Analyzing Disney’s Snow White

Plot

Disney’s Snow White is about a princess whose beauty is coveted by her step-mother, the evil queen. In order to hold the title of “fairest one of all,” the queen orders Humbert the huntsman to kill Snow White. He can’t bring himself to end the princesses life and instead tells her to run.

On the run, Snow White happens upon a cottage where seven dwarfs live and hides there. The magic mirror revels Snow White’s location to the jealous queen. Through her black magic, she scams Snow White into eating a poisonous apple. The apple puts her into a death-mimicking sleep from which she will only wake with true love’s kiss. Eventually, the prince, who has searched for Snow White, happens upon her glass coffin, opens it and kisses her. She wakes and they live happily ever after.

The Bechdel Test

While the (only) two women in the movie do talk once and talk about something other than the men they’re pinning after, the movie does not include two named women. The evil queen has no name, only Snow White does. As such, Snow White fails the test.

Analysis

Women and Competition

Disney’s Snow White was released in 1937, so it may seem unfair to judge the movie on how it meets today’s standards of gender equality. As Snow White continues to be a prominent Disney princess, I think it’s fair to discuss how this movie fits in with modern culture.

There are two different stories I see in this movie. The first is a woman’s jealously of another’s beauty, which causes her to attempt to destroy the other woman. Second, this is a movie about a woman who can’t deal with the fact she is getting older and that the beauty she once had is fading. Both are problematic ideas.

This movie may have been made 77 years ago, but women still mimic those ideas. Girls where make-up, mess with their hair, by in-fashion clothing and sometimes go as far as surgery in an attempt to be beautiful. Many women lament growing older, as if wrinkles and grey hair lessen their worth. Even more, many women and girls attack other member of their gender if they look too attractive. They call them sluts and whores.

Women are still acting on an out-dated ideology that youth and beauty are essential to their self-worth. Many will go so far as to attack other women who they see as competition. It’s crazy to me that these behaviors persists after so many years.

Romance (aka Stalking) and Purity (aka Naivety)

Throughout the movie, we spend most of our time with Snow White. I’m guess she is somewhere between 16 and 18 years old. In the beginning, she sings as she works, attracting the attention of a prince. The stalker sneaks up behind her and joins in her song, rightfully scaring the princess.

“Did I frighten you?” he ask

The correct response is, yes! Who sneaks up behind someone they don’t even know like that? Please get away from me before I call the guards, creeper. Snow White, instead, becomes infatuated with his voice and beauty. I had flashbacks from the Wicked musical watching this scene. “You’re perfect. You’re perfect. So we’re perfect together. Born to be forever. Dancing through life…” These guys are just oh so beautiful. What more do you need to fall in love?

Snow White’s naïve nature is made to appear enduring. She breaks into a stranger’s home and starts cleaning it just because. She immediately trust the people she encounters even with the knowledge that the queen wants her dead. This girl has the brains of a five-year-old. Maybe that was the point in 1937. How could they have known adults would still be watching Snow White in 2014.

Eventually, her stupidity brings her to trust an old woman who is really the evil queen in disguise. She bites the poisonous apple and falls asleep. Thing brings up another question.

Death and/or Sleeping

Why do the dwarfs assume she is dead? Does the spell stop her heart as well? The story goes that she was just so pretty that they couldn’t bury her. They wanted to gaze at her beauty so much that they denied her body the honor and respect of a proper burial. Instead, they leave her in a glass case so that everyone can see her beauty slowly decay.

I suspect they don’t actually believe she is dead and instead think she is asleep.

The prince (who is never named, poor guy) hears of the maiden dead/sleep in the glass coffin and comes to investigate. This final scene in the movie is either disturbingly creepy or romantically creepy depending on Snow White’s state. If she is dead, then the prince is kissing a corpse that has been dead for who-knows-how-long. I wouldn’t be that huge of a deal except they have to open what I presume was a sealed coffin to make that kiss happen. Who does that?

The other option is, of course, that she’s asleep, making this kiss slightly less creepy. He’s still kissing a sleeping women he only met/stalked once. Since all love needs is youth and good looks, his kiss reanimates princess Snow White and they ride into the sunset.

