Advice from a Cartoon Princess – Snow White

As some of you may recall, I started a recurring feature earlier this week wherein I respond to the Second City Network video series, “Advice from a Cartoon Princess.”  Previously, I responded to their “Beauty and the Beast” video, showing which of their criticisms were valid critiques of the original fairy tale and which were only relevant to the Disney film versions.  Today, I’ll be doing the same with their video about Snow White.

In this particular video, there are several criticisms which apply to the original story and several which fit in only with the Disney retelling.  Oddly, I also noticed a few that don’t seem to fit with either.

Criticisms that Don’t Fit with Either Disney OR the Original:

  • One of the video’s criticisms is that Snow White marries the prince rather than one of the dwarves, claiming that she ruled them out as romantic partners because of their small stature.  Honestly, this seems a little ridiculous.  I don’t believe that she was unattracted to the dwarves because they were short, but because they were a different species.  In fairy tales and fantasy, dwarves are not simply small humans but a different creature altogether.  A suggestion that Snow White should have married one of the dwarves is akin to saying that Eowyn from “Lord of the Rings” should have married Merry (one of the hobbits) instead of Faramir; frankly, it’s a little ridiculous.
  • The video also says that Snow “loves mirrors,” suggesting that she is vain.  This seems a little ridiculous because the princess never seems self-absorbed in either story.  The only vain character is the antagonist, Snow White’s evil stepmother.
  • The clip interprets the statement “fairest of them all” to mean “whitest of them all.”  Although the word “fair” can mean “pale,” this is really taking things out of context.  In the story, a different definition of the word is being used; “fair” is not meant to mean “white,” but “beautiful.”  This is an intentional misinterpretation rather than a legitimate criticism of the fairy tale’s message.

Criticisms that Only Apply to the Disney Version:

  • This video suggests that Snow White’s choice to let the wild animals help her with cleaning is not something to be encouraged.  After all, encounters with wild animals can pose various dangers to children.  Of course, the original story included none of Snow White’s animal friends, so this one is all on Disney.
  • Next, the clip criticizes the fact that all of the dwarves are given nicknames that describe their most obvious features, not unlike frat boys.  However, the dwarves in the original fairy tale were not given names at all.  In fact, no names were mentioned until the story was turned into a Broadway play in 1912.  They were renamed for the Walt Disney movie, so the dwarf names most people are familiar with (Dopey, Sneezy, Doc, Grumpy, Sleepy, Happy, and Bashful) are purely a Disney creation.
  • The video also criticizes the fact that Snow White interprets attractive older women as evil, but assumes ugly older women are trustworthy.  This is definitely only a problem with the Disney version.  In the original fairy tale, the evil queen makes three separate attempts on Snow’s life, disguising herself differently each time.  It is only when Disney eliminated the various disguises that this appeared to be a comparison involving levels of attractiveness and perceived trustworthiness among older women.

Criticisms that Apply to the Original Fairy Tale

  • In all versions of the story, Snow White lives platonically with seven men she met in a scary forest.  As the video points out, this is maybe a little creepy.  After all, Snow is a teenage runaway.
  • Similarly, the video clip criticizes the way Snow White wanders into a random house and goes to sleep in a stranger’s bed.  Clearly, she has never had a talk about stranger danger and seems weirdly okay with breaking and entering.
  • The Second City Network also points out the fact that the princess’ priorities seem to consist of cooking, cleaning, and men.  Admittedly, the dwarves in the original story agreed to let her stay with them in exchange for her doing their housework, but it is perhaps a little odd that she never seems to do anything else. Despite this, it seems like a weak criticism.
  • Next, the video suggests that the story is saying “you know you’ve made it as the prettiest person when everyone around you wants to kill you.”  Indeed, if people interpret the message this way, it is negative.  However, this is clearly not the intended moral of the story; Snow White’s goal was never to be the fairest of them all.  In fact, only one person in the story has that goal; the evil queen.  The more likely message here is “vanity and conceitedness are never attractive.”
  • Finally, the Snow White in the clip instructs kids not to eat fruit.  This was actually my favorite moment in the video.  I guess it would be possible for a young child to become suspicious of apples after hearing/watching this fairy tale!

