Q: Is there Marian imagery in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?

A: This classic animated feature from Disney opened on December 21, 1937 to critical and popular acclaim, setting attendance records around the world and receiving a special Oscar at the Academy Awards ceremony of February 23, 1939.  Snow White was the first feature-length animated film, and it is still quite popular. For example, sales of both the videotape and the DVD have been quite strong.  The work was also commended by the USCC as an exceptional family film.

The basic structure of the film was summarized by Disney.  Walt described it as "the perfect plot," featuring "a beautiful, threatened princess, an evil witch to give the story menace, a group of dwarfs for comic relief and a handsome prince to provide the romantic interest."

There are no explicit references to the Virgin Mary in the film, even brief ones. However, the tune, "One Song ...," which has similarities to Canticles 6:9, [accommodated to Mary by Catholic writers] comes close.

Still, my own impressions of Disney's film suggest themes which not only could be given a Marian interpretation, but also seem to have been made so intentionally.  Consider the following:

  1. The name Snow White suggests innocence and purity, as in the idiom: 'pure as the driven snow'.  She preserves her virginity for her ideal love.  Mary is called Purissima and Immaculata.
  2. A "special sort of death for one so fair" is inflicted on Snow White, "sleeping death."  Mary's death is called Koimesis or Dormitio.
  3. Snow White is revived "only by love's first kiss" from a nameless, charming, archetypal Prince from a distant palace "high on a hill."  The royal bridegroom in Song of Songs wakes his bride with kisses when the time comes for love.  Mary's resurrection by the Divine bridegroom is Catholic dogma.
  4. Snow White functions as a Mother to the dwarfs who "must be seven little children .... maybe they're orphans ..."  Mary is called "Mother of the human family."  Seven represents totality in Scripture.
  5. Snow White is followed by white doves as the Prince sings to her.  It is said that white doves sometimes follow the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.  Also, the Holy Spirit [by whom Mary conceived] appears in the form of a dove in Jn 1:32.
  6. Snow White exhibits supernatural harmony with nature.  Such harmony existed before the fall of man.  She dies from a poisoned "magic wishing apple."  Mary is the "New Eve."
  7. Snow White is the "fairest one of all," the one to whom the Prince sings "one song ... I have but one song, only for you."  The bride in Canticles is "all beautiful ... one alone is my dove, my perfect one." [Una est Columba mea, perfecta mea ...]

There are a large number of published interpretations on the meaning of the tale, often noting themes similar to those I've mentioned above.  Still, do we have evidence that Disney intentionally alluded to the Virgin Mary in this film?  Disney's response to Aldous Huxley's query about the meaning of his work seems relevant for us:

"I don't know.  We just try to make a good picture.  And then the professors come along and tell us what we did."

Perhaps we should be cautious about reading too much into Snow White.  If Marian imagery was worked into the film, it seems likely to be through the influence of William Titla, who also directed the Ave Maria sequence in Fantasia, rather than from Disney.  Further, even were this not the case, Snow White should still be of pastoral use as a popular illustration of Marian motifs.  And there's much to be said for simply appreciating it as a wholesome and entertaining film.

Source: "Semiotics, Snow White and Mary: A Mystical Rose by Any Other Name" by Michael P. Duricy, published in Integra: The Journal of Intertel, Vol. AE #9, pp. 19-30.

See also: Jan Oliver Exhibition


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This page, maintained by The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, Dayton, Ohio 45469-1390, and created by Michael P. Duricy , was last modified Wednesday, 11/03/2010 11:12:47 EDT by Ramya Jairam . Please send any comments to jroten1@udayton.edu.