A Look at Not Disney: A Snow White Christmas
April 1, 2016/5 Comments/in A Look At Disney, Basic: Animation, Basic: Movies & TV, Basic: Nostalgia, BLOGS, Chris Langs Commentaries /by Chris Lang
So, did you know that there was a sequel to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves set during Christmas? Indeed there is, though you might not have seen it or even heard of it until now.
At this point, you probably are thinking it’s one of Disney’s direct-to-DVD sequels they did in the 90’s. When they ran out of sequels to their 90s hits, they went back further and did sequels, prequels, and midquels to Cinderella, The Jungle Book, The Fox and the Hound, and 101 Dalmations, among other things. So it wouldn’t be surprising if they did a direct-to-video Snow White sequel, too.
Except, A Snow White Chrismas isn’t a Disney direct-to-DVD sequel. In fact, it was originally released in 1979, long before anyone knew what a DVD was. And Disney had nothing to do with it: it was made by Filmation.
This bizarre Christmas special opens at a snowy landscape, as voices sing the title of the special a few times. We find ourselves in the town of Noel as the opening credits are shown crediting the executive producers, writer, and director. An ice festival is in full swing, with people ice-skating and skiing. We then black out – a clear commercial break occuring before any indication of what this special is about. For all we know at this point, the special has nothing to do with Snow White and is just another Christmas special celebrating white Christmases like Frosty the Snowman and its sequels.
It’s only when we fade back in that we meet King Charming, Queen Snow White, and their daughter Princess Snow White. The younger Snow White is excited about the Ice Festival, and her sidekick Grunion (who looks like a dwarf, but is never called a dwarf) is looking forward to Christmas which is just a few weeks after the Noel Ice Festival.
The younger Snow White wants to make the special Christmas decree that year, and proposes that her decree would announce a special Christmas castle where the children of Noel could go to any time for joy and laughter and fun and games. When her father asks where such a castle would be built, she replies “We wouldn’t have to build it. We could just make over that spooky, old, deserted castle on the dark side of the mountain.”
At this, the elder Snow White flinches, and looks deeply disturbed. King Charming also has a similar uncomfortable reaction. But the two of them accept their daughter’s idea anyway. As the younger Snow White marches with Grunion in the festival’s closing parade, the two of them talk about whether the decree is a good idea. The king notes that for Queen Snow White, the old castle on the dark side of the mountain holds some painful memories.
Queen Snow White, however, says that they must let their daughter make the decree. “Else we would have to explain about my wicked stepmother, and the poisoned apple, and … I don’t want her to know of such evil as I knew.”
So, yes, our protagonist is the daughter of the original Snow White, the latter of whom would rather her daughter live a much happier life than she did. Now, anyone willing to bet that Queen Snow White’s well intentioned attempts to shield her daughter from the terrible things in her past will actually work, and that said terrible things from the past won’t come back with a vengeance? No? Didn’t think so.
So as the festival ends, the King and Queen enter a coach which drives through the valley. Queen Snow White remarks that she still gets shudders when she thinks that her wicked stepmother, the Wicked Queen, was last seen above that very valley. The King chimes in, sort of redundantly with “And has never been seen again, since.” We would have thought that was a given, since ‘last seen’ usually means ‘the last time anyone saw that person or thing. But he says it in a tone intended to reassure the elder Snow White that her wicked stepmother is in all likeliehood gone for good.
After their coach rides off, however, a ray of sunlight focused through a crystal shines on a snowbank at the bottom of a cliff. The snow and ice melt, revealing the Wicked Queen in all her raidiant glory. And then, a pair of vultures show up and land on the branches nearby.
During this sequence, a ‘narrative’ song (meaning a song not sung by any of the characters – all of the songs in this special except one are narrative songs) gives an appropriately ominous tone with appropriately ominious lyrics. “It used to be so peaceful here, and everyone was kind. But the melting of the snow today has brought back evil times.” The Wicked Queen, now freed from the ice and back to her normal self, smiles and laughs evilly as the scene fades to black.
This is, admittedly, a very well-done scene. There’s no spoken dialogue – the song’s dark tone and lyrics, combined with the imagery of seeing the Wicked Queen strut forward free from the ice, lets us know that things suddenly aren’t sweetness and light anymore. And the evil laugh just before the fadeout is just perfect.