Although Second City Network’s criticisms of “Beauty and the Beast” were almost exclusively geared toward the Disney version, their critique of negative messages in “Snow White” is divided fairly evenly.  In fact, more criticisms relate directly to the original than the retelling.  I guess my response to their “Little Mermaid” clip will have to be the tiebreaker!

Advice from a Cartoon Princess – Belle

Hello, everyone!  First, let me apologize for my lack of updates, this summer.  I was a little busy getting married.  We also made several moves, so our internet often wasn’t that dependable.  Hopefully, you’ll forgive me as I get back into the swing of this blog.

I’d like to start back up by taking a look at some Second City Network videos with a fairy tale twist.  Many of you may be familiar with my favorite Second City Network character, Sassy Gay Friend, wherein a sassy, gay guy stops literary characters from making huge mistakes.  Their new series, “Advice from a Cartoon Princess,” features a woman who dresses up like princesses from various Disney films, then points out the negative messages these movies depict.

My goal with this recurring feature is to pick apart these videos, documenting which of the negative messages appear in the original tales and which can only be found in their modern versions.  The first video I’d like to discuss is about Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.”  For easy reading, I’ve divided my response below into criticisms that only apply to the Disney version and criticisms that apply to both.

Criticisms that Only Apply to the Disney Version:

  • The video’s first criticism of this French fairy tale is that the Beast is violent, but rich.  It suggests that Belle stays with the Beast because she feels that she can change him.  Interestingly, this is not a problem that can be seen in the tale’s original version.  Although all versions of the story depict the Beast as ugly, the original never suggests that he is in any way violent or threatening toward her.  This element was added later, most likely to make the story more exciting.
  • The second criticism relates to the Beast’s orders that Belle must eat with him or not at all.  This is almost a direct quote from the Disney film and does not appear in the original story.
  • Second City Network cites the Disney character, Gaston, as a “hot, successful man who was very goal-oriented and wanted to marry” Belle, but suggests that she resisted his affection because it was not a challenge.  This character does not even exist in the original story.  As far as I can tell, the character was added so that the film would have a clear antagonist.
  • Belle’s imprisonment by the beast is also pointed out.  Interestingly, the original fairy tale handled this quite differently.  Belle’s father steals a beautiful rose from the beast.  When the beast sees this and threatens to kill him, Belle’s father pleads for his life, saying that the flower was meant as a gift to his daughter.  The beast agrees not to kill him, and actually offers the man great riches in exchange for sending one of his daughters to live with him.  The beast specifies that he will only accept the trade if the girl comes of her own free will; he does not want to imprison her.  If none of his daughters will return, the man must come back to the castle himself.  Belle, who is the least selfish of her sisters, offers to go because of the great benefit to her family.
  • The video points out that Belle’s only friends are inanimate objects.  The original tale, however, contained invisible servants, not talking furniture.
  • The princess in the video says that Belle tolerates everything the beast does to her.  This obviously only applies to the Disney movie, seeing as the beast in the original story is never mean to her.

Criticisms that Apply to the Original Fairy Tale

  • The video summarizes the story by saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder as long as the woman is good looking.  This is a flaw that can be seen in the original version of this fairy tale and many others; while women consistently fall in love with men who have been transformed into hideous creatures, the opposite is rarely true.

Overall, it’s clear that the Second City Network is specifically targeting the Disney version of this story rather than the fairy tale itself.  Although many of today’s fairy tales have been censored because of their potentially violent or disturbing themes, it’s obvious that these changes were accompanied by questionable messages of their own.  At least in the case of “Beauty and the Beast,” the uncensored original seems to be the more appropriate version.

