Disney and the butchering of Snow White.
The film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by Walt Disney is loosely based on the Grimms' fairy tale. While many elements have been changed, both versions are about a beautiful girl called Snow White and her vain and wicked stepmother, the Queen. Snow White's beauty is the object of Queen's envy and, obsessed with this jealousy, she orders a Huntsman to take the little girl out in the woods and kill her. He is unable to commit this horrible act and lets Snow White run away; she finds a shelter in a small cottage inhabited by seven dwarfs. Unfortunately, the Queen discovers that the girl is still alive and sets out to kill Snow White herself. She succeeds in her evil mission, though Snow White is reawakened from the dead by a prince.
Despite the simplicity of the story, there is a great deal of symbolism and meaning behind every element. Therefore, every time Disney changes the story, something is lost. For example, in the Grimms' tale, the Stepmother tries to kill Snow White three times. In the Disney tale, only the last try is shown. While he follows, basically, the same plot, Disney changes many of the details, such as forgetting to mention Snow White's real mother, he changes Snow Whites age, the Huntsman is given different orders, the dwarfs are presented in an almost entirely different way, the Queen's attempts to kill Snow White are simplified, the death and reawakening of Snow White is different, and the Queen dies in a different way. These numerous, though seemingly minor, changes results in a less-meaningful story because these elements contain valuable symbolism that is vital to such a short and simple story. As Kay Stone says, "Though Newsweek calls him a 'Master of Fantasy' in fact Disney removed most of the powerful fantasy of the Marchen and replaced it with false magic." (Stone 16)
Of course, Disney had other motivations than presenting accurately the Grimms' Fairy Tale. He wanted to make a film that would be fun and enjoyable for the family, and this accomplished that. This presentation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs isn't that surprising however. Disney's early cartoons were all comedies, such as Mickey Mouse. His early treatment of folk tales included Jack and the Beanstalk, in which the giants who confront Mickey "have a menacing quality barely disguised by their silly stupidity." (Stone 26) Stone argues that Disney's full-length films based on fairy tales, "If Disney had been interested solely in appealing to children, his major fairy tale films would probably not be available today." (Stone 27) This statement is rather odd; however, when it is considered that most of the serious elements of the films are trivialized or important elements are altered in such a way as to make them less meaningful. Of course, it is important to remember the film's audience, Americans. Fairy tales, including Snow White, incorporate a great deal of symbolism from early European and Germanic cultures. An American audience probably would not have cared about many of these elements, or even noticed them, considering that this film was released in the era of the Great Depression when people had other things on their mind than a critical analysis of a cartoon based on a fairy tale. However, these changes do still have serious implications for the meaning of the story.
While there is many changes and these impacts the story in various ways, the most important alterations are in the manner in which Snow White, herself, is presented. In the Grimms', Snow White is still a little girl, a mere seven years old. As with the drops of blood, this number foreshadows later plot elements, the seven dwarfs that will help Snow White, as well as referring to traditional superstitions about numbers. For example, Rome is built around seven hills and there were Seven Wonders of the World. Seven has religious associations, including how the world was created in seven days. The number seven also appears in other Grimms' tales, for example, The Seven Ravens and The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids. Disney's Snow White is clearly older; in the first scene she meets her future Prince and falls in love. By changing Snow White's age, these important connections are partially broken, though there are still Seven Dwarfs.
