Disney film analysis
Tala El Hallak
American University of Beirut
Disney movies and films are considered as family entertainment. They are dedicated to young kids because they’re cartoons. The animated film I’ll be analyzing is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a story that was originally written by the Grimm Brothers. This assignment will show you how Disney plays on stereotyped characters and how this affects the young public.
Disney film analysis
The analysis of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs will show you different stereotypical characters: the princess, the prince, the evil enemy and the friends (here the seven dwarfs and the animals). We will see many standard scenes that appear in different Disney animated films. Some of those stereotypes might be beneficial and useful to teach kids new things but we should keep in mind that the movie business is administrated by few companies only (six of them in the USA) including Disney. Viewers are therefore influenced by a certain group only.
The Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is slightly different than the original story written by the Grimm brothers. In the Grimm’s fairytale, Snow White was known as Snow drop and the evil queen was her mother and not her stepmother. In the end of the story, the wicked witch doesn’t fall off the mountains but makes it to her castle and attends her daughter’s wedding. As a punishment, the stepmother has to dance on hot iron until she dies. Disney decided to soften the queen’s death and remove scenes such as her eating the lungs and liver of her supposedly dead daughter, to make the story more appropriate for children (Davis, 2009). Having a mother wanting to kill her daughter out of jealousy wouldn’t really make sense specially that the animated film is addressed to young children. That is why the she was replaced with the stepmother. Disney tried to keep the story as close as possible to the original one but made it more appropriate for children.
Like most of the Disney characters such as Cinderella and Belle, Snow White is just another young princess with red lips, black hair, white skin, skinny body, and a beautiful face. Even the mirror describes her as the girl with “lips red as the rose, hair black as ebony, skin white as snow” (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937). Disney always uses the same type of characters. The same scenario repeats itself constantly: a young lady who is or becomes a princess waiting for her dream man to rescue her and marry her. According to Maio (1998) “Disney’s first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), set a standard for full-length animation and established a pattern for later Disney heroines to follow.” All of the princesses look innocent and show femininity because of their gentleness.
“Disney girls are incomplete without a man” (Lamb & Brown, 2007). They constantly need to be rescued and enter their prince’s life instead of creating their own. The idea of females being incapable to live without having a man in their lives might affect young girls because it emphasizes the idea that women are weak and that they should get married to find true happiness. Moreover every single princess in Disney ends up marrying the love of her dreams. This is not always applicable in real life. Not all women marry the ones they truly love. Not all women end up even getting married. Snow White always longs for her man to find her. When the movie first starts she sings “I’m wishing for the one I love to find me” (Snow white and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937). During the entire movie, all she does is think about her handsome prince whom she will marry one day. But how many times does he appear in the animated film?
In Snow White the prince appears only twice: at the beginning of the movie and at the end. We could ask questions such as: Where was he during the movie? Why did he appear only after he knew about the tragedy? Couldn’t he be looking for Snow White if she were sincerely his true love? The character is handsome, wealthy, has blue eyes, brown hair and is quite tall. He even has a nice voice and sings along with Snow White at the beginning. But again he is the typical charming prince who appears in most Disney films like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and more. If the movie business was ruled by other companies we would perhaps have another picture of this “charming prince”.
Another point that can be made about Snow White is the fact that she has a very soft voice and is always singing whether she is sad or working. And most of the time the lyrics are about her waiting for her prince to come so she can live happily ever after, in a castle. “Someday my prince will come, someday we’ll meet again” (Snow white and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937). It goes the same for Cinderella who sings when she cleans.
What I find particularly ironic is the fact that princesses such as Cinderella and Snow White work as housewives. For instance as soon as Snow White enters the little house in the middle of the forest she criticizes the fact that the people who love in it are untidy and dirty. She decides to clean up the house whereas she doesn’t even know who lives in it. As Maio (1998) says “Domestic drudgery doesn’t faze her since she is sure that a handsome owning-class chap will, someday soon, come and save her.” The fact that these women are always cleaning can be an advantage for the young girls because it teaches them how to be organized and tidy. Cleaning turns out to be a pleasant activity because Snow White always sings and smiles as she is doing it. She even makes a deal with the dwarfs and offers to be their housekeeper if they accommodate her. Even though cleaning might have a positive side here, we never see pictures of Snow White or Cinderella dressed in rags on any product when it comes to marketing.
The absenteeism of parents in Disney’s animated movies is quite high. In Snow White the only parent who appears is the evil stepmother. The seven dwarfs as well have no parents and live alone. Snow White supposes they are orphans. This gives a bad image to young children because the fact that parents are absent in most of Disney’s animated films shows the child that there is no parental support which might not be true in real life. Some people would like to show their children that parents are always there as opposed to what Disney illustrates. Another analysis could be the fact that Disney wants to accentuate on the autonomy of a certain character. In Snow White, parental support is replaced by the helpful dwarfs and the caring animals.
The dwarfs are considered from a lower class because they work in mines. The fact that they don’t clean their house or wash their hands before eating shows that they have no manners which lead us to think that they are uncivilized. The way they attack the dinner table highlights the lack of etiquette. Furthermore, one of the dwarfs doesn’t know how to speak which shows us the deficiency in education. All of the above could be useful to teach young children how they should behave. Snow White is acting like a mother to the dwarfs here. These little men are represented with big noses and they’re not well dressed. In the scene where the seven dwarfs find Snow White sleeping in their beds, one of them says “She’s a female. And all females is poison” (Snow white and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937). By saying that, he belittles women. Yet they are very concerned about Snow White’s safety before going to work, and they are very helpful and kind. Although the dwarfs warned her not to speak to strangers and to be careful of any tricks her stepmother could do, she ended up taking an apple from an unfamiliar person. This could be a lesson for those young public. Parents constantly ask their children not to talk to strangers and Disney here stresses on this idea.
In a Disney movie there’s always an antagonist. In this case, Snow White’s stepmother plays this role. She is powerful because she’s the queen but in the same time she is ugly and not very appealing. She even uses magic against her stepdaughter to kill her. The jealousy of the evil queen cuts all the links between her and Snow White. In the end we all know that the opponent will die or be defeated. This is one of Disney’s stereotypes. We always talk about a “perfect ending” in all the animated films. Again a stereotypical Disney scene appears where the prince should kiss the princess in order to break the spell and that’s when they live happily ever after.
The animals in this animated film show a lot of positive things. For instance the love the mother gives to her children doesn’t appear anywhere else in the movie. The animals care so much about Snow White that they stay with her all the time to protect her or help her. They could even sense trouble when the old evil lady came to offer the apple whereas she could not conclude that this might be a trick played by the queen.
In conclusion, the use of stereotypes in most of the Disney’s animated films leads the public to think in a same way. Very young kids are too influenced by Disney characters: we can see it clearly when it comes to marketing. Almost all the products aimed at children have Disney characters on them. Parents should always be with their kids when they watch animated films in order to clarify some ideas in their heads and keep them away from developing a wrong thought. Media plays a big role in our daily lives.
-Davis, John K. (2009, February 09). Early versions of Snow White.
-Maio, Kathi. (1998, December 05). Disney’s dolls. New Internationalist, (308),
Retrieved from http://www.newint.org/features/1998/12/05/dolls/
-Lamb, Sharon & Brown, Lyn (2007). Packaging girlhood: Rescuing our Daughters from
-Grimm, Wilhelm & Grimm, Jacob (1937). Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.