What Rachel Zegler Doesn't Know About The History Of “Snow White,” But Should

Disney’s newest leading lady to play Snow White has faced backlash recently for appearing unappreciative of getting to play the iconic princess. But what she, and many people, probably don’t know is just how impactful the story of Snow White was for Walt Disney’s career and company.

By Natasha Biase3 min read
Getty Images/Arturo Holmes

In June 2021, Rachel Zegler was cast in Disney’s new live-action remake of Snow White, directed by Marc Webb. For Variety’s Actors on Actors series, the Golden Globe award-winning actress expressed her excitement for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. "Never in a million years did I imagine that this would be a possibility for me," admitted Zegler.

Fast forward to 2023, where, during press tours for the movie, Zegler’s once-positive attitude toward the film saw a shocking shift. During interviews, the former West Side Story star slammed the original animated Snow White film, describing Prince Charming as a “stalker” whose “weird” storyline won’t be included in the remake.

Although, as Collider reports, the film always planned to divert from the original plot, Zegler's smug tone describing the changes sparked outrage online from critics who described her attitude as unappreciative.

"She's not going to be saved by the prince, and she's not going to be dreaming about true love," Zegler told the press.

The Importance of Snow White to Disney

Although the internet saw no shortage of negative comments toward Zegler’s off-putting rhetoric, Ariadna Jacob, an entrepreneur and cultural commentator, posted a thoughtful thread on X about how crucial the 1937 animated classic was to Walt Disney’s success.

On October 16, 1923, the studio now known as the Walt Disney Company, was founded by Walt Disney and his brother Roy in Hollywood, California.

Throughout the years, Disney experimented with new technology, taking incredible creative risks. Early on, Walt took the biggest risk of all and decided to produce the world’s first full-length animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which critics originally regarded as “Disney’s Folly” due to its high production costs and the belief that no one would sit through a 90-minute cartoon.

Aside from risking his career trying to develop the film, Walt Disney also risked his entire livelihood. “Walt leveraged everything he and the studio owned, including his house, his life insurance policy, and even Mickey, to create 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' – a movie that would become a legend,” Jacob wrote.

Developing the film required all hands on deck, with 750 artists and assistants helping to bring the production to life, costing Disney $1.7 million at the time. 

Walt told his daughter Diane, who published the account in a 1956 edition of the Saturday Evening Post, “I had brought in specialists to help with our composition and our use of color, but we still had a fight on our hands for better animation. The kind of animation we were after was entirely new. Before that, it had been done by stunts: limber legs moving in trick runs like egg beaters. But in Snow White, we wanted our action believable. We were after drama and pathos as well as laughter. You can’t pull a tear from an audience with legs whirling like windmills.”

In addition to Walt Disney’s zest for filmmaking and entrepreneurial spirit, Jacob also highlights that the film’s plot Zegler was so quick to criticize is part of the reason Snow White became a box office hit. “Walt used it to captivate audiences, making them invest in the characters and the groundbreaking animation,” she wrote, adding that dismissing the plot disrespects the innovation required to make the film and ignores its impact on modern filmmaking today.

Because of Walt Disney and his team’s commitment to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it met its deadline, and on December 21, 1937, at the Cathay Circle Theater in Los Angeles, California, the film premiered to an attentive and overjoyed audience.

Snow White later went on to become one of the most profitable animated films of all time, grossing over $1.5 billion when adjusted for inflation.

Why Should Zegler Care?

As Emily explains to Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada: “A million girls would kill for this job.”

Aside from the fact that Emily’s sentiments ring true and that it’s a privilege to be a working actor at all in 2023, Zegler should care about Snow White because the original animated film carries Walt Disney’s entire legacy on its shoulders.

Zegler's "feminist" worldview may not relate to the story, where Snow White is saved by Prince Charming and true love's kiss, but, as Jacob points out in her post on X, she should have done her homework out of respect for Disney and the blood, sweat, and tears he and his team put into making it. 

Snow White wasn't just a film; it was a leap of faith,” wrote Jacob. “It paved the way for a new studio in Burbank, spawned classics like Pinocchio and Fantasia, and became a symbol of innovation.”

“Walt and Roy's legacy deserves more respect,” she said. “They were pioneers who reshaped entertainment, and their story is a timeless testament to courage, conviction, and belief in the face of overwhelming odds.”

Sure, Walt Disney is now a household name and arguably doesn’t need a 22-year-old actress to sing his praises, but without him and his belief in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, she wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to play Snow White at all.

Closing Thoughts

The making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a powerful moment in history that laid the foundation for the innovation we see in animated films today. Most people don’t get to play Snow White in a high school play, let alone in a feature film under the Disney banner. Although Zegler is entitled to her opinion, it's unsurprising that her negative attitude about the original story – which has been praised for nearly 85 years by audiences – is considered disrespectful. 

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