Additionally, the heroine has a different personality in the two versions. Kay Stone states that,
Disney certainly succeeds in transforming the passive, pretty princess of the original tales. Snow White is not a naive seven-year-old as in the Grimm tale, but an appealing teenager ready for romance; a girl who is not frightened by the dwarfs, but who instead takes over their untidy household in an efficient American manner. (Stone 28)
However, this statement merely proves that the Disney version is inconsistent, and that it has caused confusion even among academics. While it seems, as Stone points out, that Disney's version is "not a naive seven-year-old," the Grimms' Snow White is in reality the more mature character, or at least she is not less mature. This is apparent right near the beginning. For example, when the Huntsman tries to kill her, Disney's Snow White has to be explained what is going on, and she is told to go into the woods. The Grimms' heroine, even though she is only seven-years-old as Stone emphasizes, realises herself what has happened and bargains for her life; she is the one who suggests that she run away. However, it is Stone's very own example which proves this point. When Snow White goes to the Dwarfs, Disney presents this in a trivial manner; the Dwarfs are presented as children, or at least not as fully-competent adults. She does go in and 'takes over', however she takes over from creatures that cannot be viewed as her equals, even though she is still presented as very young. Grimms' heroine manages to bargain for her room and board, even though it is clear that the Dwarfs want to help her. She does something that normal only adults do, she enters into a contract. The dwarfs in the Grimms' tale are serious beings, they may be compassionate and care for Snow White, but they are not willing to give anyone a free ride and they expect her to contribute, even though there does not appear to be a drastic need for her housecleaning services in their spotless home. Disney's dwarfs are scared of Snow White, but forget their misgivings as soon as she offers to cook. The Grimms' dwarfs expect her to act in a mature manner and she is capable of this. Even when the stepmother tries to kill her, the dwarfs leave her alone to deal with her problems, merely giving advice and helping her when she fails. In the film, the dwarfs are shown as somewhat patronizing; they run home to protect Snow White when they realize what will happen, though, due to their slow thinking process, too late. Additionally, Disney's heroine is more concerned with singing pretty songs and playing with her animal friends, seeming to forget very quickly that she was almost murdered. Despite Stone's suggestion, it is Disney who presents a trivialized and naive heroine. It is uncertain what Stone thinks 'naive' means. It seems strange to apply the term to a character that is capable of acting independently on her own behalf, even if she does succumb to her youthful desires.
Mother and Stepmother
The Grimm's tale begins with Snow White's mother. She sits near the window, in winter, sewing. She pricks her finger, and three drops of blood fall into the snow. "The red on the white looked so beautiful that she thought to herself, 'If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood in this frame.'" Soon after, a baby girl was born, fulfilling the good Queen's wish. Sadly, the queen dies during childbirth. Disney omits this introduction, which is unfortunate.
When Snow White's mother pricks her finger, three drops of blood fall onto the snow. This number, three, foreshadows the stepmother's three attempts to kill Snow White. There are also three women in the story, the mother, stepmother and Snow White. Additionally, there is a symbolic importance to three drops of blood, as this plays a role in other fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm. This motif appears in the tale The Goose Girl, where the princess' mother puts three drops of blood on a handkerchief; these drops of blood provide protection and advice to the princess. In general, the number three has many important connotations, symbolizing religious ideas like the Holy Trinity and simple superstitions such as, 'third try is a charm.' In Snow White, the number three reappears, not just with the attempts to kill Snow White, but again when the Dwarfs mourn three days after the death of Snow White. Again, there is a Biblical association; Jesus rose from the death three days after he died. It was, and in some places still is, a tradition to mourn a death for three day before the burial.
The color of blood is also symbolic, as red can refer to menstruation and fertility. (Ashliman 8) The exact same symbolism appears in the Grimms' tale, The Juniper Tree, where another girl cuts her finger and, seeing the blood, thinks that she will have a child. Again, just as in Snow White, the heroine of that story wants a child as 'red as blood and as white as snow'; she also dies shortly after child birth.
Snow White's mother also represents a domestic ideal, as she is portrayed in a typical female role, sewing. This presentation often appears in Grimms' fairy tales, for example, in Sleeping Beauty, the heroine falls to sleep after pricking her figure on a spindle. An emphasis on domestic chores shows the importance of female roles in the traditional societies. These were important roles, and slightly dangerous as everyone seems to be cutting themselves, therefore they provide a foundation for the story and connect the themes to reality and everyday life. Disney actually presents, partially, this theme, showing Snow White as a hard-working young girl, willing to clean the castle, and later the Dwarfs' home, while the Stepmother lazily watches.
