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Jab’s Disney Reviews: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937):

Written by: Dorothy Ann Blank, Richard Reedon, Merrill De Maris, Otto Englander, Dick Rickard, Earl Hurd, Ted Sears & Webb Smith

This is pretty much the single-most influential animated film of all time, being the first full-length animated feature EVER. Hell, this was the first time anyone had tried to animate full-scale realistic PEOPLE before (there was a lot of Rotoscoping- drawings over live action footage- The Prince was so hard for them to draw that they reduced his role to all of a minute! As animating real-looking people was so new, they couldn’t get him to work properly- too much flourish like other toons and he looked effeminate). It was such a new idea that they were legitimately concerned as to whether or not people could accept REAL drama and danger in a genre that had only been used for comedy before that- they didn’t know if people would laugh at the whole “Huntsman tries to stab Snow White” bit. And the concept of a whole room of toons crying over the dead body of another toon? There’d literally never been anything like this done before- every cartoon preceding this was a wacky comedy. How were people going to react to this?

But the movie still holds up. It’s interesting hearing how they intended Grumpy as the audience stand-in for the cynics who disliked the sweetness of the story and wanted to snark at it- Grumpy snarks “MUSH” at Snow White’s song about love before the AUDIENCE can, and therefor it helps the cynics buy into the story. The Evil Queen (generally only known by that name- an official name is “Queen Grimhilde”) is a horrifying villain- technically beautiful but OH SO COLD and heartless that she couldn’t possibly be considered a hottie. It’s impressive how much menace she projects, even BEFORE she completes a terrifying transformation into an evil witch- the embodiment of what all children fear about old people.

What I found most bizarre was that Snow White was only with the Dwarfs for like TWO DAYS maximum. This is a recurring trend & problem in Disney films, in that they super-compress the timeline for whatever reason (though in many cases, that’s the myth as well), thus having people fall immediately in love (the Prince goes for Snow White the second he sees her; six of the Dwarfs all love her within first meeting), and it’s always weird to me. I mean, what would it have hurt to show a montage or act like it’s been going on for a while? It’s part of why I can never really get into the love stories of most Disney films, and it also comes up in Broadway musicals, where you can’t really pull of montages or time changes that easily, and so you’re led to believe people go from initial meetings to true love in like ten minutes.

Grumpy is, of course, the best character, and the most memorable of the group. As the only negative character on the side of good, he has so many great moments. I love how he spends the whole time lecturing and snarking and Snow White, but then when she’s kissing them all goodbye, he makes sure to look his best AND get her attention before making a big show of how grouchy he is and how little he wants her kiss. Then he’s all flabbergasted by it while pretending like it was nothing. When the Dwarfs learn that Snow is in danger from the Queen, who leads the charge? GRUMPY. And of course, when Snow “dies”, his grief is the most moving, because of what he’d acted like before. He’s so ashamed and bereft that he has to hide himself, away from all the others.

Overall, you can see why it was so big and popular at the time- it’s legitimately funny with the Dwarfs’ antics, and the Evil Queen is an extremely scary villain. The characters are EXTREMELY one-dimensional by later standards, though. You could probably not release a movie like this today and have people approve of it- the love interest is as tacked on as you can get, the characters have no depth, and Snow herself is too useless and wimpy. This is really the kind of movie you watch for the legend and SPECTACLE of it all, however. It looks very good for 1937, and kind of set off all the tropes people would be snarking about for years (Instant Princess Weddings, Talking To Animals, Disney Villain Deaths, etc.).


Reception:

The movie, so risky that it could have bankrupted the studio easily (it was called “Disney’s Folly” as a joke until it came out- Walt would repeatedly prove his detractors embarrassingly wrong like this) turned out to be a smash hit. HOW big? Well, adjusted for inflation, the movie is EFFORTLESSLY the highest-grossing animated picture of all time. It’s number ELEVEN on the all-time list, which reflects eras where movies were the ultimate source of entertainment and had only radio as competition (this is why you will NEVER see something unseat Gone With The Wind from the top spot, where it made almost three times as much as Avatar did.


Cultural Impact:

The movie’s status as the originator of an entire genre leaves it pretty much untouchable, even to the snobbiest of critics. Pretty much EVERYONE respects this movie. Snow White herself codified the “Disney Princess” trope- she’s kindly, sweet, talks to animals, and gets the Prince in the end. The Evil Queen is one of Disney’s most iconic villains, and her “Evil Witch” form remains a great source of terror to young people. The whole “Prince Charming” thing is fairly legendary, too, though he’s a bit of a bland character.

The cultural cache of this thing led to the big Once Upon A Time TV show being centered around Snow & Charming, their daughter, and the Evil Queen (who would become everyone’s favorite character, Regina Mills). Snow is the “Elder Stateswoman” of the Disney Princesses, though isn’t featured on the Merch as much as many of the others- her bland, sickeningly-sweet personality usually leaves her stereotyped as the “simple one” (most later adaptations give her a “hook” like making her a bad-ass or something; Disney itself stereotypes her as being rather silly and goofy, singing at a moment’s notice). She does have some stuff in the Disney Parks, though- most Fantasylands feature the terrifying Snow White’s Scary Adventures, in which you play Snow being chased down by the Witch- it’s considered one of the great bits of Nightmare Fuel for young kids in the parks. The Queen’s face appears occasionally at the very top of the attraction’s show building in Disney World, and Snow herself is a constant fixture in Meet & Greets. Despite Snow being one of the youngest Disney Princesses (some put her as young as FOURTEEN), I find that they usually stick the best-looking round-faced girls in the role (longer-faced girls are usually Ariel or Aurora). Maybe it’s just the “black hair/pale skin” look that just makes it WORK- I dunno.

