Not Just Disney and Rachel Zegler: The Forgotten ‘Snow White’ Adaptations

in Disney, Movies & TV

Disney's Snow White looking terrified against a background of green eyes

Credit: Disney

The story of Disney did not actually begin with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), but the story of a girl, her wicked queen of a stepmother, and some guys who live in the woods will always and forever be associated with the company.

Snow White's true love's kiss
Credit: Disney

Of course, it helps that Walt Disney’s directorial debut was the first full-length animated feature film, a box office smash, and a critical success, basically paving the way for decades of Disney claiming public domain fairy tales. Now, Disney is attempting to go back to the kinda-genesis of it all and produce a live-action remake of Snow White featuring West Side Story (2021) actress Rachel Zegler and Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot, hoping that fans will accept a new take on the Brothers Grimm’s 1812 fairy tale, adapted by acclaimed playwright Erin Cressida Wilson.

Related: New Right-Wing Snow White Actress Taking Over, Starring in Another Live-Action Remake

Given that the Marc Webb remake of Snow White has already been mired in controversy over everything from Rachel Zegler’s casual remark that she was not a huge fan of the original as a child to whether the dwarves should be dwarf actors to the lead actress being a woman of color, it might be a rough go of things for Disney.

However, if Disney fans are so angry at the tale of Snow White being told differently than they remember from childhood, they have another thing coming. While the Disney version is arguably the most famous adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale originally titled Sneewittchen (or Little Snow White), it is not the first, the most accurate, and certainly not the weirdest.

Let’s get into some very different Snow White adaptations.

‘Snow White: A Tale of Terror’ (1997)

Sigourney Weaver as a crone in Snow White: A Tale of Terror alongside Monica Keena
Credit: Polygram

While the Disney version of Snow White has some actually scary moments, including when the Evil Queen does pretty much anything, it most definitely is still a movie designed for families and children.

The film Snow White: A Tale of Terror is most definitely not that, as the title says outright. This 1997 film might possibly take inspiration from the then-recent hit films Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), both of which attempted a darker take on source materials that had been reduced to a joke by familiarity. While A Tale of Terror takes a lot of liberties with the original Brother Grimm fairy tale, it certainly can’t be denied that it’s much, much darker than Disney.

Those movies also enlisted a hugely talented big-name cast of people like Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Robert De Niro, and Kenneth Branagh to give some weight to the story. In the same way, A Tale of Terror recruited Sam Neill, Sigourney Weaver, and a young Monica Keena as the princess. Considering Neill was best known for running from dinosaurs in Jurassic Park (1993) and Weaver famously fought xenomorph aliens numerous times, it’s clear director Michael Cohn was not going for an easygoing tone.

This version of the story is more sympathetic to the stepmother figure (named Claudia and portrayed by Weaver), who genuinely tries to have a loving relationship with Lilli (Keena), a beautiful and conceited young woman. But this movie opens with a bloody cesarean birth, and goes on to a miscarriage, sexual assault, and defenestration, so you know the terror part is real.

‘Once Upon a Time’

Ginnifer Goodwin as Snow White/Mary Margaret in Once Upon a Time looking awkward
Credit: ABC

The fantasy series Once Upon a Time ran for seven seasons on ABC, premiering in 2011 to huge ratings and critical acclaim for its hopeful, female-fronted takes on fairy tales and mythology. While the series begins with Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) and her young son, Henry, moving to the tiny picturesque town of Storybrooke, it becomes clear that the show is really about the oddball characters who live there.

It is quickly revealed that the citizens of Storybrooke are all fairy tale characters who have been transported to the “real” world and had their memories erased. Mary Margaret Blanchard (Ginnifer Goodwin) turns out to be Snow White, Mr Gold (Robert Carlyle) is Rumpelstiltskin, and so forth. It’s a whole lot of fun.

The show eventually came to encompass everything from Peter Pan to Alice in Wonderland to Mulan, but the core of the series remained the relationship between Mary Margaret and Emma, who unsurprisingly turned out to have an unexpected connection. Once Upon a Time hit on pretty much every fairy tale trope possible over the years, and undeniably, Snow White’s essential goodness is the most memorable part.

Related: Rachel Zegler’s ‘Snow White’ Status Confirmed, Actor Tragically Speaks Out

‘The Brothers Grimm’ (2005)

Monica Belluci as the Mirror Queen in The Brothers Grim, screaming in terror
Credit: MGM

The Brothers Grimm was directed by legendary filmmaker and Monty Python Terry Gilliam, so, unsurprisingly, it was a difficult and tortured production. In pretty much all his films, from Brazil (1985) to The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) to The Fisher King (1991), Gilliam has been fascinated by the way we shape our lives around stories, and so naturally, his take on Snow White is no different.