Glass plays an important role in the presentation of these women. The stepmother is advised by a mirror and Snow White is placed in a glass coffin. An important interpretation also involves the presentation of the original mother. Snow White's mother is portrayed at the beginning of the story as sitting at a window, while the stepmother is shown with a mirror. Therefore, when we first encounter this 'new' wife, she is framed in a magic looking glass, just as her predecessor [...] had been framed in a window. To be caught and trapped in a mirror rather than a window, however, is to be driven inward, obsessively studying self-images as if seeking a viable self. (Gilbert and Gubar 292)
This presentation permits an important connection between the roles of the mother and stepmother and the difference in these roles; because Disney does not show the real mother, this is another element which is lost.
The stepmother is also presented slightly differently. In the fairy tale, she disguises herself as an old woman. Presumably, it is aging, and being replaced by someone younger and therefore prettier, that the stepmother is afraid of and trying to prevent by killing Snow White. By choosing to disguise herself as an old woman, the queen is actually trying to deal with her fears. (Cohen 4) However, in the film, the Stepmother uses magic to transform herself. In this case, she is not actually dealing with her fear of ageing, because if she can transform herself into an old woman, she can change herself back into a young woman. This change causes inconsistency and confusion about the interpretation of the queen's motivations.
When the queen decides to have Snow White killed, she orders a servant, a Huntsman, to take the girl into the woods. There he is supposed to kill her and bring back her liver and lungs. Disney changes this, with the Huntsman ordered to bring back Snow White's heart. Again, it seems that Disney does not understand the symbolism of the organs in question.
As the largest organ, the one containing the most blood, [the liver] was regarded as the darkest, least penetrable part of man's innards. Thus it was considered to contain the secret of fate and was used for fortune-telling. In Plato, and in later physiology, the liver represented the darkest passions, particularly the bloody, smoky ones of wrath, jealousy, and greed which drive men to action. Thus the liver meant the impulsive attachment to life itself. (Krishna 77)
This is, again a theme that is found in other Grimms' tales. In The Juniper Tree, the stepmother kills her stepson and feeds him to his unassuming father. (Ashliman 15) Additionally, Disney's queen does not eat Snow White's heart, though this probably has to do with Disney's intended audience, children and families. Cannibalism probably would not have been appreciated by viewers, regardless of the symbolism. In this story, the queen obviously eats the girl's organs because she is seeking to be as beautiful as Snow White. Regardless of Disney's motivations, in light of the central theme of the story, that the stepmother is envious of Snow White's beauty and youth, this is an important connection.
The Huntsman is also presented as a father/husband figure. In both the Disney and Grimms' versions, he is present similarly: he tells the Queen that he will do it, can't bring himself to do it, and lies about it. "He played the role of a father who cannot directly say 'no' to his wife, who could help his daughter only behind her mother's back." (Cohen 3) However, there is still an important difference in the way this act takes place. In the Grimms' version, Snow White realizes what the Huntsman is going to do, she cries while begging for her life, and she is the one who suggests that she runs away. He is going to kill her, until she convinces him otherwise. This shows that while she is young, Snow White is not naive. She understands what is happening, and convinces her would-be assassin to let her live. However, Disney's princess is completely innocent and doesn't understand what is happening; it is only her frightful scream which causes the Huntsman to pause. Disney presents the Huntsman less dangerously; the second she screams, he explains her stepmother's plan and tells her to run away. Disney's princess is a passenger and rarely makes any decisions, especially when dealing with adults. The Snow White in the Grimm's tale is learning to survive and make her own decision. This is an element that appears throughout the story.
The Seven Dwarfs
Dwarfs have played an incredibly important role in Germanic mythology, and many of these motifs appear in this fairy tales, as wells as others from the Brothers Grimm. Of course, the dwarfs are presented in a completely different manner than by Disney. These changes trivialize the story and destroy the important connections that the tale has with ancient Germanic traditions. Of all the changes, this is probably the most shocking, considering the importance that Disney gives them, his story is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in contrast to the Grimm's Snow White. Of all the elements of the story, the dwarfs received the most attention, not only because of Disney's focus on them. The dwarfs of Snow White are presented in a very traditional manner and it is easy to misinterpret their role if this background is not understood. For example, it has been postulated that Dwarfs represent "stunted penises", specifically their small appearance, together with their occupation of working in "dark holes" may be "phallic connotations" (Cashdan 11). Again, interpretations such as these forget the important of traditional views about dwarfs and trivialize their role.
