Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

“Magic Mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”

Synopsis:
A beautiful young princess named Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) escapes the clutches of her evil stepmother (Lucille La Verne) by joining a household of dwarfs in the forest — but her stepmother will not rest until Snow White ceases to exist.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this early Disney adaptation of Grimm’s classic fairytale — notable as the “first American animation feature, and the first cartoon where characters of the same type (here, the Dwarfs) are individualized” — as “one of the greatest pictures of all time”, and votes for it as one of the Best Pictures of the Year in his Alternate Oscars book. He notes that “children will be dazzled by the animation”, will want to “sing along with” several of the highly memorable tunes, will “delight in the humorous Dwarfs”, and will be both “excited and terrified”, given that “this movie is very scary”. Indeed, much like Grimm’s original fairytales, this film is far too intense for the littlest of viewers, so eager-beaver film fanatic parents (ahem — much like myself) should hold off until their kids are of an appropriate age. In the meantime, adults of all ages are sure to “enjoy the same elements” as children — and, as Peary notes, “those with interest in interpreting dreams and fairytales” may be “interested in the sexual subtext”.

So much has been written about this historically groundbreaking cult favorite that interested readers are advised to browse the Web and DVD special features to their heart’s content (for a good start, check out the links provided below). To add my own two cents to the conversation, the following thoughts occurred to me when revisiting this film the other night in anticipation of wanting to show it to my 2-1/2 year old daughter (nope — way too intense for her at this point!): Snow White (as we all know) is the embodiment of both purity and traditional American feminine virtues, given that she immediately sets to work cleaning up the dwarfs’ house and becoming their caretaker. Her stepmother, naturally, is Evil and Jealousy personified (Peary refers to her as “Satan”) — a woman so focused on the importance of her own beauty (another feminine ideal) that she’s willing to kill or be killed in order to maintain her status as the “fairest of them all”.

The seven dwarfs — provided with names and personalities by Disney, after lengthy consideration; they’re nameless in Grimm — are given much more screentime than I remembered. Indeed, at times it feels as though the bulk of the 83-minute film is taken up with showing them at work and at home, as they return from their diamond mines (what are they going to do with all that treasure??!!), discover the presence of an intruder in their little cottage, and quickly find themselves falling in love with the fugitive princess. Meanwhile, other male figures are given surprisingly short shrift: Snow White’s prince (Harry Stockwell) barely registers (interestingly, rumor has it that his character was so challenging to draw that they limited his “appearance” to just a few necessary plot points), and Snow White’s father (the Queen’s husband) is nowhere to be seen. Finally, Snow White’s animal friends — as in so many other Disney classics — are an essential help to her in her quest to survive in a brutal world (though none in particular are given special attention).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Groundbreaking feature-length animation


Must See?
Yes, of course.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

One Response to “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)”

  1. Yes, of course a must – but with a few personal reservations.

    ‘Snow White…’ holds a marked place in cinema history, so it should be seen by all ffs. I’d single it out for budding ffs in particular but, as noted, certain sequences are indeed quite frightening (SW almost being stabbed to death; SW getting lost at night in the terrifying woods; the Queen screaming, “Buried alive!”, etc.) and it becomes a problem: what exactly is the right age for a child’s first viewing? So parents should use caution.

    The film itself, as art, is a technical marvel, and one that remains quite impressive visually. One can’t help admire the overall care and effort taken (frame by frame by hand). I particularly like the various images of light and shadow – and I can be a sucker for animated woodland creatures (in this area, the film hardly disappoints).

    A major problem arises with the whole ‘love at first sight’ thing. It can be quite annoying to think that young girls can watch this (as well as other Disney films with this element) and be easily persuaded that love works this way. It may be a pretty tune but ‘Someday May Prince Will Come’, on a certain level, is – as Grumpy calls it – “mush”.

    As well, the abrupt ending doesn’t put Ms. White in a good light: all she does is say ‘goodbye’ to the dwarfs and kiss them – but, since we’re to believe they all had this special relationship, wouldn’t she at least say she’d be back to visit?

    [As noted in the assessment for the 1935 version of ‘She’, the Queen’s main look does actually bear a striking resemblance to Helen Gahagan in a key scene.]

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