FROM "SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS"
WARNING: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!
I had to put the first Disney villain sooner or later on my list, and I thought what better way to start out my top ten favorite Disney villains of all time than with her. The film is indeed an important chapter to both Disney and film in general (whether you enjoy the film or not), and it is one of my personal favorite Disney films growing up, from it's charming lead, to it's comical sidekicks, to it's catchy songs, to it's gorgeous animation, to it's downright cruel and sadistic villain. And I swear that every time I see her in this film, she just gets more and more twisted to the point where she frightens me more as an adult, than she did when I was a kid. What do I exactly mean by that; well let's take a closer look.
When we learn about the first cruel thing that she does to Snow White through the writing in the film's prologue, at first she sounds like the typical jealous Step-Mother by making the poor girl slave over her as a maid dressed in rags since Snow White isn't hers, and that she wants to remain the fairest in the land. Granted this was Disney's first villain before the wicked Step-Mother in "Cinderella", which would indeed make her the first of that arche-type in the franchise, but we don't really see her abusing Snow White with work, nor does Snow White herself look that stressed or unhappy while working. So it appears that her efforts of forcing Snow White to work for her and look ugly doesn't seem to work...and you know what, IT DOESN'T. Why? Because when she goes to her Magic Mirror to ask if she is still "the fairest one of all", the slave in the Magic Mirror basically tells her that her attempts to make Snow White look less pretty, and have her slave over her didn’t prevent the Princess from being fairer than the Queen, which doesn't please her at all.
The Magic Mirror who serves the Queen faithfully and tells her everything that she needs to know, is the first of the scary imagery that the film throws at us, as well as being the first animated sequence in the movie. The wind blowing and lightning striking that's followed by flames appearing in the mirror as the Queen recites the spell to summon the face in the mirror (making her thee first Disney character ever to speak a word in a full length animated Disney film) that's supported by a very grim score, already sends shivers down my spine for how dramatic the atmosphere is. And once we see the mirror’s purple and green mask like face that speaks that looks and sounds emotionless, as he's being surrounded by smoke and the color purple, you'd almost swear that she's channeling some kind of demon from hell for how demonic the face looks and sounds, and how hellish the background is. And for all we know, the face might as well be, since we don't too much about him, except that he is a supernatural being that knows everything, and can tell the Queen the truth without showing any signs of fear. I mean how does he know all this, where did he come from, did she create him with her black magic, did she sell her soul to Satan by giving her a mirror in exchange? We'll never know, and the mystery behind it all is what helps make this face so terrifying.
So she finds out that she's no longer the fairest in the land, and can't prevent it by making Snow White her slave. So what does she decide to do? Does she banish her; does she use one of her spells to turn Snow White into an animal or something? NO, she decides to kill her! And rather than killing her herself, she hires her Huntsman to do the job, and to bring her back Snow White's heart as proof that he finished the job, and that she can keep the heart in a wooden box (with a gold dagger piercing through a gold heart) as a trophy. And if he refuses or fails to carry out his task, she will have him suffer the "penalty" (which I'm sure means death). So before we hit the ten minute mark of the film, we learn that the Queen is not just a cruel Step-Mother to Snow White, but she has a magic mirror that knows everything, wants her Step-Daughter dead, wants to keep one of her organs as a trophy, and doesn't have a problem with killing one of her "faithful" servants! And the terrible fact is we didn't even get to the part that makes her so scary and deranged.
The Huntsman is only in two scenes of the movie, but you can tell when he's first introduced that he has served her loyally for many years, for how he bows to her with great respect, and how the Queen calls him her "faithful Huntsman". That is until he realizes that he's being sent to kill a Princess which he at first protested, until he is threatened. The scene when he's sneaking up to kill Snow White almost feels like a scene from a slasher film. From the way he sneaks up on Snow White as he walks closer and closer to the screen as we stare at his cold lifeless green eyes where the music just builds and builds to create suspense; to his shadow casting above Snow White which causes her to turn around, scream, and shield her eyes, as he takes out is shiny dagger and is nearly about to stab her. And what makes this scene even more messed up is as he's creeping up on her, we're seeing her helping a lost baby bird in a lovely environment to emphasize on her beauty and innocence, as we're constantly being enchanted and scared at the same exact time, that still gets me now as an adult! And the funny part is, when he drops his dagger and cries that he can't do it, we get a nice bit of subtle of humor involving him awkwardly wiping his tears on Snow White's dress as he begs for forgiveness. But the humor doesn't last long at all, because when he dramatically warns her that the Queen is going to kill her and demands her to run away in the woods we get to (in my opinion) the scariest scene in the movie that's drenching with surreal gothic imagery of monstrous trees, evil eyes in the darkness, and logs that turn into alligators (the image that scared me the most in the whole entire sequence when I was a kid), that's supported by a thrilling score, and petrified reactions and screams from Snow White herself.
