Formal Essay #2
Argumentative Fairytale Comparison: Literary Version vs. Disney Version
In comparing the literary version of the Brother’s Grimm fairytale, "Schneewittchen" (Snow-White) with the Walt Disney 1937 animated version, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves", it is clear that Disney changed parts of the original version and successfully perpetuated his own socio-political agenda. As a result of these rewrites, along with the musical score and the magic of the animated images, no longer could we imagine for ourselves the characters and environments of our beloved fairytale beauties and beasts, nor the story the way it was originally told. Disney imposed his own world view, beliefs and imagination into the minds of billions of viewers, apparently without regard for the cultural value, diversity and innuendo of the original tale.
The Grimm fairytale, "Snow-White", is a "good vs. evil" story about vanity out of control and how it can destroy lives. Only seven pages long, it is short and to the point. We are introduced in the beginning to a good Queen who pricks her finger while she is sewing and looking out a window at the winter snow. Upon seeing her own red blood, she wishes for, "a child as white as snow, as red as blood and as black as the wood of the embroidery frame." Shortly after this the Queen has the child she wishes for and names her Snow-White, but, does not live to raise her, dying in childbirth. Her husband, the King, waits one year before taking a new wife. As the story continues we meet the Kings new wife, a beautiful, proud, overbearing Queen, who cannot bear to be surpassed in beauty by anyone. She has a magic talking mirror that can only tell the truth. When she obsessively asks of it, "Looking glass upon the wall, who is the fairest of us all?", the mirror always says that she is the fairest. However, as her step-daughter, Snow-White, grows in age and beauty, the Queens magic mirror answers her obsessive questions about her own beauty with, "Snow White is the fairest of them all." This enrages the vain Queen and "from that hour her heart turned against Snow-White and she hated her..." "envy and pride like ill weeds grew in her heart higher every day, until she had no peace day or night." She calls for the huntsman to kill Snow-White.
Throughout the story the Queen disguises herself and makes four attempts to kill her beautiful step daughter. Snow-White has integrity as well as a kind heart that, at times, lowers her guard against "evil". The seven dwarves appear in the tale after the runaway Snow-White has eaten their food and fallen asleep in their home. They let her stay in trade for house chores and, when they go off to the mines to work, warn her to not open the door for anyone because the cruel Queen will stop at nothing. They save her life two times upon returning home and finding the Princess incapacitated by the Queen’s poison tricks. The good Prince and his servants are the last characters we meet, coming into the story briefly at the very end. The Prince, having just seen Snow-White laying in her glass coffin, is smitten and hopes to have her even though she is considered dead. The Prince proposes to Snow-White after she is accidentally awakened from the sleeping death by his servants who, while carrying her glass coffin, stumble as a group and dislodge the poison apple that is stuck in her throat.
In the Disney version, titled "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves", the story begins with two pages in an animated book for the viewers to read. It introduces Snow White, the beautiful Princess; the Queen, her cruel, jealous, vain stepmother; the magic mirror that tells the Queen she is the most beautiful in the land; and the idea that as long as the Queen keeps her status as the most beautiful in the land, the beautiful Snow White will be safe. Disney’s book page introduction presents a "good vs evil" plot. When the animated characters first appear, Snow White (looking a lot like Elizabeth Taylor), finishes up some sweeping chores and then runs off to a wishing well singing, "Someday My Prince Will Come". White doves and small wild animals chirp, sing, and frolic happily, following the Princess where ever she goes. Seconds later a handsome Prince comes along (looking a lot like Rock Hudson) singing, "Now that I’ve found you I have one song my heart keeps singing of one love only for you." Disney has written in a love theme here; a second plot, which runs parallel to and over the "good vs evil" plot. Disney’s cruel Queen has supernatural powers. She is able to "shapeshift" herself and become an old peddler woman in order to trick Snow White into believing she is friendly and harmless. With a cackling laugh throughout most of the animation and some magical spells she attempts to kill Snow White two times and fails. Snow White is kind and sings wishful love songs throughout the story. The seven dwarves bumble around, also singing all the time, as off to work they go, whistling while they work. Leaping across lightening bolts in rocky wooded mountains during a thunder storm, they chase away the wicked Queen, who falls off a cliff and dies. The Prince is the romantic hero in Disney’s Snow White. It is his kiss that awakens Snow White from the sleeping death of the poisoned apple.