The Brothers Grimm stars Matt Damon and Heather Ledger as the eponymous Will and Jake (Jacob, technically) Grimms, who are imagined as a pair of 19th-century conmen who use well-known fairy tales and the gullibility of impoverished peasants to scrape together a living.

That is, they do until the brothers stumble into an actual fairy tale involving a mirror-obsessed queen (Monica Belluci), a beautiful young woman in the woods (Lena Headey), and a whole lot more creepy imagery than you might expect. Gilliam mixes in a whole bunch of Grimm stories into this one, but when you’ve got a wicked queen who gazes into a mirror, we know who we’re talking about here.

Reportedly, Gilliam constantly fought with the Weinstein brothers, who produced the movie. They wouldn’t let him cast his friend Johnny Depp (not a big enough star, apparently), fired his cinematographer, and fought over the final cut of the movie for so long that Gilliam made an entirely different movie in the meantime. Nobody won that fight.

‘Mirror Mirror’ (2012)

Lily Collins accepting an apple in Mirror Mirror
Credit: Relativity Media

Much like Tale of Terror, the Snow White adaptation Mirror Mirror takes the tac of wondering: what if the Evil Queen weren’t actually so evil? Director Tarsem Singh made sure that audiences could sympathize with Queen Clementianna by turning her into the one telling the story of her conflict with her beautiful stepdaughter (Lily Collins) and casting Julia Roberts, America’s eternal sweetheart, in the role.

Mirror Mirror also turns the classic story around by positioning Snow White and her stepmother as romantic rivals for the attention of Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) and making it clear that, on some level, all of this conflict has to do with insecurity rather than hatred or dark magic. Don’t worry, though, there’s still some dark magic in this one, and a whole house made out of mirrors.

It also helps that Tarsem Singh is one of the most visually dynamic filmmakers of the last few decades, which just emphasizes the otherworldly nature of much of the story. Where many adaptations try to get dark and gritty, Mirror Mirror is constantly bright, weird, and actually kind of fun.

‘Fables’

Snow White hugging Bigsby Wolf in the rain in an issue of Fables
Credit: DC Comics

Much like Once Upon a Time, the long-running DC Comics series Fables is not just about Snow White, but asks, what if all the fairy tale characters you know live in the same town and have to deal with modern life?

That’s the case with Fabletown, an area of New York populated by the likes of Snow White, her sister Rose Red, the quarreling couple Beauty and the Beast, and many, many more. The Fables (as they are referred to) have fled their ancestral homes by a mysterious Adversary, who is eventually revealed to be something of a fairy tale legend himself.

The series has run for nearly 20 years and has covered any number of plotlines, but its best and most lasting relationship is between Snow White, portrayed as the efficient, no-nonsense deputy mayor of Fabletown, and Sheriff Bigby Wolf, who you might know better as the Big Bad Wolf. This is a dark series (don’t ask her about the dwarves), but haven’t you ever wondered what Snow White and the Wolf’s kids might look like?

Related: Heartbreaking Theory Explains Why Grumpy From ‘Snow White’ is a Grump

‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ (2012)

Kristen Stewart looking disheveled in Snow White and the Huntsman
Credit: Universal Pictures

It is surprising that it took until the 2010s for the story of Snow White to be turned into a full-on action movie, but it eventually happened with Snow White and the Huntsman, a movie that grossed nearly $400 million and is all but forgotten a decade later.

In this version, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is destined to destroy her actually evil stepmother Ravenna (Charlize Theron, chewing the scenery like a four-course meal), so naturally, she needs to be killed. A drunken widower of a Hunstman (Chris Hemsworth) is recruited to kill Snow for the queen, but as these things go, he falls in love instead.

Snow White and the Huntsman was a colossal box office success (if not a critical one) and produced a 2016 sequel, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, that neatly snipped Snow out of the narrative by saying she was sick, basically. In truth, these movies are not terrible, and where else will you ever get to see Snow White and the Queen engage in a climactic knife fight to the death?

‘Betty Boop in Snow-White’ (1933)

Betty Boop in a glass coffin in Betty Boop in Snow White
Credit: Paramount

Years before Walt Disney animated Snow White and made her sing to birds, there was Betty Boop. While the character is still well known today, Betty Boop was one of the most popular cartoons in the world in the 1930s, so it made complete sense for Betty Boop in Snow-White to exist.

The animated short runs seven minutes, but hits all the beats you expect: beautiful princess (voiced by Mae Questel), evil queen, magic mirror, transparent coffin, Prince Charming, and seven short guys. However, this particular adaptation also goes in some fascinating directions, including having the magic mirror be voiced by jazz legend Cab Calloway, who also inexplicably appears as a singing clown and a ghostly figure who does the moonwalk.

That, and the coffin is made out of ice, and the queen gets turned into a dragon who gets her tongue yanked so she turns inside out, and everything ends happily ever after. Cartoons were weird in the 1930s.

What’s your favorite version of the Snow White story? Tell us which is the fairest of them all in the comments below!

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