Lessons Learned:
  • Good looks are the key to true love
  • If you break into a house own by seven strangers and fall asleep in one of their beds, they won’t rape you or call the cops.
  • Stepmothers suck
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12 thoughts on “Analyzing Disney’s Snow White”

  1. TK, I have this HUGE smile on my face right now…what a delightful and unexpected post. I don’t think I’ve ever read a 1930ish movie review under the context of gender equality (except for boring psychological research papers I had to read in college)…..very well done. I suspect that the typical ‘traditional’ American would be pissed off by your article because so many people LOVE snow white and all those kind of Disneyesque films from that era………

    what do you think of the new cartoons like Brave? I heard an interview on NPR in which they were talking about the way films like Brave were finally portraying women in a better light.

    I actually like the fact that certain action films ((and I’m NOT a big action movie guy) have portrayed women as the central hero; one that comes to mind is Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider…she kicked ass….although are women at all annoyed at how sexualized her character was? I mean for me as a guy; seeing Angelina Jolie in skin tight clothes, getting naked for unnecessary shower scenes, and then kicking ass is kind of a turn on……actually its a HUGE turn on….but I could see how women might think its too sexualized of a character.

    1. I love Disney movies, but I also see the slight issues. People like to think they don’t matter because they are children shows, but what are they aspiriing to? What does a girl learn about her value through watching these shows? How does a boy learn he should act by watching these shows?

      That isn’t to say the movies can’t be enjoyed. I like Snow White. It’s a decent movie (although not my favorite princess). At the same time, I am not blind to the issues in it.

      I like the newer Disney movies. Rapunzel managed to replace Belle as my favorite princess recently, but then I saw Frozen. That movie was amazing. I think everyone should see it. I’d like to say what I liked most about it, but it would spoil so much. I’ll just say the “happy ever after” was about a different relationship than we usually see in Disney.

      As to action movies like Tomb Raider. They are progress just beacuse they feature a female protagonist. That said, I’m not sure if the movie would pass the Bechdel Test. It’s amazing how many movies don’t. None of the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings movies pass. That text aside, I think the key for these movies in the future is “unnecessary.” Sex sells and that’s no problem. Having a woman be naked for the sole purpose of objectification is a problem. The director of Star Trek: Into Darkness apologized after he came under fire for needlessly showing a female character in her underwear. Had there been a purpose in the story line for that scene to occur, it would be fine. Instead, it was just an odd scene that had nothing to do with the story.

      I hope they start making more action movies with good female leads. In particular, I’m hoping for a kick ass Wonder Woman movie. I just hope they don’t oversexualize it. There needs to be action. I want Iron Man, but with a woman. It can’t be that hard to imagine that a female super hero can be more than a sexy girl in tights. (which isn’t to say there can’t be sexy things or sex. Just don’t make the movie about how sexy she is)

      …also, it wouldn’t hurt for there to be one more named woman in the movie… and maybe they can talk about something other than men. What if… what if there were THREE named woman in the movie?! Gender norms would crumble!

  2. Snow White was never a favorite of mine, but you’re right on with this review! If you think about it, a lot of Disney movies aren’t good “role models”. Sure, little kids aren’t going to think much of it but still. This is a good review though! I like it (:

    1. I disagree. I think kids thinks a lot about these shows. Girls are learn to value themselves and boys learn how to attract girls. Moreover, the things we create are a reflection of our culture.

      What does a girl whose favorite princess is Snow White think about her own worth? How does she treat other girls who she thinks aren’t that pretty?

      1. You know, you have a point there. I retract my opinion! haha I think we don’t acknowledge how much little kids actually do pick up, so you’re right there.
        And you make a good point about a girl whose favorite princess is Snow White, it doesn’t teach her well about how to deal with girls she thinks aren’t that pretty

        1. And that isn’t to say that it’s wrong for anyone to like to movie or to like Snow White. It’s more about the parents of that girl. They should make sure she knows she is more than her looks. Maybe they can even point out things that Snow White is good at. On the flip side, they can point out things that go wrong. They can say “it’s kind of mean that she entered the house without asking the owners, don’t you think?”

          Tiny things, but they’d make a big difference.

          1. No! Disney movies are amazing haha. But yeah, the parents should definitely build character into their child, because people are more than looks and that’s what society focuses on. Parents really should play a bigger role in those types of movies because it gives kids a false sense in a way, I feel. They do make a big difference but a lot of kids just give their kid the TV and don’t pay much attention to them these days!

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