Back around when Beth and I got married and had our honeymoon at Walt Disney World, we had decided we should go back and watch all of the Disney animated movies in chronological order. She has all of them on video tape up through Tarzan (yeah, I’ve asked her why she doesn’t upgrade to DVD, but she says she wants to wait and get the Blu-Rays once we have a player), so it’s certainly possible, but we just never got around to it. Then, recently, she brought up the idea again. I have no idea how long it will take us to get through them, but just last night we saw the first one, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This was not only Disney’s first feature-length animated movie, but the first feature-length animated movie, period. It’s hard to believe in this day and age when the movie studios crap out one cartoon movie after another, but back when it came out, nobody knew whether audiences would accept it. But they did, which is why we can now enjoy such timeless animated classics as Yogi Bear and Cars 2.
One thing I noted when reading The Annotated Brothers Grimm that I hadn’t really thought of before was how Disney’s title kind of shifted the focus. The Grimms’ version of the story was simply called “Snow White” (or, more accurately, “Sneewittchen”), while Disney added the dwarfs to the name. According to Maria Tatar, “Disney’s film title, by including the seven dwarfs with Snow White, dilutes the importance of the heroine and shifts the tale’s center of gravity from the relationship between the heroine and her wicked stepmother to the relationship between the heroine and her seven comic sidekicks.” Having now seen the movie again, I think there’s definitely something to this. I don’t think we even see Snow White and her stepmother in the same scene until the part with the poisoned apple, and the dwarfs receive a lot of screen time. In fact, Disney’s seven dwarfs have become THE seven dwarfs in popular culture. How often do you seen an adaptation of the fairy tale in which the dwarfs have separate personalities that aren’t based on the ones Disney gave them? Actually, Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre did, but that’s the only example that comes to mind. Grumpy seems to be particularly popular on Disney merchandise. I think that’s mostly to tie in to the market of people announcing their bad attitudes on their clothing, but Grumpy really did seem to be the dwarf who received the most character development and the best lines in the film itself.
I’d say that he, Doc, and Dopey get more attention than the other four. Snow White herself was a complete innocent but still not totally helpless, as we could see from her ability to keep house for seven messy bachelors, and to organize the forest animals into a labor force. Her friendship with animals is something that became pretty standard for Disney heroines. None of the animals Snow White associates with really have distinct personalities, though. I do have to say I felt sorry for that solitary turtle. I mean, when I saw it making a futile attempt to climb the stairs and then falling back down again, I was wondering why no one bothered helping it. As for the prince, he was more of a plot device than a character in his own right, but at least he seemed nice.
As we all know, Disney has a reputation for bowdlerizing classic stories, taking out the more violent and disturbing bits of which there are many in classic folk tales. At the same time, however, they’re known for messing with children’s emotions, so I guess it kind of goes both ways. With this movie, Disney toned down quite a bit of the queen’s more disturbing actions, like eating the heart she thought was Snow White’s (although cutting out her heart is still discussed), unsuccessfully trying to kill her stepdaughter with lace and a comb, and being forced to dance to death in red-hot iron shoes. Instead, she falls off a cliff and is hit by a boulder, causing vultures to eye her hungrily. That’s still a fairly gruesome way to go, but I suppose the important part is that we don’t actually SEE any of the gore. This is definitely something I’m going to keep an eye out for when watching Disney’s other fairy tale adaptations.
Anyway, if all goes as planned, look forward to more of these posts in the future.