Film Review: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

*All reviews contain spoilers*

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, is property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The author claims no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the author and are not to be viewed as factual documentation. All screencaps are from Disneyscreencaps.com.

Cast

Roy Atwell – Doc

Stuart Buchanan – Huntsman

Adriana Caselotti – Snow White

Eddie Collins – Dopey (and animals)

Pinto Colvig – Sleepy and Grumpy

Billy Gilbert – Sneezy

Otis Harlan – Happy (Trivia: Born in 1865, Harlan was the earliest born actor to ever appear in a Disney film)

Lucille La Verne – Queen / Witch

Scotty Mattraw – Bashful

Moroni Olsen – Magic Mirror

Harry Stockwell – Prince

Sources of InspirationSchneewittchen/Snow White, German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, 1812

Release Dates
December 21st, 1937 at the Carthay Circle Theatre, Los Angeles (premiere)

February 4th, 1938 (general release)

Run-time – 83 minutes

Directors – David Hand (supervising), William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce and Ben Sharpsteen

Composers – Frank Churchill, Leigh Harline and Paul J. Smith

Worldwide Gross – $418 million

Accolades – 11 wins and 5 nominations, including an honorary Academy Award in 1939

 

1937 in History

Spanish Civil War (ongoing)

Of Mice and Men and The Hobbit are published

Daffy Duck debuts in Porky’s Duck Hunt

Hindenburg disaster in New Jersey

The Coronation of George VI in England

Golden Gate Bridge opens in California

Volkswagen founded in Germany

Amelia Earhart disappears from New Guinea

Second Sino-Japanese War begins

Births of Morgan Freeman, Warren Beatty and Saddam Hussein

 

“The One That Started It All”… “Disney’s Folly”… This film has been known by many names since its creation, almost eighty years ago. It was the cornerstone of the entire Disney canon and changed the way animation was made and viewed. It has quite a legacy, so before we explore the film in more detail, let’s learn a little bit about how it came to be.

Before the Brothers Grimm wrote the original fairy tale down in their 1812 collection, Snow White was a popular story with roots stretching back centuries. It’s believed that its origins are rooted in the lives of Margaretha von Waldeck, a sixteenth century princess from near Saxony, and Maria Sophia von Erthal, an eighteenth century aristocrat’s daughter. Both of these women’s lives bear strong resemblances to Snow White’s, with unpleasant stepmothers, mining dwarves and even a ‘talking’ mirror in the latter case.

Walt Disney’s interest in the story began exactly one century ago, way back in 1917, when he attended a public screening of the 1916 film, Snow White, which was distributed by Paramount and starred Marguerite Clark. He was enthralled by the film, and the memory stayed with him after he set up the ‘Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio’ in 1923. At that time, though, the technology available wasn’t sufficient to create a feature-length cel-animated film, so the studio began with animated shorts. The best known of these is, of course, Steamboat Willie from 1928, which is widely (and incorrectly) credited as the first cartoon with synchronised sound (it was actually preceded by the Song Car-Tunes series from Fleischer Studios and Paul Terry’s 1928 short Dinner Time, but anyway – let’s get back to the film.)

With the introduction of colour to cartoons in Disney’s 1932 short Flowers and Trees, the ball was well and truly rolling. The stage was set for the creation of Disney’s masterpiece. Snow White’s origins can be traced back to one fateful night in 1934, when Walt gathered his staff together and acted out the whole story of the film on the sound stage for them, putting all his attention to detail and creative energy into it. This performance would be remembered by those who saw it for years afterwards; it was the catalyst for the production of one of the most ambitious films the industry had ever seen. It would be more than three years before Walt’s vision was brought to fruition, but when it was, it blew everybody away with its charm and dynamism, changing the course of animation history forever.

Now, I’d just like to clear up another common misconception – much like Steamboat Willie, Snow White is often wrongly credited with being the first animated feature ever made. That honour actually belongs to Argentinian director Quirino Cristiani’s 1917 feature, El Apóstol (“The Apostle”), which was made with cut-out animation and is now unfortunately lost. Snow White was, however, the first cel-animated film, meaning that it was the first one to be entirely hand-drawn. This was (and remains) a remarkable achievement, and a landmark in cinematic history – but I’ll stop here before I start kissing the film’s shoes. Let’s take a look at the first Disney classic, and see if this old-timer’s reputation still stands on firm ground.