One of my favorite “Little Things” in the Parks is the Snow White Fountain, a small set of statues featuring Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (plus some woodland critters) staked out in a hidden alcove near the big castles. You can hear her I’m Wishing song (in Japanese in Tokyo Disneyland!) in a nearby well. It’s a great touch, and often a very quiet space in the busiest places in the world. It’s the kind of thing they usually don’t make anymore, preferring big, bombastic show-y things. Fun fact: Snow and the Dwarfs are all actually the same size- it’s just that Snow is on the upper tier, so there’s an optical illusion making her LOOK taller.

Disney World also features the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, featuring their new, elite form of Audio-Animatronics, complete with projection-based faces that don’t look right in photographs, but resemble the cartoons more strongly in person. The first new ride in WDW in SOME time, it drew some snark for being rather slow (not a proper “E-Ticket” attraction) and not comparable to Universal Studios’ biggest stuff, but it’s still rather popular, and the most action-packed thing in Fantasyland.


 

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SNOW WHITE:

Snow White, the original Disney Princess, is probably the blandest of the group, but the sweetest. Her whole design was based around “Childish Innocence”, as she’s depicted more or less like a 14-year old girl with no bustline whatsoever (and Betty Boop was before this, so you KNOW animators knew how to draw that particular area), and she basically goes around being as sweet and nice as possible, helping out animals and just running and crying whenever something bad happens. So she’s less realistic than the other Princesses, and a bit more dull, but probably comes across as the most sympathetic since you can barely fathom anyone wanting to do her in. She’s so sweet and nice that the Huntsman can’t even bring himself to kill her, despite having THE WICKED QUEEN to answer to! If Disney Princesses are stereotyped as useless simps who are rescued by men, it’s usually because of Snow White, who was the simpiest and most useless of them all.

She remains one of the few Disney Princesses with a multi-colored “scheme” (most others have one signature dress color), along with Anna and Mulan. She was also seen in an infamously bad Oscar opening act, dooming Producer Alan Carr’s career forever, with an atrocious musical number with Rob Lowe.

About The Performer: Snow was played by Adriana Caselotti, in what was obviously her most famous and iconic role. She was a session singer when she got hired for the role, making the equivalent of $16,000-ish dollars for it. She went uncredited in the role and had trouble finding new jobs later on, as Disney kept her voice on a short leash, not wanting her distinctive tone to be heard elsewhere. She only had two more film roles (bit parts, albeit in famous things like The Wizard of Oz), and generally spent her later years doing appearances as the voice of Snow White.


 

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THE EVIL QUEEN:

The Queen of Snow White (originally called Queen Grimhilde, though they haven’t done so for years) is a supreme example of just how to scare the living crap out of children- and keep in mind, this is the era when all cartoons were just fare for laughs. Disney somehow combined all the attributes that make children afraid of old women (the haggish appearance, strange voice, hunched body, cackling scenery-chewing and more) with a coldly evil woman prone to more reserved, insidious form of evil, thus gathering the WORST attributes of fearsome women. It’s not for nothing than England demanded that all children seeing the movie had to be accompanied by an adult, and that animators later decided to tone down the frightening moments- and keep in mind they later made Bambi and Pinocchio!!

It’s fascinating just HOW scary the Queen can be- it takes a lot to make a woman with this quality a body and face into something other than a sex symbol, but she is just WAY TOO SCARY to be believable as a hottie. I mean, that scene where she badgers The Huntsman into murdering an innocent 14-year old girl… at Marvel Comics, Emma Frost or Selene would’ve seduced him into it. Any other villainess this attractive would do so as well- they’re mostly Femme Fatales. But the Queen? She basically just SCARES HIM INTO DOING IT. He’s like twice her bloody size, and he went and damn near did it! Her face never shows any emotion other than evil disdain or cold fury- never smiling or even smirking to get her way. The Snow White’s Scary Adventure ride in Disneyland is FAMOUS for it’s ability to scare the living crap out of young children (I mean, it’s literally having an evil old witch CHASE YOU).

Numerous sequences were cut from the film- she was to capture the young Prince, demand he marry her, and use the rejection as another reason to hate Snow White. She would have black panthers as minions, and make skeletons dance in order to intimidate the Prince. Most of this was cut due to animation difficulties, particularly in the case of the Prince (who created a TON of issues, as animated a man without making him seem effeminate was too hard at the time). Her death, originally from being forced to wear red-hot shoes that forced her to dance to exhaustion, was altered to be a more random, nature-inspired death- the circling vultures being our only glimpse at what really happened- the first Disney Villain Death.

The character isn’t really that deep, or even has that strong a motivation- later Disney Villains are typified by their incredible thirst for power. The Queen already HAS power- her main issue is sheer vanity. She’s so upset that someone is prettier than her that she tries to KILL THEM, and she destroys her OWN looks in the process- this obvious irony is meant to show just how far she’s fallen. To me, the myth hearkens back to not only the standard “Old Women EEEEEEEVIL; Young Women Pure & Perfect” trope which is older than fiction, but the old “Women Be Jealous, Yo” archetypical thing. I think Socrates said that.

About The Performer: Lucille La Verne died only eight years after Snow White came out, and was apparently in her mid-60s when the movie was released, making her a LOT older than her character. She did some Broadway work, but a character like this was obviously her most famous role ever. Though at the time, she wasn’t paid that well, and was mostly a singing star on the tail end of her career- she was VERY successful beforehand… just in stuff that has no cultural cache these days, because it was like 1910 and stuff.


That’s it for my Snow White review & notes! Hope you liked it! Some of the other reviews will be this long- others much shorter.

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