Out of the Disney canon, “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs” is the big one in terms of cultural significance. Disney had been producing theatrical shorts for years before this film and was generally successful in that practice, but this was their first, ambitious attempt at a full-length animated film, and they threw all the money at it. If “Snow White” hadn’t been as successful as it was then the following fifty-five films would probably never have existed. But luckily, it was a smash hit and it bolstered Disney to continue to pursue the movie-making business for years to come, producing several fan favorites. Unfortunately for Disney, their next couple of passion projects wouldn’t prove to be as profitable as “Snow White” was (poor, poor “Pinocchio” and “Bambi“) and they wound up being really strapped for cash by the end of their short-lived but remarkably consistent golden era. As it stands, “Snow White” is one of the more enjoyable Disney Princess films and it holds up well despite it’s advanced age. There were a lot of likable things about this movie, and I think the only major complaint I had about it is that the villain is kind of a non-entity for much of it.
“Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs” is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s about the misadventures of Snow White and her seven dwarf friends as they stumble around their little cottage and the surrounding forest. One of the greatest pros of the movie is that the bulk of it is focused on them and the large amount of chemistry they have as a group, particularly during a prolonged section of the movie devoted to Snow White’s first night at the cottage and the eight of them learning to co-exist. The consequence of this though is that the magical tyrant, the Evil Queen, and her dimensions never feel that fleshed out as an antagonist, despite being the whole reason the story occurs. In fact, she disappears from the plot for over forty minutes around the middle of the film, and doesn’t really achieve that much in the third act as well when she reappears. In the fairy tale “Snow White” was adapted from, the Evil Queen tried to kill Snow White three times before she succeeded. The Disney version truncates this to her most famous and successful attempt – the poisoned apple – which probably contributes to her lack of screen-time. As it is, it’s not that big a deal and only takes away a few things in an otherwise impressive movie.
Since she was the first girl of the line-up and the one who started it all, Snow White embodies many of the classic Disney princess stereotypes. She’s pure of heart; animals love her because of how kind she is; guys feel compelled to talk about how beautiful she is when they’re around her; she speaks with a soft, fluttering, thrilling voice; she falls in love at first sight; and she always tries to see the best in everyone. If “Snow White” was produced today, people would probably quickly write its protagonist off as an overly sweet, purity sue, but the charm of the 1930’s and the sincerity of Snow White’s character allows Disney to pass off her portrayal. Besides, I like Snow White.
Snow White is compassionate and understanding, but she can also be sarcastic and silly, and at times condescending. Despite her young age, Snow White has a sternness to her and a maternal streak that surfaces when she refuses to take guff from the dwarfs. She’s classy and she carries herself with dignity, yet she longs to be accepted, making it her quiet mission to win over the gruffest and most distrusting of the dwarfs, Grumpy. But the best side of Snow White is the rarely seen, savage Snow White. After Grumpy continues to give her the cold shoulder, he immediately walks right into a door and Snow White sarcastically asks him ‘Oh, did you hurt yourself?’. Good one, Snow. After moving in with the dwarfs, Snow White volunteers to earn her keep by doing the housework while they’re away mining for gems. Because as it turns out, being turned into a servant in her own home for a decade by her awful mom did have some benefits. It left her with useful life skills she could use to bargain with, and Snow White is nothing if not adaptable.
Snow White gets a sequence early in the film that’s kind of frightening. After being sent into the wilderness by the Huntsman, Snow White runs screaming from everything she encounters, including some tree branches and logs. It’s intense and admittedly a bit amusing, but at the same time you understand why she’s freaking out. She just learned her stepmom wants her dead and actually sent a guy to do her in (she always knew the lady was a bitch, but this is a whole new level), she can’t go home again for obvious reasons, and despite running through the woods she has nowhere to go and no one to help her. It’s easy to feel sorry for her when she finally gives up and starts crying to herself.