The important role of dwarfs is readily apparent in many German sagas, as well as in the stories collected by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. In fact, much, if not all, of our understanding of the role dwarfs play comes from the scholarly work of Jakob Grimm. In his handbook, Deutsche Mythologie, he collected and discussed various references to dwarfs from German and Norse sources. One of the first of the German dwarf-stories is Ruodlieb, composed during the 11th century (Zeydel 23). It is a story of how Ruodlieb, the hero, captures a dwarf, who attempts to negotiate his release by offering to show the locations of two treasures. Ruodlieb does not trust the dwarf, and, unfortunately, the poem ends before we realize the result. This story is very similar to the Nibelungenlied, probably the most famous epic of the German Middle Ages, and recreated centuries later as Richard Wagner's operas, Der Ring des Nibelungen. In this story, the hero, Siegfried, encounters the Nibelungen, a race of dwarfs. The story begins when Siegfried comes across two brothers who have removed a treasure from a hollowed-out mountain and who ask for Siegfried's help in dividing it between the two in exchange for "the Nibelung's Sword" (Das Niebelungen Lied). Siegfried is incapable of arbitrating the dispute to the brother's satisfaction and a fight ensues. Siegfried, using the sword, kills the brothers, their twelve friends, and seven hundred knights from Nibelungen Land. He becomes the lord of the kingdom, and, in addition to the sword, also receives a magical cloak of invisibility. In this story, the dwarfs play a very traditional role; "they are associated with mountains, treasure, fabulous weapons; [...]; they can turn invisible, [...]; the hero must fight them, [...]; and, once subdued, the dwarfs become staunch (if sometimes treacherous) allies" (Shippey 53).
In Deutsche Mythologie, Jakob Grimm attempted to categorize the roles of dwarfs and their characteristics. One theme is that of reciprocity; as in Ruodlieb, the hero tries to form a beneficial relationship with the dwarf. Another is the wisdom and future-telling ability of the dwarfs; Siegfried learns of his future death from a dwarf in the Lied vom Hurnen Seyfrid (King 160-161). These motives, among others, are also presented in the Grimm's Kinder-und Hausmarchen; in fact they played a role in the edits that the Brothers made. "The gradual convergence of the dwarfs' occupation in "Snow White" with their depiction in various medieval sources suggest that Wilhelm Grimm wanted to establish a more vivid connection between this folk tale and Germanic myth" (Shippey 53). Therefore the connection with the fairy tale and traditional presentations of dwarfs is not merely coincidental; it was purposefully emphasized by the authors.
In his article, Die Figur des Zwerges in den Kinder--und Hausmarchen der Bruder Grimm, Simon J. Gilmour illustrates the role of the dwarfs in the Grimms' fairy tales, organizing them into categories. One of these is the "volunteer giver who expects the same value in return" (11). The Three Little Men in the Forest (Die drei Mannlein im Walde) is a story how a man and a woman, each with a daughter, marry. The woman had promised to be very kind to the man's daughter, but after merely a couple days this ended and the stepdaughter was treated very poorly. Eventually, the girl is sent to die, but is very obedient and does as she is told. On her trip, she encounters three dwarfs. The dwarfs ask to share her breakfast and for her to help clean their home. Despite the difficultly of her situation, she helps them. In return, each of the dwarfs uses their supernatural powers to help her, including gold whenever she speaks. Upon her return, her sister is jealous. The sister leaves with plenty of food and warm clothing, yet when she encounters the same dwarfs she is very rude. In return, the dwarfs again use their powers, instead of gold when she speaks, toads come out and she is cursed to a miserable death.
This theme is also present in Snow White (Schneewittchen), where the heroine is helped by the seven dwarfs, though at a price. Grimms' dwarfs say, "If you will keep house for us, and cook, make beds, wash, sew, and knit, and keep everything clean and orderly, then you can stay with us, and you shall have everything that you want." This is a deal that Snow White is willing to make, considering that her only other choices are to return to a home where her stepmother wants to kill her, or to fend for herself in the forest. Here the dwarfs find cleanliness important; their house is spotless even before she arrives. While they want to help Snow White, they are unwilling to give away their help for free and want her to earn her keep; values that any father would try to teach his children.
