Jan 17, 2018

The Evolution of Snow White

Last month marked the 80th anniversary of the Disney animated movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Disney celebrated the milestone with limited edition merchandise at the Disney Store as well as collaborating with Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City on a holiday window display. Saks Fifth Avenue transformed their windows into moments from the movie. When the display debuted to the public, Disney had a huge party in front of the store with appearances from Snow White, the prince, and the seven dwarfs. Disney put on a performance with Disney Channel star Sofia Carson singing "A Smile and a Song".

Saks's window display wasn't just recreating scenes from the movie. One of the highlights within the display were special gowns inspired by the movie. Each dress was made by a notable fashion designer. Disney Style put together a video feature about these dresses. The video includes interviews with a few of the designers that were a part of the event, sketches of the gowns, and close ups of the finished dresses.


Disney's version might be one of the most recognizable and famous version of the fairy tale, but Hollywood is always looking for fresh ways to tell the story. In 2012, Snow White was the inspiration for two live action interpretations of the story. Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror battled at the box office with two different versions of the story. Disney was watching the attention these movies got and soon announced they will be remaking Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as a live action movie. They are also added plans to make another live action movie based on another Brother Grimms fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red.

Today's post is celebrating Snow White by looking at how story has changed throughout the years into different movie and TV adaptations. I will particularly look at what creators do to create their version of this fairy tale to life for audiences. I'll also explore how filmmakers uses these adaptations to fix some of the criticisms directed towards this fairy tale in order to make it relevant for new generations.

Fairy Tale, TV Adaptations, and Movies

Snow White has been adapted into countless adaptations that this post can't cover them all. Instead, I will look at a select number of adaptations alongside the original fairy tale published by the Brothers Grimm.  If you haven't read the original fairy tale, you can easily find this version online. One of my favorite websites is SurLaLune Fairy Tales. This website has tons of information on all different fairy tales with retellings, books, and even images. Click here to read the annotated version of the fairy tale.

Click here to read the annotated fairy tale on Sur La Lune Fairy Tales site

Today's post will reference only the adaptations I've seen myself. Here is a list of the movies and TV shows I'll be using.

  • Disney’s animated movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • Snow White and the Three Stooges
  • Fairie Tale Theatre Snow White
  • Goodtimes Entertainment Snow White
  • Snow White: The Fairest of Them All
  • Once Upon a Time (Seasons 1-6)
  • Mirror Mirror
  • Snow White and the Huntsman

Interested in seeing any of these adaptations?

You can find all these adaptations at your favorite place to get movies or online. Many of these movies and adaptations are available on Google Play Store, I-Tunes, and Amazon to stream on your mobile devices. You can also try looking at Hulu to see what movies they offer.

Movies such as Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman are often aired on TV or will be played On-Demand. Check your TV provider for channels such as FX (Snow White and the Huntsman), FreeForm (Mirror Mirror, Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), and Disney Channel to see when these movies might be aired next.

Plot Summary

Once upon a time, a good queen was sewing by the window when she pricked her finger. Some blood dropped onto the snow and the sight made the good queen long for a child with black hair, blood red lips, and skin and white as snow. Soon the queen gave birth to a baby girl which she named Snow White. Unfortunately the queen died soon after.

The king decided to remarry again and this time the new queen was the complete opposite of his first wife. She was vain and wicked. She cared only about her looks and one of her favorite things to do was consult a magic mirror. Every day she would ask the mirror who the fairest in the land is. At the time the mirror would reply she was the fairest land which pleased the new queen.

As time passed, Snow White grew older and prettier each day. One day, the queen consults her mirror and the mirror has a different response. The mirror instead says that Snow White is the fairest in the land. This answer enrages the queen and soon her jealousy grew to hate towards her step-daughter. Determined to be the fairest one once again, she decides to get rid of Snow White. The rest of the fairy tale shows what the queen would try to get Snow White out of the picture from ordering her huntsman to kill her to the iconic poisoned apple.

Reflections on Snow White

If there was a fairy tale in desperate need of a makeover, I would have to recommend Snow White. Snow White itself may be a basic story. Brothers Grimm followed the example of many storytellers at the time to just record these tales instead of adding details.

I get a feeling they knew these tales would be told over and over again so they wanted to write a version that would serve as a blueprint for future creators to follow. Therefore the original fairy tale doesn't get too much into detail and development. Instead they left things vague so it  would be up to the imagination of the audience or more importantly the storyteller to fill in the gaps.