Supernatural and Fairy Tales

I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for shows about fighting fantastical/demonic creatures. “Buffy,” “Angel,” “Lost Girl,” “Torchwood,” and “Doctor Who” are all on my top ten list, as is Eric Kripke’s creation, “Supernatural.”  Not only do these programs give me the dark fantasy/sci-fi fix I’m always on the lookout for, but they often allude to fairy tales, whether subtly or blatantly.  The latter is true of “Supernatural” season 3, episode 5 “Bedtime Stories.”

In this fairy tale themed episode, demon hunters Sam and Dean Winchester are shocked to find a town plagued by incidents reminiscent of the Grimm classics.  The familiar stories of  Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, The Three Little Pigs, and Hansel and Gretel are all mirrored in violent incidents cropping up all over town.  At first, Dean does not see the connection between the ancient stories and the violence, but Sam knows better; he explains to his brother that fairy tales were not always the bright, happy stories for which Disney has become famous.  Although many in our culture have no knowledge of the original tales, Sam is aware of their formerly sinister nature.

In an important way, fairy tales are a great metaphor for the world in which the Winchesters live; although knowledge of the evil creatures they fight has long been lost to the general public, they are aware of the world’s darker nature.  They know that their world is not the scientific, sunny place it might seem at first glance.  While others see the happily-ever-after Disney version of the world, they see it for what it truly is; ancient, violent, and full of things that go bump in the night, just like the original versions of many fairy tales.  They know that a happy ending is not guaranteed.

Although this episode most directly addresses fairy tales,  folklore (the root of many fairy tales) and urban legends (their more modern cousins) can be found in nearly every one.  Lovers of fairy tales and dark fantasy alike are sure to find “Supernatural” to their liking.

Tangled: Something Old and Something New

Well, I finally got around to watching Disney’s new Rapunzel flick, “Tangled.” I have to admit that it was pretty cute.  It bears little similarity to the original tale, but there are a few consistent plot points.  I’ve divided the film up into two lists for easy reading; similarities and differences between this story and the original a.k.a. “something old” and “something new.” Warning: SPOILER ALERT.

Something Old

  • Rapunzel was kidnapped when she was a baby and has been kept in a tower her entire life.
  • She believes Dame Gothel to be her mother and uses her long, golden hair to pull her up into the stairless tower daily.
  • She falls in love with her rescuer.
  • Her tears magically heal the wounds of her lover after he is injured by Dame Gothel.

Something New

  • Rapunzel’s parents are royalty, rather than the peasants of the original tale.
  • Gothel is just a vain old woman, rather than a witch.
  • Rapunzel’s parents did not steal any vegetables (i.e. rapunzel) from the witch that were traded for the baby, so her name is unexplained and bizarre.
  • Rapunzel’s hair has magical healing powers.
  • She is rescued by a rascally thief, rather than a prince.
  • Rapunzel does not become pregnant.
  • Gothel does not learn of Rapunzel’s lover and cast her out into the wilderness.
  • Her lover does not attempt to commit suicide when he fears he will never see her again.
  • He is not blinded by thorns during a fall from the tower.

As you can see, there is more new to this story than old.  Not much about this retelling relates to the original story.  Admittedly, the Grimm version contained some racy themes, so I can’t say I’m surprised by Disney’s choices.  Whether or not their changes were good for the integrity of the story, they were likely good for profit.

Once Upon a Webcomic: A Softer World

It’s time for another “Once Upon a Webcomic.”  This one centers around another comic I adore, “A Softer World.”

First time I've ever wished for a Disney version.The alternate text of this comic on its original page is fantastic.  It reads “First time I’ve ever wished for a Disney version,” and Joey Comeau (He’s the writer of the series, but not the photographer; that would be Emily Horne.) has a great point.  Because our culture has censored so many of these old stories for modern children, we often forget that fairy tales are almost never truly happy stories, and it is only ever through great hardship that characters are sometimes (but not always) able to find their happy endings.

Take, for instance, the familiar story of Rapunzel.  In its original version, Dame Gothel (the witch) cuts off Rapunzel’s hair and casts her out into the wilderness upon discovering that Rapunzel is pregnant and must have been consorting with a man.  When the prince comes for Rapunzel, the witch tells him that he will never see her again.  In despair, he attempts to commit suicide by leaping from the tower, but instead blinds himself when he lands face first in the thorns below.  Confused, disoriented, and in pain, he wanders off into the wilderness.  Rapunzel gives birth and eventually finds the prince.  Her tears heal his blindness and they live happily ever after.  Of course, this happy ending is only achieved after the couple has experienced great trauma and misfortune.

In many cases, fairy tales are darker than our culture seems to remember.  Like Comeau, I always find it interesting when people express a desire for a “fairy tale” romance, because it reveals, as he points out, that they have probably never read any actual fairy tales.

Five Summaries of the Little Mermaid

Ever since my recent post on the possible discontinuation of Disney fairy tale movies, I have been wondering how much influence these films have had on the fairy tale genre.  In an attempt to figure out if people were more familiar with the original versions of fairy tales or their Disney counterparts, I interviewed five students at my university, and asked each of them to summarize the story of “The Little Mermaid.”

Although I expected more people to tell me about the happily ever after Disney version, I was surprised when three of the five students summarized the original Hans Christian Andersen story in which the mermaid dies.  Obviously, I did not have a large enough group of participants to draw conclusive evidence, but it is interesting to see that many people are actually familiar with the original versions of fairy tales despite their exposure to Disney retellings.

The Year of Snow White: 2012-2013

There’s quite a buzz on the web about not one or two, but three upcoming Snow White film projects. Here’s a quick scoop on all three, along with my initial responses to what we know so far.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” – Universal 2012

What we know: This story is going to center around the often overlooked huntsman character, rumored to  be played by Viggo Mortensen.  There’s also talk of Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen and Kristen Stewart as Snow herself.

My response: One thing I truly love about this film is the concept; I find it irresistible when retellings focus on characters that were largely ignored or vilified in the original stories.  I am also excited to see Viggo Mortensen’s name associated with the movie.  Whatever the role, I know he will do it justice.  I am, however, a little skeptical about Kristen Stewart as Snow White.  True, this film would place her in a supporting role, but I have yet to be convinced that she has more than one facial expression.  Everything else about the project sounds great, though, so I hope she proves me wrong.

“The Brothers Grimm: Snow White” – Relativity 2012

What we know: This version of Snow White is set to include Julia Roberts in the Evil Queen role.   It is also rumored to be the darkest and edgiest of the three upcoming films, with the seven dwarves depicted as thieves.

My response: Talk of a dark, edgy fairy tale retelling always brings a smile to my face.  I’m not particularly familiar with the director (Tarsem Singh) but a quick internet search assured me that he has a real knack for beautiful yet unnerving imagery (See photo below.), which is what I think every dark fairy tale needs.  I have no complaints about Julia Roberts.  In fact, I’m excited to see her tackle a darker role.  I am a little unclear on the title; is this supposed to be associated in some way with 2005’s “The Brothers Grimm“?  Either way, let’s hope this movie is just as awesome as it sounds.

Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall”

 

“Snow White and the Seven” – Disney 2013

What we know: In this version, the seven are not dwarves; they’re a band of traveling warriors from various cultures.  When Snow White (an English woman in China in the 1800s) meets them, they teach her their martial arts skills.  Natalie Portman is rumored to be involved, but this is nowhere near confirmed.

My response: This retelling sounds inventive and original, at least, but it sounds so different that it may not be recognizable.  Of course, if the talented Natalie Portman really is involved, it’s bound to be awesome.  Not to mention, the martial arts should at least be fun to watch.

Those are my thoughts on the films, but what do you think?  Take this poll and let me know which Snow White project you’re most looking forward to!

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