The differences between the Brother’s Grimm and Walt Disney versions of "Snow White" are startling and overt. Disney has written out the original cultural influences and written in his own American white, male, racist, patriarchal agenda in two plots. He has turned the Grimm’s moral lesson about self-serving vanity into a romantic fantasy love story, having no believable moral, or any character building lessons written into either of his plots. The changes begin in the Disney introduction when the magical quality of Snow-White’s birth is simply dropped and we learn nothing of the love and character of her parents. The Grimm introduction, though tragic and sad, is a humble and dignified beginning for the life of the beautiful Princess, Snow-White, conveying the love and magic of which she was born. And, an underlying intent here may be to send a subtle cultural message about the good effects of parental rootsthat loving and magical parental units may cultivate loving and magical children. We are informed by the Disney introduction that the original "good vs evil" story of vanity and its threat to Snow White will be told, however, Disney’s second plot is introduced immediately as Snow White comes on screen singing a love song. Disney has now flamboyantly stated that his fairytale will be a heterosexual romantic fantasy. Because romance has no bearing on the moral intent of the Grimm story, their only reference to romantic love comes at the end when the Prince just happens along the trail, sees beautiful Snow White in her glass coffin, and becomes smitten.
Disney’s tale perpetuates messages of his choice. Rich white wicked witch Queens are vain, murderers who will be killed by acts of God. Rich white heterosexual males have the grand power of healers and Gods. Dwarves are filthy, fickle and feebleminded. Rich white females will be safe from harm if they wish for rich white males to love and sex them. The Disney wicked Queen’s evil inhumanness is a character trait we cannot easily identify with. The opportunity to relate to her as a human being with low self-esteem is obliterated by the Disney theatrics so that the Grimm’s original lesson about vanity is lost. The Grimm Queen is a very human woman consumed by fear and what appears to be a very low self image, something most people can easily relate to. Sadly, her preoccupation with her own physical beauty has become irrational and, in tandem with a chronic competative attitude, is making her mentally and emotionally sick and unstable. She has become a sadistic homicidal maniac. Her illness is clearly the "evil" that wages itself against the "good" in this fairytale. At the end of the tale the jealous Queen is killed by red-hot iron shoes in which she is forced to dance when she shows up at the wedding of Snow-White and the Prince. The "evil" loses and the "good" prevails. The Grimm’s moral and character message is clear. Obsessive vanity is a very bad thing. Don’t try it or you will pay the price. It is interesting to note that although being obsessed with our own physical beauty is one of our all too human shortcomings, it is disproportionately applied to tales about woman. Could this be a politically divisive and misogynist attempt to divide woman in order to maintain the patriarchal status quo.
The Disney Snow White, portrayed as kind, naive, airheaded, condescending and in chronic good humor, is Disney’s patriarchal image of a good wife as she automatically begins cleaning the home of the seven dwarves who she does not know and has not yet met. The Grimm Snow-White is an independent, intelligent, survivor. It is her pleading for her life that touches the huntsman’s heart as he raises his axe to kill her. She responds well under pressure by bargaining for her life. She offers to go away into the wild woods and never come home again, an offer the huntsman accepts without hesitation. Snow-White is also no slouch in the Grimm tale, multi-tasking as evidenced by her acceptance of doing the seven dwarves housework, cleaning, sewing, knitting, and cooking, in trade for a place to stay. Snow-White’s integrity and independence are also evident at the end of the story after the enamored Prince makes his proposal. She listens to his plea for her hand and is described as making the choice to go with him because she is kind.
