Friends, family, bored people who accidentally found their way onto this blog! The time has come for the 2016 Disney Princess Movie Challenge.
Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?
Finding a copy of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs proved to be slightly more challenging than normal, since it’s not available on Netflix or Amazon Prime and I was deeply unwilling to shell out too much money on a movie where the happy ending is dependent on a dude making out with a dead body. (Did you know that there’s a special platinum version of Snow White that’s currently selling on Amazon for $109.95? Admittedly, it appears that Disney included a ton of bonus features, but since I haven’t seen anything stating that the DVD is literally lined with gold, I’m not terribly convinced it’s worth the cost.)
Anyway, I did find a copy, thanks to the fact that my town still has a local video store. Thus we have much to discuss, like misogynistic dwarfs, creeper princes, and how Snow White leaves children with very unrealistic expectations about the helpful attitude of forest animals, among other things.
If I can actually spoil you for a 79-year old movie and a centuries-old fairy tale . . . you’re too young to be reading this blog. Go do something else.
Also, I will attempt to spell dwarves as dwarfs throughout this review, as that was the correct spelling of the time and is actually how the word is spelled in the movie title. But it makes my hands twitch a bit, so I’ll probably slip up a couple of times.
1. Sometimes, you just sabotage yourself. When I came up with the idea of the Disney Princess Movie Challenge months ago, I figured I’d inevitably do a Five Minute Cosplay of Snow White, considering that I naturally have very, very dark brown hair, a general corpse-like pallor, and . . . well, my lips are basically just lip-colored, but I own (slightly melted) red lipstick, so, what could be easier, right?
Well, then, I went ahead and recklessly dyed my hair blonde-ish without thinking of the obviously dire consequences. And while I have a fair number of cheap and less-cheap wigs, I don’t actually have one that’s short and black, so. Maybe Cinderella?
2. Okay, to the movie itself: I really don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve seen Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but I’m going to guess it’s somewhere around the vicinity of 20-25 years. Naturally, I’ve forgotten some things, like just how annoying everyone is, especially Snow White.
Good God, her voice. Who even talks like that? Snow White’s voice is like pure sugar in sound form. It’s innocence to the power of a million. It’s audio benevolence, and it’s awful. I’m not a huge fan of Snow’s old-timey, warbling singing voice, either, but it’s her actual speaking that drives me crazy.
Character-wise . . . well, none of the classic Disney princesses have very much in the way of personality, do they? Snow is fairly indistinguishable from Sleeping Beauty, apart from her looks and origin story. She does get more screentime than Aurora, which I guess is nice, but of course she has very little agency. The best thing I can say about her is that, in the movie, it’s at least Snow’s idea to clean and cook for the dwarfs in lieu of rent, rather than in the original fairy tale, where the dwarfs–who I might mention are fully capable adult men–discover a child in their home who has just barely survived attempted murder and immediately tell her, “If you keep house for us, cook, make the beds, wash, sew, knit, and keep everything neat and tidy, then you can stay with us, and we’ll give you everything you need.”
Wow, dwarfs. Your generosity is overwhelming.
3. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty have another thing in common besides bland personalities: they each have their own creeper prince. Seriously, what is it with these guys? Like Prince Charming, the Prince here spies on a beautiful woman singing to herself all alone, and his reaction—instead of introducing himself face-to-face like a normal human being—is to sneak up right behind said woman and startle the shit out of her by joining in. The only reason Prince Charming is slightly creepier is that he actually touches Sleeping Beauty without her consent when he starts dancing with her. The Prince, by contrast, just gets dirty dance close and starts singing about true love.
Appropriately, Snow White gasps and goes running inside the house, as one does.
Just look at this series of pictures and tell me what tone you think this love story has.
Yeah. That’s the face of romance right there. Snow may later tell the dwarfs that this whole scene was so romantic and how she can’t wait for her prince to someday come and blah blah blah, but do not be fooled, people: Snow White’s first reaction to the Prince’s seduction techniques is terror. Which is perhaps what we should expect from the Necrophiliac Prince of Disney.
