Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Since reading and writing about comics has all but consumed my life, I’ve decided to branch out a bit and write about a few other topics. I’ll still continue to write about my journey through “the shelf,” but I’ll be tossing in some other posts as well.

Seeing as I’m a classic Type-A personality, these posts won’t be random.  I’ve decided to start a series of posts, much like my comics posts, in which I watch and review each Walt Disney Animation Studios film, in order of release.  This will afford me a chance to talk about something else that I really enjoy, while giving me a small reprieve from the comics that have taken over my life.

I love them, but damn that’s a lot of comics.

Plus, I can finally check “watch all Disney movies” off of my bucket list.

First up in my quest to watch all of these movies is, of course, Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs.

I was more than a little excited to start this project, so as I began watching this movie I was filled with a wave of nostalgia.  It’s been many years since I last watched Snow White, and while I know the story inside and out, there were small details that I had forgotten.  It was almost like watching the movie for the first time all over again.

It’s impossible to watch this film and not take in its significance.  Snow White set the standard for essentially all Disney films that followed, starting trends that would carry out into this millennium.  These include, but are not limited to:

-Princesses befriending woodland creatures

-A prince and princess greeting each other with a song (and, along that same vein, animated films being almost exclusively musicals)

-Evil stepmothers mistreating their stepdaughters

Yes, this and many other Disney films are based on classic fairy tales, so I acknowledge that not all of these identifying characteristics are specifically Disney’s.  However, anyone familiar with the original forms of many fairy tales knows that Disney takes some creative liberties with their versions, so the fact that these concepts became common tropes is still significant.

As I watched this movie with a more critical eye than I ever have, I was struck by the pure brilliance of the animation.  It’s no wonder that this film was such a roaring success: not only was it the first of its kind, but it truly is beautifully animated.  I can still picture the sparkle of the gems in the mines as the dwarfs dutifully work.  This scene features one of my favorite images in the film, the moment Dopey places diamonds in his eyes:

As Dopey smiles at Doc and wiggles his ears, I can’t help but be reminded of Sloth from The Goonies, a random association that makes me smile far more than it should.

I never realized just how much of this film is domestic in nature.  The entire central part of the story focuses on Snow White cleaning the dwarf’s home, as well as an elaborate scene in which she insists they wash up before eating dinner.  I remembered these scenes, but I never realized just how much of the story they comprise.  It’s surprising, and perhaps speaks volumes to the gender roles of the 1930’s.  After all, to that generation, what else was a woman supposed to do but sing, clean a house, cook, and dream of the day a man would come and sweep her off her feet?

It may be a sexist, antiquated notion, but it’s one that was commonly believed at the time.  While I certainly wouldn’t want that direct message taught to young girls, I’m able to overlook the cultural implications.  It helps that the film never says this is what women have to do, it’s just depicted as normal behavior which, like it or not, it was at the time of release.  I can’t fault a film for accurately depicting contemporary ideals, no matter how backwards they are today.

What’s most striking about this movie is how different it is from more contemporary Disney films.  The most obvious difference is the portrayal of the princess herself, as Disney has always been somewhat of a slave to current fashions and ideals of the time, and tend to design their princesses to fit whatever’s fashionable at the time.  In this case, we get Snow White with a common 1930’s bob, pouty red lips and an all-around classic image that’s slightly reminiscent of Betty Boop:

This portrayal is unsurprising, but then I’ve seen a lot of Disney princess movies.  Snow White set the standard for styling princesses after the current beauty ideals, a standard that is still being maintained to this day.

A more surprising aspect of the film is the way in which the tone is approached.  When we think Disney films, we tend to think of harmless, happy movies, sometimes with a sad element but never all that scary.

Snow White didn’t seem too concerned with whether the film was scary or not.  The scene in which Snow White flees into the forest and believes she’s seeing a host of terrifying monsters is still frightening.

These alligator logs used to scare the bejeezus out of me.  They’re only on screen for a few seconds, but it was enough to leave an impression.

This scene is easily one of the scariest depictions in a Disney film, with Snow White’s abject terror being conveyed so thoroughly that the viewer can’t help but share her fright.

As I finished the movie, I was left with a number of emotions. I was so happy to have finally begun watching each and every Disney film, a goal I’ve had in mind for a number of years but never got around to starting.  I was also surprised at how well Snow White stands up over time.  True, I may not be the most objective viewer, as I know the significance this film had on the animation industry and approached it with due reverence.  Still, it’s a beautifully made film, and clear proof as to why Walt Disney Animation became the massive success that it did.

-Jess

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