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The unbearable banality of the woke Snow White

When did Disney start catering solely to gender-studies postgraduates?

Gareth Roberts

Topics Culture Feminism Identity Politics USA

Familiar brands and franchises with instant public recognition are godsends to the film and TV industries. You’re almost guaranteed a great opening weekend or a high-rating first night due to the sheer pull of curiosity. Your actual ‘content’ might be dreadful, but people will at least notice it and want to take a look.

Plus, you are assured of volumes of anticipatory press. The media will swarm around a hook baited with tantalising details of a reboot. Why bother with new ideas when you can remake – to take two recent examples – The Famous Five or The Incredible Hulk? Why create a new character when Batman and the rotters he battles can be wheeled out again and again? The very best kind of old brand – because it’s the cheapest – is the one that is either out of copyright (like Sherlock Holmes or Dracula), or better still, so ancient that it was never copyrighted at all.

Which brings us to Disney’s forthcoming live-action remake of its animated 1937 classic, Snow White. Ms White is, literally, the archetypal Disney princess – an innocent and good-hearted girl who would like a posh boyfriend, and who gets rewarded by a beneficent moral universe simply for being nice. Personally, these types of characters bored me rigid as a kid, but plenty of my peers loved them. Can’t their modern equivalents have the same? Apparently not. Because that would be wrong.

Step forward Rachel Zegler, who has already filmed her part as Snow, which will be released next year. She recently dropped some observations of what we can anticipate, telling us that the character ‘is not dreaming about true love. She’s dreaming about being the leader she knows she can be – fearless, brave, fair and true.’ On she goes: ‘The cartoon was made 85 years ago, and it’s extremely dated when it comes to the idea of women being in roles of power, and what a woman is fit for in the world. When it came to the reimagining of the role, Snow White has to learn a lot of lessons about coming into her own power before she can come into power over a kingdom.’

One feels such an ache for the young girls of today. They have had one stifling stereotype – the lovelorn wimp – whipped away, just to make way for another – the virtuous and ‘empowered’ girlboss. ‘Happy birthday to this future president’, as Hillary Clinton once tweeted, somewhat prematurely, above a photograph of her young self. What a terrible burden of expectation to place on little girls. It’s not that different from the cliché that it’s replaced. The goal is to be pure and inspirational and always look fabulous.

And Prince Charming? ‘The original cartoon came out in 1937 and very evidently so. There’s a big focus on her love story with the guy who literally stalks her. Weird, weird. So we didn’t do that this time’, says Zegler.

This is Markle-tastic, Paltrow-vian gloop, yes, but it’s also a distillation of the precipitous fall of mass culture in general and Disney in particular. We’ve ended up with a mass-market, billion-dollar movie which is laser-targeted to appeal to an under-socialised 24-year-old gender-studies postgrad with a nose stud at the Ann Arbor campus of Michigan State University – and absolutely nobody else in the entire world.

Obviously, every age produces its own versions of classics and fairytales. But we live in the Age Of Stupid, so naturally our versions are stupid. They reflect the values of the loud but numerically tiny media elites who are beholden to neoprogressivism, the braindead kind of feminism (the variety with men in it), and the automatic magical wonder of minorities. How blessed you are to have us!

This kind of thing is akin to Victorian sentimentalism, or the most cloying of country music, but with a progressive sheen. It is now dolloped everywhere. It has become acceptable – expected, even – that children’s culture has to be faux-profound and unambiguously hidebound to this remote and unpopular ideology. Indeed, the latest iteration of Scooby Doo on HBO Max is about a mixed-race lesbian Velma who cracks sassy gags about white supremacy.

It’s all so tawdry and predictable. You can generate these things in seconds. You don’t even need ChatGPT. Let’s do one now. The Princess and the Pea? The clever twist is that the pea represents patriarchy. ‘P’ – do you get it?

Or how about Hansel and Gretel? In the new, 21st-century version, the supposedly evil gingerbread cottage of the Witch is in fact offering vital, life-saving gender-affirming care, but the populist far-right politician, Tronald Rump (too on the nose? Okay, Son DeRantis), whips up hateful rhetoric among the villagers about the Other. In a clever twist, this time round the Witch pushes DeRantis into the oven, and everyone lives happily ever after on puberty blockers.

Disney has always been a sausage machine. And that’s fine. But if you’re operating a sausage machine you’d better make damn sure that your sausages are irresistibly tasty, in a naughty-but-nice Greggs way. The current Disney sausage is somehow both terribly thin and thickly indigestible. Hence, Disney has lost a billion dollars this year alone on rubbishy reboots including The Little Mermaid and Indiana Jones.

There is literally a fortune – millions and millions and millions of dollars – to be made by the first person who breaks the curse and makes a post-Stupid, non-nauseating film or TV show based on a classic brand. The money is there on the table. Please, Fairy Godmother, grant me my wish and inspire someone with the courage to stretch out their hand and take it, and break the spell.

Gareth Roberts is a screenwriter and novelist, best known for his work on Doctor Who.

Michael Shellenberger and Brendan O'Neill – live and in conversation

Michael Shellenberger and Brendan O'Neill – live and in conversation

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Topics Culture Feminism Identity Politics USA

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