One of the many cool things that I admire about the Queen is her design. She looks gorgeous and royal, and has a soft spoken sophisticated voice to match her beautiful design and position in power. But while you're admiring her beauty, you also feel intimidated by it, since she is always shown to be frowning, sounding cold and demanding, and wearing a gothic looking outfit. There's never a moment where she ever seems charming. The closest she ever gets to sounding like a classy Queen is when she sits on her peacock throne ordering the Huntsman to take Snow White to the woods… that is until she tells him the purpose of her plan which causes her eyes to light up and her tone to rise to show that she means business. And the scene when she asks the Magic Mirror if she is now the fairest since she assumes that Snow White is dead until she hears the news. The scenes involving the Queen that always make me uncomfortable is when she watches the Prince Serenade Snow White; whispers Snow White's name when she realizes who the fairest one is; and just stares emotionless when we zoom in on the box that she wants Snow White's heart to be kept in.
But as unsettling as those scenes are, none of them ever match up to the final scene when we see her as Queen, which I'm of course referring to her transformation scene. Immediately after she discovers that Snow White is alive and living in the Dwarf's cottage, she closes the lid on the box in anger and marches down a stairwell leading to the dark parts of the castle. Before that point in the film, we’ve only been in the throne room, the chamber where she keeps her magic mirror, and the courtyard where Snow White works that all look pretty and decorative. But when we finally follow the Queen walk to the room where she makes potions as her long dark cape moves around (adding to the dark atmosphere of the scene), we see rats, cobwebs, and skeletons all over the place, as a fierce score indicates that she is going to handle this matter in the cruelest way possible. And just by looking at the amount of dead skeletons that she has lying about, it seems that she is not a fair ruler, and that it's more than likely that the skulls are innocent peasants and servants that have either angered her, failed to give in to her cold demands, or are claimed to be fairer then her by the mirror. After all she is willing to kill an innocent princess just to remain the fairest in the land, which will probably be a short amount of time for her to remain the fairest until another person steals that position from her, where she'll try to have that person killed as well. I mean good god, her motivation maybe simple, but the lengths she goes to keep her status are way too extreme.
But let's get back to the scene where she decides to alter her appearance. Feeling like that no one will be willing to kill Snow White for how pure she is, she decides to get the job done herself by changing herself into something that no one will ever suspect. Now you'd think that she would turn into something cute and innocent like a lost child, or some kind of animal, or maybe make herself invisible (as Grumpy earlier suggested in the film) and use a sneak attack on her. But nope, she literally goes with the most shadowy thing that she can think of, which is an ugly old hag! Why?! Why disguise herself as something so suspicious where your first instincts when you see her is to scream and get the hell out of dodge?! Well it doesn't matter because she knows that Snow White has no bias against people no matter how deformed they are, and that the film obviously wants us to fear her presence rather than trying to have us think logically about it, which that's something that the film does best like any good fantasy film. The scene involving the Queen mixing the potions together and then drinking it and slowly change into the old hag has some of the most traumatizing imagery to have ever be brought to a children's film. I mean she's mixing potions that laugh and scream wildly; lightning, wind, and colorful bubbles and whirlpools chew up the scenery as she's changing; we witness her hair turning white and wavy as she holds her hand against her neck; and we see her beautiful hands turn old and frail with long sharp nails. And as all of this is happening when her potion takes it effect on her, she can be heard moaning, and looking like that the transformation is literally hurting her.
When things start to calm down a bit, we see her shadow, hear her voice now sounding old, and when we get a look at her in her new form, we see a part of face covered up by her sleeve, but is suddenly revealed when she exclaims what "a perfect disguise" it is, where we soon gaze at this...
Now I'm going to be honest, as twisted and hideously freaky as her design is, when I saw this as a kid I actually wasn't that scared of it. Alright moments like the face she makes when the scene darkens after she reads one of her spells, or when she suddenly appears at the window of the Dwarfs cottage, did had me creeped out a bit, but much like how I felt about witches like say The Wicked Witch of the West in "The Wizard Of OZ" for instance, I enjoyed her over the top villainy more than I was fearing it. Every time we see her in her old hag form she's always shown to be laughing, talking to herself, and making creepy faces, which I found to be as entertaining and fun as watching someone like Tim Curry voice a villain. The moment that always gets me laughing is when she offers her pet Raven a bite of a poison Apple, and after a few moments of the poor thing being cornered with the Apple shoved near his face, she laughs and tells the animal that it's not for him!
Speaking of the Raven, I like that during her transformation scene and when she's making the poison apple, we get to see his comical reactions to tone a bit of the intensity down. My favorite reaction from him is when he hides inside a skull head when he sees the Queen in her old hag form, and then later on jumps when she hears her react with awe when finding the potion that will kill Snow White.
