Monday, March 17, 2014

The Princess Project - Introduction and "Snow White" Commentary

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Ah, the Disney Princess franchise.  The whole shebang was started in the early 2000's by Disney Consumer Products chairman Andy Mooney after -this is true- a trip to a Disney on Ice show where he saw little girls wearing unlicensed Disney character costumes and immediately saw dollar signs an untapped market.  And let me emphasize that this in itself was not a bad idea.  In fact, it was pretty awesome in theory.  After all, there are very few older films that either sport a female main character or are primarily directed at young girls that are still being marketed today (the only other one I can think of is "Wizard of OZ").

The problem is the specific way in which the Princesses are marketed.  They're completely divorced from their films, folklore-based characters who've found themselves without stories.  There are no happy endings to earn, no conflicts to resolve, just creepily vacant stares and sparkles.  And that is worthy of criticism, but unfortunately many vocal critics have equated the Princess Franchise versions of the characters with their very different film counterparts.  It's almost impressive how often critics are blatantly wrong about what actually happens in the films.  (Honestly, everyone gets the sequence of events in "The Little Mermaid" wrong.)

As a lover of animation, and a Disney fan, I wanted to help set the record straight when it came to the Disney Princess characters themselves.  The simplest way to do this, it seemed, was to go right to the source: rewatch each of the films in which the Princesses first appear and keep track of certain things they've come under heavy criticism for.  (It turns out that watching all these films in order is also an efficient "Speed Run" version of the history of Walt Disney Feature Animation I got during the Chronological Disney Animated Canon project years ago.)

I was originally planning on watching each film and writing an analysis, but doing live Tweet-commentaries on them turned out to be more fun.  It also brought in an element of audience participation.  And I wound up reconsidering some of the films (as we shall see, there is one film where my opinion was almost completely flipped).

These posts are all going to be fairly picture-heavy and only modified a little for clarity.  Without further ado, let's start with "Snow White".  These Tweets were originally posted on 1/25/14.

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Who's up for live Tweeting shenanigans?

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Ooh, I can be a cinema snob!

BTW, it's not exactly news that "Snow White" was a heavy influence on Fleming's "Wizard of OZ", but once you learn it you can't help but notice.

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Oh, hey, a woman in the credits.

Maurice Noble did backgrounds here?!

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Boom, there's your backstory.

Gadzooks, five minutes in and this movie is *pretty*. I don't know if I'll be able to pause and take notes anymore.

I will say though, I'd like to see somebody try to market Snow's wooden shoes.

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"ONE LINE!!! I have but one line! One line, in this whole film!!!"

Yeah, everybody gives Snow crap for being boring but my gosh the Prince. The Prince is just... kind of there.

He's basically a walking talking plot mechanic. Also, odd-looking.

Weird how I'm picking on these circa 1930s characters for being bland. I'm already being unfair aren't I?

Even the pigeon is embarrassed.

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So you know how I just called these 30s characters dull by modern standards? Yeah, never mind.

Queen is just going to cold murder her adopted daughter for *being prettier than she is*!

And she implied that she'll kill the assassin guy if he doesn't kill a teenage girl and stick her internal organs in a box.

Holy sh*t, Queen! Holy sh*t...

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With all that in mind, I LOVE this scene. You can tell the assassins' at a moral crossroads and poor Snow White has no idea.

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Me, IRL. (This one's for you, Mom.)


The assassins' one of "Bill" Tytla's isn't he? Damn that guy was amazing.  (Note: Grumpy is definitely one of Tytla's characters, but the Huntsman is Milt Kahl's.)

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This whole sequence is fantastic. There's a great essay I'll find later about "Snow White" accidentally influencing the horror genre.

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"Hey, let's make a *whole* ride based off this!" - Conversation that HAD to have taken place in Imagineering.

So here's the question: Is Snow White really a damsel in distress or is she a victim of circumstance?

I'm going to say she's a victim of circumstance. Honestly, who among us would've been able to deal with all this at thirteen?!

Then again, she APOLOGIZES for freaking out after *learning that her stepmom hired a dude to murder her for being too pretty*...

That's... That's a little strange.

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Furthermore, girl recovers quick. Not sure what to make of this character, honestly.