 

Characters and Vocal Performances

The Evil Queen is the very first character to appear in a Disney film. As she slowly ascends to the Magic Mirror, her back to us, draped in a sweeping black cloak, we know that we’re witnessing the arrival of one of the great Disney villains. The Queen (who is sometimes referred to as “Grimhilde”) is motivated mainly by jealousy, a trait shared with many later Disney villains – but her jealousy is so powerful, so all-consuming, that it pushes her to the point of murdering her innocent stepdaughter. It’s pretty dark stuff for a Disney film and it just keeps getting darker. After her plan to outsource the dastardly deed goes awry, she actually sacrifices her precious beauty (albeit temporarily) in order to carry it out herself. After the trippy transformation scene, the Queen’s ‘disguise’ as the witch is where her voice actress, Lucille La Verne, really shines. Apparently, to provide the startlingly different voice, she simply took out her false teeth! It’s fun to picture her standing at the mic hamming it up with lines like this:

Buried Alive
“BURIED ALIVE! AHAHAHAHAHA!”

I personally consider La Verne’s skilful and compelling performance to be the standout one for this film. Her turn as the witch manages to be enjoyable in its over-the-top pantomime way, while still making your skin prickle in fear as the cold and cruel Queen. Her design is rumoured to have been based on Joan Crawford, but this is disputed – others say she’s inspired by Theda Bara. Either way, her masklike expression as the Queen creates a perfect contrast with her wonderfully hideous disguise. It might seem unfortunate at first that ugliness is aligned with evil, but consider this: much of Snow White’s “beauty” stems from her innate kind nature – when it comes to looks, she’s pretty, but in an ordinary girl-next-door kind of way.  The Queen’s heavily made-up face is supposed to represent the more “conventional” idea of feminine beauty, yet she is not at all a beautiful person, despite her looks. The underlying message could be seen as being that beauty is more about who you are than how you look, which isn’t bad for a 1930s film.

Snow White, our leading lady and the first Disney princess, was apparently inspired by the likes of Janet Gaynor, Mary Pickford, Shirley Temple and her live-action reference model, Marjorie Belcher (later Marge Champion), to name a few. Her styling certainly isn’t very consistent with the medieval setting – from the neck up she’s a true 1930s pin-up, although it’s certainly refreshing to see a Disney girl who doesn’t have hair down to her backside. She also has a healthier-looking figure, with a natural waist and full cheeks, compared to the emaciated ‘Heroin chic’ girls of the Disney Renaissance.

Snow White full body Meg

The major criticism of Snow White is always related to her alleged ‘passivity’ – she is said to have no agency in her story, with circumstances and other characters pushing and pulling her about. But when I watched the film for this review, I couldn’t help disagreeing. Sure, she’s a bit shy around the Prince (who did, after all, barge in out of nowhere trying to woo her), but later, after her harrowing night alone in the forest, she thinks on her feet and sets to work cleaning the dwarfs’ cottage, with the hope that this favour will encourage them to let her stay. It’s great to see the way she picks herself up and tries to make the best of a tough situation (compare this to Ariel five decades later, who at a similar moment is quickly seduced by Ursula’s hench-eels).

Ariel 2
“We swear we’re not selling drugs!”

Adriana Caselotti’s performance, while admittedly a little twee at times, is very warm and endearing overall. Sometimes, she’s even cheekily comical (her impersonation of Grumpy still has me in stitches). Yes, yes, I know, she falls in love almost immediately and has to be ‘rescued’ from the Sleeping Death by the Prince: there’s no denying that their ‘romance’ is rather weak and underdeveloped, but I think the fault lies more with the Prince’s stilted characterisation than with Snow herself. It should be remembered that they don’t actually get married at the end, despite the parallels with the ‘bridal carry’ and all the goodbyes. I like to think that the two of them got to know each other a little better – not like that! – before committing to anything more permanent. In the words of critic John Grant, Snow’s “passivity is not a sign of a character failing: it is a symptom of the strength of her goodness.” I think she does the best anybody could in her situation: true passivity would be curling up in a ball and waiting for the vultures to find her, but instead of that, she gets up, dusts herself off and sets out to rectify her situation. In today’s cynical world, there’s no underestimating the worth of Snow’s advice to keep a positive attitude when life gives you lemons. It’s a valuable lesson which any child could benefit from.

