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OpEd: Disney’s ‘Snow White’ Remake Requires a Complete Overhaul

There has already been much controversy surrounding the upcoming remake of Disney’s animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Snow White is more than just a film. It is the cornerstone of Disney as a then-film-studio–now an entertainment empire. Any reimagination–be it a pure remake, spinoff, or anything in between–needs to be mindful of that.

Let’s look back on some Snow White history, or–if you want–click here to skip straight to my proposed solution to the problem.

Snow White Then

Production on the seminal animated classic began in 1934 when Walt Disney was in his early 30s. Walt had been married to his beloved Lillian for almost ten years, and they had just welcomed their baby girl, Diane, in December of 1933.

Walt, Lillian, and Diane Disney

Credit: D23

Related: OpEd: Disney No Longer Making’ Snow White,’ Remake Doomed from the Start

His studio, thus far, had only produced short-form cartoons, mainly the beloved “Silly Symphonies.” And yet this man was now attempting a huge undertaking: the first-ever full-length animated featured film in history. The project required years of work and a budget ten times that of previous productions. Both his wife and his brother, Roy, would attempt to talk him out of it, and many in Hollywood famously referred to Snow White as “Disney’s folly.” 

But Walt persisted in his dream, marking his first major step as a great innovator in the entertainment industry.

Snow White was made after Walt acquired an extra loan of a quarter of a million dollars towards the end of production. The film premiered on December 21, 1937, receiving a standing ovation. It was a hit with audiences and critics alike. At the 11th Academy Awards–surrounded by those who called his film a “folly”–, Walt Disney received an Honorary Award, which featured a full-size Oscar statuette and seven miniature ones. It was presented to him by Shirley Temple.

Credit: D23

Snow White’s music, characters, and visuals have withstood the test of time. The voice of Snow White herself, Adriana Caselotti, was the recipient of a Disney Legend Award in 1994–the first female voice actress to receive that honor. And just four years after the film’s release, when the United States officially entered into World War 2, it was the words of “Someday My Prince Will Come” that provided comfort to the women who saw their own true loves leave for the battlefront.

Snow White Now

Yes, indeed, in history as well as culture, Snow White is a vitally important film. Without Snow White, the first Disney Princess, there would be no Disney Court, let alone Walt Disney Studios. Yet, in recent years, there has been backlash thrown onto the film and its “outdated” messaging. The refurbishment of the Snow White ride in Disneyland incited backlash over the ride’s final scene–featuring the fateful fairy tale kiss–, as an example of a “non-consensual” act on a “sleeping woman.”

 

Credit: Disney Parks

This, of course, requires one to forget that Snow White was in fact dead, and the chaste singular kiss the prince planted upon her lips was 1) An act of joy for finding her after an exhaustive search, wanting only to say goodbye, and 2) necessary for breaking the wicked spell of the Evil Queen with his act of true love. But I digress, Disney still appears to have caved to the backlash, and Latina actress Rachel Zegler–who was cast for the remake–went on to say she gets to play, “a Latina princess” with “more agency.”

Rachel Zegler and Snow White

Credit: 20th Century Studios (left); Disney (right)

Read More: “I Get to be a Latina Princess” –Rachel Zegler on “Snow White” Backlash

Zegler’s casting also goes against the consistent description of Princess Snow White: “skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony,” as well as the cultural origin of the tale in Germany, but also the great agency that Snow White already has in choosing to greet her adversity, “With a Smile and a Song.”

But the most recent backlash for the film and its resurgence via the remake came from actor Peter Dinklage, accusing it of reinforcing stereotypes:

“…you’re still telling the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Take a step back and look at what you’re doing there. It makes no sense to me…you’re still making that…backward story about seven dwarfs living in a cave together? What the…are you doing, man? Have I done nothing to advance the cause from my soapbox?”

Related: Peter Dinklage Criticizes Disney’s Upcoming Remake of the “Backward Story” of Snow White

Dinklage’s outrage, like the earlier controversies, requires one to ignore several facts. Firstly, the seven dwarfs do not at all live in a cave, rather live in a cabin together and walk to and from work every day in a mine, as famously sang in “Heigh-Ho.” And secondly, Peter Dinklage himself previously played a Dwarf in a Disney property, Trumpkin in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Ironically, for most of the film, the Narnian resistance and Dinklage’s character are held up in Aslan’s How, a high mound built around the legendary Stone Table, or put more simply- a cave.

