Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Starring: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille Laverne, Pinto Colvig,
Directed by: David Hand, William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen
Released by: RKO Radio Pictures
Synopsis: The Wicked Queen is obsessed with beauty, endlessly consulting her magic mirror to see who is the fairest of the all. When the mirror answers that she is no longer the fairest and that the honor belongs to her stepdaughter Snow White she becomes consumed with rage, forcing the princess to escape into the woods and seek shelter in the home of the seven dwarfs.
Review: It is very rare to see a film director have a successful first feature film, but Walt Disney managed to accomplish this with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Most people know this to be the first full-length, animated feature ever produced (though technically, Prince Achmed is the first one to accomplish the task), and yet if you were to look at it you wouldn't know. That's because Walt Disney and his team of animators spent years honing their skills and even creating some new ones just to bring this one feature to life. But looking beyond its merits is Snow White the fairest of them all? Not quite, but it truly is a lovely feature.
To many hardcore Disney fans Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a inferior product when compared to the features that followed it. While the film does have some flaws it is far from a mediocre production. Most of the criticism lies in the character of Snow White. As the years went by, Snow White slowly became the representative of passive heroines for many, thanks to her hopeful ideas of love and the tendency of being reactive to the situations she finds herself in rather than being proactive. This is a rather subjective topic to cover as fans will find a lot to both love and hate about the character. My only complaint with Snow White is her voice actress. There's no denying that Adrianna Caselotti had a lot of talent, using every inch of it in order to bring the character to animated life. It's just that her voice is very high pitched, making her very childish. This is just my own perspective, however, as many fans have become enamored by her charms.
Like in many Disney features it is the supportive and villain characters that end up being the highlight of the film. The Wicked Queen was the first Disney villain ever created and clearly a lot of work went into her creation. As the beautiful Queen she is cold, intimidating, and even calculating. As the Old Hag she is the complete opposite, becoming the true woman hiding deep within her beauty. Both versions have become iconic, setting the standards high for the other Disney villains to come.
The Seven Dwarfs showcase the Disney belief of characters you can quickly root and cheer for. Each of the seven dwarfs have an unique personality that makes them very identifiable. Audiences quickly found a dwarf they enjoyed the most. Mine would have to be Grumpy, if only because his cynicism is very charming. Dopey is a great character as well, despite not having one line of spoken dialog. The writing team could have easily just create one character and duplicate it six more times, but having them unique in their universe gives the film a lot of incredible charm.
I understand why Snow White wouldn't be everyone's favorite film. This is because the plot is very light and a great deal of it is focused on a character that is captivating but not interesting enough for some. But to me the film is a great success in emotional storytelling. Every scene is packed with one sort of emotion, whether it be happiness, rage, fear, and of course sadness. Such effective was the film's emotional content that people quickly elevated it into masterpiece status. You have to realize that this is the first film of its kind, so the fact that the creators managed to strike a emotional chord in people in their first feature effort it is incredible. If Toy Story 3 is seen as one of the saddest movies this year then Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs should be thanked for being ambitious in this regard.
Everything works because of two key elements: music and animation. Many of the short films Disney produced during the 1930s were music heavy, so by the time Snow White was put into production they knew how to properly place the music within the narrative. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is constantly hailed as one of the best musicals. This is because the composers and story men made sure to only include songs during key scenes of the plot, using it as a way to enhance the emotional resonance within the audience as well as serve as a gate into the subtle thoughts of the characters. In other word, no song feels superfluous as each and every one has a purpose in the story. Snow White's “I'm Wishing” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” serve as the anthem for ideal love and the power of believing in one's dreams, while “Heigh-Ho” and “Whistle While You Work” are fun songs that take the mundane concepts of cleaning and working and turn them into easily whistleable tunes.
The effectiveness of the music, along with the score, gave depth to the film, and I would dare to say that without it the film would be boring, or at least not as endearing. The songs have been engraved deep into the confines of pop-culture, a feat only the best songs achieve.
Once again I state that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first of its kind ever produced in Hollywood. The animation shows that the creators really wanted to dazzle audiences. Most experts will notice that they did use some shortcuts, like rotoscoping when dealing with some of the more realistic characters, but for a first time Snow White highly impressive. Had it not been for its ambition the rest of the Disney films wouldn't have had a film to try and outdo. Some new techniques were created, such as the multiplane camera, a camera that allowed the animators to give the illusion of depth by painting a different part of the background onto a sheet of glass. While the idea was first implemented in “The Old Mill”, Snow White took great advantage of it.
Then you have small details like the colors on Snow White's face, the lightning, the squash and stretch of the Dwarfs, the Queen's dress reacting to the wind and many more that are quite small and hard to notice the first time, but once you do you realize that it adds a lot of the visual presentation of the film.
So in the end, film critics and experts will place Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on their “best of” lists simply because of its reputation of being the first animated film ever made and the impact it left in 1930 audiences. While the film should be respected for the contributions it made to progressing the art of animation, it is far from the perfect. But in my case, it is a wonderful experiment that you won't soon forget. There is a lot of love placed onto this film, and even if you don't enjoy the film it is hard to deny that fact.
Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5