Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Disney’s Creative Changes That Made ‘Snow White’ A Cinematic Success

By: Domonique Salberg

Snow White set several successful precedents for the Walt Disney Studio: true love, princesses, and friendly animals, among many that we have come to recognize and enjoy. However, all characteristics are not found in the beloved original tale; so how did Walt incorporate them successfully, and why? It has much to do with the time of its release and the “Disney way,” which we will discuss here.

True Love the Disney Way

Thus, chosen as the first princess and animated feature-length film, Snow White is notably of its time then when the Grimm brothers published it. As a result, several changes were made to ensure the film’s success, such as bringing to life desired romantic themes and relevant political ideas of the time. Therefore, the first change is how Disney developed the love story from more than a momentary happening at the end to being entirely central for the plot. It was done by opening up the film with romantic music (“Someday My Prince Will Come”)— and a charming prince rather than bringing him in at the end.

However, arguably, the shift of the Queen’s request for lungs and liver into a request for Snow White’s heart for proof of her death is the most effective change. It was done to afford the film more mass appeal by toning down the darker parts of the story and that the heart in American popular culture is a symbol of love.

By the Queen ripping out her heart, she can then drive the film’s central plot home: the removal of love from Snow White’s life. Furthermore, the importance of this change moves the story from one of vanity to a love story, which is illustrated once more in the fact that the only antidote to the poisoned apple is true love. A “cure” that is said to be Disney’s original idea and now synonymous with the studio.

The Seven Dwarfs

The other significant change to Snow White was the role of the dwarfs and their persona, which was in the likeness of a child and the comedic relief. These traits were prevalent in other movies of the time. So, for Disney’s first feature, he put considerable work into the naming and characterization of each of the dwarf’s contrary to their nameless and collective depiction in the original.

On top of their distinct personalities and characterization, their roles became more passive in the Disney version. It is shown in how Snow White lays down the rules for her staying, wherein the original they were much more assertive and decided to the condition of her stay. Presenting them in a child-like manner could be why they were less conflicting and what made them more believable of a 14-year-old girl living with seven grown men. 

Death In Snow White 

Lastly, Disney cleverly dealt with and incorporated the dark themes of the original to keep it suitable for children. Such as how the many death attempts by the Queen to take Snow’s life in Grimm’s story were reduced to one attempt. He then limited the attention to death in two distinct ways. First, when Snow White bites the poisonous apple and dies. Disney then chooses to focus on the Queen and only shows Snow after falling while the apple rolls from her hand. The next shot shows her in a dead-like state, but she appears to be merely sleeping, not dead.

The subsequent veiled death happens when the Queen dies. When the dwarfs chase her to a cliff, she attempts to push a boulder down onto the dwarfs. She fails, and as a result, accidentally causes the cliff she is standing on to fall. Disney approaching the Queen’s death this way removes the idea of her being murdered and turns it into an accident, and leaves her death ambiguous. Thus, subduing the darker themes, making love the focus, and the addition of humor all served to reach the biggest market, capture sentiments of the time, and bring joy during a grim chapter in America.

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