Director: David Hand
Cast: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig
Plot: A wicked queen (La Verne) gets jealous when her Magic Mirror proclaims her heir, Princess Snow White (Caselotti) the most beautiful girl in the land, so she vows to murder her.
It says something when a film brought out in 1937, the very first animated feature film from Walt Disney studios (giants of the genre for many decades), still captivates and amazes audience of today. Do not come expecting the dazzling majestic animation of a modern day Pixar or anything quite so sophisticated as Frozen, but Snow White and the Seven Dwarves has a different kind of beauty waiting for anyone tempted to go back and explore their childhood in cinema. Wonderfully hand-drawn and precisely detailed, every frame of Snow White has been masterfully created. I came back expecting a very static experience, the drawings beautiful yet unable to quite master the difficulties of animation just yet. On the contrary, Snow White is bursting with glorious movement. For most of the film’s running time, we are either spending time with the seven eponymous dwarves as they scatter around the scenery or witnessing the antics of Snow White’s wildlife entourage. The animals are the perfect example of how well-designed Snow White truly is. Every creature is given full attention, so they come across as functioning characters rather than background pieces to keep the children amused, especially in the classic childhood song ‘Whistle While You Work’. Every animal, great or small, is adorable, even the plodding tortoise, always struggling to get to the hijinks in time, or the tiny fly, buzzing around looking for that elusive place to sleep. While Snow White rarely embraces the gothic original story written by the Brothers Grimm, the artwork does reference the source material in a few, terrifying moments. Early on, the forest seems to come alive with nightmarish figures, trees coming across as demons, logs resembling hungry alligators. The Wicked Witch is ideally gothic too, especially as she conjures up the dreaded Apple of Death. Snow White’s strongest side, perhaps coming neck and neck with a cheerful Disney-esque soundtrack, is the animation, a true testament to the history of cinema and the animated genre.
The story is iconic too, although that goes without saying, as it still is well-known with today’s children. Snow White might be classed as a tad bland when it comes to characterisation. She rarely affects the plot at all. Cursed with being more beautiful than her stepmother, the Queen, she is enslaved and forced to wear rags. However, her cheerfulness persists and it becomes impossible to simply burden her with misery, until her beauty fades. Forced to flee rather than face the Queen’s wraith, Snow White ends up charming some reclusive dwarves into giving her lodge. While the defining her character by her beauty (although the character herself never acknowledges her looks), and the fact she spends most of her screen-time either mothering, cleaning or cooking for the dwarves, it is hard to quite dislike the character, her cheery good mood turning even the grumpiest dwarf into a forlorn fool. Besides, Snow White is allowed to be a blank character. The supporting cast are the juiciest bits of this story. The Queen is one of the more despicable Disney villains out there. On paper, her character’s motivations are a cop-out, fuelled by simple-minded jealously. However, the simplicity of the plot allows the audience to fill in the gaps of the character, until the single-mindedness of her hatred for Snow White ends up looking both fascinating and a little terrifying. How vain must a person be to consult her Magic Mirror (surprisingly under-used, seeing as it is a cult object in the literary world), daily to reaffirm her place as the most beautiful person of them all? It makes her decision to ruthlessly cut out the heart of her successor quite chilling. It is no wonder major actresses like Charlize Theron have been attracted to the role. In being one-dimensional, she is deeper than most modern day bad guys. Watch out for the fitting symbolism when she finally does meet her demise and her vulture henchmen swoop down on her corpse.
Yes, it is difficult not to admit that Snow White and the Seven Dwarves gets a bit wishy-washy. However, then the question must be begged, is it the movie that hasn’t aged well or is it us? Are we the audience that have grown cynical as time has gone on? Is it Disney’s fault that we feel the need to incessantly question how charming this Prince really is or how naïve Snow White’s heroine is, when she breaks into the house of seven strangers? It cannot be blamed on the movie if we have grown into the type of cynics who can’t just sink into the fantasy of the story. While adults might roll their eyes at Snow White passing out due to terror, only to instantly forget her paralysing fear at the sight of a bunny rabbit, the children will love the silliness of both the dwarves and the woodland creatures. My only real gripe is that the movie is focused on the fun side of things, sometimes letting the story feel under-cooked or a passing thought, rather than a precise narrative. The woodsman sent to kill the princess is a rushed moment, merely a chance to get Snow White out of the kingdom and into the antics of the seven dwarves. The evil queen’s nasty plot to off her heir only really comes back into play in the closing twenty minutes. However, as the producers would argue: this leaves more time for the fun and games. Spurred on by a gleeful soundtrack, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves becomes a series of scenes where the eight of them, accompanied by all manner of cute critters have a laugh and coax you into the magical world of Disney. Some jokes stand up to today’s standard, still earning the laughs, especially the mute buffoon, Dopey (“Can’t he talk?” “He doesn’t know; he never bothered to try.”). So, leave any gripes about the plot at the door and just let the children get swept into this glorious fairy tale.
Final Verdict: A timeless classic, its wondrous animation making it a foundation of modern cinema. This is movie history at its finest.