Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Ambassador Is Not Amused

Pass me those Ferrero Rocher, Monsieur Attache. It's time for me to take up my role as an Ambassador again...

However, this time I'm not wearing my Oscars style floor-length gown with the perilously high heels. Nor indeed am I all decked out in the latest sharp business suit with my 'I mean business' Laboutins. No, today this Ambassador is wearing fatigues, soldier, because she's mad and has decided that this is no time for Mrs Nice Guy. Mrs Nice Guy has, in fact, temporarily left the building, and been replaced by Mrs 'WTF! Drop down and give me 20! And whilst you're at it, clean the heads with a toothbrush and DON'T LET ME SEE YOU USING THAT WUSSY ELECTRIC ONE!!!'

Hmm. What's brought this on? I mean, I've sat through a number of films in my role as a Disney Blu-Ray Ambassador, including Beverly Hills Chihauha and High School Musical 3, so you would have thought that any scruples I had would have long since bitten the dust. But no. It turns out that all it takes to press my buttons is what may well be one of the best-loved movies of all time.

Snow White.

Now, before it was sent to me to review, I had never watched Snow White all the way through. Sure, I had seen excerpts from it on countless tv show 'best-of's, the dwarves merrily whistling as they worked in the mine, the dastardly queen talking to her mirror and such-like, but I had never sat down and watched the movie from beginning to end. So when it arrived last week in all it's Blu-Ray glory, I happily sat down with my sons and did so.

Let me start by saying that the High Definition delivery on this version is just about as faultless as it could be with the source material they were working with. Short of starting from scratch and making the whole movie again, I don't think they could have done a better job (or at least, not until the next new technology, whatever that may be, is out of the labs and in common usage).

But actually, I think that that is exactly what Disney should do; make the whole movie again, preferably with a completely different plot. Because, for a modern mother trying to teach equality between the sexes to her two young sons, the storyline stinks. I know that a lot of older animated moves can't be held up as being models of virtue, Sleeping Beauty definitely being one of them, but I can't remember the last time I found myself feeling as uncomfortable about a property created for children as I was when watching Snow White with my boys.

Where to start? Maybe with the sound-track. Not only does it jar with the crisp and colourful animation, reminding you at every turn that whilst the pictures have been updated, there is only so much that can be done with pre-digitally recorded sound, but Snow White's voice has got to be one of the most annoying I have ever heard. She's supposed to be at least 16 years old, for pete's sake (or at least, one would hope so bearing in mind that the mirror deems her old enough to be more beautiful than the icily gorgeous queen and suitable to be of interest to the Handsome Prince), and yet she has a 7 year old's voice, and that's with my being generous to a 7 year old's vocal skills. A child's voice in a young woman's body. What's right with that?

Or perhaps it's the way that the so-called heroine of this movie is so passive, and frankly, a bit of a wimp. Oh, she sighs at the tasks she's set by her cruel stepmother, but she doesn't do anything about changing her lot. No, she meekly finishes washing the steps and sings a charming little song about a wishing well. And when given a reprieve from certain death by the Huntsman and told to run for her life, she finds everything in the forest so terrifying that she swoons... I mean, swoons? Please. Give me a break.

I think though that what I found most irritating about this movie is the blind assumption that Snow White had no control over her own fate. It was down to the Queen to persecute her, try to murder her, and cast the spell of Sleeping Death over her, and down to the prince to kiss her, wake her, and sweep her away to Happy Ever After Land; she just had to stand (or sit, or sleep) and look beautiful. All the good - and bad - stuff would come to her simply because of that.

Now, I'm not for a moment saying that we've moved so far from 1937 - when this movie was made, which goes a long way to explaining it's sexism - that there aren't plenty of women around today who fit this stereotype. And I'm not even saying that this approach - of waiting for life to come to you instead of going out there and making it happen - isn't lauded in certain magazines and in other forms of mass-media. Or indeed that it isn't aspired to by a whole tranche of young girls and women who should know better.

I'm just saying that in this current day and age Snow White's example of womanhood is - to me at least - outdated and dangerous, and that it's not one that I feel comfortable showing to my children. Never mind that all this subtext went right over the Boy's heads, it's the start of a slippery slope and there are enough opportunities for them to see sexism in action in real life without having it sugar-coated and fed to them as a fairy tale. So I'll be sending our copy back to the agency who forwarded it to me.

Thanks, Disney, but you can keep this one.

And for those of you who haven't watched it in a while, who think I'm making a fuss over nothing, I suggest you sit down and watch it again - and then read my post...


  1. Ooh, good post PM - hasta la (buena) vista, Disney.

    I don't think I've ever actually watched Snow White, and I certainly don't intend to show it to the Littleboys now. I complain about the boys watching so much Dora, but at least she's a feisty feminist role model!

  2. The woman who sang Snow White's voice was fully grown when she did that! Can you believe it? Mind you, it doesn't sound much different from what the Queen would sound like if she sang!

  3. Good for you, PM. I wonder how often that can be said about a lot of the famous cartoons that our youngsters watch? And what about the fairy tales that we tell them? There's an under lying coat of sexism in a lot of "acceptable" media. Be careful, it's a sneaky thing.

  4. Gosh, I was looking forward to watching it, but now I'm a little worried!

    I'm sure I loved it, and I don't that's how I view the world.

    I'll get back to you latter...

