Once again, a happy new year to everyone! I’m kicking off the year-long project to watch the entire Walt Disney Animation Studios film canon, and of course, it begins with the iconic Snow White, a film with more than a little historical significance, not only to the House of Mouse, but also cinema on the whole.
Film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Studio/year released: Walt Disney Animation, 1937
AniB’s thoughts: “Hi ho! Hi ho! It’s off the work we go!” Indeed, the dwarfs’ iconic mining song seems apt to describe the beginning of this journey, which goes back over 80 years now (at the time of this writing) and points to the first of several iconic Walt Disney-era films. There was a lot of firsts in fact, when it came to this film:
-the first feature length animated film; prior to this release Snow White was seen as “Disney’s folly” and something that couldn’t be done;
-the first American movie to feature a soundtrack for release with the picture; Bourne Co. Music Publishers actually owned the rights (and still does!) to the music in this film as Disney hadn’t conceived its own in-house studio yet and wouldn’t yet still for a number of years.
-the first Disney princess movie: Snow White established all the archetypes and hallmarks for these films in the animated canon moving forward, and aside from Snow herself, the ideal princess in a lot of ways, it also gave us the first in a line of deliciously fun and evil Disney villains- the Queen.
So what of the film itself? In my honest opinion, its fame and praise is warranted, even long after its peak in the limelight faded and animated films went from an almost unimaginable dream to commonplace fare in the modern era. The animation still pops, perfectly synced in with the lively orchestral score, and everything just feels fluid and impactful as it was form the time it was made. No, it’s not some technological marvel like today’s Disney flicks are, but it’s a timeless hand-drawn, professionally crafted work of art with a simple, unforgettable tale at its center, and the innovator for all the films that came after it in the canon order.
Animation: 2-D classic, hand-drawn animation. Both an innovative and unprecendented film at the time, the quality of the work here by Disney animators is still quite a treat despite the many, many years that have passed. Facial expressions are fluid, the actions on screen sync perfectly with the orchestral score, and Disney created a set of iconic character designs here, from the dwarfs to Snow White and her iconic dress, and even both of the Queen’s appearance- as royal ruler and haggard witch. 5/5 points.
Characters: Fairly straightforward cast, based off the Brothers Grimm story, but as far as advancing animation and its foray into the movies, this was a super important set of characters.
Snow White is the first in the line of Disney princesses- and in many ways, serves as both the ideal and archetype for this character in the canon. She’s “the fairest one of all,” has a beautiful singing voice, a kind countenance beloved by all, from charming princes to woodland animals and even the surly dwarfs, and practical skills, from cleaning to cooking and a warm sense of caregiving. She’s innovative in her simplicity, but also as a model that set the template in place.
Then there’s the dwarfs- Doc, Dopey, Sleepy, Sneezy, Bashful, Happy, and of course, Grumpy. Each one is a great literal interpretation of their names- and allowed the animators some liberty to craft a good deal of humor around those naming schemes and actions. The dwarfs are really the most “classic cartoon” characters in the film between their actions and roles- from their simple lives mining priceless gems in an unnamed mine, to Grumpy’s tough exterior melting at the undeniable kindness and charm of Snow White, and even to Dopey’s charming clumsiness, or Doc’s well-intentioned bumbling. The first major supporting characters in a Disney film, you could even argue these guys are collectively the “deteuragonist” role.
Of course, no Snow White review or analysis is complete without talking about the Queen- the first in a long line of iconic Disney villains. Vain and self-absorbed, this wicked ruler orders a huntsman to bring back Snow White’s heart in a box- and when that fails, she dons the dark magical disguise of a hag to deliver the iconic poisoned apple. The Queen set the tone for how Disney villains were to be by and large: truly awful people with megalomaniac tendencies and a lot of innovative scheming. Others would innovate more though, in the tradition of having charisma to go along with the rest of the recipe.
Finally, there’s the prince. He’s more or less a plot device for “true love’s first kiss” and the “happily ever after” sort of ending, but in this film, it works…because again, context matters. As a result, this cast gets a bit more credit for being innovative at the time. 4.75/5 points.
Story: Again, with the basis off the fairy tale it comes from, Snow White is a familiar story to most people- the fair princess, hated with a furious envy from the Queen, is set up to be killed by the huntsman, only to flee into the woods and find the dwarfs’ home after the former spares her. It’s a simple, timeless tale with simple, timeless morals, motivations…and in this film, it was executed as a very high level, which still shines forth today. It’s still impressive to watch the action unfold (and might I say the entire chase sequence with the dwarfs racing to rescue Snow White from the witch is still incredible?) Sometimes, a film can be innovative by being a masterpiece of technical work, and I think that was evident from Disney’s first film. 4.25/5 points.
Themes: From “jealousy never leads to anywhere but doom” with the Queen to Snow’s waiting for “love’s true kiss,” this is a simple thematic exercise, with a lot of ideals built into Snow’s character herself, while the Queen is set up as the antithesis in every imaginable way. There’s also some stuff about compassion and caring from the dwarfs as they develop a bit in the narrative, and it’s just an enjoyable set of clear thematic aims without pretense or pomp, and easy to digest. 3.5/5 points.
Don’t Insult the Viewer: The old witch might frighten some of the youngest viewers still to this day, as well as Snow’s escape into the forest scene, but overall, this is a family-friendly experience with straightforward writing and characters. The score also includes some classics, such as the dwarfs’ mining song and “Someday My Prince Will Come,” the first princess “theme song,” if you will. All around, a classic experience. 5/5 points.
Overall: 22.5/25 (90%): Walt Disney’s first feature-length film still holds up over the annals of time as a true testament to excellence and innovation in cinema. For the modern viewer, it may feel a bit simple, but it still proves to be an entertaining watch with superb technical execution and the establishment of key archetypes and building blocks for Disney films as they moved forward. A true classic.
Like what you see? Excited for all the Disney films that will be covered? Love Snow White? Leave a comment!