Snow White is a classic story that almost everyone knows. If you ask any person today, nearly everyone could tell you about the apple that little Snow White bit. It’s iconic; at least, to anyone who’s seen the Disney film. Surprisingly, few people associate Snow White and all its images to the original Grimm Tale, “Little Snow White” (also known as Sneewittchen or Schneeweißchen). While this is surprising, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Disney film has made the original tale more known as people research the origins of Snow White. Now, when researching the original tales, there are some similarities between them and the movie from 1937 as well as numerous differences. There’s many reasons behind this, of course, but first we should learn what those similarities and differences are.
Now, the similarities is probably easier to start with. Of course, in both tales, we have an ‘evil’ queen and Snow White. We’ve got 7 dwarfs and a prince. We’ve got a huntsman. All of those characters have the same type of personality and nearly the same plot (with only minor differences, such as the Queen in the movie being the stepmother as opposed to the mother). We’ve got similar plots (the Queen wants Snow dead, she orders the huntsman to kill her, then the huntsman refuses, Snow finds dwarfs, Queen ‘kills’ Snow, and Snow is revived later). In fact, there’s a lot that’s the same between the two versions; that comes as a bit of a surprise to me, seeing that everyone tends to treat Disney and Grimm as polar opposites.
Not that there aren’t numerous differences. As previously said, the Queen in the Disney version was a step-mother, as opposed to being a biological mother in the Grimm version*. Another notable difference is how Snow was ‘killed’. In the Disney movie, Snow White takes a bite of a poisoned apple, and that’s that. The Grimm tale has much more to it. First, the Queen ties laces too tight around Snow (presumably a corset); when that fails, the Queen digs a poisoned comb into Snow’s hair; when that fails, the Queen then brings forth the iconic poisoned apple. So, instead of the Queen trying to kill Snow once, in the Grimm tale, she tries 3 times. Another difference is the way Snow is revived (focusing solely on the apple death and reviving, seeing as the Disney version did not include the other two ‘deaths’). In the Disney version, a simple kiss from the Prince (‘loves first kiss’) cures her. In the Grimm version, however, a servant slaps her on the back after numerous days of carrying her and her coffin, which dislodges the apple caught in her throat. Yet another difference is how the Queen dies. In the Disney movie, her own attempt to kill the dwarfs ends in her death, while in the Grimm version, the Queen is killed by dancing to death in hot iron shoes. Brutal.
Now, these differences are very diverse, and there are always more (such as the singing, the names of the dwarfs, etc.). But, I think it’s plenty enough at this point to signify why Disney made these changes. The Grimm tales were blunt and are ‘renowned’ as being dark, gritty, and, well, grim. Disney wasn’t looking to make dark movies – they wanted to wow with colors and pretty, silly story lines. So, they fuzzed up the edges a little. Instead of abuse from a biological mother, it’s a step-mother (apparently that’s better than just normal old abuse). Instead of killing Snow White 3 different times, they killed her once and added some nice, pretty songs in place of all those deaths. Instead of having a brutal scene at the end where the Queen danced to death in iron slippers that were super-heated, the Queen died off camera, presumably from a rock crushing her (now, while that last one is still terrifyingly grim in nature, it’s probably not as bad as watching someone dance themselves to death while slowly burning alive). Disney was catering to children and families, and so he touched up the stories so they adapted better to his wish. Who can blame him? You cater to the audience you want.
*In the original version, the queen was written by the Grimms as a biological mother; in the third edition, she is a step mother. So, this might not be entirely ‘different’ depending on which edition Disney based this movie on.