Censoring Snow White: How Disney Softened the Cornerstone of his Empire
After stumbling upon the success story of Columbus-native and now Disney animator Tyler Kupferer, I thought I’d write a Disney-ish article. That covers a lot of ground, but narrowing it down was easy; there’s nothing more Disney than his first feature film, 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
I actually have some experience with Snow White. Years ago, I taught folktales/fairy tales collected by the Grimm Brothers and published in 1812. Among those stories sits what might be considered the most popular German folktale, and one of Walt Disney’s favorites, Schneewittchen (“Little Snow White” in English).
Exactly Who Wrote Snow White?
No one did. Or, to be more correct, thousands did. The Grimm Brothers did not conjure up these folktales, but only put well-known Germanic folk stories to paper, the majority of which had never been written down before. The brothers’ purpose, at least before the book’s stellar success, was to compare the Germanic culture of the past and present with the fiction passed down in the oral tradition.
Elements of these stories reflect many traits of the German people. For example, wooded areas frequently appear in the stories as places of evil and apprehension. In the Grimm Brothers’ day, much of Germania (which would become Germany years later) was densely-wooded and still populated with predatory animals. Teaching children to fear the deep, dark woods back then wasn’t exactly a bad idea.
Why…She Wouldn’t Even Harm a Fly
Some elements of these folktales did not make it past the first cut and, to this day, are largely forgotten. The frequent graphic violence of the stories is the most common cut (Cinderella ends with the two sisters having their eyes pecked out by ravenous birds).
Probably the most disturbing element, and the first to be censored, is the frequency of the stepmother playing the cruel antagonist over and over again (Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, etc.).
However, it was NEVER the stepmother in the original stories. It was almost always the natural mother. After the publication of the Grimm Brothers’ first edition, the publishers decided that inspiring generations of children to fear their natural mothers was crossing an ethical line, so it was altered (apparently stepmother was okay).
The violence…that lingered quite a bit longer.
Forget That Hollywood Ending
Walt Disney would never, ever allow the original ending of Snow White onscreen. In fact, I have never seen anyone put it to film. Disney’s ending, to have the prince wake Snow White with “love’s first kiss”, might be a bit contrived in any other setting, but it worked well for his film. Disney could get away with it.