Who’s the Fairest?

If there’s one thing that having small children taught me, it’s that you can analyze almost anything after watching it over and over. Maybe it’s my own peculiar habit, but sometime after the tenth viewing of — Pick One: Power Rangers, Lion King, Thomas the Tank Engine– I start to ask questions.

Take Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, for example. This Disney movie always gets a lot of grief for teaching little girls that all they have to do is wait for a handsome prince to kiss them, but I’m not so sure that’s really the message. On the contrary, it seems to me like the movie is actually a fairly solid argument against the whole Pretty Princess myth–but don’t tell that to the folks in Disney’s marketing division.

I mean, who’s the biggest baddie of all in story? The Evil Witch Queen of course, whose one major hangup is “Who’s the fairest of them all?” For crying out loud, she’s ready to kill to be The Fairest, and she’s not even on America’s Next Top Model.

And when does Snow White get into trouble? When she buys into the Who’s-the-Fairest racket and starts singing, “Someday My Prince Will Come.” (“wedding bells will ring…”) It’s only when she escapes from that crazy Chick Universe and finds herself out in the forest with the Dwarfs that the world is right. At the Dwarfs cottage she gets to be the Civilizing Influence (another great girl myth, but we’ll save that for another time) and whistle while she works.

When the Dwarfs first find Snow White we hear them say,

“Why, i-it’s a girl!”

“She’s mighty pretty.”

“She’s beautiful.”

“Just like a angel.”

But Grumpy warns, “Angel, hah! She’s a female! And all females is poison! They’re full of wicked wiles!”

Eventually Grumpy learns that not all females are poison, but from the movie’s point of view, their “wicked wiles” are poison. Beauty and seduction stand in contrast to true love–and you just have to wonder where Prince Charming fits into this schema. After all, he says he’s been “possessed.” And as Grumpy says in response to Snow’s “Someday my Prince will come….and away to his castle we’ll go, to be happy forever I know.”

“Hah! Mush.”

I think Snow should have stayed with the Dwarfs. Sure, they were funny-looking and kind of quirky, and she couldn’t marry them all, but they had steady jobs, a good income, and they loved her. Instead she fell for the old poisoned apple trick at the hands of the Queen disguised as an ugly (!) hag. Calling herself “poor, old Granny,” the Queen seductively tells Snow White, “It’s apple pies that make the menfolks’ mouths water. Pies made from apples like these.”

“Oh, they do look delicious.”


The apples are fair and appealing to the menfolk, but their beauty disguises the poison within. Old Granny tempts the young girl to taste a magic “wishing apple” that will make her dreams come true, and Snow White does herself in by foolishly chasing after romantic fantasies instead of being happy with the good life she’s found.

Okay, I know some would argue that the apple actually worked. Snow gets “love’s first kiss” at the end and rides off on horseback (the horse as much a prize as the Prince for many little girls), but ask yourself, “Is she going to be happy with the cute guy and the palace?” “Is this true love or was he just under the spell of her feminine wiles?” “What will happen when she’s not so fair anymore? Will she end up old and bitter and talking to the mirror?” “And what if Doc or Grumpy had had the gumption to kiss her first?”

We’ll never know. The movie doesn’t really say-it just leaves us with a warning and a lot of questions. But the next time I see Snow White, I’m gonna think about it.


For a transcript of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs see Drew’s Script-o-Rama

4 thoughts on “Who’s the Fairest?

  1. I admit to being irredeemably old fashioned, but I took Snow White to be a parable for everyone, that one lives happily ever after with a beautiful spouse, no matter what they look like in real life and no matter how many bumps one encounters along the way.

  2. Well, Snow White is good as well as fair, so it could be that her goodness is rewarded, but what’s the movie’s opinion of being fair? What is the path to true love and happily ever after? Is the point of the poisoned apple just to show how bad the Queen is and how innocent Snow is?

  3. There’s a lot to say about the myth of female beauty, but one thing’s for sure — the idea that trouble (or evil) lies beneath female beauty is not some subversive comment by the dwarves. It’s an essential element of the beauty myth. The evil temptress. See “All About Eve.” Or Salome. Or the Taliban.

  4. Absolutely true. But what do you think is the overall message/moral in Disney’s Snow White? After all, Snow IS the fairest. Does that make her bad? Or does WANTING to be the fairest make one bad? Is the sin Beauty or Jealousy or the desire for power?

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