Sunday, September 28, 2014

Snow White: a Tale of Hope

When the fairy tale “Snow White” was adapted into Walt Disney’s feature length film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, there were some aspects of the story that were altered while still remaining consistent to the original tale.

The Disney movie begins with Snow White singing as she cleans the steps of the castle, as her stepmother has made her work as a scullery maid. This is different from the Grimms' tale, which does not feature this Cinderella-like motif. Snow White seems to be an orphan in the movie, while in the story her father is mentioned in the beginning. 

Another difference is that Snow White is not portrayed as a seven-year-old child as in the fairy tale, but as a young woman of marriageable age. This is in part due to the fact that Disney introduced the element of romance to his film. 
No one wanted to see an unknown man suddenly show up in the story and cart the beautiful princess away, and then marry her. Instead, the prince was added in the beginning of the movie as well, and Snow White was shown to fall in love with him. The Disney movie was made during the Depression, a time in which many people needed something to hope for. While Snow White sang about wishing for her prince, the viewers would hope with her, and also hope that a savior would come to rescue them from their difficulties as well. The idea of the prince being viewed as the the hero who puts everything right is also Disney's way of putting himself into the story. He gave very little credit to his animators, and made sure everyone knew that this was his movie by putting his name in large letters across the screen.

In both versions, the stepmother becomes even more jealous of Snow White's beauty, and orders the Huntsman to kill the girl. Snow White is spared by the Huntsman's kindness due to her innocence, and she flees into the forest, and eventually finds the house of the seven dwarves.

Another way the movie deviated from the book is that the creators gave personalities and names to the seven dwarves. In the film, dwarves were made into main characters just like Snow White and played just as important roles in the plot. Giving credence to this idea is the fact that while the Grimms’ story is called “Snow White”, the Disney version is entitled, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” Also, the dwarves in the original story keep a very clean and neat cottage, while the dwarves of the movie have a dirty house, and are suspicious of baths. This made them more endearing to viewers, who laughed at their antics as they tried to clean themselves up for dinner. 

In both the story and the movie, however, Snow White agrees to cook and clean for the dwarves in exchange for being allowed to stay at the cottage. At the same time, the hard work of both the dwarves and Snow White demonstrated to those during the Depression that eventually hard work does pay off, and there will be a bright tomorrow for everyone.

The queen eventually finds out that Snow White is still alive in both versions, and disguises herself to go to the cottage of the dwarves. Something that the movie and original story both have in common is that Snow White is poisoned by an apple given to her by her evil stepmother. However, the movie does omit the queen’s previous attempts to kill the princess using stay-laces and a poisoned comb.
Instead of the queen dying at the wedding wearing red-hot iron shoes, the seven dwarves chase her onto a cliff, which breaks off. The evil queen falls to her death, out of sight of the viewers, making it more child-friendly.

Both stories have Snow White placed into a glass coffin until her prince comes. Disney romanticizes the tale here yet again, by having Snow White revived when the prince kisses her, instead of it occurring by accident as it does in the original tale.

A major difference from the book is the fact that there is music and singing. There is no mention of singing in the original story, but the movie is full of songs. Snow White sings while scrubbing the steps of the castle, while lost in the woods, while cleaning the dwarves’ house, etc. Even the dwarves sing a working song as they cheerfully go about their work.

While there are many similarities between the Grimm and Disney versions of Snow White, Walt Disney ultimately created a more child-friendly, light hearted film that would cheer up the people living during the Depression, and many others over the years.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

From Rags to Riches...Or Not

The fairy tale of “Cinderella” has been described by many as a tale of rags to riches. The heroine of the story is given the chance to go to the royal ball with magical aid (in the Grimm’s version it is through the birds, and in the Disney version her fairy godmother), and achieves success when the prince marries her, allowing Cinderella to escape her life of toil to one of riches.

Is this a realistic story? Do people go from rags to riches with magic or marriage?

First of all, Cinderella is not a rags to riches story. In most other versions of the story, the heroine takes responsibility for her own fate, and manages to regain her former status as a princess or rich maiden by marrying a prince. Jane Yolen writes in her article “America’s Cinderella”, "Cinderella" is not a story of rags to riches, but rather riches recovered; not poor girl into princess but rather rich girl (or princess) rescued from improper or wicked enslavement.”

However, returning to the question at hand, can one attain success through magic or marriage? The answer: not anymore.

In the past, it may have been possible to achieve success through marriage. Women could manage to marry into wealth, as told in the wildly popular book Pamela, but those instances are dwindling. Indeed, in the lists by Forbes and other companies of successful “rags to riches stories”, the people featured worked hard to attain success. It was not handed to them by magical beings, nor was it given to them by marriage. True success now is defined by someone being innovative and finding ways to help themselves out of their situation.

Cinderella does support this more modern idea of success, in a way. In the Cinderella story of “Catskin”, the heroine uses her wits to regain her former status. True, she ultimately married, but that event would never have taken place without Catskin’s cunning. Action is the most necessary ingredient for success, not magic or marriage. Jane Yolen wrote, “Take away the proper course of action, take away Cinderella's ability to think for herself and act for herself, and you are left with a tale of wishes-come-true-regardless. But that is not the way of the fairy tale. As P. L. Travers so wisely puts it, 'If that were so, wouldn’t we all be married to princes?' "

The idea of achieving success through magic or marriage is an outdated notion that has been relegated to being a topic of fairy tales, or wishful thinking. In modern times, this idea is unrealistic.