I should be fair: Disney does make a good choice introducing the Prince early on, rather than only bringing him in at the end like in the original Grimm’s tale, where he’s this total random weirdo who falls so in love with a dead body that he begs the dwarfs to let him take the coffin, promising to “honor and cherish” Snow as if she were his beloved. I think we all know what freaky ass shit the Prince had planned that night, that’s all I’m saying. At least in the movie, the Prince (kind of, but not really) knows Snow White and has been searching for her all this time, apparently. Which, okay, just makes him a stalker instead of a necrophiliac, but that somehow seems . . . less creepy?
It’s possible, just possible, that Disney isn’t the best place for little girls to learn about love and consent.
4. Actually, Snow White sets up all kinds of deeply unrealistic life expectations for children. Let’s discuss a few of them.
A. The Kindness of Forest Animals
This movie is lying to you, kids. If you ever find yourself in a forest surrounded by a bunch of wild animals staring at you, well, you’re probably about to die. Badly.
In any event, the forest animals are unlikely to direct you to a nearby cabin where you’ll find safe haven and shelter. And they sure as hell aren’t going to help you clean it. You’ll have to sweep floors like the rest of us: with a broom, not a bushy little tail.
B. Cleaning is Quick and Easy as Long As You Have a Song!
Nope. This “just whistle as you work” business is total bullshit. While of course it’s infinitely better to clean to loud music that you can dance around to, yeah, that still doesn’t exactly make cleaning a party. The only reason Snow White had a jolly good time here was because she barely did any of the work. All Snow really does is sing and idly sweep a broom around a few times. The forest animals are the ones who get rid of the cobwebs, make the beds, do the laundry, wash the dishes, etc. (Small wonder that she volunteered for housekeeping then, since Snow White obviously knows she can make her furred and feathered friends do all the real work for her. She’s probably a demon child.)
C. Mines: Fun and Glittery Places to Work!
Admittedly, I don’t know much about mining, and everything I do know probably came from Justified, Billy Elliot, or My Bloody Valentine. That being said, I’m relatively sure that diamond mines don’t look anything like the picture above, and I suspect that the air quality there is not practical for jaunty work songs. And when the miners come home from a grueling day at work, I have a sneaking suspicion that they might have dirt on a lot more than just their palms.
5. While we’re on the subject of the dwarfs . . . yeah, they’re kind of obnoxious.
Sneezy, Sleepy, Happy, and Bashful are relatively inoffensive, although I’m a little concerned that Bashful has some kind of severe erythema that should be seen to by a medical professional. Doc, on the other hand, is a pompous fool, which I know is supposed to be funny, but mostly just grates on my nerves, especially because of the stammer. (As a rule, I’m not real big on stories linking ‘speech impediment’ with either ‘weakness’ or ‘stupidity.’) I honest to God don’t even know what to do with Dopey, and Grumpy appears to be a time-travelling misogynist from the frontier days; he’s basically Yosemite Sam, only instead of talking about killing wabbits, he talks about how all women are evil. This is Grumpy’s actual line: “Angel, ha! She’s a female! And all females is poison! They’re full of wicked wiles!”
The funny thing is, at times, I feel a little sorry for Grumpy. Like when Snow White kicks the dwarfs out of their own home, saying she won’t feed them if they don’t wash up. I mean, I’m for good hygiene and all, but come on: this is their house, not that you’d know it by the way Snow White acts. I feel like Walt Disney gives our heroine a shred more agency than the original fairy tale does, but he mostly does this by having her treat grown ass men like children, which everyone’s apparently okay with because they’re all very short. It’s . . . problematic, to say the least. After all, it’s one thing to make the mistake of thinking you’ve wandered into a house of orphans; it’s quite something else to realize you’ve invaded the home of seven adult men and then just continue on acting like they’re not just children but your children. And the fact that Snow White’s only fourteen just makes the whole thing even weirder.
