Director David Hand
Stars Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Harry Stockwell, Pinto Colvig, Roy Atwell, Otis Harlan, Moroni Olsen, Billy Gilbert, Stuart Buchanan, Eddie Collins
Things You Might Like
- Simple story of good versus evil
- The heroic rise of Grumpy
- Charming and still funny
- Truly scary Queen
Things You Might Not Like
- Schmaltzy ending
- Snow White
- Surprisingly dark
Snow White is the blueprint for fairy-tale cinema, and while styles have changed, every animated film owes a debt to the Seven Dwarfs.
5 out of 5 Magic Mirrors
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Disney’s first feature-length animated film. What more is there to say? Well, hopefully another five hundred words or so. We all think we know Snow White, but when was the last time you watched it for yourself (rather than for the twentieth time with your kids)? The film seems to have stood the test of time for children, but is there more to it than a classic tale of a princess and seven small men?
If you didn’t know Snow White was a princess, this is the review for you. I vaguely knew she is marketed these days as part of the princesses (see also: Belle, Aurora) but not much of her backstory. As it happens, it’s pretty much the blueprint for seventy years of filmmaking. Snow White’s wicked stepmother, the Queen tries to have the blanc one killed to become the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. You know her at least, she’s the Queen with the magic mirror and the
fairest in all the land jabber. Escaping murder, Snow White ends up with a bunch of well-meaning dwarfs. That is, until the Queen comes looking.
With the recent release of two revisionist versions of the story (Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman), now seems like a good time to re-appraise the original. The original Disney film that is, the story itself is based on a fairytale (as all good Disney is) and had been made as a silent film and Betty Boop cartoon before 1937. Yet it is the Disney version that has become the archetype of the tale, the go-to imagery for the majority of the film-going world. Time to dig a little deeper into the success of Disney’s first attempt at cinema.
Choosing such a cinematic story helped the writers, as they adapted a morality tale painted in broad strokes. It’s good versus evil, innocence versus wickedness. But it’s the treatment of the basic plot, the wonderful additions, that make the film so good to watch. Characters are almost universally well thought-out. The Queen is mad – so mad that there’s no worry about asking how she ended up like that or where the King is. She howls at the lightening, keeps potions in her basement and kicks a skeleton to pieces at one point. How long her prisoner had been starved, to rot down to only bones is left unsaid. She’s cruel, perhaps the cruelest of all Disney villains. The Queen steals the show with her focused rage and jealousy, setting the mood of darkness that comes down pretty hard for a children’s film.
The dwarfs, rather than Snow White, are the heroes of the film. They are gentle, happy (for the most part) miners living a contented life in the woods until they find Snow White in their home. They fear the Queen, even consider throwing the Princess out at one point, but they vow to protect the young girl. The dwarf’s reaction to their new arrival is smarter than you might expect. A clear line is drawn between those who welcome Snow White (Happy, Dopey, Bashful, Doc, Sleepy, Sneezy) and those who don’t (Grumpy). Of course, it’s expected at first, but it is in Grumpy’s development that the heroic part of the story comes through.
There’s a token prince, but he comes afterwards. The Huntsman sent to kill Snow White is kind hearted and brave to disobey the Queen but no hero. It is Grumpy, who resents disruption in his life, who fears the Queen will come after the dwarfs if they help the Princess, who becomes the bravest when the time to face the Queen arrives. Grumpy comes to life through meeting Snow White, he learns to tolerate her, learns to accept her then risks his life to save her. Of course, at the end of it all, he stays at the mine when the Prince waltzes onto the scene (conspicuously absent for all the hard work). If anyone should give Snow White
true love’s first kiss, it should be the most memorable of dwarfs.
But then, Snow White herself is an infuriating character at the best of times. Opening the film singing along with some birds, despite being treated poorly at the castle, it’s easy to sympathise with the Queen. Cast out, she flails through the woods in hysteria until she passes out with exhaustion. The Princess then break into the dwarfs’ house and moves all of their stuff. Even when protected by the dwarfs and warned (by Grumpy of course) not to let anyone in, she invites a creepy old woman in and falls for her promise of a wish come true. Despite all of this, Snow White ends up being whisked away by a Prince who only saw her once before, never having to face up to the realities of life. What an example to set.
Thankfully, and despite the title, this film belongs to the dwarfs and the Queen. Their arcs are polar opposites, aan scent to heroism and a descent to (increased) madness. They set the basis of animation for decades to come by adding depth, warmth and affection to broadly written cartoons of characters. Snow White is the blueprint for fairy-tale cinema, and while styles have changed, every animated film owes a debt to the Seven Dwarfs.
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