Once upon a time, I was only eight years old. As it is wont to do, Disney re-re-re-re-re-re-re-released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to theaters. Naturally, we went to see it, my mother, my friend Yolanda, and I. I don’t remember why we went, I suppose it was just the thing to do. It wasn’t available on video, so it probably had the feel of something we’d better do now, while we were young enough to enjoy it.
I was only eight, but I was not impressed. I remember leaving the theater absolutely flabbergasted. What, I wanted to know, was that?!
It was a film well past its prime–yet it is still hailed as one of the best movies of all time. I will contend unto my death that ‘best’ and ‘classic’ are not the same as ‘significant.’ It deserves a place in history (it’s been added the National Film Registry), as it was the first full-length animation, ever, and the success and money it generated enabled Walt Disney to expand his studios.
On watching it again, I can certainly see more than I did at eight. I have a new appreciation for the animation, which is really wonderful for something done in the 1930s. It’s classic Disney right off the bat, with swirling smoke and flames, and cute critters; lively characters and beautiful painted backgrounds.
The music is far less appealing. Snow White speaks and sings in a shrill warble, beginning soprano and trilling up into the the range where words blur into noise. I cannot understand half of what she sings. I can’t understand what her prince sings, either. I blame this on poor recording utilities, composers who did not make accommodations for these limitations, and whatever ass cast Snow White.
As V pointed out on the forum, this fey style of speaking was in vogue at the time. There are a lot of things about Snow White that were hip for the era. We can appreciate these things within the context of their time, but we shouldn’t lost sight of how it sits in today’s light.
I hate Snow White. I thought I hated her before, but now I have real ammo–I have the insight and vocabulary to define my dislike of her.
She thinks she’s in love after five minutes. I remember reading somewhere that Snow White is supposed to be fourteen, and she certainly acts it here. She and the prince sing at each other for a bit, and suddenly she’s in love? No idea how or why he leaves, he’s just suddenly not there anymore. And she’s not like Ariel, who is totally obsessed with Eric and thinks about him all the time. No, Snow is just sort of casually in love when she remembers to be. Ugh.
She’s manipulative. I can smell manipulation a mile away. This girl is manipulative. It’s a certain wheedling tone in her voice. She uses it on the animals and on the dwarfs–they just HAVE to help her, or she’ll DIE! It’s completely unnecessary, which makes me even more annoyed. (V counters that she’s being coquettish, that it wasn’t at all unusual at the time it was produced. I don’t think this excuses the behavior, it just makes me angrier. It was ok for your women to be coy and play the victim to get what they wanted–why should I dismiss that?)
She flies into a shrieking fit at the slightest provocation. Sure, a man just tried to kill her, but when she flees into the woods she might as well be crossing the divide into madness. She hears one owl hoot, and then the rest is her imagination. Branches seem like hands reaching for her, logs in the water are crocodiles with gaping jaws. She totally freaks out. Bad acid trip. I don’t begrudge her the right to freak out. She deserves a bit of freaking out. But it’s the WAY she does it. She just flails around, screams, and goes running in random directions. Despite being forced to labor in the scullery, she’s remarkably sheltered. Like, has-never-been-in-the-woods sheltered. (How does she know crocs even exist?) Really, my complaint is with the acting and direction. It’s done incredibly badly, so that I want to throttle her, not help her.
She has the world’s shortest attention span. So, she collapses on the forest floor in tears. Then some adorable animals approach her (because she has Magic Princess/Animal Bonding Pheramone leaking from every pore) and she instantly forgets all the horrors she’s just been through. Well, that’s not entirely true…”I’m awfully sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. But you don’t know what I’ve been through. And all because I was afraid.” *gasp* Maturity? Or manipulation? “I’m so ashamed of the fuss I made,” she clasps her hands prettily. And that’s the last mention of what happened to her. She does tell the dwarfs that the queen wants her dead, but she gives no time to the traumatic events of her past–abuse, death of parents, slavery, attempted murder, ostracism from home…I also don’t think it’s at all healthy to be ‘ashamed’ of freaking out after that kind of tragedy.
Nothing bothers this girl. Everything’s all rainbows and light with this one–unless she can use her past predicaments to make you want to help her.