While she comes to a similar deal with the dwarfs in Disney's version, there are significant differences. In the film, Snow White arrives at the dwarfs' home, which is in complete disarray, and starts cleaning up with her companions, the birds and wood animals, while singing: "Just whistle while you work." It seems that the dwarfs are not that concerned with cleanliness, Snow White is, however. This puts her into a mother-like role for the dwarfs; she does in fact refer to the inhabitants of the cottage as 'children' before she meets them. This presentation trivializes the dwarfs, who are traditionally portrayed as very wise beings. Additionally, the sagas show the traditional view of dwarfs as reluctant helpers, who are incredible loyal once they become allied with the hero. This is apparent in the Das Nibelungen Lied, where dwarfs are Siegfried's closest allies, even though he has to fight them in the beginning. In Snow White, the dwarfs are not the most generous helpers, they want her to work for them, and however, they quickly develop a relationship with her and try everything they can to help. After her death, they stand guard over her coffin. They are also reluctant to give her body up, until they are convinced that the charming prince will take good care of her.
As Zipes mentions, "We do not want utopia designated for us. We want to remain curious, started, provoked mystified and uplifted." (Zipes 375). However, in the movie the extra detail destroys the sense of wonder. Disney's dwarfs have names like Doc, Happy, Bashful, Sneezy, Sleepy, Grumpy and Dopey. They are not just momentary and anonymous helpers; rather they have their own personalities. In the Disney version, the Dwarfs are presented comically. They have funny names and are presented as children, and as very messy. When they come home to find Snow White in their home, the Dwarfs are scared and want to run away. However, once they actually see her, they think she is an angel. When Snow White offers to cook for them, they automatically decide that she should stay. Later, Disney shows the dwarfs singing and dancing, and just generally acting stupidly; the Grimms' dwarfs are presented as serious and very little embellishment about their personalities is considered necessary. In fairness, Disney doesn't completely take away all traditional influences. One of the Dwarfs, Grumpy, is portrayed somewhat similarly to that in the Grimms' version. Grumpy, of all the Dwarfs, is not so easily impressed by the girl's beauty and is very suspicious. He even says that women are trouble, for shadowing the Stepmother's future attempt to kill her. However, once he is won over, he becomes her most devoted friend, just as the dwarfs in the fairy tale and in the sagas, like Das Nibelungen Lied.
Disney seems to forget, or never understood, the serious role of dwarfs in Germanic traditions, as loyal, though reluctant, servants and as wise helpers. He trivialized their role, in his film they are little more than comic relief.
Murder of Snow White
The largest single change in the Disney version is his omission of the stepmother's various attempts to kill Snow White. In the Grimms' version, the stepmother tries three times; Disney only includes the final murder attempt. In both stories, the stepmother discovers that the huntsman did not fulfil her orders and that she has been deceived from her mirror, when the mirror answers that while the queen is fair, Snow White, who is living with the seven dwarfs, is fairer. Upon this realization, the Queen decides to kill Snow White herself, because she would not be able to rest otherwise.
In her first attempt, Snow White's stepmother colored her face and disguised herself like a peddler and went to the home of the dwarfs. She knocked on the door and called out that she had beautiful bodice laces to sell. Snow White can't resist and, believing that she can trust a nice, old woman, lets the queen in and buys a lave. The queen laces Snow White up, but so tightly that she cannot breathe. When the dwarfs return, they find Snow White on the ground, seemingly dead. However, once they notice that she is so tightly bound, they cut the lace and she wakes up.
It is disappointing that Disney left this section out of his film. Here we see that even though she is disguised, the queen is still presented in the role of a mother. Lacing up Snow White's bodice is something rather intimate. Parents often help their children get dressed and since this is a more intimate scene, the subsequent attempt to kill Snow White is more dramatic. Additionally, this motherly-role could also be a reason why Snow White was so willing to let the old woman help her: she is away from home and needs a motherly influence.
