Disney's Depression-era 'Snow White' shows its age while retaining its charm

August 01, 1993|By Lori Moody | Lori Moody,Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- Once upon a time, there was a girl named Snow White, two brothers named Grimm and a guy named Walt Disney.

Snow was having a bit of trouble with her evil stepmother. The Brothers Grimm picked up on the story. Disney turned it into a Technicolor wonder of animation.

Fifty-six years later, the re-release of Disney's popular film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" invites comparisons to the Grimms' 19th-century version of the tale.

Disney did not stray too far from the Grimms' rendition, according to one expert.

"He could have been born to the Brothers Grimm," said Jack Zipes, professor of German at the University of Minnesota and a specialist in fairy tales and folklore. "He could have been one of the brothers.`

Gender stereotyping that existed in the Grimms' tale is evident in the Disney version, Mr. Zipes said.

Even the Brothers Grimm, whose tales are remembered for brutal, gory methods of punishments, edited their versions to eliminate "erotic and sexual elements that might be

offensive to middle-class morality, added numerous Christian expressions and references [and] emphasized specific role models for male and female protagonists," Mr. Zipes wrote in his 1987 book, "The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm."

The characters in the Depression-era "Snow White" are fleshed out in a very American way, Mr. Zipes said.

"You have a sweet, naive princess, a virginal Midwestern Snow White," he said.

And, consider the dwarfs. In the Grimm version, they were a bunch of good guys who worried about Snow's safety but were a pretty dull lot.

Enter Disney, who gave them songs, personalities and silly names that would later provide fodder for trivia buffs.

In the Brothers Grimm tale, the dwarfs' cottage was tiny and neat.

In Disney's version, Snow was a clean freak and the dwarfs were slobs. But in both versions, Snow ended up in domestic servitude in exchange for room and board.

The rule of three applies in fairy tales. The stepmother used different guises to get rid of Snow on three occasions, first by lacing her tightly in a bodice, then with a poisoned comb and finally with an apple.

In Disney's version, the evil queen uses witchcraft to transform herself into an ugly old woman to deliver a poisoned apple to Snow.

In the Grimm tale, the evil stepmother was invited to Snow's wedding and had to dance in red-hot iron slippers until she dropped dead.

In Disney, the evil queen was chased by the dwarfs. When she tried to drop a boulder on them, lightning stuck the ledge she was on and down she went.

Snow's prince wasn't around until the end of the Brothers Grimm tale. The piece of poisoned apple was jolted from Snow's throat when the prince's servants stumbled while carrying her coffin.

In the animated feature, the prince is cast in a larger, unenlightened role. Otherwise, we wouldn't have been graced with that song "Someday My Prince Will Come," and Snow would still be waiting in the glass coffin for the kiss that awakens her from a poisoned slumber.

If fairy tales are a reflection of a culture, Disney's "Snow White" is a dated one. But the world's first full-length animated feature will be remembered for its influence on later cartoons.

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