There is this . . . concept in people's minds that the Disney princess movies are love stories about girls being rescued by princes. Snow White and Cinderella take most of the heat, and Ariel and Rapunzel get most of the praise. (By the way, I am going with the twelve official Disney princesses: Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora/Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, and Elena.) I, however, don't see things in that way, and often the characters who get the most criticism deserve it least and those who get the least attention deserve more and those who are favorited most could actually get more criticism. So. I'm starting this series to look at what these characters really are like and what message or theme their stories really try and get across.
Let's start at the beginning, with Snow White from 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The way I see this movie, it is not a love story--despite what a beautiful love song "One Song" is. I believe this is the reason why the prince has no name: he is a metaphorical prince. Now, we all know that fairy tales have background as moral tales. And Walt Disney supported the promotion of good values as part of the Disney name. So let's look at Snow White that way. She is a hard worker who doesn't complain, not when she is washing the steps outside the castle nor when she is helping to clean the dwarfs' home. She takes initiative, as evidenced by her proposition to keep house for the dwarfs if they'll offer her shelter in return. And she knows that fear is something to overcome: when she is afraid, fleeing into the wild forest after attempted murder, she cheers herself up and tries to make friends with whoever is around, even if it's only forest animals. This, too, represents a respect for the natural world: she doesn't just consider them birds and rabbits but rather living beings whose environment she shares.
Here's the part that people overlook with Snow White, though: she knows about periods of waiting. Patience is a virtue, after all, they say, and Snow White knows this. When she is at the castle under her stepmother, she sings into the Wishing Well because she has hope that she won't have to live under disrespect and cruelty forever. At the dwarves' home, she also sings about her prince, whom she has now met; she sings about meeting him again in spring, that is, the time after the winter has passed. Good times follow the bad, or rewards come to those who wait. Either way, Snow White has been a classic example of all of the virtues, and she deserves a reward for this.
Does the story, then, teach people that a reward for a good woman is a man? No, not at all. Remember, I said the prince was metaphorical. You know that scene at the end, when the prince is leading Snow White home to his castle? Yeah, everyone references him kissing her to wake her up from the spell, but people seem to forget the image of his castle, which I prefer to the waking. His castle is up in the clouds--it isn't just far off in the distance so that it appears on the pink sunset horizon. It's in the clouds. Okay, this can just be a pretty image because animation isn't limited by the "physicalness" of live action. But none of the other images in the movie are fantasized like this. So it must be significant that Snow White is looking out and seeing this castle in the clouds.
A castle in the clouds, if you put it that way, sounds like heaven. Which would make Prince Charming a sort of symbolic stand in for the Prince of Peace, the one who is escorting Snow White to this heavenly place in the sky. I'm not saying she died at the end of the movie: I'm just saying that, to me, the whole prince thing is representative of her choice to lead a good life and the positive results that follow that choice. So Snow White is never "dependent" on a man and getting a man isn't her reward/happy ending. The point of her story is simply her never-ending goodness, hope, and perseverance. These are important virtues for everyone to learn, and Snow White is simply a female character expressing these virtues.