So, how have her benevolent patrons, the dwarfs, held up? Well… that’s debatable. The first thing to bear in mind when looking at the dwarfs is the context: prior to this film, wacky, screwball characters like these were all the rage in animated shorts. In the days before sound, a character’s feelings had to be expressed entirely though their bodies, so they would be animated in an exaggerated, pantomime style which audiences of the time couldn’t get enough of. Early animated shorts can trace their roots back to vaudeville traditions, with lots of physical gags and slapstick intended to have the audiences rolling in the aisles.

While all these gags worked well within the confines of a short, I don’t really think that it holds up as well in a feature. Although the pacing of the film is generally strong, there are several scenes which do drag and all of them involve the dwarfs.  You get the feeling at times that the animators were showing off – it takes several minutes of gags after the dwarfs get home before they actually wake up Snow White, and several more for them to get to sleep at the end of the night. Apparently, the animators were paid bonuses for every gag they suggested that made it into the film, so it’s easy to see why there’s such a surplus! The washing and dancing scenes go on for quite a while, too, but if there’s one thing that can be said about this film, it’s that even the filler is charming. Not many films these days have such a leisurely pace to them; it lends the film a soothing air at times by giving you time to breathe between the more dramatic scenes.

The dwarfs are better appreciated as individuals. Doc is a delightful old duffer who’s always spouting malapropisms; it’s great fun to try and catch some of the innuendos in the mixed-up sentences he comes out with! A small moment in his first scene tells us a lot about his character, when we see him pop his jewellery’s loupe into his eye backwards as he attempts to examine a gem.

Doc

Despite all his bumbling, he’s clearly the leader of the troop, a position emphasised by the fact that he is the only dwarf not to be named after his defining characteristic. Next in the hierarchy is Grumpy, who is probably my favourite dwarf. John Grant states that Grumpy “is almost certainly the best conceived and best executed character in the movie,” and I’m inclined to agree. He has a distinct arc to his character, as he gradually ‘defrosts’ thanks to the influence of the princess – the culmination of this arc is part of what makes the funeral scene towards the end so powerful. His character is carefully layered in a way that makes him sympathetic, despite his cantankerous manner, so seeing him in tears is all the more moving.

Grumpy

The most popular dwarf with audiences at the time was Dopey, and it’s not hard to see why. His two most defining qualities are his sense of fun, and his sincerity. He’s an innocent, almost childlike character who is notably silent for almost the entire film (apart from a brief yell of fright provided by Eddie Collins). Apparently, his voiceless state was due to the studio’s inability to cast a suitable voice actor – everybody they tried just “killed” the character. In the end, he seems to have been based on a dog, which is obvious in many instances, such as when he “runs” in his sleep. He is the most slapstick member of the dwarfs, accident-prone and mischievous, which is probably why he remains so beloved. For my part, I like him just fine, but his lack of any real character development limits his appeal.

All dwarfs
From left to right: Dopey, Happy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Doc, Bashful and Sleepy

Speaking of lack of character development, the other four dwarfs, Sleepy, Sneezy, Bashful and Happy really got the shaft here. There’s little beyond their respective gags to distinguish them and I still sometimes find myself unable to tell them apart in group scenes until they speak. Bashful is endearing, but Sneezy is really just annoying. Sleepy is actually quite astute at times (he is the first to realise that the Queen may have infiltrated the cottage after the animals come to warn them), but it seems a lot of his scenes were cut during production and he was left with very little screen time. For some reason, poor Sleepy is also the only dwarf not to get a goodbye kiss from Snow at the end of the film! The most notable thing to be said about Happy is that his voice actor, Otis Harlan, was born earlier than any other Disney voice actor, in 1865. Since all of the dwarfs (bar Grumpy) are fairly happy, his defining trait makes him a bit of a non-presence.

Mind you, he has more presence than the nameless Prince, who appears in just two scenes and sings most of his lines. The problematic Prince caused no end of headaches for the artists, who were just getting to grips with animating the human form. Walt was supposedly so unhappy with the Prince’s look that he restricted his appearances as much as possible. This continued right up to the film’s opening, when Walt noticed with horror that a mistake had been made with the Prince’s animation when he leans in to kiss Snow White in her coffin – a misplaced cel made him appear to ‘shimmy.’ There wasn’t time or money to correct it, so the mistake had to be left (it has since been fixed in the 1993 restoration); thankfully, audiences didn’t seem to notice, probably too busy enjoying the revival of Snow White to pay him much attention.

