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:
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:
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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