Oh, and it’s obvious at this point that even though this isn’t a Disney production, they’re homaging the Disney classic at certain points. And this is one of those points, since of course in the Disney classic, the Wicked Queen is last seen at the top of a cliff before her attempt to crush the dwarves with a boulder instead results in her falling to her doom. And there, too, a pair of vultures were spectators to the event. (In other versions, other fates befall the Wicked Queen – she usually at least makes it back to her castle before meeting some other fate, such as being impaled by a shard of broken magic mirror, or being sentenced to dance to death in iron shoes). However, if this is picking up the Wicked Queen’s story from where Disney left off, it looks like the spell making her appear to be a hag has also been broken, or it wore off after a time limit, since she’s back to having her good looks again.
Anyway, we rejoin the story in the next scene, where the Wicked Queen returns to her castle (aka the deserted castle on the other side of the mountain the Snow White family were speaking of earlier), and of course the first thing she does is seek out the Magic Mirror. After removing the dust cloth off, she asks the famous question “Who is fairest of them all?” When the mirror replies that there is not one fairest, there are two, she initially assumes that the Mirror is taking the coward’s way out and saying that Snow White and the Wicked Queen are equally fair.
But, of course, the Mirror tells her that’s not the case. The Wicked Queen is not thrilled to learn that the other who is equally fair is the original Snow White’s daughter, the Princess Snow White, nor is she thrilled to hear about the younger Snow White’s plans to turn the old castle into a happy fun place to entertain the children. The Mirror tells her that the younger Snow White knows nothing about the Wicked Queen (who considers herself not only fairer, but the rightful owner of the castle) or her powers.
The Wicked Queen then storms to her magical laboratory, and sends a storm of snow and wind and ice on Noel. Her image appears in the King and Queen’s castle, laughing evilly as magical ice freezes King Charming and Queen Snow White. They begin to freeze solid, but tell Princess Snow White and Grunion that this is the work of a Wicked Queen who tried to kill her mother. Her mother tells the princess and Grunion to flee the castle and the village, and find the seven dwar — the King and Queen are both frozen solid before she can finish.
The princess and Grunion find that everyone in Noel is in a state of frozen suspension, and flee the town. With a tearful look at Noel, Princess Snow White joins Grunion on a makeshift toboggan as they sled through the forest. Soon, they reach an area with no frost and snow at all, and their sled stops abruptly in the middle of a giant farm.
Now, do they find the Seven Dwarves? No, they don’t. For one thing, the homages to the Disney film have to remain just that — homages. Anything beyond just a few nods will cause certain lawyers to paraphrase Darkwing Duck and say “Let’s get litigious!”. So obviously we’re not going to see the versions of the Dwarves who were named and fleshed out in the Disney film (the original story didn’t give them names – they were just the leader and the others). And we don’t see any versions of the dwarves at all in this special – they’re just mentioned in passing.
No, instead, Princess Snow White and Grunion have found themselves on a giant farm belonging to the Seven Friendly Giants. The Giants introduce themselves in song (the only song in this special actually sung by characters in the story). There’s Corny (the farmer who can even grow vegetables in snow), Finicky the neat freak (dirt is a no-no for him), Thinker (the brains of the group – he’s their equivalent of Doc, but without the spoonerisms), Hicker (who hiccups a lot), the ironically named Tiny (the youngest of the group who’s the tallest of all the giants), Weeper (who often bursts into tears for no apparent reason), and Brawny (the big strong giant who is grouchy but has a heart of gold). So yeah, in the tradition of the Dwarves and the Smurfs, they have names that correspond to their defining character traits, and some of them are a bit similar, but not similar enough to be outright knockoffs like half the cast of Titanic: The Legend Goes On.
Anyway, Princess Snow White and Grunion tell the Giants all about what happened at Noel – the ice storm, the wicked Queen, and so forth. “Wicked queen … hmm.” says Thinker. “Could it be the same one our cousins, the dwarves…”
And no, it’s never explained how giants and dwarves could be cousins. Their being cousins with the dwarves is never mentioned again outside of that one line (and the dwarves aren’t mentioned again for the rest of the special, either). However, Thinker invites Princess Snow White and Grunion to stay with them for a while.
Of course the Magic Mirror informs the Wicked Queen that the younger Snow White still lives and is still fairer, and is now in the residence of the Seven Giants. The Seven Giants, meanwhile, do their best to make their guests comfortable. But the next morning, they have to leave to work in the forest, telling the princess and Grunion not to open the door for any strangers.
However, this doesn’t stop the Wicked Queen from turning herself into a giant mouse, gnawing a hole in the door, and attacking the Princess and Grunion. There’s a continuity error here where Grunion’s belt gets bitten apart by the giant mouse, but a shot later it’s intact again. Of course, Finicky comes back to clean the house when the others are gone, and chases the giant mouse away. The Wicked Queen flees, but vows to be back again.
