The tale of Snow White by the Brothers Grimm has been adapted for screen, stage and literature across many generations. Among other fairytales, this one has stood the test of time with readers, young and old. Most notably, Walt Disney made history with the first animated feature-length film, an adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Entirely hand-drawn and standing the test of time, the film was the starting point for animated features.
With many of their other films receiving the live-action treatment, Disney has returned to their original movie and Snow White is set to hit cinemas in 2024 with Rachel Zegler in the titular role. Already, the film has received backlash due to its decisions on casting, changes to the source material and its reimagined take on the core themes. Recently, a resurfaced interview with Variety about the upcoming project has caused further backlash.
“It's no longer 1937,” Zegler told Variety last fall. “She's not going to be saved by the prince, and she's not going to be dreaming about true love; she's going to be dreaming about becoming the leader she knows she can be and that her late father told her that she could be if she was fearless, fair, brave and true."
Now, I am all for expanding the universe of Snow White and delving into the politics or emotional complexities of the heir to the throne wanting to make her father proud or do right by her kingdom. Those are great themes to explore in a screenplay. However, the dismissive comment about the themes of love dismisses a much deeper theme of the original film.
The theme of love is such a universal theme in the original tale, but also in the many forms we see it. Betrayal through the Evil Queen, who is driven mad by jealousy and seeks to murder the stepdaughter she should want to protect. The found family she has with the Seven Dwarfs – which I believe Disney has handled poorly already by their alleged plans not to cast seven actors with dwarfism and instead plan to depict them as “magical creatures” – and, of course, the love story between Snow White and the Prince.
In a separate old red carpet interview, Rachel noted that in the original Snow White, “There's a big focus on her love story with a guy who literally stalks her.... weird, so we didn't do that this time.” This has received further backlash from critics, but there could have been a much better angle to approach this topic. Due to the runtime of the then-ambitious movie, the Prince and Snow White have only two scenes together, at the beginning and the end. With a live-action adaptation, there’s plenty of screentime to develop a nuanced and believable love story – as previous adaptations have done.
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and Once Upon a Time (2011-18) are two examples of Snow White portrayed as a courageous and fearless leader, which is more impactful by the character’s compassion and selflessness. Kristen Stewart and Ginnifer Goodwin’s incarnations of the character embrace the character's vulnerabilities, which she either has to accept or overcome. One of Snow White’s defining characteristics is her ability to love, even when things seem hopeless.
I hope Marc Webb’s adaptation stays true to these themes in this modernised reinterpretation of Snow White. A female character can be strong and fearless, but only if it’s balanced with moments of uncertainty and fear. The same can be said about the love story – what does Snow and the Prince bring to a relationship, and how do they complement each other? A film can balance both sides of these themes and arcs without sacrificing one for the other.
This backlash has proved that viewers want a good bit of escapism with romance and fantasy. Hopefully, Disney can deliver – we shall see…