  5. Great post, very funny. I have to say though that Snow White is one of the first films I ever saw at the cinema, and the reason I saw it was because it was one of the first films my mother had ever seen in the cinema. Back in 1937, just before the war broke out, she was 6 and to her it was the most magical thing she'd ever experienced - can you imagine, all that colour! When I saw it the first time in the early Seventies it spawned a lifetime love affair with Disney. So for me it's a special film. Yes the fairy story itself is quite sexist, but if you think about it it was also light years ahead, too - the dwarves were the heroes of the film. It also taught kids not to take stuff from strangers (the apple/witch thing)and that true love conquers all... it does, right?

  6. NVG, yes, Dora can be annoying but she certainly appears to be in control!

    EPM, you're right, our beloved monarch would definitely sound quite similar!

    Irene, it's not the undercoat I worry about - it's the in your face stuff. but then maybe I'm over-reacting...

    S&E Mum, I'll be really interested to hear what you think.

    Liz, you're right, the not taking stuff from strangers point is still valid after all this time. And I can totally see how this film would have been groundbreaking at the time, and of course it holds a very special place in a lot of people's hearts, no doubt my own mum included (although I think 'Bambi' wins first prize for her - for the same reasons). I don't know - perhaps if I hadn't been watching it with my sons I might have watched it differently, but I don't think so. My husband watched this too, and whilst he is not particularly outspoken on the matter of gender equality (if you catch my drift), at the end of the movie he turned to me - unprompted - and said "Actually, that's a really bad story for children." And he wasn't talking about the queen's grisly end. But there you go - that's my two pennorth!

  7. In there with you PM! Daughter thinks Cinderella gets 'picked by the prince because she has the most beautiful dress'. I give up sometimes.

  8. Yup but I just find Snow White seriously scary I mean what hapens once she and teh Prince are beyond happy ever after???!!!

  9. I think most, if not all, children watching this type of film take it entirely for what it is - A Fairy Tale. Any lingering effects from the out-dated views imprinted in the text and pictures are thoroughly discredited by the time the children have grown up a bit. Your values are what will influence your children, not some fluffy cartoon watched in their infancy. From an adult perspective Thomas the Tank engine is hardly the world view we want for our children given that there are virtually no female roles of any sort, but you don't seem to have a problem with that.

    Sorry if I sound snippy but sometimes I think we can over-analyse such things when it really isn't necessary.

  10. MH, but that's true, isn't it...?

    TW, oh, Happy Ever After lasts for ever. Or until the first nappy change, anyway.

    Sharon, you don't sound snippy, and normally I would agree with you. That's why I haven't written similar posts about any number of other movies my sons have watched. For some reason though this one really got to me. And I wonder - have you watched it recently?

  11. Haven't seen Snow White in years, but your comments on her inability to stand up for herself rang a chord with me. Because of another one of the classics. Anyone read Tess of the d'Urbervilles recently? A classic of English literature. About a woman who is so ineffectual she gets hanged. (possibly an oversimplification, but not by much) So annoying and so not (even though they're some way off reading it I realise!) a role model I want for my girls. Thanks for the warning about Snow White. Will review before showing!

  12. Sweetie, I have to take issue. I love this film (one of my favs)and I think you're taking it a little too seriously. It's a cute fairy tale, that's it, written waaay before Thatcher took her throne.

    It's part of most kid's childhoods and by the time they can analyse the plight of Snow White, they'll probably think she had a bit of a rough life, haven't women come a long way since then and god that queen was a bitch!

    And if you're worried about your son's role models, you aren't letting them watch Postman Pat are you? Jesus, talk about a dead end job, that guy can aim higher. Bob the Builder? Just another grease monkey without a GCSE to his name!

    We can't re-write history according to current social or political trends, that's called censorship isn't it??!

  13. PlanB, Tess, yes she really gets right up my nose. But then again she's not read by my sons so I can deal with her. (of course, I would love to say they're into Hardy aged 6 and 3, but... no).

    Pig, I'm completely happy to accept that I probably AM taking it too seriously, and the boys watch plenty of other movies where feminism is absolutely not represented and which I have no problem with. But the thing is, I was completely taken aback my response to this movie - I hadn't expected to have such a reaction, and usually being quite a level-headed type I'm inclined to go with it. Plus, Disney DID ask me to review it - so that's what I did...

  14. Hi PM, yes I have seen it recently. Last year I watched it with the then 8 yr old daughter of a friend. She thought it was great fun and really enjoyed the singing, the dwarves and the animal/bird interaction but was very scathing of Snow white's general wimpy-ness and gullibility, 'EVERYONE knows you mustn't accept things from people you don't know!' For the record, she wasn't too impressed with the Prince's 'tights' either!

  15. PM, Great reading on Snow White. Frankly, I find a lot of those old Disney movies just boring. The male characters are cardboard cut-outs and the girls spend all their time trying to be sweet. Ugh!

    Rewatched the original Parent Trap - now THAT's a movie with some fiesty girl role models...ones that love to play practical jokes, too!

    Coincidentally, I just rewatched Sixteen Candles this week. I remember it being such a great John Hughes movie. Looking back, it is so sexist and racist. Jake basically passes his drunk girlfriend to the The Geek and says "Have fun". And the main character Sam's best friend is horrified when she thinks Sam might date a black guy. OMG!


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