When the queen returns home, she discovers, again from the mirror, that Snow White is still alive. This time she resorts to magic by making a poisoned comb. Again disguised as an old woman, she returns to the dwarfs' cottage. While Snow White is this time more wary, when she sees the beautiful comb, she is deceived and lets the queen in. Snow White decides to buy the comb, and the queen offers to comb the girl's hair. Once the poisoned comb touches Snow White, she falls down as if dead. When the Dwarfs return, they again find her as if she were dead and suspect the Stepmother. Upon examination they discover the comb in Snow White's hair and they remove it. With the comb gone, she wakes back up.
Again, we see an intimate, parent-child relationship, with the Queen combing the daughter's hair. Just as with the first attempt, this betrayal of intimacy is what makes the scene so powerful. We also begin to see a trend behind the Queen's attempts, while she can make Snow White seem dead, once the cause is removed the girl reawakens. This is also where it becomes apparent that Snow White is still a child. While she has been able to leave home and find a place to stay, she is easily tricked. This is an important theme for children, since it shows them that there can be drastic consequences if they do not follow their parents directions and 'don't talk to strangers.'
Finally, upon learning that Snow White is still alive, the Queen decides to take more drastic measures. She goes to her secret room and makes a poisoned, red and white apple, which anyone who saw it would want to eat, but to do so would cause death. Disguised as a peasant woman, she returns, again, to the home of the dwarfs. While Snow White is even more skeptical, the queen offers to give the apple to her, and as a sign of good will to eat one half. Of course, she eats the un-poisoned half herself, and Snow White can't resist eating the other piece of such a beautiful apple, it is magically irresistible. With barely a bite, Snow White falls to the ground dead. The queen declares, "White as snow, red as blood, black as ebony wood! This time the dwarfs cannot awaken you." When she returns home, her mirror tells her that she is the fairest in the land.
In the Disney version, as she prepares the poisoned apple in the film, the Queen states that the apple will not kill, only cause sleep. She assumes that the Dwarfs will think she is dead and bury her alive. It seems that Disney wants to make Snow White's death seem like an accident, albeit an orchestrated one. The use of an apple is related to Genesis, when Eve is tempted by the snake to eat the forbidden fruit. The Grimms present this very well, the fruit is by its nature very tempting and the queen is able to overcome any of Snow White's any remaining concerns when she eats as well. Snow White tries to resist but cannot. In the film, the queen tells Snow White that the apple is a magic wishing apple, and that she can make a wish. Snow White naively thinks that the old woman is telling the truth, and wants to wish for her prince to return. So whereas the Grimm's heroine has begun to learn from her mistakes, but is unable to resist the magic, Disney's heroine is easily fooled with a weak lie. Another change is that the apple in the film is all red, whereas the apple in the fairy tale is red and white. This relates to the very beginning of the story, where Snow White is also described as red and white. Finally, Disney leaves out the queen's statement that the dwarfs will not be able to awaken her. While she obviously means that no one will be able to waken her, her words take literal meaning. While the dwarfs cannot help Snow White, the charming prince eventually causes her to reawaken.
Death of Snow White
When the Dwarfs come home, they find Snow White dead. While they examine her for anything poisonous, they comb her hair and wash her, nothing helps. They then mourn for her for three days, again reflecting the three drops of blood from Snow White's mother and the stepmother's three attempts to kill her. While the Dwarfs consider burying Snow White, they notice that she is still fresh and her cheeks are as red as ever. Feeling as though they cannot bury her in the black earth, they build a glass coffin with a gold inscription declaring her name and status as a princess. This takes a similar theme as that in The Goose Girl, where the princess becomes a slave when she can no longer prove her status. The dwarfs place the coffin on a mountain, and one of them is always there to guard her. Again, a traditional view of dwarfs as loyal servants and showing the importance of having seven dwarfs to stand guard seven days a week. This view is essentially repeated in the Disney film, however, as has already been mentioned, many of the small connections are missing. Disney's dwarfs do not mourn for three days; they are shown grieving for an entire year as the seasons go by. Therefore all mentions of the number three are eliminated, the drops of blood, the murder attempts, and the days of mourning. Additionally, all of the dwarfs are shown mourning for the entire year. This removes most of the use of the number seven, seven dwarfs remain, and however, they do not each stand guard one of the seven days of the week. Interestingly, whereas the Grimms place the dwarfs home 'over seven hills,' Disney refers to it as lying "over seven jeweled hills, beyond the seventh fall." Therefore, while Disney removes the importance of seven days, which is probably the importance of the number in the original story, he actually embellishes, superficially, the number in another way.