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California Quails in Fairy Tale Pseudo-Germany?

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Note how the Disney animators are drawing animals prior to Bambi; their style wasn't locked in yet.

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The further we get into this, the more appealing I'm finding Snow White's character design...

She's cute in a "More normally proportioned Betty Boop" kind of way, if that makes sense

Now go look up her "Modernized" redesign, if you want to hate everything. Dammit, Mooney.

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Snow White has entered a solidly built house with intricate carvings and furniture and A PICKAXE IN THE TABLE.

So she assumes, because all the furnishings are small, that the residents are children. Like you do.

Snow White's quiet disgust at the Dwarves' cottage makes more sense when you remember that backstory from earlier...

...The Queen made her clean the whole castle every day! Presumably from as soon as she was tall enough to use a broom!

Girl probably suffers crippling OCD! And a whole laundry list of psychological problems gained from having a psycho who'd kill you for being prettier than her as your guardian.

Damn this movie is more psychologically dense than I thought. Guess this isn't a new thing for WDFA films.

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Now, here come the other reasons why Snow White feels like a none-too-interesting character.

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Look at this production design! LOOK AT IT!!!

So, the Dwarves. We spend an awful lot of time in this movie getting to know them.

Of the seven, Doc, Happy, Dopey, and especially Grumpy get the most character development.

And Grumpy starts the movie as a raging sexist. A "woman hater", to use the (in hindsight, strange) phrasing of the time.

"I don't know what it is, but I know I don't like it!" - Grumpy. Also, the Internet.

Grumpy is a grouchy old man with outdated horrible attitudes and darn proud of it.

Now the dynamic between Snow White and the Dwarves is kind of odd. They'll give her refuge from her stepmom if she cooks and cleans.

Then again, cooking and cleaning is really all Snow White knows. It'd almost be worse if she sat around doing nothing at all.

But the dynamic between Snow White and the Dwarves is about to get more interesting. The Dwarves were happy in a filthy house and never bathing.

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And Snow is like, "Nope. That ends today."

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I can't overstate how mad I was as a child that this does not work in real life.

Meanwhile, Grumpy thinks bathing is the first trip down a slippery slope that leads to ribbons in your beard and perfume. Wow...

Grumpy is an awesome character (I judge how well-defined a character is over how much I'd like the person in real life [Note: this will be important later])...

...but if there is any bad role model among the good-aligned characters in this movie, Grumpy is it.

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Meanwhile, assassin guy is f**ked.

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Scariest transformation sequence ever? I'd argue for Pinocchio but this is a close second.

And you know what, before it gets rolling, let me try to find that Snow White's influence on horror movies essay I mentioned earlier...

Here t'is. Man, @MKPony is awesome.

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Thoughs eyes...

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And bless whoever designed all the Dwarves' instruments.

Now the Queen is hoping the Dwarves will bury Snow White alive. For, just as a reminder, being prettier than she is. Wow.

There are seven Dwarves, you'd think one or two of them would stay with Snow White in the house.

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Character development.

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Ye gods, these background paintings!

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This doesn't seem particularly sanitary to me...

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The "Finish Your Drink" moment in almost all of these movies.

According to that little montage there, Snow White slept for MONTHS; through winter and well into spring!

I think Aurora slept for a couple of days at worst but we'll confirm that when we get to her.

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"Right, right, you've got that one song. Who the devil are you again?"

All joking aside, look at the staging in that scene again. So cool.

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Snow White got saved by the Prince, she kissed all the Dwarves goodbye, then they head into this cloud castle?

Ermegerrd! Stupid "Coma Dream" theory!!!

That is an incredible final shot though.

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And let's keep track of how many of these movies do this storybook/Happily Ever After thing.

1 comment:

raptor_044 said...

"Grumpy is an awesome character (I judge how well-defined a character is over how much I'd like the person in real life [Note: this will be important later])..."

I'm a little confused about the above quote b/c, while it does make sense, it seems to contradict what said about another character who was both well-defined & unlikable as a person ( ).

"This doesn't seem particularly sanitary to me…"

I always thought the same thing, especially when the deer cleaned the dishes w/its tail.

"The "Finish Your Drink" moment in almost all of these movies."

Are you referring to Disney characters falling to their deaths or something else? Just making sure.