Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Snow White :: Disney vs. Grimms, Round 4

They are still at it. And I am, too.

The other significant female figure in the story, the Evil Queen, does not even seem to have any physical needs. Whereas in the Grimm version she is known to ingest what she supposes is Snow White’s lungs and liver, in the Disney feature she keeps the heart of the boar that the Hunter has brought her back. Perhaps this was seen as a rather barbarous cannibalistic ritual, therefore not included in the animated movie (just like the opening scene of dream creation). It is true that eating the entrails of the enemy is an ancient rite supposed not only to demonstrate the total victory of the winner, but also to internalize the strength and skills of the enemy. Therefore it is only logical that a woman fueled by envy would try to internalize the other woman’s beauty, but unfortunately, Disney reduces this complex act to a mere murder of rage.

Another reduction committed by Disney is the downplaying of the importance of Snow White’s colors. While in the Grimm version red, black, and white interweave the different threads of the story, cropping up in a variety of places on a variety of objects, in the Disney version the meaning of her name stands almost out of context. Her dominant colors have become blue, yellow, and red (the colors of her dress), and Snow White costumes today emphasize these colors as well, even at the cost of omitting the black wig. The movie offers an array of visual tools that the written text does not, and it is an unfortunate decision from part of the filmmaker that they did not take advantage of this aspect of the visual language. However, in other places it adds subtle touches that the text, in turn, is unable to convey. The magnification of horror is especially well-suited to film tools, and Disney never misses out on the opportunity of including foreboding signs: vultures and owls circle the air, the flowing poison forms a skull grimace on the apple, and skeletons cover the floor of the torture chamber. The dwarfs support horrible weapons as they approach the Sleeping Snow White for the first time, and the Queen’s sailing scene conjures up the image of Charon on the river Styx. Cherry blossoms and doves exemplify the less grim side of the visual language, by which Snow White is surrounded as she scrubs the castle stairs. These white and light rosy colors allude to her tender age, innocence, and peaceful spirit.

The Silly Dance, in fact, made a lasting impression for decades to come.

The audio enabled Disney to include songs in the movie, which in turn gave rise to scenes such as “The Silly Dance,” completely a Disney innovation. In great part, the music dictates the emotion the scenes inspire in the viewer, prompting horror, pity, merriment, or love. Snow White’s voice builds up a great part of her character; the chirping, childlike speech and song together with the graceful movements form the image of a fragile young woman.

However, the text is also rich in certain elements that the movie does not mirror: the style of storytelling and the linguistic bravado are only conserved by the Grimm version. The language is simple yet poetic, and in the original German version metaphors, similes, and images abound. At times the alliteration, rhythm, and melody of the words border on onomatopoeia, even in the English translation: “the flakes of snow were falling like feathers from the sky.” Those of us who have ever listened to the snow falling will recognize the soft rustle from all the F's and S's. At other instants the colors become visually significant: “the queen was shocked, and turned yellow and green with envy [Emphasis added all through the paragraph.]“ Disney subtly alludes to this passage by making the Queen’s eyes envy-green. The repetition of red, white, and black gives a narrative rhythm to the story: “And the red looked pretty upon the white snow, and she thought to herself, would that I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window-frame”; “Outside [the apple] looked pretty, white with a red cheek … but whoever ate a piece of it must surely die [association: black]”; "White as snow, red as blood, black as ebony-wood, this time the dwarfs cannot wake you up again"; “she … still had her pretty red cheeks. They said, ‘We could not bury her in the dark ground,’ [in original German: black ground] and they had a transparent coffin of glass made ,” etcetera. The language often becomes visceral: “whenever she looked at Snow White, her heart heaved in her breast … envy and pride grew higher and higher in her heart like a weed … all her blood rushed to her heart with fear”; “yet it seemed as if a stone had been rolled from his heart.”

Disney’s attempts at distilling humor and cuteness into the story have earned him many critiques and parodies; even in the recent past, at the turn of the 21st century. Two major feature films have openly criticized this aspect of the movie, namely, the DreamWorks produced Shrek and Disney’s own Enchanted.

Tomorrow I will continue by revealing how these movies parodied Snow White, utilizing two or three movie clips.

No comments:

Post a Comment