SNOW WHITE: Disney spent two hours acting out the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. At the end, even the most hard-nosed artists were wiping away tears, and Walt told them, "That's going to be our first feature."


Click to go to Ken's BlogIT ALL STARTED WITH A MOUSE
By Ken Priebe

Editing and Additional Material by Charles Phillips

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Ken earned his BFA from University of Michigan School of Art and Design, where he majored in film and animation. He has a Classical Animation Certificate from VanArts, where he currently works as a manager and instructor. Ken lives near Vancouver, British Columbia with his wife Janet, who is also an artist. They are working on an animated short film, and are involved with graphic arts, drama and Bible studies at their church.

This page was created on June 19, 2003
This page was last updated on January 12, 2005


By Ken Priebe

Ken Priebe's Blog
It All Started With a Mouse
Snow White
Home on the Range
Nightmare Before Christmas

—Snow White is continued here

By Ken Priebe
Editing and Additional Material by Charles Phillips

Continued from It All Started With a Mouse

One day in 1934, Walt Disney called his staff together for a meeting, and in the aura of a single light bulb, spent two hours acting out the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. At the end, even the most hard-nosed artists were wiping away tears, and Walt told them, "That's going to be our first feature." Just like many other films that happen to have Biblical elements in them, Snow White is one of the most successful films of all time. In its initial release in 1937, at a time when it cost 10 cents to see a film, it made over $8 million!

Since Snow White is based on a classic Grimm's fairy tale, we should expect to see echoes of many themes present in the Bible. As the evil queen asks the magic mirror, "Who's the fairest one of all?" we hear the influence of Satan's apparent jealousy of God which ultimately led to his fall from Heaven. The queen has a fall of her own by the end of the film (by literally plummeting off a cliff), but not before giving us a replay of the temptation from Genesis. There is a definite similarity between the Witch/Queen tempting Snow White to "taste the magic wishing apple in order for all her dreams to come true", and Satan tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in order to be her own god.

1 Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the creatures the LORD God had made. "Really?" he asked the woman. "Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?"

2 "Of course we may eat it," the woman told him.

3 "It's only the fruit from the tree at the center of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God says we must not eat it or even touch it, or we will die."

4 "You won't die!" the serpent hissed.

5 "God knows that your eyes will be opened when you eat it. You will become just like God, knowing everything, both good and evil."

6 The woman was convinced. The fruit looked so fresh and delicious, and it would make her so wise! So she ate some of the fruit. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. Then he ate it, too.

7 At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they strung fig leaves together around their hips to cover themselves.
--Genesis 3:1-7

Queen: It's a magic wishing apple! One bite, and all your dreams will come true! take a bite!

Snow White: Ooh, I feel strange...

(One may think that the fact it's an apple would be an obvious parallel as well, although the Bible does not actually say it was an apple. It only says "fruit." Society has associated the apple with the story for some strange reason. My personal theory is because most ABC books for children use an apple for the letter "A," so it's the first fruit most of us learn of as children. Experiment and ask anyone to name the first fruit that comes to their mind, and I bet you most people will say "apple.") In both stories, it is promised that eating the fruit will result in something powerful and wonderful, but the actual result is death. For Snow White, it is a 'sleeping death' that can only be awakened by a kiss from her Prince. For Adam and Eve, it is a spiritual death that has been passed on to us, that can only be awakened by faith in Christ.

The apple in Snow White has additional symbolism in its creation by the Wicked Queen. On the surface it is beautiful, shiny and red, but as she creates it, we can see the evil things that it is really made of, like a deceptive wolf in sheep's clothing.

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep, but are really wolves that will tear you apart.
--Matthew 7:15

Such is the essence of certain brands of New Age spirituality that promise peace and enlightenment but only lead people away from the truth and cause sin and confusion. The wicked queen is one of the most vicious villains ever to grace the silver screen; she is the devil incarnate, symbolizing through the story many of his exact tactics, as well as giving an overview of his work and eventual defeat.

The dwarfs provide the most comic elements in the film, and though they each have their own distinct personality, they are unanimous in their devotion to Snow White, which parallels the devotion of Jesus' disciples. The disciples' lives were forever changed after meeting Jesus. Even their ordinary occupations were given new meaning.

18 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers--Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew--fishing with a net, for they were commercial fishermen. 19 Jesus called out to them, "Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people!" 20 And they left their nets at once and went with him.
-- Matthew 4:18-20

The dwarfs go through their mining routine, like robots, with no meaning behind their work. (they just dig dig dig dig dig dig dig, then dig some more.) Upon Snow White's arrival into their lives, they now do the same work with a whole new attitude, especially after she organizes them to all improve themselves (by washing away their old selves to wipe the slate clean in order to rebuild anew and become truer versions of themselves.)

