First Home Viewing Release Date: October 28, 1994
Where I Found It: On VHS in my personal collection (purchased at a pawn shop when I was 15)
My rating: 3/5 stars
Bechdel Test Score: Fail. There are two female characters. They talk to one another (in the old crone/poison apple scene). Their conversation, while mostly the Queen’s manipulation to get Snow to eat the apple, still incorporates as its main persuasive effort a man: “It’s apple pies that makes the men folks’ mouths water!”
When I was a teenager, I loved Snow White mostly for what it represented. THIS was where it all started, the path that eventually led to The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, movies that my life practically revolved around when I was young.
The beauty of the animation still holds up after all these years, particularly the forest scenes, although it’s not as sophisticated as later animation, which is especially noticeable in the movement of the characters’ mouths as they speak.
But Snow White’s cheeks have REAL ROUGE on them in every frame, which I’ve always found to be freakin’ awesome. I love to imagine some Disney animator tapping his finger into rouge and dotting each frame with it.
Does the rest of it still hold up? I think that depends on who you ask.
The Feminist Critique
Feminists can and do have a heyday with this movie. Snow White’s voice has her speaking to everyone as if they are babies, which makes her come across as empty-headed while at the same time being somewhat condescending to those around her. She is absolutely ill-equipped to handle life on her own — as soon as she is outside the palace, her reaction to danger is to place her hands over her eyes when the huntsman is about to stab her, and she responds similarly when the scary dark forest becomes too much, collapsing into tears as she essentially gives up.
At the dwarf’s cottage, the fact that she immediately cleans the place is not so offensive. After all, she plans to stay there and she wants to make it livable. What grates on me here is the sheer love she seems to have for housework. Optimism is great, but women are surely facing a life left unfulfilled if this seems to be their highest calling. Not to mention the way this infantalizes the dwarfs, grown men who cannot take care of their own basic needs, such as cleaning the dishes they use or even washing their hands.
And of course, you have Grumpy’s interpretation that women are a gateway drug to all things evil (although he does get props for referring to Snow as a woman rather than a girl.)
As a modern viewer I can’t help but squirm a bit at Snow White’s relationship with the dwarfs, elderly bachelors whom she cares for as though she were their mother, and flirts with as if she has somehow learned that this is how women get what they want (I’m not sure how or where she learned this, since her reaction when she first sees the Prince at the beginning of the movie is to run away and hide. See my earlier comment about her being unable to deal with the world.) Watching this movie, I got sudden insight into why old men think it’s “cute” to flirt with teenage girls. To any old men reading this: it’s not. It’s totally creepy.
Then of course, we have the main source of tension in the movie, which is not Snow White’s resentment that, at the age of 14, she has to mother 7 men who work in a diamond mine and could surely afford to pay her, but that she is becoming too beautiful for her stepmother to bear. But it is the stepmother who has both knowledge and agency — she has a laboratory in the cellar and a shelf of ancient books, and she knows how to use them. Oh, but in case you missed this, she’s evil.
And what about Snow White’s ultimate longing that “someday” her prince will come? To me, that is less problematic, and I’ll go into why below.
In spite of everything above, this movie still has the ability to capture my heart in certain moments. Yes, it is old-fashioned and I feel somewhat ambivalent about its messages. But it also manages to portray something about life that is real and beautiful. For me, this comes across most strongly in the scene where Snow White and the dwarfs play music and dance, where a real sense of joy emanates from their interactions. This leads into Snow White’s iconic “Someday, My Prince Will Come,” and although I thought this song was boring as a child, as an adult I don’t mind it.
Because there is something authentic here, too. The desire for love is one that is eternal, and not something to be ashamed of. Snow White is certainly not the first teenager to be preoccupied with it. What is problematic is that her naiveté has me believing she would probably have gone home with anyone, and I just find myself hoping she’s lucky enough to come upon a prince who won’t abuse her blind trust. I do feel optimistic about her lover, though, even if he is the type who kisses corpses. (The fact that he knelt in deference afterwards made it somewhat less creepy, as if he were giving her a respectful goodbye rather than hoping for some necromatic action.) Plus, you have to have respect for a guy who’s secure enough to wear lipstick.
This same sense of authentic, universal human experience comes through in the funeral scene, where — subversion alert! — we see seven grown men cry. When I saw Snow White in the theater for its 1993 re-release, at the height of my Disney devotion, I actually teared up in this scene. Disney did afford Snow White’s “death” due reverence. And the dwarfs finally found something to spend all their jewels on when they fashioned a gold coffin for her.
For those of you hoping for a twist ending? When the Prince takes Snow White away at the end, his castle appears to be up in the clouds. Is this the kiss that breaks the spell of death, or does he come instead to guide her soul to the afterlife?
I’m most uncomfortable with the message this movie sends old men — that somewhere out there is a delightful teenager who wants to take care of them as if they are her children, and that she is fair game for flirting, too.
But gender dynamics aside, everyone except from the Evil Queen is basically kind to one another, and Snow White is good-hearted if a little empty-headed. Acceptable fare for all ages, and ripe for teaching media literacy skills, too.
A couple other fun blog posts I came across for further Snow White Reading: