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!

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Cinderella’s Eigenvectors: An XKCD Fairy Tale

One of my favorite webcomics is XKCD, which I religiously read on its post days (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).  Imagine my delight, this morning, when I got online to read my emails and daily webcomics and saw the comic strip below.

Goldilocks' discovery of Newton's method for approximation required surprisingly few changes.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that XKCD has combined fairy tales and math; the webcomic proclaims itself to be about romance, sarcasm, math, and language.  It was only a matter of time before fairy tales, as an integral part of our pop culture language, found their way into the mix.  Even if you don’t know enough about the mathematical and scientific concepts referenced in this comic to fully understand the jokes, everyone can recognize the fairy tales and dredge up some childhood memories of occasionally distracted parents.  Once again, fairy tales help to create a joke in which all members of our culture can participate.

The Muffin Tree

Here’s an example of someone using the patterns they learned from fairy tales to create something new: “The Muffin Tree.”  This silly video, which was created by independent animator Amy Winfrey, aligns itself with fairy tales right away when it opens with the iconic fairy tale phrase “once upon a time.”

The story then draws on further fairy tale norms; the main character discovers something magical, but does not respond in the way she should.  She is greedy and takes advantage of the tree, eating too many muffins and becoming fat.  Then, she makes matters worse by being ungrateful and complaining that the tree does not meet her needs.  The girl, however, should have remembered to be careful what she wished for; her wish was granted with a new kind of muffin that was delicious but poisonous.

This story, which is a morality tale, models itself after a common type of fairy tale.  Although not all fairy tales have morals, many of them do.  For instance, “Little Red Riding Hood” encourages children to listen to their parents and “Snow White” discourages vanity by associating it with the villainous Queen.  Fairy tale characters who are lazy, ungrateful, or otherwise wicked often end up as dead as the little girl in “The Muffin Tree.”

“The Muffin Tree” is especially similar to a Swahili story called “The Story of a Gazelle,” which can be found in Andrew Lang’s “Violet Fairy Book.” In this story, a foolish man is rescued from poverty by a magical gazelle.  The gazelle makes him rich and gives him everything he desires.  Once he gains wealth, respect, and power, however, he becomes ungrateful and neglects the gazelle.  The creature becomes ill, but the foolish man pays him no heed.  Soon, the magical gazelle dies and, with him, takes all the gifts he gave to the foolish man, leaving his former master impoverished and homeless once more.

Even though new fairy tales cannot truly be created, stories like “The Muffin Tree” show us that fairy tale patterns can still be used effectively.

Ferret Fairy Tales

As a well-known branch of pop culture, fairy tales can pop up in all kinds of weird places.  Since we all know a ton of the classic fairy tales, they can easily be used to make jokes that people of all ages will understand; I mentioned this before, in my post on the hipster Little Mermaid.  This can be seen in Ferret Frenzy’s 2o11 calendar, “Ferret Tales.”

Ferret CinderellaI discovered this bizarre calendar in the mall, a few months ago.  The whole concept seemed so singularly weird that my friend had to buy it and has been keeping me updated on the “ferret tale” that graces her wall each month.  The calendar, which is comprised of ferrets photoshopped into easily recognizable fairy tale settings, includes ferret versions of many of our favorite fairy tale characters.  Snow White, Goldilocks, and even Little Red Riding Hood have ferret doppelgangers.

Unusual as this calendar may seem, there’s something about it that is truly hilarious.  I know I’ve often said that the dead fairy tale medium manages to keep growing in all sorts of ways, but this may actually be the weirdest of them all.

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