“Disneyfication” is a term we’re all too familiar with in the 21st century. After all, Disney is to entertainment what Google is to the Internet. Both are inescapable in modern daily life. Therefore, it’s not surprising that gnomes also have a Disney connection. What is surprising is how far back the connection goes and its importance in both the future success of Disney and of garden gnomes. The story of the garden gnome might in fact be a historical instance of transmedia branding.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first full-length animated film ever. It was also Walt Disney’s first full-length feature film, and whatever success the all-encompassing media empire knows today owes much to the reception of its first big screen blockbuster. It was released in 1937 to great critical praise and even greater profits. It is unlikely that other beloved fantasy films, such as MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (1939) would have been made, if not for Snow White’s breakthrough at the box office.
Snow White is the first example of Disney’s tried-and-true formula of adapting a folk tale using the medium of cel-animation. In this case, the source material is the familiar Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale about a young girl absconding from her evil queen step mother and hiding out with seven miners that live in the woods. The original story never names the dwarfs, but Disney gave each one a personality and a moniker. Disney also transformed them into something more akin to Paracelsus’ magical gnomes than the human dwarfs most original readers of Grimm probably envisioned. Disney’s earth-dwellers were lovable, goofy, bearded (mostly), and colorful, and America fell in love with them in 1937.
Would anyone have cared to put a dwarf on their lawn if not for Snow White? It’s hard to say, but it is not likely that garden gnomes would have become as popular to consumers around the world without the unforgettable image of Disney’s dwarfs.
Rest assured (or not, if you worry about my obsessive pastimes), there is more to come on our friend, the garden gnome. Stay tuned for future posts that expand on the fellow’s history.