Feminisney: “Snow White” — First and Worst
The progenitor of the Disney Princess formula… and the birth of a lot of problematic tropes.
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Apologies. It’s been close to half a year since I’ve done one of these. Apparently, much like dieting, it’s incredibly easy for me to get out of a habit like watching 4 movies every week and writing about them, especially when a big move comes up. But I’ve had people, myself included, who want me to get back to these, so at long last I’m getting off my Disneyfied tuchus and starting in (before they add another 10 movies to their catalogue). And since I missed it the first time through, I figure: Why not go back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? New year, begin at the beginning.
As many likely know, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the film that put Disney on the map… and really created feature film animation in America. Premiering in 1937, it was for a brief moment the highest-grossing sound film to date until Gone With the Wind dethroned it in 1939. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a stellar achievement of filmmaking, a full 80+ minutes of animation, color, and music. Walt Disney was awarded 8 special Academy Awards for his achievements with the film: One normal-sized Oscar and 7 small ones. Based on the German fairy tale scribed by The Brothers Grimm, other than Cinderella, the story is probably the most reused of the Disney fairy tales.
I’m sure you all know this. Pretty girl, evil stepmother is jealous of her looks, orders her killed, she survives, hangs out with seven tiny dudes, stepmother kills her with a poisoned apple, and she needs love’s first kiss to wake her up from her deathcoma. There’s magic, a prince, woodland creatures, the whole shebang. Other than a plot… the movie’s more about bravura animation and music than story.
…Like, seriously. That’s basically the whole film. But here’s the analysis:
Number of named characters with speaking lines: 7 (Dopey never talks, and the Huntsman, Queen, Prince, and Magic Mirror are never named beyond titles.) For those keeping track, the named talking characters are Happy, Sneezy, Bashful, Sleepy, Grumpy, Doc, and Snow White.
Number of named female characters with speaking lines: 1 (Take a guess.)
Does the film pass the Bechdel Test? No, but only because the Queen is unnamed (though they do talk about the prince).
Number of named non-white characters: 0
Number of named non-white female characters: 0
Number of openly non-heterosexual characters: 0
Number of openly transsexual characters: 0
Is there a heterosexual romance? Yes
True Love’s Kiss? Yes. They call it “Love’s First Kiss” in the movie.
Number of female mentors or rulers? 1 — the evil Queen
Number of named female characters wearing “men’s clothes” (pants instead of dresses): 0
Main character male or female? Female
Number of named female characters saved from peril by male characters: 1
Number of times named female characters saved from peril by male characters: 1 (assuming we’re counting the life-saving kiss)
Number of named female characters breaking gender stereotypes with their actions (performing “masculine” feats): 0
Number of named male characters breaking gender stereotypes with their actions (performing “feminine” feats): 0
So… rewatching this film. I totally forgot how incredibly… nothing it is. Though it is darker than I remember. Cut her heart out? Woof.
Snow White was an amazing technological accomplishment for its time, don’t get me wrong. But as a story? There’s no character development in anyone but Grumpy, who goes from Men’s Rights Activist (“Her wiles are begin to work! But I’m warning you, you give ’em an inch, they’ll walk all over you!”) to being concerned for Snow White when she’s potentially in danger. Granted, that growth came from her giving him a smooch.
The prince literally comes out of nowhere to scare her, then immediately seduces her with his singing, then comes out of nowhere again to smooch her apparently corpse body because… like, he heard a rumor there might be a woman under an enchanted spell? Though how’d that rumor get around? Did someone find the Queen’s spellbook after she died? Is the prince just kissing every corpse he finds until he gets lucky? How is that “true love”? I digress.
So, this film ends up being what is probably the worst Disney film in terms of feminism because the characters are largely non-existent, the film very solidly puts chores like cooking and cleaning as the woman’s duty (Snow, when she sees the dwarfs’ dirty shack, assumes they’re children with no mother to clean), makes getting dirty manly (the dwarfs treat hand-washing like they’re marching to their own execution), and the entire conflict comes from the evil stepmother (a sadly abused trope throughout Disney/fairy tales in general) being incredibly vain and incredibly jealous of another woman’s looks.
The heterosexual romance, due to no character development, is shoehorned in for the sake of having one. The film is the originator, for Disney, of a lot of tropes that we are only recently seeing bucked. Granted, there is an interesting chart I saw on Cracked, as seen originally in The Washington Post. Apparently, speaking times for women were far higher in the original Disney princess films than in later ones, particularly during the Disney Renaissance. This is an interesting point. While I think women should be given equal speaking time in these film, upholding some of these past films as paragons, like this one, ignores the content of their speech and the incredibly single-dimension of their character. More well-rounded female characters need more words. Otherwise, I feel giving more time to female characters who perpetuate terrible stereotypes just grounds those stereotypes more fully.
The movie is about 75% singing, 25% moving things along to get to the kiss. So, while I’m personally glad Disney exists because of this movie, I can also say I’m glad we can look at this film as a way of how not to do things.
Fun Notes: Seriously, how ridiculous a name is Snow White? Who names their kid after their skin tone? “Name a girl prettier than me!” *lists off a bunch of random descriptions* “Well, thank goodness she was named after her pale as hell skin or I’d have no CLUE who you were talking about.”
Prince introduces himself in CREEPY way. Sneaks up behind her and joins in her singing to herself? Seriously.
The instant love is really annoying. They clearly JUST met one another. This is worse than Superman and Lois Lane in Man of Steel.
Prince got a dove hot for him and giving him a kiss before he got with Snow White. Weird.
Snow White escaping into the forest and seeing all the creepy faces in the trees and logs and stuff is like a less annoying version of the scene from Temple of Doom where that woman screams AT EVERYTHING.
Why are they digging for gems? Do they use them to barter for food in town? This movie has so many unexplained elements.
Why is it the guy named Doc is the one most incapable of speaking English (other than Dopey)?
Apparently they don’t trust Dopey with pointy objects since he only got a half pickax.
Dopey’s got some serious strength, ripping a doorknob (which immediately reappeared) out of a solid wooden door on BOTH sides.
“She’s a female! And all females is poison! They’re full of wicked wiles!” “What are wicked wiles?” “I dunno. But I’m gonna get ‘em!” Grumpy was the first Men’s Right’s Activist in film, apparently.
They’ve never washed but they still have soap? Also, they soaped Grumpy’s teeth. That’s… gross.
The movie also starts the Disney tradition of death by falling. No, seriously. It’s totally a thing.