Sunday, May 08, 2005

observations on snow white

My daughter Sage has a fairly decent collection of Disney films, and the flavor of the month is Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Man, I know it was the first ever full length film of Disney and it made waves during its day, but really, it did not age well.

1. The character of Snow White. Ariel would club this wimp with her fish tail. Mulan would skewer her. Snow White does not have a fraction of Belle’s strength of character, being an embarrassment to the entire female species. She is portrayed as weak, gullible and as unable to do anything for herself, much less determine her own destiny. No, she must wait, in state, and dream of rescue. I should have called this point “The Characterless-ness of Snow White” instead.

2. The voice of Snow White. Something that sounds like gargling ululations does not a good singing voice make. It’s particularly painful near the beginning of the film, when, at the wishing well, she sings “I’m Wishing.” Well, I’m wishing she wpuld just shut her mouth. It may have made hearts swoon then, but now, Simon Cowell would be at a loss for words.

3. The lazy outs of writing. “No one, with the exception of the witch, does anything,” Nikki whispered to me. And she’s absolutely right. As per point number one, Snow White is a victim. The Seven Dwarves, when they give chase to the witch, only watch as the deus ex machina lightning bolt strikes the cliff where the evil queen stood, ending her threat. Even the woodsman charged with killing the princess in the first place could not do it. The animals did more than the people. At least they cleaned the house.

Now unless someone successfully convinces me that the scripting crew were actually light years ahead of their time and decidedly post-modern in their approach to writing, the truth of the matter is that they were just lousy adaptors of a fairy tale. Compared to my much reviled Barbie series of fairy tale movies (yes, such horrors do exist, and yes, sadly, we have them) they used their imagination to give the characters something to do.

A digression: The Barbie series, however, is not actually much better at keeping true to the source material. Why? Well, were you aware of a cutesy purple dragon named Penelope in the “Rapunzel” story? I rest my case.

4. The ending of Snow White. Okay, so the Dwarves believe she’s dead. They build a glass coffin and keep her in perfect condition. Time passes and winter turns to spring. The prince from Act One hears about the sleeping girl in the coffin and decides to try his luck (or something*). Ah, but were we shown all this in Disney-crafted animation? No, we get the equivalent of text placards because, no doubt, the film would be too long if they were sequenced and animated. The nameless prince kisses her, she wakes up in a girly-girl manner – I tell you, no woman I know wakes up like that, except in bad TV ads. He lifts her up on his horse to take her away but takes the time to lift up each and every Dwarf so she can kiss them on their bald heads. Does the ungrateful wench say “thank you for keeping watch over me?” No. Does she even ask what happened? No. Does she give a loving glance at the precious animals that brought flowers for her? No. Does she even wonder who this prince guy is or where he’s taking her? No.

He takes her away to live “happily ever after”, and then points to a castle in the clouds.

Maybe she’s dead and the castle is heaven. That would have been more satisfying.

* Nikki and I are lovers of fairy tales, and in the original version of Sleeping Beauty, the prince (actually a king), while looking for his falcon, came across the sleeping girl and raped her. In fact, he did not wake her up at all during the horrendous violation of her person. She gets pregnant and subsequently gives birth to twins, all while asleep. One of the newly born babies, mistaking her finger for a nipple, suckles and sucks out the nefarious needle. That’s the only time she wakes up. Imagine her shock.

As for the original Snow White, Bruno Bettleheim**, psychologist and author of the seminal “The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales”, analyzed a dozen fairy tales and thought that Snow White was a metaphor for a mother’s jealousy of her daughter’s budding sexuality.

**In 1990, Bruno Bettleheim committed suicide. Apparently, he didn’t imbibe the lessons of the cautionary tales he himself wrote about.

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