Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Everybody knows the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or at least they think they do. Most people believe that the story follows Disney's first full length animated film. What may surprise some people though is the story is based off of a Brothers Grimm tale. The Brothers Grimm versions of fairy tales tend to be quite a bit darker than anything Disney and other productions have created since the early 20th century. You all know Disney's version: The evil queen is jealous of her step-daughter because of her beauty and orders a huntsman to kill her in the woods. He spares her and after running through the creepiest forest in existence, she finds a cottage with seven dwarfs inside. Hilarity ensues as does singing and dancing. There is also a comically large population of forest animals that Snow White appears to know how to communicate with. They live together for awhile until the queen finds out where Snow White is and turns herself into a old woman to trick Snow White. Snow White forgets the first rule about accepting food from strangers and promptly falls into a deep sleep. The dwarfs mourn her and put her in a glass case. Where the heck did they find a glass case to put her in? Did they just have it lying around in case some random chick died in their cottage? That all seems pretty convenient to me! The prince happens to waltz by and decides that he wants to kiss a corpse. Creepy and weird! Anyway, she magically comes back to life and they live happily ever after. Oh yeah...and the queen/witch subsequently gets struck by lightning and has a boulder land on her. That's what happens to vain people! This is a classic cop out ending. The real story has a much odder ending. Is it a great story? Sure, but after reading this we hope that you would want to read the Grimm's version.
What are some of the big differences between the two versions? First off, the Disney version doesn't even mention or show Snow White's biological mother. This starts the trend of Disney main characters not having both biological parents alive or around in the story. No one knows why, but there are many theories, including that Disney wanted to have a more emotional feel in his movies and another that claims that Disney just plain hated nuclear family units. In Grimm's story, the original queen introduces how Snow White receives her name. The mother pricks her finger on a sewing needle and a drop of blood falls onto snow that is on an ebony windowsill. The mother, seeing how beautiful the blood looks in the snow, decides that this is the best time to name her unborn child, which I guess she knew was going to be a girl. She declared that she wanted a daughter with snow white skin with blood red lips and hair as black as the ebony windowsill. God forbid she have a son. Her specifications make it sound like she is wishing for a vampire child. Anyway, Snow White is born and the mother dies right after. This is probably from seeing her vampire baby. The king quickly remarries a woman who happens to be the vainest person on the planet. The new evil queen has a magic mirror, just like in the Disney version, that answers any question. It continually tells her that she is the fairest of them all until Snow White reaches the age of seven. Then the mirror finds a seven year old child to be more beautiful than the queen. That mirror has odd standards. Also, what kind of radius is this mirror working with? I find it hard to believe that the two fairest people in the land just happen to be living in the same household. Unlike in the Disney version, where Snow White appears to be at least in her mid to late teens, she is seven years old when she is led out into the forest by the huntsman and then spared. This part is sort of like the Disney version as in the queen asks the huntsman to bring back Snow White's heart as proof of her death. I say sort of, because though in both versions the huntsman kills an animal and takes it's heart to the queen, in Grimm's she decides to eat the heart. I guess by eating Snow White's heart she believed she would gain her beauty? If that were true, we would have loads more cannibalism in America. I'm serious. It would be a bloodbath.
Snow White does meet seven dwarfs, but they are not comically named. The dwarfs did not receive names until the stage version of Snow White in 1912. Disney, deciding he wanted more humor in the story, changed the names to resemble the dwarf's demeanor or affliction. The dwarfs tell Snow White that she can stay as long as she cooks and cleans for them. Sounds fair....I guess. The dwarfs warn her never to let anyone in, probably because they get so many Jehovah's Witnesses in that specific forest. Being a seven year old girl, she decides not to listen. Meanwhile, the queen asks the mirror who the fairest of them all is, and the mirror still says that it's Snow White. Realizing she has been tricked, she dresses as a peddler and for some reason knows exactly where the dwarf's cottage is. The peddler queen offers a seven year old Snow White a lacy girdle and straps it on he so tight that Snow White passes out. The dwarfs come back from work in the mines in time to rescue Snow White. The next time the dwarfs are gone, the queen comes back dressed as another old lady and offers Snow White a comb that just happened to be poisoned. Not learning her lesson about talking to strange people, Snow White allows the queen to brush her hair and promptly passes out again. The dwarfs save her again. How? The story never says. PLOT HOLE! At this point, the dwarfs seriously consider getting a life insurance policy on this dumb-as-rocks girl.