When it becomes clear that the giant mouse attack was the work of the Wicked Queen, the Seven Giants decide to take Snow White and Grunion with them as they work on completing a riverway down the mountain. The Wicked Queen, however, melts much of the snow on the mountain and causes a flood. Princess Snow White and Grunion are saved when they climb onto Brawny’s axe, but the Giants appear to have all drowned when the flood recedes.
So Snow White and Grunion tearfully leave behind their fallen friends and go off to search for safety elsewhere… just kidding.
It turns out the Giants were stunned and wet, but otherwise okay. They wake up, and everyone’s relieved. However, that night back at the Giants’ house, they decide it’s best that Princess Snow White and Grunion stay at the house, but they post a guard. The next morning, Hicker stands guard over the house.
However, the Wicked Queen decides to distract Hicker by turning the vulture spectators into demon birds, and then sneaking into the house in the form of an old woman. Growing to giant size, she claims to be the sister of the giants, and persuades Princess Snow White to smell a flower. Grunion realizes it’s a trap, but is shoved aside. Princess Snow White falls into a magical coma, just like her mother before her.
So yeah, things are proceeding pretty much like the latter part of the original at this point. The Giants find the tearful Grunion standing over the fallen princess, and then Brawny decides to go after the Wicked Queen. And so the Wicked Queen is pursued up the mountain by the Giants. However, since it’s unlikely that giants could be as easily crushed by a boulder as dwarves, she doesn’t even try that trick, and instead makes it back to her castle where she resumes her normal size and appearance. There, she summons lightning bolts to attack the Giants as they get closer to the castle, and when that doesn’t slow them down enough, she summons a group of nightmare demons.
At this point, I have to say … Wow! If the Wicked Queen could do all the stuff she does in this special, why didn’t she summon ice storms and nightmare demons to attack Snow White and the dwarves the first time? Did she study up on further magical resources within the less than three day timespan between her revival and this point in the special? Did she think she didn’t need to use these powers before?
Anyway, the standstill between the Giants and the demons is disrupted when Hicker’s loud hiccups cause a quake. The Wicked Queen retreats inside her castle, seeking help from the Magic Mirror as her powers weaken and the demons vanish. What happens next is worth quoting in full, as it’s a take on the relationship between the Wicked Queen and her mirror that I don’t think I’ve seen in any other version.
Wicked Queen: Mirror, help me! I must have more powers!
Mirror: Too late you acknowledge that I am the source of your powers, my Queen. The evil for which you used those powers shall consume me, even as it shall consume you!
Wicked Queen: You perhaps, but NEVER me!
Mirror: I AM YOU, MY QUEEN!
And with that, the Mirror breaks apart into pieces and shatters on the floor. The Wicked Queen gapes in horror, melts into a puddle, and implodes or explodes in a flash of light and thunder. Nothing is left but smoke which soon dissipates.
To the best of my knowledge, A Snow White Christmas is the only version of Snow White that says or implies that the Magic Mirror is the Wicked Queen’s Soul Jar, and when it is destroyed, so is she. There have been versions where she smashes the mirror in anger and a flying piece of it impales her, but none where the mirror is stated to be the source of her power, and what keeps her alive. Here, the Mirror breaks on its own either due to the Queen using its power for evil too many times, or because of the quake Hicker caused. And with it goes the Wicked Queen – she’s not bouncing back from this one, folks. She and the mirror are dead. For good. At least in the universe this special is set in.
This is pretty dark stuff for a Christmas special, I’d say. I thought so as a kid when I first saw this, and I still think so now. The closest another special comes to this is the fate of the antagonist in Rankin Bass’ The Leprechaun’s Christmas Gold.
Anyway, the castle collapses, the spectator vultures fly away, and over in the kingdom of Noel, the spell is broken and King Charming, Queen Snow White, and the citizens are all restored to their normal unfrozen selves. Unfortunately, Princess Snow White is still in a deathlike coma, and remains so even days after the spell on her parents and the town was broken. King Charming fears the curse on Princess Snow White is forever, and the Giants and everyone else shed tears as a sad song plays.
Her parents sadly note that tomorrow is Christmas, and Queen Snow White wishes she could give her daughter the gift of life. The King sadly notes that there is not a prince to kiss life back into their daughter as he kissed life back into Queen Snow White. The two of them lean forward, and give their daughter farewell kisses on both cheeks. For a while, there is silence as the dirgelike song concludes. But then Princess Snow White wakes up, and embraces her mother and father in a tearful hug.