There are other times in the film where it’s very apparent that, despite the years of abuse, this young girl has lived a very sheltered life and her perspective is a bit off. When she first stumbles upon the dwarfs’ cottage, she decides to trespass there – which is at best rude, and at worst could actually get her into some serious trouble – and her first thought while doing so is that it could use some tidying up and redecorating. And when she’s done with that, she actually goes full Goldilocks and falls asleep in their beds (though she does have some survival instincts: when she wakes up and sees the dwarfs huddled around her bed, she quickly pulls up the sheets and assumes they’re perving). Luckily, the dwarfs don’t kill her when they find her and they become her friends instead, spending the next few days bonding. Like all good character flaws, Snow White’s youthful naivety and lack of worldly experience is eventually used against her by the Evil Queen when the old hag shows up to kill her in the last act, and manages to pressure her into taking a bite of her poisoned apple.
The seven dwarfs are a raucous bunch. The seven, short, bearded miners are brash and boisterous, they’re hyperactive and prone to some rough-housing, they’re easily frightened, and in general, they tend to come off as quite boyish. It’s not uncommon for the dwarfs to think and act as a hivemind, but when we do delve into their individual personalities, the dwarfs are generally defined by the names they have. Doc is the odd man out, in that his name isn’t really a descriptor. He stutters a lot and is often flustered, but he is the de-facto leader of the dwarfs, and the boldest of the lot. Dopey is childish and absent-minded, he never speaks (though he’s notably not mute) and he sometimes seems more like an animal than a person. Sleepy is lazy, slothful and lethargic, usually fading into the background of the group. Bashful is shy but sincere, often having trouble expressing himself. Sneezy has an uncontrollable sneezing problem. Happy is cheerful, straightforward and easygoing.
Grumpy is stubborn, cynical, sullen, masculine and tough. He immediately dislikes Snow White because she’s a girl, though I imagine his pride also isn’t fond of being bossed around by the youngest person in the house (who only showed up half an hour ago). For much of the film, Grumpy is the most surly, bullheaded dwarf, though he’s also the one who grows the most and has a character arc where he warms to Snow White over time. It’s actually surprisingly difficult to define the dwarfs’ relationship with Snow White beyond simple friendship. At times, they seem to see her as the mother hen of their merry band, and at other times, they seem to regard her as their new surrogate daughter (and then there’s Dopey). What is clear is that the dwarfs quickly grow fond of and protective of Snow White, to the point where they chase down the Evil Queen in the climax to avenge their fallen friend.
When it comes to the Disney princess films, animation enthusiasts often point out how the leading ladies have become a lot more developed and well-rounded over time, which is very refreshing, but it’s easy to forget that the writing for the Disney princes has come a long way since “Snow White” as well. Prince Florian appears in two scenes and is kind of an enigma. We get some more background on Prince Charming, since we see his home life and get an idea of what it was like before Cinderella. Prince Phillip is the first prince to be named in his movie and become involved in the climax. Prince Eric has the best elements of Charming and Phillip, and a lot of time is devoted to showing why he’s compatible with Ariel. The Beast received just as much character focus as Belle, and even more character development, growing out of being a spoiled hothead. The expansion trend finally comes to a head in “Aladdin“, where a Disney prince carries a whole movie by himself. From there, the princes continued to become more flawed characters: Naveen started out as a lazy layabout, Flynn Rider was a thief with self-worth issues, and Kristoff was a grumpy, lonely misanthrope until he met Anna.
Getting back to Florian though, the Prince is a roving nobleman on horseback who has an encounter with the humble Snow White one day. He has some pretty sweet pipes, and he charms her with a genuinely romantic love song. Throughout the film, Snow White hopes to be reunited with him and daydreams about eloping with her handsome prince. She eventually gets her wish, though not before one more near-death experience. Florian was originally intended to have a larger role in the film, but this was cut back since animating the character proved to be surprisingly difficult for Disney. As a result, he only has two scenes and feels like more of a plot device than a character. The ending will most likely move you, but it has more to do with Snow White saying good-bye to her friends than Snow White finally getting to ride off with her mystery prince.
