnecessary scenes and songs instead of including all three of the Queen’s attempts on Snow White’s life.
: Disney let Snow White meet her prince beforehand and woke up Snow White with a kiss rather than an accident.
The Moral of the Story Is...
Surprisingly, not about Snow White. It is the Queen that teaches us our lesson. She embodies several of the 7 deadly sins (greed, wrath, envy, pride) and pays for that in the end. Snow White is there as an example of purity and good Christian values. Even though she is stupid enough to fall for the Queen’s tricks three times, she is saved in the end because she is pure of heart and trusting, and took her place serving men like every little girl should.
The Disney movie added more prince, more songs, more animals, and less trickery but still managed to teach the same lesson about envy since the Queen does die. Albeit, in a much more PG way than the original tale.
Snow White Movies: