“Hah! Women!” –Grumpyby Kit
Whenever Disney re-releases Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs they refer to it as “The one that started it all” and its true. As the first hand-drawn animated feature length film it created for Disney a legacy as the Master of the Animated Film that remains to this day. But what makes it truly great is that after over 75 years it still holds up.
SynposisThe movie’s plot is well-known. An Evil Queen asks her magic mirror on the wall “Who is the fairest one of all?” The mirror replies that it is Snow White, who is in rags meeting her Prince just outside the Evil Queen’s tower. Furious, the Evil Queen sends her Huntsman to take Snow White out into the forest and kill her. The Huntsman takes her to the forest but is so overcome by her innocent beauty that he cannot do it and tells her to flee into the forest. She does and runs into a cottage owned by seven dwarfs (who are out mining). Snow cleans the cottage with the help of some animal friends she met in the forest. Then the dwarfs return and, finding it clean, are initially not amused but upon seeing her they are quickly won over and she soon becomes a Team Mom to the dwarfs, making them clean themselves and cooking them food. Grumpy is unhappy with this arrangement and fights it every step of the way. Eventually, they head back to work with Snow White kissing all of them except Grumpy, who refuses.
The dwarfs then return to the Cottage and hold a funeral/wake of sorts where even Grumpy cries. Fortunately, they are too sad to bury her and make for her a glass casket, allowing the Prince to arrive and kiss Snow White, bringing her back to life. She bids farewell to the dwarfs and rides off with her Prince.
Making of and ImpactWhen Walt Disney decided to produce a feature length animated motion picture his studio was already the best in the field of animation (Bugs, Daffy, and the rest would not come until c. 1940). Indeed, despite the artistic and financial success of cartoons like Steamboat Willie and Three Little Pigs, he wanted to aim higher. He was going to make a feature length hand-drawn animated movie, an unprecedented act when all animated films were 5-7 minutes at the longest, and he chose the fairytale of “Snow White” for his film.
But Does it Still Hold up?I think the answer is... Yes! It does hold up. While the animation is often lacking, even by 1950s Disney standards, the movie manages to surpass these flaws with a great deal of charm, particularly in the cast and their lively interactions with each other.
Snow White is sweet, nice, and kind. She is very motherly to the dwarfs and the animals around her. In fact, when she first arrives at the cottage she assumes the dwarfs are orphans. But she is also a little girl. She is far too trusting of others at times and frightened when she is chased into the woods after learning of the Evil Queen’s plan to kill her. On the whole, she is a likeable and relatable character who is very easy to root for, an important quality for many lead characters – especially a Disney Princess. Her interactions with the rest of the cast are nearly always motherly, whether its telling the dwarfs to wash their hands and faces or lecturing two squirrels for sweeping their dirt under the rug.
“Silly Song”. It starts with Grumpy, who is not happy about the presence of Snow White and her effect on the home, playing on the organ while glaring back at Snow White and the other dwarfs. Doc (the leader) takes Snow White’s hand and brings her onto the floor to dance. Happy, who is, well, happy about things, steps forward and starts gleefully singing to Snow White and tap dancing for her. Bashful is so shy he can barely get out his words to Snow White. Sleepy plays the flute half-awake, and Dopey, after being distracted by a fly, interestingly shows some ingenuity by grabbing a coat and, getting on Sneezy’s shoulders so he can dance with Snow White at her height until Sneezy ends this by sneezing. In a way, this mimics the different ways humans react to the mating ritual.
Another interesting thing about their interactions with Snow White is how it is, in some ways, perhaps a story of domestication. When Snow White arrives at their home she finds it in utter disarray: the plates are unclean, the floors unswept, the whole place is filthy. She cleans the place. When the Dwarfs first arrive back home they are shocked, confused, and angry about their home being cleaned up. Then when they see her they are immediately smitten and are suddenly eager to please her and all do as she asks by cleaning and washing themselves. All except Grumpy, who remains angry over her arrival. But even Grumpy is not permanently immune to her charms. When he finds out it’s a woman, he announces that she will run all over them and order them around, the other dwarfs dismiss it, even though he is clearly right as she does order them around. He continues to gripe and fume about her presence until he finds out that she is in danger. Then he shouts “We’ve got to save her!” and jumps on a deer to ride to her rescue. And at the wake he turns his head away and cries over her apparent death.
Finally, opposing Snow White and her dwarf and animal friends is the Evil Queen, a truly brilliant villain. The Evil Queen works in the story by presenting a sufficient enough of threat to Snow White and the heroes that we become genuinely scared for their lives when the movie needs us to be. She is cold-blooded, as well. She wants to have Snow White murdered and her heart cut out simply because she is prettier than her and when that fails is willing to have Snow White buried alive. Adding to this, in her hag form there are several moments when she looks straight into the audience and the result is incredibly creepy.