The Evil Queen, Grimhilde, is a conventionally attractive and incredibly powerful yet incredibly insane woman. The queen is a powerful sorceress and she rules her kingdom with an iron fist, a tyrant who’s reputation inspires fear in every character in this movie. She’s cruel, petty, spiteful and vain. She kills any woman who proves to be more beautiful than she, and not even her own stepdaughter is safe from her wrath, since she married the girl’s father for her title but she has no love for Snow White. The film shows the Evil Queen has made Snow White’s life pretty terrible before now, but it would be a later Disney film called “Cinderella” that would really dive into the implications of how horrible it would be having your own stepmother hate you and try her best to emotionally destroy you (I wouldn’t be opposed to getting Snow White and Cinderella some therapy).
When the queen sets out to kill Snow White, she tries to do so in incredibly vindictive ways – demanding the Huntsman cut out her heart and present it to her, and trying to trick the dwarfs into burying Snow alive. When the Huntsman betrays her, the Evil Queen disguises herself to torture Snow White further and do the job herself, and it’s here that she really shines as a villainess – hamming it up as the manipulative old hag. Her outward appearance also finally matches up with her complete lack of inner beauty. Queen Grimhilde has one of the most satisfying death scenes in the canon. Like Frollo’s, it can very easily be seen as an act of divine intervention right when she was about to succeed, and I roar with laughter every time her evil gloating is cut short and she drops to her death, with that boulder tumbling after her to crush her. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer witch.
Humbert the Huntsman is the kingdom’s hardy, loyal and dependable hunter who the Evil Queen calls upon to murder Snow White for her. The rugged and moral Huntsman is obviously not okay with murdering someone, let alone a teenage girl, but the Evil Queen delivers him an ultimatum. Either he kills Snow White or the Queen will kill him – her life for his. Despite the threat, and despite steeling himself to kill Snow White, the Huntsman still can’t bring himself to go through with the deed and sends Snow White into the forest to seek freedom and sanctuary instead. Even though he’s a minor character, I’ve always liked the conflicted Huntsman’s dilemma and I’ve always been a bit curious about what ever became of him after he sent Snow away. The queen apparently decided she would kill him for his betrayal later, after she was done with Snow White, and that obviously didn’t pan out for her, so his current status is up in the air (though he was probably relieved when Snow White returned to the throne at the end of the film).
Snow White is tailed and accompanied for much of the film by her intrepid animal friends – including birds, squirrels, rabbits, deer, mice, and one incredibly persistent turtle – who help her adjust to living in the forest. The animals are the second greatest source of comic relief after the dwarfs, and I find each of them adds a lot in their own way to the movie’s charm. One of my favorite scenes in the film, “Whistle While You Work”, involves all the forest animals pitching in to help Snow White clean the dwarf’s cottage and getting into shenanigans.
For Disney’s first stab at a feature-length film, “Snow White” sports some gorgeous, skillfully crafted animation that’s rough around the edges at times. Since this was the studio’s first attempt at animating humans with realistic proportions, Disney used human actors as references and translated their actions to the screen with the aid of rotoscoping. This is especially noticeable with Snow White and the Evil Queen. Snow White’s rotoscoping is done fairly seamlessly, and she’s the center of some of my favorite shots in the movie, like the woodland critters showing her the way to the dwarfs’ cottage or the dance party Snow and the dwarfs throw after dark (you have no idea how much I enjoy the visual quirk of a teenage girl dancing with a group of older men who are all like half her size).
The animation for the Evil Queen and her crow seems a bit more unrefined however, particularly when she’s in her old hag disguise. It seems like the queen’s black cloak gave Disney some trouble, along with some of the eyes for the human characters and the dwarfs, which can sometimes seem overly glassy. Something I always admire about the golden age films are their backgrounds – they look exactly like vibrant, scenic wax paintings. The world of “Snow White” especially comes to life during the sequence where Snow White is running through the forest, hopelessly lost, and encountering each and every one of her twisted hallucinations.