The roots of Snow White's awakening have deep roots in Germanic mythology. In the Old Norse Saga of the Volsungs, a Valkyrie is punished by the Gods for defying them. Her punishment is to sleep until she is awakened by the hero Sigurd, or Siegfried. (Ashliman 132) While Disney does not change this central point, the reawakening of Snow White is where he uses a great deal of creative license. In the Grimms' version, a prince travels through the woods near the Dwarf's cottage. He stops there to spend the night, and upon seeing the coffin, asks the Dwarfs if he can have it. While the Prince offers the Dwarfs anything they want for it, they reply that they could not sell it for all the gold in the world. He tries again, saying that they should give him the coffin because he cannot live without seeing Snow White, and that he will always honor, respect and cherish her. Feeling pity on him, the Dwarfs consent to give the coffin to the prince. The Grimms' have two different versions; one of them is more violent than the other. In the older version, the servants are very angry at the dead girl, who has to be carried everywhere the prince goes. Angry at Snow White for this extra work, one of them opens the coffin and hits her on the back. The poisonous apple then comes out of her throat. The second version is a little bit milder, the awakening occurs in the coffin while the servants carry her to the prince's home and one of them stumbles over a tree stump causing the apple to come out. As with the previous attempts to kill her, once the poisonous object is removed, the spell is broken and Snow White awakens. As she meets the Prince, he declares his love for her and asks her to marry him. She loves him as well and they plan a magnificent wedding.
Disney makes many changes to this account. In the film, the Prince finds the coffin and kisses Snow White. The reason for this is rather odd; the queen just says that her poisoned apple causes a sleeping death that can only be reversed by love's first kiss. The Grimms' give a clear reason, the Queen's magic causes death, but only as long as the instrument continues to touch her. So the laces functioned until they were cut the comb as well until it was taken out of her hair, and the apple until it was dislodged from her throat. The Grimms' do incorporate a great deal of magic into their story, there is also believability and a method to understanding these supernatural elements even if it is more subtle than Disney's presentation. Ironically, Disney's idea of a kiss comes from another Grimms' tale, Dornroschen or Sleeping Beauty. Here a wicked fairy curses the heroine and her family to die when she pricks her finger on a spindle, however, a good fairy is able to alter this curse to sleeping until her true love kisses her. For whatever reason, Disney is unwilling to retain the elements from Snow White and preferred to incorporate this element from Sleeping Beauty.
Other changes also become more apparent here, for instance, Snow White and the charming prince only meet each other after she awakens in the Grimm's version, in the film; they meet at the very beginning when Snow White is still living at home. In fact, it seems as though the love between the two is one of the things that sparks the Queen's jealousy. Also, Snow White's age highlights the importance of the time in the coffin. In the Grimms' version, Snow White is just seven years old, this is surely too young for falling in love and the time spent in the coffin can be viewed as a period of development, as though she is given the opportunity to be away from horrible emotions such as envy and prepare herself for her prince. (Cohen 12-13) By changing this presentation, the symbolism of Snow White's age is lost, which is part of the fabric which connects the various elements of the story, as well as any deeper meaning for Snow White's death and time in the coffin. For example, many fairy tales are very similar to ancient rites of initiation. (Ashliman 42) While in many stories, the heroines are required to perform difficult domestic task, such as in Rumpelstiltskin where she has to turn straw into gold, in others the heroine spends her time in isolation. This second presentation appears in Snow White, as well as stories such as Sleeping Beauty. Therefore this isolation is an important part of presenting Snow White's coming-of-age. While Disney's Snow White takes much from Sleeping Beauty, which presents this same motif of initiation, by changing the heroine's age, the impact is much less dramatic. The Snow White in the Grimms' tale looses years of her life in isolation, not mere days or weeks. This is a real tragedy even if she does reawaken. One must also consider that, in fairy tales, time is relative. (Ashliman 49) In Sleeping Beauty, the heroine sleeps for a hundred years, but nothing changes except the princess. Time is internalized, reflecting the development of that person's character. Disney's change trivializes this.
