Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Written by Peter Lehman
Edited by Dorrin Gingerich

Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, based on the well-known fairy tale, needs little introduction.  I daresay the Disney masterpiece has nearly replaced the old story as the primary version in the minds and hearts of the modern audience.  The princess Snow White (Adriana Caselotti), the fairest in the land, must flee from the queen, her jealous stepmother (Lucille La Verne).  She takes shelter in a woodland cottage, which she shares with seven dwarves.  There, she awaits her true love, the charming prince.  When her stepmother, who is actually an evil witch, discovers her whereabouts, she disguises herself and feeds Snow White a poisoned apple, throwing her into a deep sleep.  To save the day, Prince Charming finally arrives, and awakens her with his kiss.

What Works -  Besides this technical feat, Walt Disney managed to make a vibrant, visually pleasing, entertaining film as well.  Most of the animation stands up to modern-day scrutiny.  The backgrounds are beautifully and painstakingly rendered, remember, all by hand.  The water effects are particularly impressive for the time.  The best scenes carry a certain gloss and detail unmatched by most animated films even up until the late 80s.  The queen’s transformation into her hideous disguise was creatively displayed, even fairly creepy.  The queen, who once possessed a certain cold and terrifying beauty of her own, uses a spell to take on the form of a “harmless old peddler woman.”  Trust me; she looks far from harmless.  The dwarves, who seem like the true main characters, dance, sing, quarrel, and keep the pace moving with superb physical comedy.  The orchestral soundtrack, in the old style, accompanies and accentuates every action onscreen, molded exactly to each character’s moves and antics.  The story itself may be simple, but truly classic, and it’s a joy to watch it unfold.

Disney’s Technical Triumph -  First, some context.  Once talking pictures became viable in 1927, it wasn’t long before animation was paired with synchronized sound.  At the time, Walt Disney and his company were known as creative and prolific producers of cartoon shorts.  When Disney unveiled his ambitious plans for Snow White, many questioned his sanity.  In all, the film cost almost one and a half million dollars, an enormous amount in 1937, and Disney even mortgaged his house to help finance it.  His risk paid off.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a monumental technical achievement and a huge hit at the box office, winning Disney an Oscar and cementing his reputation as a genius of animation.  In nine years, Disney had raised the industry standard from simple shorts like Steamboat Willie to Snow White, the very first full-length animated movie.

What Doesn’t Work -  One look at Snow White herself tells us that the ideal of beauty has changed somewhat.  On the upside, she resembles a porcelain doll more than a Barbie (thank goodness! a way it’s kind of refreshing).  Unfortunately, her super-saccharine squeaky voice also seems like a relic of another era.  In some close-ups, her eyes look kind of painted-on (and rather terrifying!).  However, these are some of the few instances in which I can fault the animators; most of their work is astounding.  In a movie this good, this section is reduced to nitpicks.

Overall -  A joyous and wonderful film, one of my all-time favorite movies. I am willing to admit that, for me, a small part of its appeal may be nostalgia, but make no mistake; everyone should see it.  Even though some moments show the movie’s age, they barely detract from its enjoyment.  Disney’s stroke of genius still holds up today.              

A quote from the movie -
Queen - Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

So what do you think?  Is it as awesome as I say, or is my nostalgia getting the better of me?

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