Wood examines how Disney uses his film Cinderella to “civilize” his viewers by presenting models of proper behavior while entertaining them. Snow White, like Cinderella, sings while she does her household chores. In analyzing Disney’s conservative ideology, she touches upon how his views affect his other works, such as Snow White.
To keep his films entertaining, Disney reworked European marchen. He included well-loved romantic plots and added comic relief through subplots involving animals and secondary characters, such as the dwarves in Snow White. Marriage is based on love, rather than family constraints. “Love’s first kiss” wakes both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty from their slumbers. Disney used realism in his animated films to present a sense of immediacy to his audience. He included a solid plot and clear personalities to the characters so that viewers would feel a deeper connection with the story. The seven dwarves in Snow White each have their own unique name, temperament, and appearance. The recurring gags, often in the form of handicaps, also keep children viewers interested. For example, Dopey is mute and clumsy while Doc has a stutter and is absent-minded.
Disney supports wish-fulfillment, as is evident in his films. Dreams in Cinderella are similarly important in Snow White. While Cinderella sings of “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” Snow White opens her story with “I’m wishing / For the one I love / To find me.” Disney reassures viewers that with good effort and self-control, one will get the desired result. According to him, the ultimate wish for girls is to marry the rich and handsome Mr. Right.
Shortsleeve tries to articulate the fear that Disney inspires in critics, and from where this fear originates. He views it as a slippery slope process. Beginning in the 1930’s, criticism of Disney’s corporate, artistic, and public influences worsened with time. Disney’s personal ideology, reflected in the way he worked with people, appears in his films.
Walt Disney elicits a range of complaints from critics. The primary one that appears is of the “Disneyfication” of fairy tales, the simplification of stories. Many critics view the Disney versions as patronizing and overly sentimental. Disney has created a form of entertainment that restricts thought-provoking expression. Others argue that the racial stereotypes Disney shows in his films encourage racism in viewers across the world and further US imperialist agenda. Feminists claim that depictions of Barbie-like heroines give young girls negative body images. Some say that Walt Disney has unacceptable labor practices in his studios and that he displays a false innocence to the media.
Shortsleeve believes that what frightens people is that the Disney Company has remained unchanged from its glory days in the 1930’s. After bitter arguments with his animators in 1941, Walt Disney lost his confidence, and the company ideologically stalled in the “magic” of the ‘30s. The company still exhibits contradictory values, with heavy-handed management of employees, yet support for the common man in its films. The incongruity of its totalitarian tendencies with its democracy attractions at its amusement parks leads to confusion from critics and the general public alike. This confusion has led to tension, suspicion, and paranoia.
Despite his criticism, Shortsleeve acknowledges the positive impact Disney has had on America, especially during the Great Depression. Audiences wanted to escape their dreary lives for two hours, to enter a fantasy world where everything ends happily. When Disney decided to create his first full-length animated film (Snow White), even his oppressed employees regained new hope and excitement at the thought of being involved in such a ground-breaking project.
Snow White exhibits the “Disneyfication” about which so many critics complained. It diverges from the original Grimm version toward simplification and sentimentality. Disney’s clear belief in self-reliance and hard work are evident in the dwarves’ “Heigh Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go” song, as well as in Snow White’s agreeable temperament while doing chores. Disney expected his animators to work just as willingly, but they were unhappy that they would not receive screen credit for their efforts, and so began the strike in ’41 that destroyed Walt’s confidence and locked the company in its ‘30s mindset.
Stone argues that Walt Disney has created household names of heroines in his films, but in so doing, is encouraging passivity and inaction from female viewers who are influenced by the pretty-but-dumb characters. Disney has changed the role of women from the original stories for the worse in his films. The Grimm brothers have 40 heroines in their tales, and not all are passive and pretty. Their villains are not always women, either. While Grimm heroines are often not rewarded for having spirit, Disney females are even less so. The three Disney films based on other fairy tales (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella) all star an innocent, beautiful girl who is victimized by a jealous, evil villainess.
Disney encourages the image of a perfect housewife in his heroines. They all exhibit patience, obedience, passivity, diligence, silence, and beauty. To become a heroine for Disney, one must have all those qualities. To mute the heroine inside oneself, one must simply don dirty rags. While in Disney, Cinderella is only a heroine when properly cleaned and dressed, in traditional fairy tales, the heroines may be unattractive and disheveled. Their appearance does not affect their success. In Snow White, it is her beauty that eventually leads to her success. It is because of her face that the prince falls in love with her and frees her from sleeping death with love’s first kiss.
In recent tales, there is great disparity between hero and heroine characteristics. Heroes are judged on their ability to overcome difficulties. They succeed by acting. Heroines, on the other hand, do not develop throughout the story because they start out perfect, without defects. All they need is their beauty and passivity to succeed. This is apparent in both the Grimm and Disney versions of Snow White. Snow White’s beauty is emphasized, as is her kindness toward others and chipper attitude toward housework. She does nothing in either version, except clean house and look pretty, qualities that Stone believes Disney is encouraging in women throughout the world.