Snow White is a fairy tale I never quite enjoyed as much as Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. A lot of my criticisms of this tale are the exact ones you have of this tale. One of my biggest issues with the story is how Snow White doesn't really act as a protagonist. I always considered her a supporting character since she's not doing much other than cleaning, cooking, then later sleeping in a glass coffin.

Most of the attention was given to the queen and her attempts to deal with Snow White. This unknowingly made the queen a much more interesting character than Snow White herself which is the character Brothers Grimm wants readers to connect with. I found this hard to do since I always felt I never got to spend enough time with this character to see why she's the fairest one of all. When these moments do happen, they aren't very long since the story quickly returns to the queen.

Over the years and with the help of technology, filmmakers began adapting this fairy tale in movies and TV shows.

At first most of the movies were focused on just retelling the classic story. These movies weren't trying to make too many changes but instead concentrated on staying true to the tale so audiences knew what was going on. It wasn't until Disney's version was released that Hollywood started getting the courage to transform this simple story into a complex tale audiences could become invested in. Disney's Snow White was further revolutionary for Hollywood since it was the first full length animated movie ever made which would inspire more filmmakers to other ways of telling stories.

So why was Disney's movie such a hit? There are plenty of reasons why. However I think it is mostly due to the editing and work that was put into the story. The story was what would make or break this movie and Walt Disney knew this meant changing the story. Therefore the writers agonized over moments throughout the movie and what would help tell the story. Documentaries on the DVD and Blu-Rays show some of the ideas they initially used but eventually cut because it didn't help the story. Some of the changes Disney made included the queen only giving Snow White the poisoned apple instead revisiting the cottage with laces and combs as well as true love's kiss at the end.

Although Disney was revolutionary, it wasn't perfect. Despite the changes, it still keeps as true to most elements of the story. So some of the problems from the original fairy tale still make it into the Disney movie unfortunately. Now in all fairness Disney did try to fix some of these problems since Snow White has some hints of character development. However Disney had to pick and choose what he could spend his time and money on so this was most likely the factor why certain elements are developed while others weren't.

After Disney's version, filmmakers seemed to be less cautious and began playing around with these classic stories and doing their own twists on the tale. Some did copy Disney while others tried to avoided it as much as possible. Over time, these adaptations began solving issues with the story that Disney himself wasn't able to achieve in his own adaptation. These changes have been adopted in other adaptations that have followed and become important parts filmmakers need to include. I'm taking at a closer look at some of these changes below.

Expanding on relationships between characters. 

Audiences learn more about Snow White's father in some adaptations and the relationship he has with his daughter. Some show audiences what happened to him. Snow White and the Three Stooges actually use the king's death as a transition point for Snow White's story. She is seen before his death happy and adored by her subjects only to be seen later imprisoned in the dungeon by her stepmother hidden away.

One of the relationships almost always developed in all these movies is the relationship between Snow White and the prince. While Disney had them meet by the well in his movie, this encounter was just them saying hello to each and the prince singing to Snow White as she hides upstairs in a tower. It isn't a whole lot of screen time to build a relationship. This is similar with the Goodtimes version where Snow White meets the prince while she's running through the woods and she's most telling him to let her go when he asks her what is wrong.

Love at first sight is often the approach adaptations do have since that is how Snow White and the prince fall in love in the fairy tale. However other adaptations have tried building a more realistic relationship for this couple. Disney finally figured out how to do this with the couple on Once Upon a Time. Snow White and Prince Charming represent true love throughout the series, but the writers force the couple to spend time with each other and let them get to know with each other. The quests they do and conversations they have end up creating a deeper relationship than what the original fairy tale offers.

Character Development

Character development gets much better in later adaptations with characters getting back story on who they are and how they ended up the way they did. Once Upon a Time does this very well with their characters. Regina is one of the fan favorite characters thanks to how the writers told her story and showed what led to her being the evil queen as well as what she did to redeem herself later in the series. Throughout the series the various versions of Regina reinforce the show's idea that evil is something created, not inherited from birth.

Now filmmakers can't go too crazy with character development. They know they can't change everything about a character since these are well known characters from stories everyone knows. Therefore many filmmakers just keep the qualities people associate with these characters in place while adding new character traits and qualities to make them connect with modern audiences. Snow White and the Huntsman took a different approach by expanding the back story of the huntsman, a minor character in the original fairy tale. The movie offers glimpses into his story and his motivations for working with the queen then later Snow White.