Peter Dinklage, "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian"

Credit: Disney

Related: Dwarf Actors Defend Snow White’s Dwarves

Snow White, if left to the public at large, seemingly would not feature true love’s kiss, a heroine who was “Snow White,” or even seven dwarfs. And so, it is questionable at the very least that the film will resemble Snow White at all.

The solution is simple: we should not be adapting Snow White. Disney should take on a Snow White-inspired live-action version of an animated movie called Red Shoes.

Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs

Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs is a 2019 Korean animated film that combines the tales of “Snow White” and “Red Shoes.” The film famously also received backlash for unfortunate marketing that posited the question, “What if Snow White was not Beautiful?”

The ad showed the heroine of the film, Snow White, who is overweight. This drew much derision from social media and the body positivity movement, ignoring the fact that the point of the film was acknowledging the heroine did not fit conventional beauty norms and was a beautiful and worthy heroine nonetheless.

Red Shoes

Credit: Entertainment Tonight

Related: Comedian Brad Williams Gives His Take on Disney’s “Snow White” Remake

In Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs, Princess Snow White has a pair of magical red shoes that make her appear to be “the most beautiful girl in the world,” while the dwarfs are cursed to be small and green with only the hope of a kiss from “the most beautiful girl in the world” to break it.

Turning the classic tale on its head, the story has Snow White hide her true self while falling in love with one of the dwarfs, leading to their eventual self-acceptance as well as love for one another. In a parody that has a deeper message akin to that of Dreamwork’s Shrek, we are challenged to reconsider love’s true form. However, Red Shoes, being a foreign film with poor marketing, was not offered much overseas success. And that is unfortunate, as there is certainly something there.

Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs

Credit: Locus Corporation

Let’s adopt a new tale, with a different approach, in a similar vein to Maleficent bringing a new slant to Sleeping Beauty, honoring the original tale but adapting the world of the story and its characters into a new light.

Maleficent

Credit: Disney

Here’s a New Idea: Why Can’t Grumpy be the Real Prince Charming?

Why can’t grumpy be the real Prince charming? Just recently, we shared about how comedian Brad Willaims, a man with the same kind of dwarfism as Dinklage, pitched the idea of Snow White falling for one of the dwarfs on the street.

 “I think there’s ways you can still do a progressive Snow White and not offend the dwarves. Like, make Snow White end up with one of the dwarves. How about that?”

Read More: Comedian Brad Williams Gives His Take on Disney’s “Snow White” Remake

So, yeah! Why not?

Bring Peter Dinklage himself onboard as the hard-headed miner, jaded, and seemingly immune to the princesses’ charms. Embrace the darkness of Snow White’s adventure, running into the forest after an assassination attempt from the Huntsman and arriving at the dwarfs’ cottage battered and bruised. Have their relationship develop into a genuine closeness over time.

Show Grumpy’s stoic disposition return when he hears of a charming Prince coming to her window, the only man to ever show her kindness through her years of being treated as a servant. Hear him try to warn her of the true evils of the world, of the sinister motives of the kindness of strangers, have her resist him.

Credit: MGM

And then–the poison apple. An act of trusting a simple old woman, an act of defiance against Grumpy’s cynicism, leading to her death. He has never been less glad to be proven right, and so after defeating the witch with his brothers, he does what she would do- what would honor her memory, hope. The Dwarf known only as Grumpy lays her in a glass coffin to look upon her form- so perfect she looks to be sleeping. And indeed, she is proven right too. Her prince does come. And his kiss does nothing. Because it is not true love.

The prince rides away alone on his white horse alone. His brothers tell him what in his heart he already knows. It is he who truly knows her, truly loves her. And this is the kiss that wakes her. When she awakes, he is not transformed into a handsome prince, they are both transformed within. One less naive, the other more open, and both in love.

I would rather see a complete reworking of the tale that used the characters and imagery of the original tale and re-imagined it, honoring its legacy, rather than a bastardization of the original film that merely claims to.

About Maggie Koch