6. The very best moment in this whole movie, though, is when Snow White comes to the conclusion that the untidy occupants of this cabin must be orphans. “Maybe they have no mother,” Snow says, and the camera immediately cuts to a little deer and his mom.
Oh, yeah, guys. Walt Disney was totally foreshadowing the shit out of Bambi, like, five years before it was actually made. That depressing fucking movie, I swear to God.
7. Like Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs really doesn’t have enough material to stretch out into a full-length film. None of the filler scenes are quite so egregiously ridiculous as Drunk Kings Attack Each Other With Fish, but the story’s pacing slows way the hell down once the dwarfs come home and discover Snow White in their house. Again, it’s probably a good call to cut the Queen’s first two attempts on Snow’s life (lest Snow White be considered the dumbest Disney Princess to ever exist, like, good God, child, how many times do you have to nearly die before you stop opening THE FUCKING DOOR), but that does leave us with way too much time to spend on more inane songs about washing up and the like.
It also feels like a long time before the dwarfs, frightened of an invader in their home, finally realize that the supposed creature is just a sleeping young woman. (“What is it?” Happy fearfully asks. “Why, it’s a girl!” Doc says, apparently awestruck at the whole idea of womanhood, and I can’t help but feel this exchange right here encapsulates a lot of the problem with how some men treat women, with either fear or reverence and nothing in between.)
Maybe it doesn’t really take that long, though; maybe it only seems like such a long time because the dwarfs are complete idiots. Sure, I’d be freaked out if I came home and saw that someone had turned on all the lights, but I’m not sure “dragon” would have been on my list of likely suspects, even if I lived in a world where dragons were an actual thing. And I certainly wouldn’t be thinking dragon if I snuck inside and discovered that the Mysterious Fearsome Menace apparently broke in to clean. Like, at that point, maybe you slow your roll on the whole Something Inside Wants to Eat Me panic, and consider the possibility that you’ve picked up a brownie or something.
I now demand someone write me a story or draw me a picture (or, preferably, both) of the dread and legendary Demon Brownie. (Or Dragon Brownie. I’d take either.)
8. The dwarfs are so completely and utterly ineffectual that I found myself a little bewildered when the Queen runs away from them after she poisons Snow White. Like, they can barely speak in full sentences and you can do MAGIC, lady. The hell are you running for? (I guess her power is supposed to be limited to what she can brew with the right ingredients, not spur of the moment death spells? I don’t care. I’d still put money down on the Queen, easy.)
As the dwarfs are obviously completely incapable of killing our antagonist, someone else has to step up to task. The Prince? Nope, he’s still apparently wandering around the woods, looking for that one pretty girl he once terrified. Snow White herself? Ha-ha, of course not. Princesses don’t defeat the villain! That’s crazy talk.
No, the real hero of Snow White is, of course, God.
The Wicked Queen is about to murder all the poor, useless dwarfs when, from out of nowhere, a ridiculously convenient bolt of lightning zaps the witch dead. She falls off the cliff; then, for good measure, a boulder falls on her. Walt Disney might as well have had God peek out of the clouds and drop a piano on her head.
9. Of course, you can never really anticipate your evil plot being foiled by deus ex lightning bolts, but I do wonder a bit at the Queen’s tactics. Like, obviously a costume is necessary if you want to go out and personally poison your stepdaughter, but who exactly looks at this face and thinks, Yeah, that’s a person I should trust.
You’ve gotta love her Dungeon of Spellcasting, though. I particularly like her bookshelves–she’s got an entire book on magical disguises! I want one.
10. In my head, the animation in Snow White is so much more advanced than it actually was. That’s not a knock to the animators because, Jesus, this movie was made before World War II. It was obviously a huge accomplishment of the time. But I think you get so used to seeing pictures of Snow White at, like, Disneyland and online and such, that you forget that her face in the movie (and basically everything else in the movie, too) is so much flatter than you expect. Everything is without dimension.