I really admire “Snow White’s” soundtrack. I love how consistently upbeat, optimistic and operatic it is (with a few standout performances from Snow White, the Dwarfs and Prince Florian), and how it feels even more like a musical than your average Disney movie. The characters burst into a new song every five to ten minutes, which will either entice you or annoy you depending on your tolerance level for musicals. In my eyes, Frank Churchill is officially to the golden era what Alan Menken was to the renaissance era, the guy who contributed some of the best music from that period in the canon (he also worked on “Dumbo” and “Bambi”).
The collaboration of Frank Churchill, Larry Morey, Leigh Harline and Paul J. Smith provide the songs and score for the film, taking the audience on a harmonious journey through the romantic duet of sorts, “I’m Wishing / One Song”, the heartwarming “Smile And A Song”, the endlessly catchy double bill of “Whistle While You Work” and “Heigh-Ho”, the weaker but endearingly fun “Washing Song”, the incredibly infectious “Dwarf’s Yodel Song”, and the stirring main theme for the film, “Someday My Prince Will Come”, in which Snow White pines for her mystery lover. The instrumental versions of these songs laced throughout the score prove to be just as endearing as their vocal presentations, and the character of the Evil Queen is granted a pretty exciting, manic leitmotif that takes center stage during the climax.
After eighty years, “Snow White” is still an enjoyable masterpiece that appeals to one’s carefree, inner child, in spite of an undeveloped villain. As a result, it’s a must-see for Disney fans and it set a pretty high bar for future fairy tales and future Disney princess films.
* “One song, I have but one song! One song only for you! One heart tenderly beating, ever entreating, constant and true! One love that has possessed me, one love thrilling me through! One song my heart keeps singing! Of one love, only for you!”
* “My, what a cute little chair!”
* The deer in this movie keep giving me “Bambi” vibes. It’s not just me, right?
* Snow White, understandably, determines that the dwarfs’ cottage is filthy so she enlists the animals’ help in cleaning it. Um, Snow, you do know a bunch of wild animals aren’t that clean either, right? (But hey, it worked).
* “Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho! It’s home from work we go! Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho! Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho!”
* “Jiminy Crickets!” No guys, he’s in the next movie.
* Throughout this whole review, I kept wanting to spell ‘dwarfs’ as ‘dwarves’. The former feels so grammatically wrong, though it’s apparently correct.
* The reason I said Dopey isn’t mute is because, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag, Dopey actually screams when he sees Snow White’s ‘ghost’.
* Something tells me the dwarfs in “The Hobbit” and “Lord Of The Rings” wouldn’t approve of how bumbling these guys are – not that they could judge.
* “She’s a female! Everyone knows females is poison! They’re full of wicked wiles!” What are wicked wiles?” “I don’t know, but I’m against ’em”.
* “So, what are you and who are you doing?” Still fresh.
* “You’ll pay dearly for this!” They outnumber you six-to-one, Grumpy. I don’t think they’re that worried.
* I am loving the capes Snow White and the Evil Queen are sporting. They’re not very practical, but capes are just cool.
* “A breath of wind to fan my hate! A thunderbolt to mix it well! Now begin thy magic spell!”
* Sometimes, in movies, I think it’s good to have a few scenes that don’t really add anything to the plot, but are simply the main characters enjoying themselves. It really does help to endear the audience to them, and I would never cut out this bit of silliness.
* “Anyone could see that the prince was charming!” Nah Snow, that’s Cinderella’s prince.
“Some day my prince will come, some day we’ll meet again! And away to his castle we’ll go, to be happy forever, I know! Some day when spring is here, we’ll find a love anew! And the birds will sing, and wedding bells will ring! Someday when my dreams come true…”
* “Bless the seven little men… oh, and please make Grumpy like me” “Ugh, women” Oh my gosh, he actually heard that.
* “Her breath will still, her blood congeal, soon I’ll be fairest in the land!”
* “Love’s first kiss?” Well, it’s lucky for Snow White that she never had a boyfriend before this movie, or she would have been so screwed.
* “So beautiful, even in death, the dwarfs could not bring themselves to bury her”. Yeah, she’s not gonna look that beautiful when she starts decomposing.
* So, how long before Snow White gets bored of that one song?
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