Odd Subtext in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

I would like to apologize for the delay in this article, I have been working tirelessly on social media and video coverage of a pet project of mine, Philly Draw A Thon, which wrapped up over the past weekend. If you would like to check out more about Philly Draw A Thon, click here.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a film that almost everyone has seen at some point in their lives. Being the first full length feature animated film doesn’t hurt its popularity, nor the fact that it was animated by Walt Disney himself. From the oddly shaped human faces, to the overly cartoonish dwarfs, to the red apple that leads to Snow White’s supposed demise, the plot is easily recognizable as a tip of the hat to the classic fairy tale. That being said, there are quite a few odd side notes one can find while watching this film in modern times.

Within the first ten minutes of the film we are introduced to the wicked queen and her intentions on getting rid of Snow White. As well as Snow White’s obsession with finding “the one I love,” and being taken away from her life of poverty as a maid in the castle. Her wishes come true, the Prince finds her, and she runs away from fright at seeing him. The Prince eventually coerces her down from her chambers, and they are supposedly together shortly afterwards, as her change in wardrobe suggests. Despite this fateful meeting appearing to the naked eye as some type of fairy tale ending, I almost find it a tiny bit on the stalker side for the Prince. He finds a pretty maid girl, coerces her down from inside the castle, immediately plans to marry her (did he have a surprise that he wanted to hide from his evil mother?), and everything’s fine and dandy.

In these first fifteen minutes, it also seems like Snow White is just some stupid girl who is afraid of everything she sees, including her true love. She runs away from scary looking trees in the forest, and is frightened by harmless forest creatures when they’re only trying to help her. Walt Disney, I get it. You think all women are scared and helpless. It was the late 1930’s, and I guess that was true (as far as the standards of women in those days), but come on. Women were given the right to vote in 1920 in the United States, proving that women are not just stupid people who have no say over anything. And Rosie the Riveter a few years later during World War II changed a lot of stereotypes of women in that era in America.  It just seems like Disney was beating the “helpless woman” ideal to death with Snow White, trying to bring back something that just wasn’t there anymore.

A little later in the film, Snow White breaks into the dwarves house and decides to clean the place so they will let her stay with the help of her newfound forest friends with the famous “Whistle While You Work” song. Never mind the whole breaking and entering thing, but cleaning up for supposed “children” because they don’t have a mother. I would say that it’s not the smartest thing to fall asleep in a house occupied by grown dwarves after you’ve cleaned it either, who might not take kindly to an intruder. And honestly, I have to wonder whether Snow White traded any other favors so she could stay there. But this is a children’s story, so I guess we let it slide as an audience.

Now to those lovable seven dwarves. Putting aside the whole “I’m afraid of a woman who cleans” and not really knowing what a girl is (really?), they are like little children. They can’t clean themselves or their house without being told to, and they don’t have the decent manners to wash themselves before dinner. Grumpy also seems to be completely against women, and distrusts Snow White and her new teachings. As the dwarfs sing to Snow White later, there is also a moment where Dopey is playing the cymbal in front of Snow White, and she kicks it with her foot. Dopey puts it on his head, and shuffles away with his eyes slanted. You have to give it to Walt Disney, some of his racist animations were subtle even in the old days. Others not so much (Fantasia comes to mind. But we’ll get back to that later). Another thing that stuck out as Snow White and the dwarfs are heading to bed, they convince her to take their bedroom while they sleep in the living room. As she asks them once more if they will be comfortable, they all say in unision,”Oh yes, very comfortable.” My mind instantly goes to some sexual situation involving all the dwarves in the living room while Snow White is asleep. And honestly, if you were a straight man and had some girl comes into your home, why wouldn’t you at least try to make a pass at her? Instead all the dwarves ask for is a peck on their heads before leaving for work the next morning. Guess they got what they needed the night before.

As the Queen visits the dwarven home in an old hag disguise after the dwarves leave in the morning, she finds Snow White alone in the home. Snow White being the helpless thing that she is, admits to all of the dwarfs leaving for work and gullibly believes that the red apple the hag offers her is a wishing apple instead of the poisonous concoction created by the Queen, even after the dwarves had warned her of strangers. After Snow White takes a bite and the effects take hold, the Queen seems to be enjoying Snow White’s demise a bit too much. I guess if she had to enjoy something in her life, it might as well be killing people. The dwarves are quickly alerted by the forest creatures of the Queen’s presence in their home, and rush back to Snow White’s aid. Without checking on Snow White they chase the Queen up a mountainside, where a lightning bolt strikes the exact part of the mountain she is standing on and she falls hundreds of feet down to her doom.

The dwarves fashion a glass coffin for the “dead” princess, the Prince hears of this maiden in the coffin, and visits to see if it is his princess. In somewhat of a cop out ending (it literally only takes 3 minutes to go from dead Snow White to happy ending), the Prince kisses Snow White, and everything is as it should be. I feel like there was some lack in budget by the end of this film, so they chose to not animate the dwarves creating the glass coffin, or the word spreading back to the Prince. Either way, it seems like a cheap alternative in ending this classic film. I remember enjoying this film as a child and despite it not having nearly as many “hidden agendas” as I recall, I still feel somewhat cheated in watching this again. Yes it is an animated film that everyone should see, and it does stand as a testament in animated films everywhere. But looking back at all the merchandise Disney has created revolving around the Disney Princesses (every single one of them a strong female lead in their own films), I have to wonder does Snow White even count as a Disney Princess? She’s technically not a princess when this story begins (which is true for Mulan, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Tiana, Pocahontas, Belle, and more), and she really doesn’t assert herself throughout this entire film. Snow White simply acts afraid and naive to things around her, and waits for things to turn out. All of the other Disney Princesses (fairy tale stories aside) had to confront their demons and antagonists in order to fight their own battles. They are all independent women in their own right, who have to work to get what they want and deserve. Snow White doesn’t fight or work for anything, she’s just in the right place at the right time. And as the first Disney Princess, she’s not doing a very good job.

-Caroline Boyd



Filed under Spring 2012

3 responses to “Odd Subtext in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

  1. An interesting discussion is worth comment. I believe that you ought to publish more on this issue, it might not be a taboo matter but usually people don’t talk about such subjects. To the next! Kind regards!!

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