Disney World is reportedly revamping yet another Guest-favorite attraction at Magic Kingdom, and, as is the sad story of the Splash Mountain ride in Frontierland, the upcoming change is being spurred by Disney’s attempt to pacify a few who take issue with elements and characters in the ride, as well as in the animated film from which it drew its inspiration.
In October 2016, Disney confirmed plans for the production of a live-action version of Walt Disney’s first-ever feature-length animated picture, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Thanks to the nature of the film industry, as well as the time it takes to write the script, the music, and the musical score for a film, find the right talent, cast actors, etc., in addition to the challenges presented by an unprecedented global pandemic in 2020, the remake has yet to be released, but the premiere is nearly on the horizon.
And though it’s been nearly seven years since Disney announced plans for a take-two of the most classic of Disney’s classic films, there was little controversy surrounding the project, save for those who have grown weary of Disney’s apparent aversion to creativity and numbing affinity for simply making new versions of classic films. And for that, this writer will not judge them.
But as Disney began to share more details about the upcoming film, frustrations also emerged among Disney fans and non-fans alike.
Cue the Controversy: A Latina, an Absentee Prince, and the Dwarf Debacle
Disney found its princess in actress Rachel Zegler, who became Hollywood gold nearly overnight when she was cast in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story (2021). Zegler accepted the role of Snow White in June 2021 and instantly found herself at the center of a growing unrest among those who pointed out that Disney’s first princess was named Snow White because of her physical features, as quoted in Walt Disney Animation’s 1937 film: Lips red as the rose, hair black as ebony, skin white as snow. As Zegler a Latina of Columbian and Polish descent, some felt she was wrong for the role and that Disney should have cast a different actress in the role of the film’s titular character or that Zegler should agree to bleach her skin for the role–a suggestion the actress vehemently opposed.
Then in January 2022, Tony Award-winning Broadway star Andrew Burnap was cast as the male lead in the new film, though not as the Prince Charming or the huntsman. In fact, it was revealed that the new film would have no prince–a move some translated as anti-male sentiment and even a high-five to feminism. Rather, Walt Disney Pictures announced the creation of a brand-new role in the film for Burnap, though the studio didn’t share any details, except that it would call on Burnap to sing. Controversy was ignited once again as fans grew frustrated at Disney’s marketing of a live-action remake that sounded far more like a do-over than a remake or take-two.
But the largest part of the controversy over Disney’s new Snow White centers around a decision the studio made with respect to the Seven Dwarfs. Named Doc, Sneezy, Sleepy, Bashful, Dopey, Happy, and Grumpy in the original fairy tale and in Disney’s 1937 adaptation of the story, the Seven Dwarfs have always been, well, dwarfs–regardless of who’s telling the tale. But in January 2022, Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones actor and member of the dwarfism community himself, publicly took issue with Disney’s choice to make a film that he felt the company made a mistake in being progressive in casting a Latina in the film, which he applauded, but continuing with a movie that he called backward.
“I was a little taken aback when [Disney was] very proud to cast a Latina actress as Snow White,” Dinklage said during Marc Maron’s podcast, “but you’re still telling the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Take a step back and look at what you’re doing there. It makes no sense to me. You’re progressive in one way, but then you’re still making that backward story about seven dwarfs living in a cave together.”
Dinklage’s comments drew criticism from other actors with dwarfism, who said Dinklage doesn’t speak for them and that they feared roles for little people would disappear–even while there were dwarf actors willing to play them. Disney answered the uproar by promising to engage members of the dwarfism community before moving forward with the Seven Dwarfs, only to later announce the decision to replace the Seven Dwarfs with “magical creatures.”
But shortly thereafter, an apparent leaked photo from the film’s production seemed to depict those “magical creatures,” and uproar ensued yet again.
The Controversy Continues, and It’s Getting Louder
In recent weeks, the internet has been divided–like the parting of the Red Sea–as heated debates about the casting of a Latina to play Snow White and about the “magical creatures” elements in Disney’s live-action remake of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs have been reignited. In response to the growing dissension over the film, actress Rachel Zegler took to social media with a message for those who have anything negative to say about her role as Snow White.
“Extremely appreciative of the love I feel from those defending me online,” Zegler tweeted, “but please don’t tag me in the nonsensical discourse about my casting. I really, truly do not want to see it.”
Will Disney Parks Answer the Uproar by Eliminating the Seven Dwarfs at Disney World?
As the angst over Disney’s latest live-action remake continues to grow, some wonder what Disney’s decisions in the studio will ultimately foster at the box office. And some Disney Parks fans fear a Guest-favorite attraction at Magic Kingdom could face the same fate as the Splash Mountain attraction, which was closed in early 2023 in preparation for a complete overhaul of the space in Frontierland at the same theme park.
Splash Mountain opened at Disney World in 1992 and was an instant hit with fans. Throughout the course of its more-than-30-year history at Magic Kingdom, it remained among Guests’ most favorite attractions at the Central Florida Disney Parks Resort. But in June 2020, Disney announced plans for its removal, citing the potential for the ride to be seen as reinforcing stereotypes related to racial injustice, as it was inspired by Disney’s Song of the South (1946), which has long been tied to racial stereotyping, though many claims against the film have been found to be ungrounded.
Nonetheless, the Splash Mountain attraction, though beloved by millions of Disney Parks Guests, is now only a part of parks history. Could the same become of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom? According to satire site MouseTrap.com, the demise of the Guest-favorite family coaster isn’t only a possibility, but plans are already underway at Disney.
“Disney finds itself in this controversy again with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the online post reads. “In fact, it’s so bad Disney is removing the dwarves from Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which will promptly be renamed.”
And while the post is satirical in nature, it continues by calling out Disney for the company’s refusal to listen to its core customers–not a minority of people–whether patrons or not–who seem to repeatedly find something about which to be offended–a sentiment felt by a growing number of fans.
“It’s not surprising that Disney continues to find themselves in hot water,” the post continues. “They keep making decisions that seemingly go against their core customer’s wishes and desires. For example, men can now be Disney Princesses. However, [Disney] is also rewriting their past stories, which is upsetting people as well. That’s where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs comes into play.”
The post claims that Imagineers will have all of the animatronic Seven Dwarfs in the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train removed. At the end of the attraction, during the scene in which Snow White formerly danced with the dwarfs, the princess’s animal friends will be used in place of the dwarfs, so as not to offend anyone. Further, MouseTrap suggests that Disney will also rename the ride so there’s no remembrance of its egregious mistake of including the Seven Dwarfs in the first place. It’s new name? Snow White’s Mine Train.
While these claims are purely satirical in nature at this time, it’s definitely not outside the realm of possibility for the removal of the ride to eventually become a reality. After all, if Disney will entirely scrap a more than 30-year-old attraction beloved by millions and millions of Guests–simply because of its potentially harmful associations that have never, in fact, been a part of that attraction, what’s to keep the company won’t get rid of the Seven Dwarfs in the beloved Magic Kingdom mine train attraction?
That’s right. Absolutely nothing.