She’s a ‘working princess’ who never works. Basically, in this telling, she’s a variant of Cinderella. Wicked step-mother hates her, forces her to earn her keep by working her ass off. But Snow White really doesn’t do that much. At the very beginning she’s washing some steps, but she’s not exactly scrubbing hard. (Cinderella does look like she’s making an effort, and she is at the beck and call of her relatives.) When she joins the dwarfs, she delegates all the hard stuff to her animal pals. THEY wash the dishes, clean the cobwebs, do the laundry, etc., while she sweeps and sings. Not really a fair trade.
She’s condescending. I was annoyed when she kept talking about the dwarfs’ home as cute, adorable, and like a doll’s house, but she didn’t know at that time that they weren’t just a bunch of little children. But once she meets them it gets so much worse. She mothers them–she treats these (presumably) grown men as though they ARE children, which is ridiculous, as they all have raging crushes on her. (Oh, the power of a pretty, empty face.) She makes them wash before dinner (you could also read this as the beautiful white woman civilizing a bunch of Others) and she sends THEM to bed. When Grumpy runs into a door, she says, “Awww, did that hurt?” Condescending bitch.
She’s SO FUCKING GULLIBLE! I swear to GOD, this girl doesn’t deserve to live, she is Darwin Bait, she is cannon fodder, she should be wearing the Red Shirt. When she’s all alone in the forest, with just a bunch of herbivores to help her, she says: “I really feel quite happy now! I’m sure I’ll get along somehow! Everything’s going to be all right!” Because I have the power of SONG and cute animal friends! She also accepts everything at face value, and passes that on to the dwarfs. And, of course, when the witch offers her the apple, she forgets all advice about avoiding strangers. And what ultimately convinces her to eat the apple? The idea that it’s a wishing apple, that will make all her dreams come true. DOI!
She’s perfectly happy to have a happy ending without a word of discussion. Five minutes with the prince, and she’s in love. She doesn’t see him again before she’s put into the coma-sleep. He wakes her with a kiss, they beam at each other, embrace in the most awkwardly choreographed fashion, and it’s just instantly assumed she’s riding off into the sunset with him. HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT, SNOW!? How do you know what his intentions are!? How do you know YOU really want to be with HIM?! How do you know he’s really a prince, or that you want to be a princess!? What about YOUR kingdom!? YOU NEVER EVEN ASKED ABOUT THE WITCH! Short Attention Span Theater, as my dad would say.
Now, it’s important when we look at these films to also look at the Prince, and the Villain.
The Evil Queen looks very dramatic, but she’s actually something of a nitwit. An intelligent woman would have done her research, prepared the apple and her transformation spell, traveled 95% of the way to the cottage, and THEN transformed. She also would have had a getaway car to hand. Instead, she transforms, then makes the apple, THEN checks for an antidote, then rows down a river and walks to the cottage, which she flees on foot, in the rain, with seven hard-working men on her heels. But what can you expect from someone obsessed with beauty? It’s also never revealed if she knows of a way to turn back into the (second) fairest of them all. D’oh.
The prince is practically a non-entity–he doesn’t even get a name in the planning notes. But what he does do is significant. He rides (on his white horse, no less) up to the castle, and hears Snow White the Scullery Maid singing to herself. Without any hesitation (or security to stop him! Queenie loses more points) he climbs over the castle wall.
Him: Did I frighten you?
Oh, no, she’s not at ALL alarmed by the strange man sneaking up on her INSIDE A FORTIFIED CASTLE. Yes, you frightened her, you cavalier ass! And you proved that you have no concern for private property, or security! Queen is clearly AWFUL at securing her castle.
(I would like the record to also show that our dandy prince’s lips are unnaturally red. He looks rather young and boyish… Our prince is a Transvestite from Transylvania, man!)
So, we have a princess who is Too Dumb To Live, a prince with a walk-on roll that somehow morphed into Walk All Over Everybody, and a villain who looks frightening but is actually so far gone that she can’t even protect herself effectively.
I don’t know why this is hailed as such an epic film. It was hugely significant, yes! Every Disney heroine since has been compared to Snow White–Snow White epitomizes the Disney Princess people love to hate, with the singing and the happy animals and the cutesy attitude… ugh. I SWEAR none of the others are this bad. Right? …Right?