It has been two and a half years by now since American actress Rachel Zegler of Colombian ancestry was announced to play the titular character of Snow White in an upcoming Disney feature film about the classic fairy tale. After two and a half years and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on production, it seems that that decision is really not working out for the American entertainment giant.
To make things worse, in the meantime, they have also suffered one of their biggest box office bombs ever. Their animated feature Wish came out in November 2023, and only grossed $234 million against a $200-million-dollar production budget. As we detailed in our previous article on this subject, that does not equal profit for the company, as about 50 per cent of the ticket sales revenue goes to the film theatres, and marketing spending is not included in the production budget either. In reality,
the latest Disney release Wish almost certainly ended in a loss of over $100 million for the company.
They also lost their position as the world’s highest grossing film studio in 2023, having been overtaken by Universal Pictures. Universal put out the critically acclaimed and financially successful biopic Oppenheimer last summer.
CGI Dwarfs Added to Disney’s Snow White
Casting a non-white actor in a role that literally has the word ‘white’ in the name was just the start of the troubles for Disney in their new project.
They also decided to remove the classic characters of the seven dwarfs, and replaced them with a diverse ensemble of ‘magical creatures’. Reportedly, they decided to do so after Peter Dinklage, a famous actor with dwarfism, criticized the depiction of dwarfs in Snow White in a podcast appearance of his in January 2022. In the Game of Thrones actor’s defence, he did not go out of his way to give Disney executives unsolicited advice, he just shared his opinion when asked.
Since the decision was unveiled by the studio to replace the classic seven dwarfs, they have been getting widespread ridicule and criticism. Even dwarf actors (other than Dinklage) have come out to speak up against the casting choice, saying they thus have been denied the opportunity to land lucrative and prominent roles.
Alas, their calls were not heeded. While Disney did decide to retroactively put the dwarfs back in the movie, it was cheaper for them to do it with 3D computer animation, as opposed to hiring new actors and getting a crew back together for more filming days. And they have to be mindful of the cost, as the production budget has reportedly crossed $350 million with the new cuts. Add the marketing spending to that, and the movie would have to gross around $750 million just to break even.
With this new move, Disney is hoping to have a similar result to what the 2020 action-comedy film Sonic the Hedgehog had. That film took a popular video game franchise and used it as source material. However, the character design for the titular character of Sonic was heavily criticized for its uncanny appearance. So, the studio (Paramount Pictures) went back and re-edited the film with a new character design that better resembled that of the original video game. Fans ended up applauding the effort, and the move became a financial success: it brought in $319.7 million in revenue, while costing $90 million to make in total.
However, Disney felt it still had some atoning to do.
While this is yet to be confirmed, industry rumours speculate that the studio had hired 10-year-old actress Emilia Faucher (who is white, by the way) to shoot new scenes for the Snow White film. The idea is to include a subplot to show the main character’s childhood. This way, screen time could be taken away from Rachel Zegler, who has angered fans not only by not being a good match for the character in terms of skin tone, but also for degrading the classic 1937 animated version of Snow White made by Disney.
Zegler did have some success recently, however. While there were some worries about her negative impact, the 2023 release of the Hunger Games franchise starring her, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes ended up making a profit, grossing $336.6 million against a production budget of $100 million.