Q is for…The Evil Queen

Walt Disney’s 1937 masterpiece of animation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was the first truly successful Anglophone animated feature—the first to be filmed in technicolor and the first full-length cel animation film. It’s the earliest of the Walt Disney animated classics, and it ushered in an era of Disney princesses and Disney villains.

The film tells the familiar tale of Snow White, an old folk tale published in the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale collections. The tale was rQevised by the Brothers Grimm for the collection, and it has be re-revised again and again since then. The story generally centers around the jealousy of the Evil Queen and Snow White’s attempts to void being quashed as the Queen realizes that she is no longer the fairest and brightest in her land.

Of course, it is doubtful whether the Evil Queen was ever the “fairest” in the land, and the use of the word plays on both its virtually archaic meaning of “beautiful” and the modern use of the word as a synonym for “just.” The Evil Queen is beautiful in a hard, cold way—and her quest to kill Snow White, her stepdaughter, is a merciless articulation of sexual jealousy and the fear of being replaced.

The design of the Evil Queen’s garments, lair, and her overall appearance are calculated to highlight both her age and her evil qualities. She is not a cartoon-ish villain, even if she is a cartoon character. Inspiration for the character design came from the character

Peacock imagery often surrounds the Evil Queen to suggest vanity.
Peacock imagery often surrounds the Evil Queen to suggest vanity.

Kriemhild in Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen and Queen Ayesha from the film She. The result is a tall, cold woman with steely expression, a fearsome villain who has terrified children for almost 100 years now.

Reportedly, Walt Disney himself thought of the Evil Queen as a mixture of Lady Macbeth and the Big Bad Wolf. And when the Evil Queen turn herself into a hag, she is most fearsome. Voice actress Lucille La Verne famously removed her false teeth to make her voice sound older, and the results of the transformation, both in voice and in appearance, are startling.

As a child, I was terrified of the Evil Queen as the Hag. She was ugly, menacing, and trying to kill the beautiful heroine. And she was so vastly different from the beautiful version of the Queen–where the Evil Queen was majestic and cold, the hag was overly-friendly and horribly ugly. My siblings swear that I would skip any pictures of the Hag in storybooks, and when we went to Disneyworld, I was terrified by her appearance in Snow White’s Scary Adventures.

I mean, really...
I mean, really…

Recent adaptations of the Snow White story have explored new ways that the Evil Queen is a victim of her circumstances, trapped in a patriarchal society that demands she be a beautiful ruler and prepares to usurp her once a younger, more beautiful woman comes of age. Lana Parilla’s Evil Queen in ABC’s Once Upon a Time and Neil Gaiman’s narrated “Snow, Glass, Apples” suggest growing sympathy for the Evil Queen, depicting Snow White as less-than-pristine (Gaiman writes her as vampiric, OUAT depicts her as the destroyer—albeit accidentally–of the Queen’s happiness).

But in the original Disney film, there’s no doubt she’s a villain—and an absolutely fabulous one, at that.

And lookit that lair!
And lookit that lair!
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42 Comments

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  1. I like the idea of a sympathetic look to the Evil Queen… there was something about the question, and the mirror, that always struck me as odd. There would be no reason for the queen to be replaced if she is the matriarch (I didn’t see a King)… but yeah. Great analysis here. 🙂

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  2. I was surprised to discover how popular, and widely varied, modern mainsteam and pop art imagery of snow white is–internet searches revealed images numbering in the thousands: from disney snow white to zombie snow white to steampunk snow white to manga snow white. I had to stop myself a a month of weekly posts I called “Snow White Variations”, but had I wanted to I could still be milking that cow today. As I said then ” feel comfortable saying that the chaste princess of the forest must be one of the most ubiquitous inspirations for fetishistic illustrations on the net.” I don’t generally think it’s appropriate to offer links to my own page, but its easy enough to find if you’re curious.

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    1. I remember reading some of that series—it was awesome!

      And yes: I think that, especially recently, Snow White has really come into vogue. There are all kinds of versions of her story out there.

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    1. Thanks! Glad you stopped by. It’s been a fun month—I’m trying to decide if I can turn this into some sort of regular creature feature. 😀

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  3. I’ve not been around nearly as much as I intended during this A to Z month, but I’m coming back to many of these monster posts. Still, such a great theme.
    Maleficent is the one who does it for me – so purely, wickedly, evil. She is my always favorite.
    My daughter reads from a book series Who Would Win? In the books, two animals/whatever are pitted against one another – Killer whale vs. great white shark, for example. I think a Disney Villains series like that would be grand fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you’re enjoying!

      I haven’t had as much time to read lately as I’d like, either, so I’m going to have to play catch-up once April is over! 🙂

      And oooooh, that does sound like a fun idea for a series!!

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  4. Great presentation and discussion about Disney Queen villains. Although not a queen, the villain that most terrified me was Cruella Deville from 1001 Dalmatians. Scary!
    Michele at Angels Bark

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  5. Disney female villains are fantastic. My absolute favorite was Ursula from Little Mermaid and then there was Malificent. My mom remembers seeing Snow White as the first movie she ever saw in the theater, circa 1939. This is a nice read. Thanks.

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    1. That’s awesome! I wonder what it must’ve been like to see that in theaters, the first big animated film. I bet it was amazing.

      Ursula and Malificent are two of my favorites, too. 🙂

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  6. I love the Evil Queen and love all the information in your post – But I really love Regina (the evil queen) in Once Upon a Time – while I grew up with the Disney version, I so like the adult version much more. And the fact that it’s a weekly show allows her character to have much more depth. – visiting from a-z challenge -http://50andfabulousblog.blogspot.com

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  7. Oh, the evil queen was much more beautiful than Snow White any day. Evil? Well, I do like strong women and Snow White was pretty helpless on her own. I also love the evil queen’s cameo in Anny Hall 😉

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    1. For sure–I think Snow White’s helplessness is a turn off to us now, and that’s one of the reasons we re-write the story in so many ways, especially as concerns the female characters.

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      1. Great post and theme! I do find Snow White’s helplessness annoying. She also does the dumbest thing, eating an apple from a clearly spooky stranger, the sort of thing everyone’s parents and grandparents, etc. told them not to do as a child. Did she never listen!

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        1. haha! Indeed. I think one of the things we see in these stories is that they work as cautionary tales—-and that means the heroines and heroes often do things that we find incredibly perplexing.

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  8. I loved the Neil Gaiman story, but I can’t sneak up on Once Upon a Time (it hurts my inner storyteller). Talking about evil queens, I did also love the new take on Maleficent…

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

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    1. I like OUAT mostly because it mashes everything together, and I like re-mixes and re-makes. The show has had its downs, to be sure, but overall I just enjoy watching what someone new does with old characters.

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  9. She is one spooky villain!
    I’ve also loved the ways that newer interpretations have been trying to understand a more nuanced background for her… feel like it’s part of a trend of trying to understand the “evil.” (Or, you know, people needing to get creative in how they rehash old ideas…).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s part needing to be creative about the way rehash things, but mostly that we need to rewrite our old stories in more modern ways to both hold onto them and reconfigure them for the time we’re in. Maybe. lol

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve always been fascinated by the evil queens, witches, and fairies in the Grimm Brother’s stories more than their princesses or fair maidens.

    The evil queen in Snow White was striking, though.

    -Chrys Fey
    Tremp’s Troops – A to Z Co-co-host
    Write with Fey

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, I think the female villains are always really interesting–that’s why I decided to writing about female monsters this month! 🙂 Glad you stopped by!

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