We then move into a montage of Snow White, her parents, Grunion, the Giants, and the citizens of Noel simultaneously celebrating Christmas and the happy return of Princess Snow White, to the tune of a short song ‘The Perfect Christmas’. So everyone’s happy, and Queen Snow White is declaring the following Christmas morning the happiest ever. There’s only one thing getting Princess Snow White down, and that’s the fact that since the Wicked Queen’s castle was destroyed, she can’t make the decree she was going to make.
However, while she was still in her magical sleep, her parents told the Giants about the Christmas castle she wanted, and Brawny (thinking the princess wouldn’t be around to make the decree) decided to make her wish come true by building a new castle in the nearby hills. Princess Snow White is overjoyed, and so the special comes to its end as everyone celebrates.
So, how was it? This special is cheesy at times, and there are certainly some weird moments. And yes, it does homage the Disney film in a number of ways but it does enough different things with those homages (in much the same way Star Wars: The Force Awakens does different things with elements of A New Hope that it homages) that it avoids being a knockoff. While the Giants aren’t quite as endearing as Disney’s Dwarves, they have their moments here and there.
The special also homages the earlier versions of Snow White. Just as in the Grimm version, the Wicked Queen makes two prior attempts to take out Snow White before finally sending her into a deathlike coma on the third attempt. And I have to say, it’s much better done here than in the Grimm version. In the Grimm version, the Wicked Queen uses the same disguise to trick Snow White three times. First with a booby-trapped hair comb, the second with hair ribbons, and the third with the poisoned apple.
One would have thought Snow White would have gotten suspicious of strange old ladies bearing gifts after the first two attempts (which were thwarted with the help of the dwarves). That problem is not present in this special, as the Wicked Queen tries several very different approaches before using the deathlike coma flower on Princess Snow White. Of course, some might say it pads the special a bit, but it didn’t seem too much of a problem for me.
A Snow White Christmas does get pretty dark for a Christmas special, as I’ve noted above. However, the darker aspects certainly are in keeping with the Snow White and fairy tale aspects, as fairy tales (even in the Disney versions) have their darker moments. And that certainly includes Snow White (Snow White never would have even met the dwarves in the first place if the huntsman who’d been ordered to kill her and bring her heart back to the Wicked Queen hadn’t told her the truth and let her escape). So in some ways, it’s being true to its roots even as it puts its own spin on elements from both the original story and the classic movie.
The way Princess Snow White is revived is also worth noting, as the idea that familial love can work just as well for breaking a spell was also used in Disney’s Frozen. And this special predates Frozen by a good 34 years.
The songs in the special aren’t all that much. The opening is just the title of the special, repeated. The ‘It’s Christmas’ song at the Noel Ice Festival is good for atmosphere purposes, but sadly I don’t see it becoming a breakaway Christmas song hit like many songs of Rankin-Bass specials. The ‘A Darker Side/Evil Times’ song enhances the mood of the Wicked Queen’s return, and shifts the tone of the special significantly. ‘The Seven Friendly Giants’ is a series of rhymes introducing the giants, and that’s really all there is to say about it. ‘Oh, she’s sleeping’ has few words beyond that – it just does its job setting the somber atmosphere of Princess Snow White in her coma surrounded by her family and friends. And the reprise of ‘It’s Christmas’ after that isn’t much better than the original.
In the end, I think, it’s a better Snow White sequel/homage than it is a Christmas special. The more I think about it, it doesn’t really make too much of a difference to the story that it’s set during the Christmas season. Even the little plot thread involving Princess Snow White’s wish for a Christmas castle didn’t require it to be set at Christmas. In fact, once Snow White and Grunion flee Noel, we can easily forget it’s a Christmas special until close to the end when Christmas is brought up again.
All in all, though, A Snow White Christmas has its moments, and it might be worth checking out at least once if you can find it. Maybe some of you might catch some homages or something I didn’t catch.
In any case, let me know what you think.
Special thanks to Moviefan for encouragement and inspiration. Be sure to check out his A Look At Disney series, where he comments on and analyzes Disney’s well-known and lesser-known works.
When originally published, this post received the following replies:
April 2, 2016 at 2:36 am
Sounds like an interesting kind of movie, doesn’t come off as cheap like other cash grabs sound like, so this might be worth a look in the long run. Overall, this was a fine review and a great shout to Moviefan12. Bravo.
April 2, 2016 at 1:18 am
Didn’t know about this until you told me about it and this was a rather fun read. I’m glad that I could serve as inspiration as I’m just talking about things that I love on my blogs.
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