Monday, January 12, 2009

Snow White :: Disney vs. Grimms, Round 2

The second part of the Disney Saga.

While the original Grimm version of Snow White is apparently full of primeval underlying meaning that centuries of storytelling chiseled forth, Disney’s fairy tale seems sweet and somewhat shallow in comparison. Deriving from the nature of adaptation, some of the original archetypal layers cannot be brought onto the screen. We also must not forget that as the first full-length animated feature in history, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs intended to provide light entertainment and enchantment more than address the profound urnature of humanity. However, despite the differences prompted by the genre and the local culture, Disney’s version was also not free of archetypal images.

In the opening scene of the movie, Snow White is seen as a scullery maid, scrubbing the stone floor and drawing fresh water from the Wishing Well. The female is most often associated with the element of water in myths and tales. This fountain itself, whether intended or not, is very much in harmony with the streams featured in various fairy tales (for instance, The Frog Prince) by which young women dwell and voice their desires. Again, the power of the uttered word is seen in action as Snow White instructs the doves:
Make a wish into the well, that’s all you have to do, and if you hear it echoing, your wish will soon come true. I’m wishing for the one I love to find me today. I’m hoping [Prince appears] and I’m dreaming of the nice things he’ll s
Would it be possible that it was the inescapable urnature that burst forth from Disney with the Wishing Well episode?

As the scene progresses, Snow White’s nature unfolds as the ideal image of the 30’s woman. Startled by the appearance of the Prince, she flees into the castle and shyly comes out to the balcony. Her gestures are reminiscent of gentle ballet; her movements are extremely feminine and virginal. While the Prince professes his emotions in song, Snow White kisses a dove and sends it down to her suitor. The dove delivers the kiss, being in the role of messenger, bringer of peace and happiness, as so often in mythology (as exemplified by the ending of Noah’s story). However, with adding the sentimental and infantile touch of the dove blushing, Disney dissolves the mythological overtones and adds comicalness to the scene. This instance also features the attraction of the shy female that needs to be conquered, as well as a wink at Shakespeare’s famous balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet.

Earlier we briefly addressed the seeming lack of a male figure in the opening scene of Grimm’s Snow White. This absence is only limited to the opening paragraph, for the King is soon introduced and (potentially) replaced by the person of the Hunter. However, both figures make their debut in the story as “the Queen’s husband or servant.” The King is only mentioned in passing, in a brief reference to bringing a new Queen to the castle. Never again does he crop up, which is why it is reasonable to deduce that a similar split happens in the child’s mind as with the death of the nurturing mother figure, only the other way round. Earlier an unapproachable and distant authority for the child, the father is now seen, not without Oedipal overtones, as an adventurous playmate, a Hunter. He appears to be in the service of the Queen, or is at the very least submitted to her in his attitude (as is the Mirror: "Slave in the Mirror, I summon thee"). All emotions displayed: that of friendliness, protection, mercy, and being moved by Snow White’s innocent beauty seem to suggest a fatherly attitude. It is easy to imagine a male so overpowered by his wife that he acts almost as a servant, wherefore it is reasonable to assume that the Hunter is none other than the King himself. This claim is buttressed by Gilbert and Gubar: “the huntsman is really a surrogate for the King, a parental … figure ‘who dominates, controls, and subdues wild ferocious beasts’ and who thus ‘represents the subjugation of the animal, asocial, violent tendencies in man.’” Disney also puts this aspect of his personality in the limelight through his horrified and worried exclamation of protest: "But Your Majesty! The little princess...!" upon being given orders to kill Snow White. She enjoys a moment of bucolic idyll picking flowers with the fatherly gaze watching over her before her excursion turns into an exile.

In other versions of this tale type, according to the Aarne-Thompson model, the father’s presence is much more conspicuous throughout the tale. In one version (Lasair Gheug, the King of Ireland’s Daughter) the child is mutilated by her father on the incentive of the evil stepmother, as a punishment for crimes she never committed. (Typically of the Middle Ages, the girl thanks him for the suffering: “It doesn’t hurt me, father,” she said, “because it is you who did it.”) In this version it is the father himself who abandons her in the wilderness upon the request of the evil queen, and he displays the same set of emotions as the Hunter in the Grimm version. As the mother repeatedly accuses Lasair Gheug of horrible deeds, he conspires with the cook to hide the daughter until the Queen’s wrath dies away. When she pretends to be terminally ill and requests the heart and liver of Lasair Gheug so that she can recover, the King replies “Well,” said the King, “it hurts me to give you that, but you shall have it,” so in a similar vein as the Hunter, he kills a suckling pig and abandons the girl in the wilderness.

More on eating the enemy's organs later. Disney animation background shots of the creepy forest scene are also coming up.

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