Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Consider the Source: She Had Eaten the Heart and Tongue

Editor Note:  In all the films Walt Disney produced during his lifetime, it was generally rare for one to be based on an original story.  Walt drew extensively from outside sources, primarily existing fiction and traditional tales and stories.  In many cases, the resulting "Disney version" has become the popular culture definitive, for better or for worse.  We are launching a new series here at 2719 Hyperion entitled Consider the Source, where we explore these original stories, novels and traditional tales that ultimately evolved into tangible representations of Disney entertainment.  First up, we deal with the Grimm realities of a certain classic fairy tale . . .

There exist numerous variations of the story that forms the basis of Snow White and the Seven DwarfsBella Venezia is an Italian version; Myrsina has roots in Greek folklore, while Nourie Hadig is Armenian in origin and Gold Tree and Silver Tree is a part of Celtic tradition.  Walt Disney drew his inspiration from the most well known version of the tale, Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs, as famously chronicled by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the early 19th century.

Walt remained quite faithful to much of the Grimm rendition. The fundamentals such as the Wicked Queen, the Magic Mirror and the poisoned apple remained in place while he expanded on other elements.  He was much lauded for creating distinct names and personalities for each of the dwarfs, who were generic and unnamed in the original Grimm text.   In their account, the Brothers Grimm chronicled two other failed attempts by the Queen to kill Snow White, first with a tightened corset and then subsequently with a poisoned hair comb.  Walt had considered the comb sequence for the film but ultimately decided that the pace of the story was better served by just the single encounter involving the poisoned apple.

The Disney version also proved much more romantic.  Added was the early scene where Snow White and the Prince first meet, a sequence entirely without basis in the Grimm story.  Walt also added the penultimate awakening kiss which had actually originated in a 1914 silent film version of the story; the Grimms had revived her by simply having the piece of poisoned apple accidentally dislodged from her mouth.

The Grimm brothers being grim indeed, Walt excised two of their harsher and distinctly more graphic story elements.  Wisely removed was the evil queen's intended act of cannibalism.  Upon the huntsman's return from the forest, the Queen consumes what she thinks is the heart and tongue of her step-daughter.  Due to the machinations of the huntsman, she had actually eaten the parts of a wild boar.  Also, the ultimate fate of the Queen varied greatly from page to screen.  In the film, she dramatically falls to her death after a lightning strike.  In the Grimm version, upon attending the wedding of Snow White and her Prince at the very end of the story, she was fitted with a pair of red-hot iron shoes and forced to, ". . . dance in them till she fell down dead."


HBG2 said...

Great idea for a series! Disney has always taken a certain amount of criticism for bowdlerizing and sweetening the classic fairy tales, but even if we concede that there is some truth to the criticism, in the long run we have reason to be grateful. In our day of increasing cultural amnesia, you wonder how many stories like Snow White would still be part of our shared cultural experience at all if Disney had not given them a lasting form with which virtually everyone is still familiar.

Mark Sheldon said...

Great post. I can't wait to see more. Also great to see you posting again with regularity. I hope you found all the balance you need to indulge your Disney sweet tooth.

A said...

Fantastic post! Grimm's fairy tales are very dark and violent. They've been greatly sanitized in today's culture. The toned down Disney version scares some kids, I can't imagine what eating Snow White's heart or the witch roasting in her shoes would do to a poor kid. Snow White is a masterpiece as is. He made some great edits.

Wobble The Witch Cat said...

I still love the Wicked Queen'r Alter Ego the Witch or Peddler Woman , she's still delightfully ghoulish , and hateful , and she still gets hurled down the chasm by a flash of lightning a great ending to Snow White's Nemesis!

I just wish that Disney had seen fit to include the sadly deleted Witch At The Cauldron swquence from the so called "complete" Blu Ray set of October 2009.

On the Deluxe Laserdisc version of Snow White , they included both Pencil test and fully animated sequence and yet for whatever reason it was excised from the Blu Ray? Why?