Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Dwarves

In comparing the dwarves (as a unit) from the Brothers Grimm tale and the Disney movie, one notices substantial differences. In the Grimm tale, the dwarves are treated as one character. They are never given individual names, and when they speak it is usually in the form "the dwarves said" or "they thought"; not once did they have a thought independent from the group. In Disney's Snow White, however, they all have their own personality reflected by their names: Doc, Sleepy, Sneezy, Happy, Bashful, Dopey, and Grumpy. This is probably the case for cinematic filler; in the Disney movie, in order for it to be a full length film, the dwarves have to contribute a significant amount to the plot.

Another interesting change in the dwarves' characters is how they first react to Snow White. In the Grimm's tale, "they were so delighted to see her". This could not be more different from the Disney movie. In Disney's interpretation, they were scared and confused when they saw what had happened, and they had no idea who or even what she was. All they knew was that she had cleaned their house for them unasked (which she doesn't do in the original tale; she must wait until asked to do so by the dwarves).

These changes represent a significant change in the nature of the tale. Now it was no longer a tale of simple familial conflict, now it was a tale that had dragged others into it as well. Disney's development of the dwarves gave Snow White some valuable aid and accompaniment that she hadn't had in the tale version; perhaps this implies that in Disney's mind, the children cannot live without parental figures. Snow White could not have survived on her own, she needed the dwarves as active participants in her flight.

Wherein I Talk about Snow White, Sleep to Dream, and Receive a HowDo from the Universe Stating that I Am an Utter Failure...

I have decided that, for one in my life, I will be complacent and act in a way such that my musings may seem normal and even perhaps a bit mundane. I shall therefore, as a result, present the most controversial views that such a perspective can: the blatantly obvious or inaccurate. I will start with the obvious and move on from there.

1) Pretty things are pretty.
2) Snow White is pretty all the time because she is pretty.
3) The step-mother is only pretty when she is pretty.
4) Pretty things are often prettier than things that are less pretty.
5) The holocaust was not good.

I'm bored.

Perhaps instead of stating trite observations and incosequentialities I should discus something slightly more fruitful—but still entirely profane and mundane in the spirit of complacency. I will analyze, then, the change of a character diachronically, but who and why and how… It must be something obvious, of course, that is not really worth discussing for the reason alone of its being so obvious or clearly analyzed previously such that nothing contributed here is of any value. I know… I will discus the evil queen. Be amazed at my talent for banality!

1) The queen is originally the mother (not step-mother) of the girl Snow White in the Grimms' version, which was a bad moral representation of the mother and was therefore altered to accommodate the laws of civility and propriety in Germany at the time.
2) The queen became a step-mother in order to appease the better judgment of the public in the Grimms' later publications.
3) The queen was then split into a witch and queen in order to abstract out the blame and evil aspects and focus them on an external avatar for the 1916 silent film version.
4) Then the queen becomes a complete magical witch for Disney since it is focused on the child audience and use of fantastical effects to shock the audience. Also, this simplifies her character into a much more easily recognized archetype and further polarizes her so that it is both clearer that she is evil and more allowable for her to perish… Damn it! I think I just said more than I should have in order to respect my oath… Oh well… Screw it… The true transformation of the witch into an old hag is the most intriguing aspect of this entire version, however. Whereas in the other versions the transformations tend to be much more superficial—with the notable exception of the silent film wherein her beauty is not even her own, so the abstraction of her disguises being similarly procured is not surprising. Her transformation into the old hag is a form of irony that Disney purposefully plays but simultaneously plays on himself because the hag, ugly and decrepit, gleefully declares "Now I am the fairest" when Snow White eats the apple even though she is clearly not fair at all. Unfortunately, Disney misses the greater irony which he plays upon himself by clearly telling the audience that the evil thing cannot actually be beautiful and that only an ugly thing can be worthy of death, undermining the nature of the step-mother as beautiful BUT evil, one of the few truly interesting and unique elements of the Grimms' Snow White.

The Queen

In the Disney version of Snow White the queen is clearly evil from the start since she plans to kill Snow White because she is more fair. She is the stepmother in the Disney version and the Grimm tale. She is sexualized in these versions. We know she is beautiful because before Snow White comes along she is the fairest in the land. Also in the Disney version she is portrayed to have defined curves.
The biggest difference is between the queen in the film version we looked at in class today and the Disney and Grimm versions. In this version the queen has a name and so becomes more of a fleshed out character. Also, in this version the queen and the witch are separate and so the queen seems a little less evil because she is not the one making the poisoned apple.
Also, in the Disney film the queen does not find Snow White to be a problem until she is in her late teens or so. In the Grimms tales the queen finds her to be a threat at 7 years old. This shows that in the Disney film there is more sexualization of the characters because this time Snow White isn't a threat until she is past puberty.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Snow White

In most Snow White tales, Snow White dies, or at least it seems that way, but she later regains consiousness and is brought back to life. In "The Three Little Gnomes in the Forest" Snow White has a stepsister as well as a stepmother, and instead of the step stepmother being her rival for a man (even though she too is jealous of Snow White's beauty), it is the stepdaugther who in the end, sneaks into Snow White's bed and pretends to be her. Because Snow White is obedient, a prince just so happens to ride by and asks her to be his wife. Upon the Queen finding this information out, she and her ugly daughter go to the castle and this is where she ugly stepsister acts as if she is her fairer sister. Snow White is pushed out of a window but she never dies...she transforms and takes on the form of a duck. This transformation has a magical quality and it could possibly be interpreted to suggest such a good girl defies death, simply taking the form of another creature. As this other creature, she still watches over her son and after the King is informed that the "Queen" is an imposter, the fake Queen pronounces her own death and the real Queen is revealed in her human form. This transformation aspect of the story differs from most versions. What does the tale gain and loss from such a stylistic choice?

