- Last Updated: 11:40 PM, March 25, 2012
- Posted: 9:47 PM, March 24, 2012
“Having fair skin was a mark of beauty in the northern European world,” says Bottigheimer. “You contrast that with a ‘nut-brown girl’ in some of the medieval lyrics, that’s a farm girl. A fair girl is one who doesn’t have to go out and work.”
Nor does she have to be all that smart. Tellingly, says Bottigheimer, Snow White doesn’t only fall for the poisoned-apple. “That’s the third thing,” she says. “The first time she’s offered a poisoned comb. The second time, [her corset is] laced up so tightly that she can’t breathe.”
One thing she was always known for, though, was her domestic skills. “Let’s remember the central importance of a girl who’s not only beautiful, but keeps house well,” says Bottigheimer, referencing Snow’s upkeep of the seven dwarves’ cottage.
The cheerful, cleaning princess can be seen in Disney’s indelible 1937 “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” still the defining version of the story for most. Intended to be family-friendly, it was scrubbed of some unsavory aspects of the Grimm tale — the red-hot shoe torture, as well as the wicked queen’s request for the huntsman to bring her the “lung and liver” of Snow White as a token — and imbued with upbeat messages.
Perhaps befitting our solipsistic times, the makers of “Mirror, Mirror” have attributed a different message to their telling of the tale, turning the focus away from Snow White’s altruistic cleaning services and more toward her strength of character.
But they’re also chipping away at passive princess behavior. “In classic fairy tales, the princess waits for the prince to come for her,” says producer Kevin Misher. “In our story, the princess has to not only be her own rescuer, but also help the prince [Armie Hammer]. That’s a very modern spin on it, I think.”
“Snow White and the Huntsman” director Rupert Sanders takes the princess-as-rescuer theme further, making Stewart’s Snow White into a literal warrior. But he insists he’s not trying to fashion her into a kind of superhero.
“She wears a suit of armor, but she’s not suddenly Bruce Lee’s adopted sister,” he told IFC.com. “She is wearing armor for protection and she has to kill a queen. It’s very instinctual, it’s defensive. She knows she has to kill someone, and that sword lies very uneasy in her hand.”
Ginnifer Goodwin, while developing her own spin on the character for “Once Upon a Time,” says she came up with a more critical take on Snow White. “I read a lot about [her] vanity and her competition with her evil stepmother — and that greatly changed how I saw [her],” she told the LA Times. “The Grimms’ version tells of Snow White’s vanity, and her not being able to turn down the beautiful comb that was offered to her by the hag. The message was that her vanity would kill her.”
The empowered (but possibly self-obsessed) Snow White has seemingly been taken in every possible direction, which may be why Disney recently abandoned a plan to make a live-action movie loosely based on “Snow White.”
Still, it seems that we’ll never really tire of princess tales, whatever their format.
“The classic Snow White story has lots of appeal,” says Haase. “It includes some very vivid characters and motifs — like the magic mirror, the poison apple and the dwarfs — and it deals with some intense emotions and drama, like the mother-daughter relationship, jealousy, murder and rebirth.”
Plus, says Silverstein, “Snow White is the perfect fairy tale. You’ve got the good girl, the pure Snow White, and the bad girl, the Evil Queen. Which is pretty much the box that all women get put into.”