There’s no-one better than Walt Disney for taking someone else’s story and making it feel like their own. Most people would incorrectly assume that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney’s first full-length cel animated feature film released in 1937, was an original work from the House of Mouse, but they’d be wrong. The story is actually based on a German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm written in 1812.
It may be classed as family entertainment with its beautiful hand-drawn animation but the story has darker overtones which belies its colourful characters and catchy, sing-a-long musical numbers. The film has all the hallmarks of a traditional fairytale. A wicked step-mother / queen, a charming prince and damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. So far, so good but at first glance Snow White might not have seemed like a typical character a country under the cloud of austerity could get behind, but get behind her they did. When the film was released, America was struggling under The Great Depression. Unemployment was incredibly high, society was seeing authority getting tough under increasingly harsh conditions and food was in short supply. They shared a bond with our heroine that has lasted ever since. Despite being a princess, Snow White was suffering under her own hardships. Living under the tyranny of her regally wicked stepmother, she had to fight for everything as was forced to work under very difficult conditions.
As the film begins, the Magic Mirror that the Queen consults on a daily basis to reinforce her own self esteem delivers some bad news. She is no longer the ‘fairest of them all’, that honour now belongs to her step daughter Snow White, so named as her “skin is as white as snow”. To remove this problem she instructs her huntsman to take her into the forest and murder her, returning with her heart in a bejewelled box. So far, so dark. Thankfully, he can’t go through with it and orders her to escape into the forest. Lost and alone she finds comfort in a variety of woodland creatures who lead her to a cottage. This is no empty, deserted house and she wrongly assumes, due to the number of small chairs she finds, that it belongs to seven orphaned children, much like her.
In fact the chairs don’t belong to children, but to 7 working-class, mining dwarfs with names that illustrate their characters or traits. They appear uncivilised with a lack of etiquette and one is so uneducated he can’t even speak. From the token fool (Dopey) to the brains of the operation (Doc) they are wary of Snow White to the point that one remarks that “all females are poison”. Despite their initial scepticism, they soon warm to her and roles are reversed, laying down rules as any parent would to their children; don’t speak or take things from strangers and to be wary of any tricks her step mother might play on her. She doesn’t listen and, whilst in the woods, soon takes a cursed apple from a mysterious stranger who, unbeknown to her, is the Queen in disguise. The Queen still wants her dead and her jealousy is making her blind to right and wrong.
Of course, it’s a Disney movie so we know good will always triumph over evil in the end. The prince reappears for only the second time in the film and lays a kiss on Snow White’s lips. The curse is broken and, naturally, they all live happily ever after, unlike the original story. What does it tell us? Well, despite the dark times, hope and belief in good things will ultimately see you through. Whether it’s the broken country struggling under the depression era or the broken family within the story, love will conquer all. The film is now considered an animated classic and has been enjoyed by countless people since its release.
Children love Snow White but there are darker undertones to the story and it is a plot that gains significance when you consider the time in which it was set.