For those of you who haven’t seen this article, The Rotoscopers are beginning a series of posts, all relating towards some of the best characters ever created in the history of animation: the Disney princesses. Chronologically, us Roto-writers are discussing these characters in-depth, all leading up to the introduction of the two newest Disney princesses: Anna and Elsa, who will be the main characters in Frozen, which will be released to much excitement, cheering, and applause on November 27. We all know of Disney’s princess craze. I think that almost all of us girls have at one point or another, been inspired to be more like a particular princess, whether it be swimming like Ariel or reading like Belle, or even just dressing up like Cinderella for a day just because. Princesses have had a very important place in Disney history. They are the company’s go-to storyline, and we will soon be seeing two more princesses being added to the princess pantheon (yeah Frozen!) But before we even begin to think about Frozen and how awesome it will be to see Anna and Elsa, let’s go back to the beginning, the princess who started it all: Snow White.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was first released by Walt Disney Animation in 1937. Originally, there were very low expectations for this film. Walt Disney had to borrow most of the $1.5 million it took to make the film, and even his wife, Lillian, warned him against making it. Surprisingly though, the film became a hit, grossing $8 million, unheard of in the Great Depression, and was praised by everyone from the common audiences, to Charlie Chaplin, to Adolf Hitler (not quite sure how to feel about that last one…). Even in 2008, the American Film Institute rated the film number 1 on a list of the top animated movies of all time. Perhaps one of its most important achievements is a whopping 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. For the time period, the animation was top-notch, and raised the bar high for other films. The songs are still some of the catchiest in Disney history (and were even nominated for an Oscar,) and the characters are just oh so memorable (Dopey!)
But what about the princess? In the movie, she is by no means supremely strong. She does not have magic hair. She never went to an army boot-camp to learn how to fight. She was simply oppressed for most of her life.
I always felt kind of bad for Snow White. I have often heard people complain about her not being strong. She relies solely on the help of the dwarves. She runs away and hides rather than stands up and fights the queen directly. Her only desire is to have the prince of her dreams come and rescue her. She is un-feminist and weak and dainty. And you know what I say to these people who hold these beliefs? Phooey! Phooey to all of you! In some ways, Snow White is just realistic. True, she is not the strongest, and she is prone to daydreaming, but let us just see this from her point of view, and maybe shed some light on why she acts the way she does things.
- She is the step-daughter: Who knows what happened to the king. For some strange reason in fairy tales, kings are always prone to marry horrible women and then disappear to leave their daughters under the control of their new, horrible mother. What’s up with that? So Snow has already lost her parents, and is completely alone. She is 14 (and the youngest Disney princess ever,) and the only person in her life is her step-mother. She is naive and tries to stay cheerful, but as horrible as the queen is to her, she is the only person left in Snow’s life. Why should Snow go out of her way to try to overthrow her? (This almost reminds me of another Disney princess I know who was imprisoned and unable to do anything about it…)
- Her step-mother: Oh yeah, and ha-ha, let us not forget that Snow’s step-mother happens to be very evil, very creepy, very vain, and very, very resentful of Snow White. In fear that her 14-year old step-daughter might be prettier than her, she asks a magic mirror who the fairest in the land is every single freaking day because she is a freaking crazy person. When Snow finally surpasses her in beauty (and let’s face it… It was bound to happen. What is up with that little head scarf thing the queen always wore? I didn’t even realize she had hair until I was 10) the queen orders a freaking huntsman to cut out her heart. Who wouldn’t be a little frightened living with that psychopath?
- Her daydreaming: This kind of refers back to my first two points. Who wouldn’t fantasize a little bit about a better life if they were in this situation?
So all of this being said, I think that we should look at Snow in the time period in which her film was released. This is following the era of flappers, right smack dead in the middle of the Great Depression. About 10 years of bliss followed by 10 years of trials. Women had gotten their right to vote, and had a period in discovering their sexuality and changing the status quo. But then, they had to grow up, and fast to live in the Great Depression. While things were changing for women, it would still be some time before they were seen as complete equals to men (and some say we might still not be at that point.) But before I start a riot about feminism and politics, I just have to say we have to give Snow some credit. She was not the strongest or bravest perhaps, but she was simply normal (I know I would be running around screaming and crying in that forest, especially when I was only 14.) And, Snow had her rebellion. She was able to escape her step-mother’s wrath. While her step-mother was able to track her down eventually, Snow was able to grow up fast. She found a home for herself (let us please look over the issue of stranger danger and a young girl living with 7 men for a moment- I want to make my point!), she got the 7 dwarves to wash themselves, she cleaned the house for them and made them food. She showed them a little kindness that they had maybe not seen in years. I have heard friends complain about this, (I mean, a women shouldn’t have to keep house for the working men- this teaches young girls to be subservient to men!) but I see this as a fair trade. All Snow knew how to do was to clean, thanks to her step-mother, but she knew she was living with these guys, and she didn’t want to just be mooching off of them and sitting at home, taking a nap while they were out working. Let’s give her credit where credit is due! And some people criticize Disney for making a 14-year old so “beautiful.” But I hardly blame Disney for this, he was simply sticking true to the original story written over 100 years before by the Brothers Grimm, who literally stated that Snow White was beautiful. Without this point, the queen wouldn’t have hated her so much, and we wouldn’t even have a story. This being said, it is nice that Disney is moving away from a time where beauty was the most important tribute in a woman, and is instead beginning to focus on intelligence and bravery. Plus, while Snow White may have been the “fairest in the land” you could also coin her as the “sweetest in the land” as well. She is always optimistic, and you could never say that people just like her for her looks. Which brings me to my final point. The 1930’s Snow can be very easily seen as being weak without thinking deeper into her character. But her character has evolved since then. She has been shown as having the same sweet personality in modern culture, but with more of a kick-butt attitude. Just look at the Snow White in Once Upon a Time. You could never call her weak. When she fights, she fights hard, and not for her prince- but for herself and her family. So even if you completely disagree with me about Snow White and you too think that she is weak, you have to admit that her character has come a long ways since the 1930’s. Let us know what you think of Snow White! Even if you completely disagree with me, we want to hear! Snow White is such an interesting and important character in Disney history, and has come a long ways since the 1930’s, and we want to know what you think of the first princess, the one that started it all!