While Disney's film ends after the happy reunion with the Prince, the Grimms' show the actual wedding. Snow White and the charming prince invite the stepmother to the wedding. While she still thinks that Snow White is dead, the mirror informs the stepmother that, "You, my queen, are fair; it is true. But the young queen is a thousand times fairer than you." The stepmother is frightened of this new rival and does not want to attend; her envy drives her to see someone fairer. Once she arrives, she immediately recognizes Snow White, and stands there in fear. Then people force her into red-hot iron shoes and make her dance until she dies. In the Grimms' version this punishment has a prominent significance. The fire, the color rot in the red-hot slippers symbolizes the sins of the wicked Queen, which cannot remain unpunished, but also having devilish meanings, she is going to burn in hell. When the queen is killed at the end of the story, Snow White is able to free herself of the "destructive force inside her [and] is not going to need a mirror to affirm her self-worth." (Cohen 14)
Conversely, Disney's queen is discovered by the Dwarfs shortly after she gives Snow White the poisonous apple. They see her and chase her off of a nearby cliff, though it is portrayed as something of accident, much like the death of Snow White would have been an accident if the Dwarfs did not resist burying her. The significance is lost, because Snow White is not a part of the queen's death and it is therefore of little importance to her development.
Disney's presentation is not different only in the presentation of the Stepmother's death, but also in the foreshadowing. In the Grimms version, she declares that, "Snow-White shall die if it costs me my life!" after learning of her second failure. Because Disney does not incorporate the other attempts to kill Snow White, we do not see how the Queen's envy escalates to drastic proportions, where she is willing to sacrifice herself to satisfy this envy. It is also rather strange that Disney left this statement out of the film, because the film does show the Queen dying in her attempt to kill Snow White, rather than later as punishment.
Of course, one of the biggest changes has nothing to do with the plot. "[Disney] must be criticized for his portrayal of a cloying fantasy world filled with cute little beings existing among pretty flowers and singing animals" (Stone 16). If anything trivializes such a meaningful story of a young girl's development, this has to be it. Disney's Snow White enjoys signing incredibly idealistic songs, such as "Whistle While You Work" as she is cleaning the dwarfs' home with the help of forest animals. This, and the Dwarfs' song, "Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It's off to Work We Go," present a utopian ideal of work. Working is fun, and something that everyone enjoys doing. This returns to an earlier point, Snow White doesn't clean the Dwarfs' home because it is fun; she does it because that is what is required of her by the Dwarfs in exchange for their help. By presenting this in the manner that he does, Disney adds insult to injury.
While the Grimms' version is grittier and involves the development of a girl into a woman, the Disney film is very idealized. The film highlights the romance through music, such as "Someday my prince will come", as well as good work ethics, "Whistle while you work" and Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, its off to work we go". Disney's utopia also lacks any of the difficult questions that the Grimms deal with, such as the relationship between child and parents and woman and man.
The tale of Snow White is one of the most famous fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, due in large part to the attention it received as Disney's film, and it is the subject of a great deal of scholarly research. Despite this attention, the most important characteristic of the story is largely forgotten: almost every single element of the Grimms' fairy tale is connected with other elements in the story and with Germanic traditions. The numbers three and seven appear often, the colors red and white, and glass. Additionally, these elements as well as the presentation of the dwarfs are also related to similar presentations and views in Germanic traditions and in other tales by the Brothers Grimm. Walt Disney succeeded in presenting an enjoyable film, yet his alterations and simplifications trivialized such a meaningful and tightly-woven story. In doing so, he did a great disservice to the Brothers Grimm, to the story itself, and to his audience.
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Arizona State University
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|Title Annotation:||Proceedings of the 5th World Congress on the Advancement of Scholarly Research in Science, Economics, Law, and Culture: May 27-30, 2010 New York|
|Publication:||Economics, Management, and Financial Markets|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2011|
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