(That) those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!
--2 Corinthians 5:17

In this context, the scene where they wash up for supper becomes kind of like a baptism. Now that their actions serve a higher purpose, the dwarfs see their skills as an asset, not a drawback. The dwarfs live in harmony with nature, but notice that in doing so they are creators: they are transforming their environment, adding value to their surroundings, in small ways as well as big, as we are all meant to do, simply because we can. It's in the small details they take the time to embellish tables and chairs, spoons and forks, that we see a telling act of creation. One of the reasons why "antiques" look as wonderful as they do, whether they be ordinary beer mugs or the king's mirror, is that every craftsman saw himself as a creator, each imitating in his own crude way the greatest Creator of them all. They felt that they were ennobling themselves above the animals, by attributing to their creations the same lasting value that they believed resided in God's greatest creation, Man. If they failed to inject meaning into their work, it was as blasphemous as the possibility that God wouldn't care about his work either. Animals didn't, and couldn't, care about their contribution to nature, but man did, because God did, and man elevates himself from the animals through his imitation of the act of creation, and all that that act entails: study through contemplation, learning through imitation, leading to innovation through adaptation. When Man fails in this task of elevation, he falls down to the level of being like any other animal, living emotionally, not spiritually, because he no longer contributes towards achieving the great purpose.

(The relationship of the dwarfs to Snow White not only makes this biblical parallel, but is another reflection of how Walt Disney inspired his studio artists to improve animation.)

Of all the dwarfs, the most fascinating character study in the film is in watching Grumpy, animated by Bill Tytla. He is, in so many ways, the deepest character in the film, and provides the emotional arc that holds the picture together. Grumpy resists change, content to blindly follow tradition even though he no longer remembers why ("She's full of wicked wiles!" "What are wicked wiles?" "I don't know, but I'm agin 'em."). Grumpy does a good job at exemplifying the personality that goes with his namesake, yet his real emotions shine through as he interacts with Snow White. We are introduced to Grumpy as the stick-in-the-mud skeptic who treats the other dwarfs like gullible morons. His design and attitude makes him appear older than the others, and in his eyes, wiser too. The dwarfs come home from work and discover someone has broken in, and Grumpy automatically jumps to the worst possible paranoid conclusions (like referring to Snow White's cooking as 'witches brew!') Upon meeting Snow White, he is instantly hostile towards her, and speaks with contempt towards the other dwarfs' infatuation with her. Such was the cynical reaction of many to Jesus:

Go away! Why are you bothering us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?
--Luke 4:34

"Nazareth!" exclaimed Nathanael. "Can anything good come from there?"
--John 1:46

Grumpy had drifted the most from his potential, and so for him the change is the most profound. As the dwarfs are leaving for work, and Snow White kisses each one good-bye, we start to see Grumpy's true colors. His attempts to hide his own attraction to her begin to falter. We see him grooming his bald pate (indicating his desire to be kissed), and warning her about the danger of staying at the house alone (indicating his concern for her). Yet even though he puts up a fight when Snow White kisses him, after he walks off, he melts, just as touched as the other dwarfs. When he later hears of the Queen's attack on the house, Grumpy is the first to desperately lead the dwarfs to her rescue! When Snow White dies, he is absolutely devastated, to the point where he turns his back on the other dwarfs to sob (still hiding his feelings from them and being true to his character.) At Snow White's resurrection, he rejoices as a changed dwarf.

Who among us has not felt exactly like Grumpy? In watching and empathizing with him, we see ourselves putting up a front and constantly making negative excuses to close ourselves off from everyone else. We see ourselves shutting out the love of others, in fear of getting hurt or making ourselves vulnerable, and ultimately hurting others in the process, making accusations and starting "witch hunts." But deep inside us is that same aching for love, and the desire to fight for its protection at all costs. We can see these attitudes in our human relationships, but it is ultimately evident in our relationship to God through Jesus Christ, who is the source of all love. Some of us harden our hearts to the point where even this one relationship that can fulfill us, make us whole and save us, is stubbornly refused.

The most symbolic scene of our inborn resistance to a new life in Christ is when the dwarfs attempt to wash up or 'baptize' Grumpy, who kicks and screams all the way through. An important lesson for Christians is also contained in this scene, for we see that Grumpy is not changed much initially by this 'forced' cleansing. Forcing our faith and newfound joy on others rarely creates changed hearts, but more often reinforces hardness of heart towards the Christian life. Grumpy is changed through direct interaction with Snow White, after he sees the changes it's created amongst his fellow dwarfs. By observing the lives of faithful Christians, un-believers may be inspired to seek Christ in their own timing, and in their own way, prompted by the Holy Spirit and our prayers. This again reinforces Walt's philosophy of deeds and prayer in our lives giving honor to God, which in turn allows His grace to reach us.

No matter how well we dodge it, God persists in His love until all of us outcast "Grumpies" are changed and cleansed. It is seen with many people in the Bible, like Zaccheus, who was despised by many but found grace and favor from Jesus, God Himself.

1 Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. 2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was one of the most influential Jews in the Roman tax-collecting business, and he had become very rich. 3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowds. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree beside the road, so he could watch from there.

5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. "Zacchaeus!" he said. "Quick, come down! For I must be a guest in your home today." (Editor's note: Snow White was a 'guest' in the dwarfs home.)

6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. 7 But the crowds were displeased. "He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner," they grumbled.

8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have overcharged people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!"

9 Jesus responded, "Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a son of Abraham. 10 And I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those like him who are lost."
-- Luke 19: 1-10

Grumpy's emotional journey is a powerful metaphor for our own spiritual journeys, and helps establish Snow White as a kind of Christ-figure. Other characteristics include her humble occupation, her nurturing spirit, her death and resurrection, and the meeting with her prince for a wedding in the clouds, symbolizing the future marriage of Christ and his bride (the church) at the Second Coming.

—Snow White is continued here

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