The Grimm fairytale is refreshingly absent of definitive physical appearances for the characters. If we know the difference between Little People or Persons of Short Stature or Dwarfs, we can assume the seven dwarves are short with large heads and disproportionate appendages and torsos. It is an implied physical appearance that the Grimm brothers refer to only with the word "dwarf". Other than gender, the word "beautiful", and the poetic description of Snow-White as "white as snow, as red as blood and as black as the wood of the embroidery frame", there are no references to race, skin color, height, weight, or shape of any other character. Without these physically descriptive finalizations, readers may imagine the physical attributes for the characters to identify with them. The Disney animation "fixes" the look of every character for us, using Disney’s preference for "white" people, and, appears to have no dwarves in the story at all. Instead there are midgets dressed as elves. Disney either did not do his homework or purposely sketched his dwarves as midgets. A more honest title would have been "Snow White and the Seven Midget Elves?. (S.W.A.T.S.M.E) This is an interesting acronym when considering Disney’s "swatting out" of the dwarf culture, which is essentially racism.
The treatment of the seven dwarves in these two versions of the "Snow White" fairytale could not be more different. The Grimm dwarves are treated as intelligent, considerate, protective, intuitive, cleanly, orderly, kind, and hardworking. They are heroes deserving of praise and emulation, making them wonderful role models for children and adults alike. The Disney dwarves-not dwarves, painted with an opposite palette, are clumsy in the extreme, uncleanly, frightened, somewhat brave and too happy. Disney has turned the role model heroes we met in the Grimm tale into bumbling and filthy, "little men" children with bad hygiene and some misogynist attitude. "All females is cursed. They’re full of wick and wiles," barks Grumpy, who’s misogynist remark we may be tricked into not taking seriously because he’s just "grumpy". Disney spends nearly one third of the runtime of this animation on the character flaws of the seven dwarves-not dwarves. They do not wash their hands before they eat or take baths. They keep a messy home and leave dust, grime, and dirty dishes laying around. They are weak, child-like characters who are manipulated by Snow White into turning against one another. She addresses them from a superior position, possibly the rich white Goddess, cloaked under the veil of her kind voice tone and constant good humor. These seven pajama clad dwarves-not dwarves are either a bachelor group house nightmare or they are Disney’s ignorant misunderstanding of cultural groups other than the one he belongs to.
Disney’s patriarchal heterosexist message is, perhaps, the most glaring change to this simple fairytale, apparent in his rewrite of the role of the Prince and of the ending. The Disney Prince is the white, male, hero. He is a romantic fantasy for whom (white) women are to wish and wait. His kiss is the only antidote for Snow Whites sleeping death. According to Disney, heterosexual sex is so powerful it will bring women back to life. In the Grimm tale it is the servants who save Snow-White from the sleeping death when they stumble as they carry her glass coffin. Inadvertently, the Grimm Prince, who has no innate magical sexual power, has saved Snow-White through his order to his servants, a human action with a little shove from divine intervention. The Grimm’s give barely a paragraph of character development to the Prince. His role is not important enough to warrant more. Other than his very human desire for the beautiful Princess, there is one other subtle reference to his personality at the very end of the story during the wedding celebration when he helps kill the cruel Queen with red-hot iron dancing shoes, revealing his warrior side.
Walt Disney, a genius of animation, was a controlling patriarch bent on maintaining the status-quo. Using rewrites, songs, slapstick and fright images, he diminished the import, cultural quality, values and integrity and of the original "Snow-White" fairytale. Having the means to shove his ideas and propaganda down the throat of the world through the magic of Hollywood, he did literature and the world a disservice through his appropriation of this fairytale gem, robbing our diversity of cultural tradition, and of socio-political thought and change. Fortunately, we can all still go out and read the original version to our children and ourselves, and hopefully, someday, repair the damage.