Sometimes character development might not be possible all the characters so these movies double up on the roles a character might have. Many adaptations have a minor character serving as the narrator of the story that opens the movie. Faerie Tale Theater uses the magic mirror as the narrator for this version and tells the audience the story as it is happening. It even offers an explanation why the mirror would suddenly decide Snow White is the fairest of the land by having him see Snow White chat with the queen after he the queen the answer to her daily question.

Fight for the Kingdom

While most of the story is about the conflict between the queen and Snow White, other adaptations have tried adding extra conflicts to pump in more adventure, excitement, and drama into the story. One of the most popular is the struggle for the kingdom. Many adaptations make it clear Snow White is the rightful leader of her kingdom and the climax is actually a fight where the townspeople revolt against the queen. Snow White and the Huntsman is the most recent version to do this with the highlight being Snow White fighting the queen.

They aren't the first movie to do this. Snow White and the Three Stooges does something similar by having the prince rally the kingdom to attack the castle. This scene provided lots of action in the story and gave spotlight to the prince. It also resulted in the introduction of a brand new character Count Oga who is the queen's biggest ally and the one often managing the kingdom her for. Oga is mostly there as an antagonist for the prince, but his character does offer a voice to the people in the kingdom which he communicates to the queen. The audience learns through his conversations with the queen how the rest of the kingdom feel about Snow White and concerns they have.

Mirror Mirror has a similar situation in this movie. While Snow White and the Huntsman focuses on the queen using her title to help in her quest to stay young, the queen in Mirror Mirror mostly concerned about keeping the throne so that is why she keeps Snow White hidden away and later arranges for her to be killed. This movie has Snow White seeing how things have changed in her kingdom and the way her people suffer under the queen's reign. There is even a scene between the queen's manservant Brighton collects the taxes from the town's leader who tells him that the townspeople won't be able to handle the queen's taxes much longer.

Fairy Tale Mash Ups

While most adaptations keep the elements people often associate with this fairy tale, that hasn't stopped them from borrowing from other fairy tales and stories. Filmmakers often trying mashing up different stories to expand the story or develop characters. Mirror Mirror borrowed a bit from Robin Hood for the seven dwarfs. The dwarfs are thieves that mostly steal money from people traveling throughout the woods, but ultimately end up stealing from the queen in order to give back to the townspeople.

One of the most famous mash ups is Once Upon a Time. The TV show mixes different fairy tales with Snow White. This helps explain what else happened to these characters during the fairy tale. After fleeing from the huntsman, Snow White ends up meeting her good friend Red from Little Red Riding Hood before she met the seven dwarfs. When she needs help defeating the queen, she often seeks out Rumplestiltskin for help and makes deals to get what she needs.

Some mash ups don't go to the lengths Once Upon a Time does, but they do borrow elements they like from other fairy tales. Snow White: The Fairest of Them All borrows from quite a few fairy tales including Snow White and Rose Red, another fairy tale featuring a different version of Snow White. Fairest of Them All borrows the beastly suitor from this fairy tale and weaves it into their own story. When the prince rebuffs the queen, she uses her magic to transform the prince into a bear. The bear-prince often tries to follow Snow White throughout the story. When he does find Snow White, his bear form allows him to lick through the ice she's frozen in, breaking both her curse and transforming himself back into human.

Conclusion

Snow White isn’t just about making a perfect retelling of the original fairy tale. Modern adaptations weren't just about focusing on addressing the problems within the story itself. Filmmakers were looking at ways to modernize the story while figuring out how to make this story work visually. Fairy tales are often stories which tell readers what is happening so readers can imagine what these moments are looking like. This is a challenge filmmakers still struggle with when they adapt classic stories since they need to be clear with what is going on without talking down to the audience.

What is your favorite version of Snow White? Share your favorite in the comments below.


Links

Disney Style post Saks Fifth Avenue Snow White post
Disney Style coverage of Saks Fifth Avenue reveal
Oh My Disney post Snow White Central Park
Oh My Disney 10 Mind Blowing Facts About Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Oh My Disney 11 Things You Didn't Know About Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Notes

Video does not belong to me. Video belongs to Disney Style.

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