Figuring that the third times the charm, the queen comes back disguised as a farmer's wife and offers Snow White an apple which also happened to be poisoned. Snow White had gained a little sense now and refused. The queen cut the apple in half and took a bite off the non-poisoned white part inside. She then gave snow white the poisoned red part and Snow White took a bite. This time the dwarfs couldn't find a way to revive Snow White and like the Disney version, put her in a glass case. A prince happens along and instantly falls in love with the seemingly dead Snow White. May I remind you that she is still only seven. Can anyone say pedophile? Though the prince himself could be around her age. The story is based on medieval Germany and historically, it was at the age of seven when a person could consent to be married. The prince buys the glass case from the dwarfs and has his men carry it away to his castle. The journey must have been extremely bumpy, because the men carrying Snow White's glass case were fumbling along which helped dislodge the piece of poisoned apple that was stuck in her throat. Everyone rejoiced! Snow White agrees to marry the prince. The story does not end there however. What about the queen? Well, she finds out that Snow White is still alive and plans on crashing Snow White's wedding to the prince. When she arrives however, she is quickly captured and made to wear heated iron shoes and dance til she dies. Maybe not as cool as getting struck by lightning and being crushed by a boulder, but still pretty creative. I'm wondering what everybody did in the meantime while this lady was screaming in agony and dancing around. "Alright everybody, ignore the screams and smell of burning flesh and enjoy some cake!" So, as you can see, the Disney version is not nearly as morbid, but still manages to scare us with Snow White's run through the possessed forest.
Disney decided that it was about time to go into feature films instead of just sticking with shorts. Walt, however, had no idea how much work was ahead of him. Disney started working on the full length feature film in 1934 with a projected budget of $250,000, almost ten times the cost of a Silly Symphony short. Walt had to fight to get the film into production, as his brother and business partner, Roy Disney, and his own wife, Lillian, had tried to talk him out of it. The movie industry considered it a big waste of time and declared the movie "Disney's Folly" while it was in production. Walt even had to mortgage off his house to raise money for the making of the feature. By the time the production wrapped, the movie had cost almost $1,500,000 to make. That was huge in 1937 when the film finally came out.
Walt really wanted the story to be a funny one. He wanted a lot of focus to be on the dwarfs and their hi-jinks. They wanted to give the dwarfs funny names that fit their demeanor and afflictions so they picked from a group of fifty possible names which included: Jumpy, Deafy, Dizzey, Hickey, Wheezy, Baldy, Gabby, Nifty, Sniffy, Swift, Lazy, Puffy, Stuffy, Tubby, Shorty and Burpy. Luckily for us, none of those names were used. The finalist ended up being Doc, who was to be the leader, then Grumpy, Bashful, Sneezy, Sleepy, Happy, and the one that took the longest to decide, Dopey. Dopey ended up being the most popular dwarf when the movie came out even though he didn't speak throughout the whole movie. What happened was that Disney couldn't find a voice that fit the role properly and decided to make Dopey a mute. Walt wanted other parts of the story to be humorous, such as the queen. He wanted to make her fat and have lots of warts, but later decided to make her a beautiful queen instead. Many ideas about the story were thrown around, mainly ones that would make the story not resemble the Grimm's version at all. It took several years of ideas and lost hope, but after taking some time off, Disney regained his passion for the project and reworked the story to what it is now.
Walt filled Snow White with memorable music, including Whistle While You Work, Heigh Ho!, and Someday My Prince Will Come, which Walt won an Oscar for. The feature was the first to have a soundtrack album be released in conjunction with the movie. Having a soundtrack album in the first place was unheard of at the time. Unfortunately, Disney didn't have its own music publishing company, they had to have the music published by a separate company, Bourne Co. Incidentally, the Bourne Co. still owns the rights to the music of Snow White. This is the only movie in which Disney does not fully own the music rights.
Many movies influenced Snow White. The scene at the balcony/well and Snow White dead in the glass case is basically from Romeo and Juliet. German Expressionism comes out in the film during the queen's transformation and Snow White's run through the scary forest. Movies like Nosferatu and the Cabinet of Dr. Calligari heavily influenced these moments. The witch's transformation is also supposed to be reminiscent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It just goes to show you that literature from other authors can help create a masterpiece.
The movie premiered in December, 1937 to a receptive crowd, most of them being the ones that labeled the film "Disney's Folly." The movie received a standing ovation from the star studded audience which included, Shirley Temple, Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Jack Benny, Clark Gable, Douglas Fairbanks, and Ed Sullivan. Six days later, Walt and the seven dwarfs were on the cover of Time and the New York Times said, "Thank You Very Much, Mr. Disney." So much for being a folly. I'm sure Walt had a few choice words for all who doubted him. This would include his wife who told him that "No ones gonna pay a dime to see a dwarf picture." Walt proved everybody wrong. The movie went on to gross $6.5 million internationally on it's first theatrical run and has since grossed $184,925,486 with the original release and many re-releases. It is currently ranked 10th in highest grossing pictures of all time when adjusted for inflation. The movie was also the first full length animated film to be shot in Technicolor. The movie won a Honorary Oscar for "significant screen innovation" and was also nominated for best musical score. On Oscar night, Walt received a one of a kind Oscar that no one else has ever gotten. Presented by Shirley Temple, it was a large Oscar statuette with seven small Oscars.
The movie was continuously praised by the media and the stars that attended the opening, including Charlie Chaplin who said the film was a notable achievement in cinema. Snow White inspired many others to bring their stories to the silver screen, most notably is The Wizard of Oz. The movie hasn't lost it's fans. As the first of the Disney animated films, it holds a level of reverence. People still love the story of Snow White, and it never fails to find an audience with new generations.