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Disneyland Article
Snow White Ride Makeover How Critics Underestimate The Timeless Princess
Los Angeles Times
Todd Martens
True love, such a naive thing.

A romantic happily ever after has been depicted in overly idealized ways for generations in animated fairy tales but is no longer the rage among modern Disney heroines.

At the end of “Frozen 2" Elsa is just getting to know herself while her sister, Anna, had to let go of her preconceived notions of love before she could find it. Raya in “Raya and the Last Dragon” is an action hero balancing her if-you-want-something-done-right mantra with her inability to trust. And the star of “Moana” sets off on her own adventure to save her people and discover a love of the world around her.

So when Disney embarked on a quest to give its “Snow White"-inspired ride a makeover at its first and most treasured park, we wondered whether this old-fashioned princess, drawn for cinemas in the mid-1930s, would get a 2021 gloss.

After all, Disney theme parks have been undergoing a host of cultural updates in recent years — from changing the bride auction scene in Pirates of the Caribbean to an upcoming remake of the Jungle Cruise and re-theming Splash Mountain to “Princess and the Frog” instead of “Song of the South.” In addition, Walt Disney World’s version of Snow White in Florida had already been re-imagined as a child-friendly roller coaster that serves as a prologue to the film rather than a reflection of its themes.

Who needs love and princes when there’s a mine that can host mild thrills?

And yet the re-imagined Disneyland attraction — now known as Snow White’s Enchanted Wish instead of Snow White’s Scary Adventures — opts to wrap its arms around feelings of adoration, endearment, friendship and the hope that, via love, we don’t become rescued so much as better versions of ourselves. It also puts more effort into using technology to freshen up 1950s-era craftsmanship rather than going full modern.

In the film, Snow White remarks that the home of the seven dwarfs looks “just like a dollhouse,” and here the refreshed figures maintain a toy-like quality, with humans and animals — as they are in the original animated work — treated with equal reverence and with the same stylistic motifs.

Charming? Yes. A throwback? Not quite.

In fact, in 2021 amid our cultural rethink of what it means to be a princess, what it means to court an object of affection and who gets to tell what narratives, the changes implemented by Walt Disney Imagineering, the company’s arm dedicated to theme park experiences, even feel somewhat radical. Snow White’s Enchanted Wish isn’t even a full five minutes, and yet it conveys the film’s often-overlooked messaging that there are differences between autonomy and being alone, between hopeless romanticism and wanting a savior.

Snow White’s Enchanted Wish shows how the Walt Disney Studios’ most important work — the very film that proved animation wasn’t for children but for imaginations of all ages — is timeless in both how it portrays love as well as its star, a young woman who expresses her desires, doesn’t wallow in them, and continues to embrace life with a sense of discovery and control.

Snow White still makes a wish and bites a poisoned apple, but love isn’t something that happens to these characters; it is something that must be acted upon and the result of Snow White managing to live a relatively full life despite the oppression she faces. There are similarities to 1959’s “Sleeping Beauty,” a film that two decades on was more exquisitely drawn but ultimately viewed its heroine as someone who must be protected from beginning to end, lending the film a less flattering modern reading.

Nods to “Snow White’s” obsession with 1931’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” remain, but scenes in the Evil Queen’s castle are now brighter, lit in mystical blues and purples to replace a foreboding tone with one of mystery. Instead of wanting to run, we want to linger, and Disney slowed the attraction by 21 seconds, now making it closer to a full 2 ½ minutes.

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