#206 Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs

(1937, David Hand)

“Who’s the fairest of them all?”

It’s Disney again! This time, it’s the film that started it all. Movie #1 in the Disney Animated Canon. Walt Disney’s pet project designed to show the world that animation could be turned into full length features. But how well does it hold up today?

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs is based on the famous Grimm fairy tale. Every day, an evil queen (voiced by Lucille La Verne) asks her magic mirror “who is the fairest of them all?”, expecting the mirror to inform her that she is the fairest. She is content until the mirror one day says that a young maiden named Snow White (v/b Adriana Caselotti) is the fairest. In a fit of jealousy, the queen orders a huntsman to take Snow White into the woods and murder her. However, he can’t do it, and Snow White flees and takes refuge with a group of dwarves (note the spelling, Disney!), leading the queen to try and devise an even more gruesome fate for the girl.

Snow White was made at a time when animation was a novel new thing, and people didn’t typically expect to see drawings dance around for ninety minutes at a time. It was made at a time when animated shorts were usually cute characters bouncing around in time with music. Snow White is very much a reflection of this, since there are far too many instances when this movie feels more like an animation demo than an actual film.

For a start, there’s the pacing. It moves pretty decently at the start, and progresses nicely at the end, but the middle is bloated and padded out for ages with stuff that not only fails to contribute to the plot but derails it entirely. It becomes hard to be fearful of the evil queen’s plans when Snow White and her new dwarf friends can go several days without being harassed. The queen has an all-knowing magic mirror! How does it take her several days to realise that Snow White is still alive?

In all this time, we’re treated to an avalanche of whimsy which must have been very entertaining for cinemagoers of the 1930s, and is bound to keep children enthralled, but to a modern audience it feels like they’re stalling for time. Which they kind of are because the source tale isn’t particularly heavy on content, so Disney seem to be padding the movie out as much as possible to ensure that it’s not a short film.

Don’t get me wrong, the animation is fantastic. For a first effort at animating a feature film, this is stunning. Character movements are fluid and vibrant, and there’s a great deal of imagination in the designs. It may be old, but visually it doesn’t feel like it. It’s just a shame that so much of that effort has been wasted on time-draining musical sequences that serve to drag the movie along.

That said, whenever the queen is on screen, the movie picks up considerably. She’s terrifying, and it’s easy to see why she’s the most recognised character of the whole movie. She’s also pretty much the only character who seems to have any depth. Each of the dwarves is a rigid stereotype of the personality trait they’re named after, while Snow White’s entire job is to float around and fart whimsy wherever she goes. The queen, ironically, is the most likeable character, although this may also have a lot to do with the fact that whenever she’s on screen, plot happens, and that’s a good thing.

Essentially, Snow White suffers the same problems all early Disney movies suffer from; they’re all wonder and fluff and fancy animation tricks but there’s not much of a consistently paced storyline. It’s something they thankfully got out of as the decades went by, but these early efforts feel a little clumsy at times.

Overall, Snow White is an absolutely important part of animation history, but its efforts have been greatly improved on over time. For Disney and animation completists only, really.

Starring the voices of Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Harry Stockwell, Pinto Colvig, Roy Atwell, Otis Harlan, Moroni Olsen, Billy Gilbert & Stuart Buchanan
Written by The Brothers Grimm (fairy tale) and Ted Sears, Richard Creedon, Otto Englander, Dick Rickard, Earl Hurd, Merrill De Maris, Dorothy Ann Blank & Webb Smith
Produced by Walt Disney
Music by Frank Churchill, Paul Smith & Leigh Harline

Favourite Scene: The queen transforms into an old crone. Terrifying.
Scene That Bugged Me: Snow White breaks into a strange house and immediately redecorates. Terrifying.

Watch it if: You need to watch every Disney movie
Avoid it if: You need more than just whimsy to advance a film

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Posted on August 6, 2013, in 1930s, Animation, Family, Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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