Now even though I don't personally find the Queen in her old hag form that scary, I still completely get why others would. Again, her old, frail and hideous design with those beady eyes, long nose with a giant wart, and having a hump on her back is indeed very unpleasant to look at. Her motivation to poison Snow White with a juicy red apple and later claiming it to be a wishing apple as she pretends to be a nice and harmless old peddler is a cool and yet very creepy concept, that warns kids about stranger danger just as effectively as the Child Catcher in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" in its own fairy tale way. And as much as I enjoy watching her joke around and cackle, I'll admit that I find it more messed up as an adult than I did as a kid. Watching her in this form, she not only looks more sadistic then she was a Queen, but acts and sounds it as well. She shows more enjoyment and thrill out of all the cruel things she's doing, when in her Queen form she seems more tamed. As I mentioned earlier, who remembers a single scene of her as a beautiful Queen when she smiles or laughs for that matter? I mean this old woman is laughing at almost everything that is considered to be cruel and unpleasant, such as the idea of Snow White being practically buried alive, and mocking and destroying the skeleton of a prisoner who starved to death as he was trying to grab a pitcher of water beyond his reach that was put there to torment him mentally. And aside from the scene when she transforms herself, we never see her talk to herself as much as she does as an old hag. And she doesn't even look at the audience compared to her alternate form, which just makes her seem even more out of touch with reality. It's kind of weird for how different she is in terms personality between both forms she takes, but it is still fitting. Whether she's going to be a calm and elegant Queen, or a maniacal old hag, both forms share the same goal and twisted nature for you to still to identify that they’re both the same person, rather than being your typical Jekyll & Hyde transformation. The only real question is which of these two personalities are actually hers? Well even though there's no clear cut answer, I always thought it was her old hag form since she herself is already known to be a witch by the Dwarfs since she practices black magic, and seems to be more at home with being wicked and insane, when as a Queen you get a bit of the impression that she's trying so hard to keep her insanity hidden so that she can remain a beautiful and professional leader. I could be reading way too much into this, but that's the impression I get when watching her in this film. What truly amazes me about both forms of the Queen is they're voiced by the same actress Lucille La Verne, which shocks me for how she can switch between a sexy and royal voice to an over the top raspy old voice so flawlessly. She just really gets into character when doing both identities. And incase if you're wondering how she did it so well, she just simply took out her teeth.
When I first saw the scene of when the Queen poisons Snow White with the apple as a kid, I remember being shocked by it. I mean I knew she was going to live in the end, but just how the scene plays out her death has always been intense for me, mainly because we don't see her bite the apple and collapse on the floor. All we're focused on is the Queen watching her slowly die with excitement and quietly reciting the symptoms of the spell, and hearing Snow White moaning that's supported by a drum roll to build up the tension. And just when we think we're going to see Snow White's dead body hit the floor, we just see her hand fall to the ground as the bitten apple rolls out of her hand that breaks the drum roll, and is followed by dramatic music and the Queen cackling with glee as it begins to suddenly storm outside, happily claiming that she is now "the fairest in the land".
But this tragic victory doesn’t last long when she finds herself being chased by Dwarfs and the animals through a raging storm that eventually has her trapped on the edge of a cliff with nowhere else to go. But that doesn't stop her from finding away to kill the little men, because she uses a stick to send a large boulder in front of her down the mountain to crush their little bones that excites her the same way as her attempts to kill Snow White. But her plan fails to succeed when a lightning bolt strikes the spot where she's standing that causes her to fall to her death. And she doesn't just fall; the boulder falls down with her and crushes her off-screen, causing the Dwarfs to watch this demise in shock. But it doesn't stop there! Her remains are also feasted upon by these awful things...
Wow, this film is actually darker than I remember it! They not only look ugly and scary, but the color of their beaks almost reminds me of blood for how red it is and the fact that they like to eat corpses. I don't know why they didn't want to eat Snow White's corpse while she was left alone lying dead in the cottage during this chase, since that seemed to be their intention as they're following the Queen around, but I guess they wanted to eat the Dwarfs as appetizers before heading to the main course.
As I'm on the topic of Snow White lying dead, let's not forget the scene of the Dwarfs mourning the loss of the Princess with organ music playing in the background that takes place after the Queen's death. Usually when villains die, there's a feeling of triumphant, but no we don't get any of that! We instead get a depressing funeral scene. So just to recap of what we get during this climax! We have the Queen successfully poisoning Snow White, only to find herself dying a horrible death after her success, that's then followed by the Dwarfs having a wake for Snow White! Thank god there's a happy ending that happens after all of this, because I don't know if I can sit there feeling happy to watch the Dwarfs build a coffin for Snow White that was originally going to follow after this gloomy moment in Disney history!
"Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is..."
Alright let's stop right there, and read what she actually says that many people misquote!
"Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all"
-The Evil Queen
And just to add a closing quote of her in her old hag form
"Then I'll be the fairest in the land"
-The Evil Queen as an Old Hag