Discovering Disney: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Film, 1938)

This article is the first installment of an ongoing series that looks at the Disney Animated Feature Films. Keep an eye out for my monthly entry every last Monday of the month.

I like to consider myself a completist. I’ve seen every Scorsese film, own every Lady Gaga album, even watched every James Bond film (including the terrible 1960s version of Casino Royale and TV movie version of the same name). It took me six years to finish the latter, something I’m proud to boast of. Naturally, I was looking at something new to review, and I narrowed my choices down to either every film directed by Woody Allen or ever animated feature film from the Disney Studios. Making my decision, I felt I needed a break from live action films and should brush up on the animated genre, something I sorely have overlooked. Thus, this series of reviews was born.

I knew very little of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs heading into this film. I faintly remembered seeing it as a child and hearing a tune that involved whistling, but very little else. Watching this film with fresh eyes, I remarked to my mother, who I thought would get a kick out of watching these classics with me, how little plot there was to the film. Our eponymous heroine, voiced by a dainty Adriana Caselotti, has an evil stepmother (Lucille La Verne) whose vanity has led her to ask a magical mirror who the fairest creature of them all is. As the film opens, the mirror tells the queen that the lovely Snow White has replaced her as the fairest creature, arousing the wrath of our Disney villain.

We then meet Snow White, who has the now typical Disney princess look: triangular chin, high cheek-bones, large penetrating eyes. The animators give her a delicate appearance, matching her vibrato laced soprano voice. It’s hard not to fall in love with her as she sings to birds and hides from the dashing prince. So much of her gracefulness stems from how she moves through the picture, her hands gently lifting through the air as if conducting an orchestra. In an age where kids are treated as Ritalin addicts, it was a warm welcome to sit back and enjoy a graceful style that can only be described as vintage.

It’s easy to see why Disney was so influential, especially with animators in Japan. We see animals react to Caselotti’s voice, this lovely care for her providing warm smiles for the audience. The film shows its craftsmanship throughout–evidence that it was made with love and care. Its ripples can be found everywhere.

As the famous tale goes, the queen sends a huntsman out to kill Snow White. The princess finds out about the plan and hides in a tiny house in the woods. She’s startled by how messy the pad is and cleans the place up with the help of her animal pals. After an exhausting day, she falls asleep in a tiny bed.

The pace of the film takes it time. I was a half-hour into it and realized the dwarfs hadn’t even been introduced. There wasn’t any emergency concerning the queen’s quest for White’s head. Rather, we spend our time with our princess as she sings and melts our hearts. For a character with such little characterization, what’s now stereotypical seems innocent and pure. Of course, the princess is good because she is pretty and fair. It’s a nasty message to teach kids, but visually is an easy way of conveying the nature of the character. I can only look at the film and sigh that it was a simpler time. We sadly haven’t shed these stereotypes.

As the princess sleeps the titular seven dwarfs toil at work, picking diamonds out of a mine. We’re introduced to their quirky personality traits, thankfully crystallized by their descriptive if not obvious names. Are these nicknames or did their parents have great foresight? Kidding aside, the dwarfs arrive home and are shocked to see the place clean. Fearing the worst, they send the lovable Dopey upstairs to investigate. Snow White is awakened and joyfully introduces herself to the incredulous dwarfs. Just as it didn’t take long for the heroine to melt the hearts of the audience, the dwarfs are wowed by her beauty and are soon singing along with her. That’s the second act–they just sing and dance.

My mom kindly reminded me at this point that the film came out during the Great Depression and that Disney meant for it to be a little film that would uplift the spirit of the nation. Fair enough. I wasn’t really complaining anyway, but more reacting with surprise. The smallness of the film actually made it quite endearing. Of course, at 28-years-old, I’ve learned to not argue with a parent. It’s a battle the child is always destined to lose.

The film comes to a swift close as the queen finds out the whereabouts of Snow White. She disguises herself as an ugly old hag and devises the evil plan to put the princess into an eternal slumber via a poison apple. Her plan works, but to her demise, she is chased up a mountain slope by the dwarfs and killed by a lightning bolt that topples her off of the cliff.

With the villain gone, our princess is encased in a glass coffin, as the dwarfs sit by her side day and night. Eventually, the dashing prince from the beginning arrives, kisses Snow White’s lips, and breaks the spell. To everyone’s delight, Snow White rides off into the sunset with the princess, and as the film title card tells us, lived happily ever after. What a cliché, right?

To be honest, it was hard to find an angle to tackle this film. Of course, I found It delightful and precious, wanting to hold It in my hands. But all this has been written about for eighty years. These damn inescapable clichés.

Something that did seem more interesting was how dampened the color palette to the film was.

It should be noted I watched this on VHS. Good luck trying to find it on Netflix or any streaming platform. Anyway, the colors are muted and dull, lacking the typical kitschy look to modern animated films. When attempting to find screen grabs for this review, I even found this Disneyfied look with modern depictions of Snow White.

Her jawline is more pronounced, giving her a more almond shaped face. He mouth is widened and her lips bright red. Everything is so damn bright and magical. Sometimes Disney can make you want to throw up.

Alas, what’s left to say that hasn’t been said already. Perhaps how badly our prince is left uncharacterized. Normally, we complain about the dearth of complex roles for female characters, but shit, this guy doesn’t even get a name. Like I said, it was a simpler time. And I’ll leave sexist arguments to those who are more passionate. If you watch this film with innocent eyes, you’d have to be an evil queen not to fall in love with it.


About Michael Medlen

My name is Michael and during my free time I avoid having a day job. Strangely enough, this gives me the freedom to run this blog. I write just about anything that can be considered art. I also occasionally post articles that may or may not be relevant to the theme of this site. You’ve been warned.
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