Sexualized beauty in Disney's Snow White

Although Disney's Snow White is ostensibly a tale for children, the theme of "beauty" in the story is strongly sexualized, compared to the more traditional tales in which Snow White's beauty is linked to her snow white skin, blood red lips, and black hair. In the Disney film, however, the Queen is presented as a very sexual being and Snow White only becomes a threat as she grows older - her beauty as a child only becomes threatening as she matures into womanhood.

For example, in the Grimm story Snow Whites is imprisoned even at the age of seven because the Queen perceives Snow White as a threat to her own beauty. In the Disney version, the Queen only concerns herself with Snow White once the girl has become a woman, a sexual rival. This idea of a "sexual threat" is particularly ironic considering the lengths that Disney goes to to completely de-sexualize the rest of the story - from the asexual dwarves to the chaste Prince Charming. Marriage, and romantic relationships in general, are de-sexualized by Disney, yet the main conflict in the story arises from a perception of sexual threat.

The Different Faces of the Queen

The queen in the various versions of the Snow White stories proves to be a dynamic character. She assumes slightly different roles across each version examined. Looking at her roles in the 1916 silent film, the Disney version, and the Annie Sexton story will provide three unique queens. She can be dumb and selfish, a conniving sorceress, or just a vindictive and cannibalistic stepmother.

In the 1916 silent film, the queen approaches a witch to do her bidding. In exchange for making her beautiful so she can seduce the king, she promises to give Snow White to the witch. This version is interesting in that the queen starts out as an ugly woman. The change from the beautiful but vain woman from the Grimms' tales to the ugly woman who needs a magic potion to transform her physical appearance. It's almost as if the filmmakers took away the single positive quality the queen had to make her an even more detestable figure.

The Disney version of this story opens with the queen summoning her (dark?) magical face in the mirror. She sounds as if she is saying an incantation and it draws an immediate parallel to witchcraft for the viewer. She goes on to brew a potion with which she poisons Snow White. She is clearly not completely human as far as Disney is concerned. If she were at Hogwarts, she would most definitely be meddling in the Dark Arts.

The last version by Annie Sexton is the only one that pays homage to the cannibalistic queen of Grimms infamy. Not only is the queen evil and murderous, she also wants to eat Snow White. It is not enough for her to have Snow White's heart presented to her, she must also have it artfully prepared like prime filet mignon; quite the epicurean. It makes sense that this graphic and twisted scene would be removed from films marketed to mass audiences, but it is nice to see that this interesting little twist would not be forgotten by 1971.

the Queen

In the Disney film, the Queen is explicitly stated as being vain and jealous, and more importantly, a stepmother. Likewise, in the 1916 version, there is a blatant disclaimer that the Queen is not the real mother. While the Queen is clearly the antagonist of every version, her characterization differs significantly across the films.
In the 1916 version, the Queen has a name to distinguish her character. Rather than being the sole source (or even the main source) of evil, Queen Brangomer has an evil witch helper, further removing genuine peril from within the family circle. This stepmother's evilness is simply the result of a stupid, foolish woman's dark dealing with a non-familial witch. Furthermore, this woman is not born attractive, but becomes beautiful (aka possesses long, thick hair) with the witch's help.
While the other movies begin with the audience's loyalties tied to Snow White, Disney's Snow White's first frame sets up the audience to view the story from this villain's perspective.
This Queen is a film vamp, with her femininity sexualized by her curvy figure, dark eyes, and red lips. In this version, beauty equates to sexual threat, and the Queen (who is arguably more physically beautiful than Snow White) only views the girl as an enemy when she is a capable sexual being.
In the 1961, it is evident that the Queen inspires fear in her subjects, exemplified by her handmaid who has no choice but to obey. This Queen, unlike the others, is blonde and (in my opinion) the only queen who is believably not "fairer" than Snow White. She is not a witch nor does she have a witch helper. Instead, she simply dons a disguise using her own craft, rather than enlisting the use of the dark arts. This Queen's ending is one of psychological torture rather than of physical murder, unlike its 1916 and Disney counterparts.

Snow White: The Stepmother

In comparing and contrasting the stories of Snow White and The Three Little Gnomes in the Forest, I wanted to focus on the step-mother. In the Three Little Gnomes, the step-mother started out as a normal wife and became a widow. She married the Snow White figure's father by asking the Snow White figure to convince him to do so and by pure chance of a boot filling up with water. In Snow White, the step mother marries and becomes queen. In the Three Little Gnomes, the step-mother is deeply focused on the hatred of her step-daughter while trying very hard to promote her own daughter. This could be the step-mother trying to vicariously live through her daughter or she just really wants to see her daughter happy. This neccesity to see her daughter be better than the snow white figure manifests itself into jealousy and hatred. In Snow White, the step-mother is focused purely on herself. She is the second fairest in the land but has to be number one and it just so happens that snow white is standing in her way of accomplishing that. The queen is focused on physical greed that manifests itself into jealousy and hatred. The step-mothers are similar in the fact that their dealings of jealousy lead to their own death. In the Three Little Gnomes, the step-mother dies because she lied to the king after throwing snow white out of the window. Her punishment is she is rolled down a hill in a barrel that is nailed with the daughter whom she had to see best her stepdaughter. In Snow White, the wicked queen is forced to dance to death. Both stories are similiar in that there is jealousy focused towards the younger person by the older person and the jealous people do not succeed.