Also unexpected: how much makeup Snow White seems to be wearing. According to IMDb trivia, the original concept for Snow White’s look was much sexier, very Betty Boop-esque, but Walt Disney was having none of it, so we got this look instead. Which is fine; there’s nothing wrong with her look itself. I just don’t remember the original fairytale going like, “With lips as red as blood, and eyeshadow as purple as plums, and mascara as thick as any CoverGirl’s on Seventeen, etc.”
11. I feel it’s deeply important to note that the storybook in this movie is nowhere near as hideous as the one in Sleeping Beauty.
See, this is fine. Slightly biblical and ornate, maybe, but fine. It’s not super tacky and bedazzled, anyway, so I approve.
12. Finally, I don’t know how many of you really get into big internet debates over which Disney movie is the best, but if you ever find yourself arguing against someone who insists that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is superior, just go ahead and tell them that it was one of Hitler’s favorite movies.
Hitler: atrocious human being and cherished weapon for trolls and internet battles since whenever year the internet was actually born.
Yeah, it’s okay. Slow at points with annoying dwarfs and a thoroughly unconvincing love story, but it’s also the first feature-length animated Disney film, so, hard to hold it entirely to modern standards. That being said, there’s virtually nothing about the movie that’s hugely interesting or empowering. It’s too bad, to, because Snow White has such weird, dark material to work with, and it’s rare when anyone does anything interesting with it. (Although, to be fair, that’s true of most fairy tale movies in general.)
Lucille La Verne who played the Queen. She’s not Eleanor Audley, but who is, right? Anyway, I’ll go with her.
Beauty might make evil people want to kill you. Thankfully, however, it will also inspire the mercy of dwarfs, as well as attract stalker princes, who will romantically sneak up behind you, sing at you, and, when the occasional calls for it, kiss you while you’re entirely unresponsive.
5 thoughts on ““Magic Mirror On the Wall, Who Is The Fairest One of All?””
I don’t think B- matches up with the horror festival you described, haha. I remember despising it enough as a kid that i haven’t rewatched it, though, so maybe i’m biased.
I struggled with what to grade it, actually. It’s far, far from my favorite Disney movie, but I didn’t feel like I had to repeatedly bash my head into a wall while watching it, either. Plus, you know, made in 30’s. Kinda felt like some allowances oughta be made.
Have you read “Snow, Glass, Apples,” by Neil Gaiman? It’s a retelling of Snow White, wherein the Queen is the protagonist. I don’t want to spoil it any more than that if you’re interested in checking it out, but it’s definitely among my favourites of Gaiman’s work.
I have and I know I liked it, but it’s been such a long time since I read it that I don’t remember too much about it now. Maybe I’ll have to reread it sometime; I’m pretty sure I still have Smoke and Mirrors upstairs somewhere. (I want to think “Snow, Glass, Apples” and “Murder Mysteries” were my favorite of the bunch.)
I can’t recall what my favourite was, although “Snow, Glass, Apples,” is a likely candidate. The one I remember most, though, was “The Price,” with the feline guardian angel. As both a big-time cat lover and someone who feels guilt over sacrificing animals’ welfare for my own*, that story frickin’ traumatised me, man. I’ve never been so upset by any other piece of fiction.
^The Price, for reference.
*Um, by using animal products, I mean. I no longer ate meat by the time I read the story, but man, did it make me feel bad about not stopping earlier. And although I have no problem with animal products if obtaining them doesn’t cause the animal any suffering, that’s impractical and sometimes impossible to do for large scale companies under the current laws. But I still eat eggs and dairy, mostly because going vegan seems too difficult, expensive and restrictive for someone as lazy and poor as I am. Sometimes I fantasize about having a job where I find and market a wider and better range of vegan substitutes, making it easier for people to transition… My fantasies are weird.
Sorry. I kind of went off a tangent there.