Textual Analysis Assignment – Compare and contrast the ways that Disney represents the characters of Mulan (1998) and Snow White (1937). This assignment is a study of the stereotypical characters that Disney represent in the films, ‘Snow White’ and ‘Mulan’. I will be comparing and contrasting how the two films portray the women in their films. In the media, films, soap operas, magazines and other types of media represent women, with typical characteristics that are very stereotypical. Examples of these can be; that all blonde women are unintelligent, women are only good at domestic duties etc.
These stereotypes were very commonly used in the 1930’s however as the times have changed, women have been portrayed in less stereotypical roles. Nowadays, you do not see all television advertisements showing women doing domestic duties but men are showed to be doing these duties also, (e.g. ‘Flash’ advertisement). However, by late 1990’s women were no longer portrayed as just ‘housewives’ but they were exposed as being sex symbols. I will be studying how Disney has changed its portrayal of women from the 1930’s to the late 1990’s.
It can be argued that Disney’s depiction of women has changed over the years. The two films, ‘Mulan’ and ‘Snow White’ both focus around the lead roles of women in society, this is evident through the names of the films. The two films are perfect examples of the changing roles of women in Disney. ‘Snow White’ is a production of the 1930’s whereas ‘Mulan’ is a later production from around late 1990. They illustrate the cultural ideologies of the people at the times they were produced.
‘Snow White’ has two female lead roles which are played by Snow White and her stepmother the Queen. The film uses Todorov’s theory of narrative structure. This is shown below: The Queen is represented as a typical women who is self-conscious about her appearance and therefore continuously poses in front of the mirror and questions it ‘who is the fairest of us all’. Whereas, Snow White is portrayed as an old fashioned women who’s main concern is the domestic duties around her. The table below illustrates the two binary opposites and the way they are represented:
The table of binary opposites above clearly illustrates how Disney makes a definition between its good and evil characters. The name Snow White is very symbolic as it connotes an idea of innocence and purity. The film shows a very negative attitude towards the relationship between Snow White and her stepmother. The relationships between the two characters abide by the audiences expectations of that time, as second marriages and stepmothers were not readily accepted at that time. The Queen is portrayed as being evil because this is what the audience in the 1930s would have expected from a stepmother and daughter’s relationship. Disney relates its production to its target audience and their expectations.
Snow White is a very traditional woman, as the establishing shot that introduces Snow White in domestic chores. This shows us the cultural ideologies of the people in the 1930’s as Disney have represented her as a typical housewife. Snow White does not possess any really useful character traits that would allow her to survive on her own, she is quite dependant on men, as when she sees the prince she feels the necessity of a man in her life. She is portrayed as a weak and naive person. Whenever in trouble, she simply solves all her problems by singing a song and asking the assistance of the forest creatures.
Disney did not intend to make Snow White a strong character whatsoever but made her out to be just like what America thought every young girl should be; obedient and kind. The clothing that Snow White wears is very revealing which in a way display Snow White almost as a sex icon. She is shown as a typical American woman of the 1930’s as she has a curvy, full figure. This was what the women were expected to conform to in the 1930’s.
Snow White is shown to be the ‘perfect woman’ as she has all the typical characteristics of a housewife. The film is targeted at women and children from working class backgrounds due to the domestic duties implied. It is also evident that the film is targeted at children as the scenes that show Snow White eating the poisonous apple and the Queen dying have been edited so that the audience are not shown the events but the following shot reveals the event, such as the bitten apple drops to the floor and vultures fly towards the place where the Queen’s body supposedly lies.
A typical scene in the film that shows the stereotypical characteristics of Snow White is when she first comes to the dwarves’ home. As soon as she enters the house she is shocked by the untidiness and immediately starts to clean up. While she lives there she starts to take on the role of a mother figure to the dwarves. This again shows the Disney’s typical attitude towards women. She is shown to be a typical Christian, as in one scene she and the dwarves sit and pray to God. The film shows women to have three main responsibilities, to look after the family, to cook and clean and to be obedient and religious.
On the other hand, ‘Mulan’ is a more modern film that illustrates the modern cultural ideologies about women. Disney’s changing attitude is clearly shown in these two films, this is because ‘Snow White’ is based on white women, whereas ‘Mulan’ focuses on Asian women. This shows the changing representations of women and different cultures. Mulan is quite opposite to Snow White as she is very slim, darker in colour, independent.
The film focuses on her trying to uphold the family honour. The establishing shot shows her being dressed up to look like a traditional Chinese women to impress the guests who have come for her marriage proposal. She does not fit the typical characteristics of what a Chinese woman should be like because she is thin, independent and doesn’t have a very feminine attitude. She is against all the norms of society that tell us what a woman should be like, therefore being in total contrast to Snow White. She isn’t like the typical women of the 1930’s that do not make themselves heard, she feels equal to men and is not afraid to vouch her opinion, this shows her as the ‘modern women’.