Overthinking Disney: Snow White

As we all know, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was Disney’s first full-length animated feature film, released in 1937. It’s loosly based on the Brothers Grimm story Snow White. The film was never a favourite of mine as a kid, as I found it too scary, and lacking in good songs/characters.

As an adult, there even more elements which miss the mark, not least of which is the very weak love story; the meet-cute is more meet-creepy. The (un-named) Prince hears Snow White singing while riding past the castle one day, and decides to climb over the wall and frighten her by joining in. Snow runs inside to hide, then realises the stranger is a) a Prince and b) handsome, so decides to come out on the balcony to listen. She kisses a pigeon and sends it down to him as a token of her affection and he leaves. They don’t actually exchange a single sentence, yet she spends the rest of the film talking (and singing) about him.

After meeting her Prince, Snow White is taken into the woods and nearly murdered by the Huntsman, at the orders of the vain and jealous Queen. When he realises he cannot kill her, he tells her to run away. Cue the scary woods scene which put me off as a kid. Snow then meets some charming woodland creatures who lead her to the cottage of the seven dwarfs.

The cottage is, as one would expect from seven men living alone, a mess. (Why they kept it so dusty, when Sneezy clearly has allergies, remains to be explained.) Snow recruits the animals and birds, who apparently have nothing better to do with their lives, to clean the entire place from top to bottom, and do the dwarfs’ laundry.

Meanwhile, the dwarfs are out at work, mining diamonds and rubies. As a child I sort of accepted this, but as an adult I have so many questions. Who are the dwarfs mining these gems for? Are the dwarfs rich? If so, why is their house so small, and didn’t they think to hire a housekeeper? (Is ‘dwarfs’ even grammatically correct? Should it not be ‘dwarves’?) The little men themselves admit, in song, “we don’t know what we dig ’em for”, so I doubt there are answers.

More pressingly: why don’t any of the dwarfs have moustaches!?

Wikipedia informs me this is called a “Shenandoah style” beard, and that it’s often associated with the Amish community. Are the seven dwarfs on some sort of enchanted forest rumspringa?

Anyhoo, the moustache-less bearded men arrive home after a hard day’s work to find their home not as they left it. They find the guilty party, Snow White, asleep on their beds, and, after discovering that she is on the run from the Queen, invite her to stay. She repays them their kindness by making dinner for them, but insists that they wash their hands first.

What follows is a series of (fully clothed) bath-time gags, culminating in a ‘funny’ scene where Grumpy, who did not want to wash, is forcibly dragged over to the tub and scrubbed within an inch of his life. Lets just say 1930’s Disney was not overly concerned with the idea of consent…

The next day, the dwarfs head off to work, each lecturing Snow White not to speak to anyone or let anyone in on their way out. It begs the question, if they were so concerned with her safety, why didn’t one of them stay home to protect her?

Snow decides to pass the day baking blueberry pies for the men – presumably after sending her animal minions out to fetch the berries. She is interrupted by an old hag (the Queen in disguise), offering apples for her pies instead. The Queen lies and says that one particular apple (the poisoned one) is a ‘wishing apple’ and convinces Snow to take a bite. Snow collapses, seemingly dead.

I’d like to divert from the plot for a second to make two observations. One, Snow White does not pass the Bechdel Test; the only scene in which the two female characters interact is a scene in which they discuss making pies for the dwarfs, and wishing for Princes. (It’s also debatable whether the Queen counts as a named character; apparently she is named Grimhilde, but this is never mentioned or referenced in the film.)

Second, after Snow faints, and the dwarfs arrive home in time to chase the hag Queen to a cliff top in the rain, she becomes the first of many Disney villains to meet her end as the result of an unfortunate fall. This is, of course, because the dwarfs are Good Guys; Good Guys cannot kill. So, having the antagonist meet their end due to gravity serves to both punish the bad and save the good having to be bad. (Misters Grimm had no such qualms; their version ends with the Prince ordering the Queen to wear a pair of red-hot iron slippers and dance in them until she drops dead.)

Back to the film and it’s happy ending, sort of. The dwarfs, believing the poisoned Snow to be dead, decide to entomb her in a glass casket above ground, as she is too beautiful to be buried. Of course, this is a lovely image for the scene where the Prince, having located his lost love, comes to pay his last respects and kisses her awake. But, given that they dwarfs didn’t know this was going to happen, how weird is the idea of a glass coffin? Don’t they realise that her body will still decompose? (Probably faster, if there’s a greenhouse effect…)

Thankfully for all, the Prince does come and kisses the beautiful Princess away, and they literally ride off into the sunset, happily ever after. Presumably the dwarfs return to their mining bachelors’ lives, not washing, and shaving their moustaches but never their beards. Perhaps a sequel, where the Seven Dwarfs meet the Queer Eye Fab Five, is in order?

Part of my Overthinking Disney series. Do let me know what you think.

Snow White is available on DVD, Blu Ray, and Amazon Prime Video, as well as on Disney+.

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Edmund Graham
20th October 2019 at 12:15 am

This is a brilliant idea, I can’t find a single comment I disagree with, I look forward to more

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Overthinking Disney: Pinocchio

3rd November 2019