The Prince
The Prince is said to be inspired by the likes of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Leslie Howard.

Of the remaining characters, the most significant is the huntsman, who is assigned to murder Snow White by the Queen. In a famously dramatic scene, upon witnessing her innocent kindness, he is unable to go through with it and instead tells her to escape into the forest. Despite his limited screen time, the huntsman has a lot of presence – his eyes in particular are superb, with a very haunted look about them as he slowly creeps towards his victim. Snow White was notable for using animated characters in serious, dramatic scenes for the first time; indeed, it’s hard to believe the huntsman is from the same film as Dopey. I don’t want to think about what the Queen did to him when she discovered his treachery.

The huntsman
“You know the penalty if you fail!”

There’s also the Magic Mirror, but there’s not much to be said about him. The many special effects used to enhance his otherworldly appearance are the most fascinating thing about the character. He is deliberately given a remote, emotionless voice to make it clear that he is on nobody’s side; he doesn’t necessarily support the Queen, he is simply bound to serve her. Of course, the lack of detail on just who or what he is raises endless questions about how his magic functions.

The animals of the forest certainly deserve a mention, too. They are marvellously compelling characters, and I enjoy their antics far more than the dwarfs’ endless gags, especially when they help Snow to “tidy up the room.” The smaller creatures have a hilarious habit of giving the camera huge roguish winks and goofy grins when they’ve done something cute, I love it. That said, there’s more to them than comedy; they also play an active role in the plot, leading Snow White to the cottage, helping her settle in with the dwarfs, even attempting to fight the Queen (as the witch) off her and then running to get the dwarfs. Special mention goes to the little tortoise, who just can’t seem to keep up with his friends and often ends up getting trampled when things change suddenly. And of course, the coquettish dove who “delivers” the Prince’s kiss to Snow White on her balcony makes an already memorable scene that much sweeter.

As for the infamous vultures, I think their atmospheric appeal can be summed up with this image:
The vultures

They add a lot of menace to the scenes they’re in, far more effective than any dialogue could have been. One minor note, though, is the strange geographical inaccuracies in the wildlife – what in the world are tortoises, chipmunks and raccoons doing in a medieval German forest?

Animation

One of the many remarkable things about Snow White is how well the animation has held up after so many years. Not for nothing is the film known as revolutionary; it is as crisp, fluid and bright as it was the day it was finished (although admittedly it has had a major restoration). Let’s just stop and appreciate for a moment just how much work went into this – everything you see on screen, every character, every background, every special effect, was all drawn by hand, often many times over. With the exceptions of the live-action shots of the book at the start and end of the film, the whole damn thing was painstakingly animated by hand. Computers may be more efficient and have taken away a lot of the work, but after watching this, I can’t help feeling that they’ve also taken away some of the artistry.

The artists at Disney were educated at the nearby Chouinard Art Institute, which went on to merge with the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to become CalArts. Walt’s process was very efficient; draft them in, train them up and put them to work as quickly as possible.

Snow herself was animated primarily by Grim Natwick, an artist who is otherwise best known for animating Betty Boop (you can see some family resemblance between the two girls). She and the Prince (but interestingly not the Queen) were animated with a technique known as rotoscoping, whereby an animator uses live-action footage to “trace” their drawings and thus create a more realistic character. This is why those two characters are less caricatured than the dwarfs or animals, which were done in a looser, more natural style. Some have criticised rotoscoping for producing limited, lifeless animation, but it should be noted that the animators on this film strove to avoid directly tracing from the footage, with some keeping Photostat machines at their desks to make copies from it instead.

Squash and stretch

The dwarfs and animals exhibit the “squash and stretch” approach to animation, defined by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” as one of the twelve basic principles of the medium. This gave the characters it applies to a greater elasticity – they could change shape quite drastically while still retaining their overall volume, an ability used to great effect in the dwarf’s many fight scenes. The use of cel-animation gave the animators a lot of room to play, compared to earlier animated films such as The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), which had to rely on a stiffer silhouette style involving cardboard and tin cut outs. While the animation of all of the characters in the film is very impressive, it’s worth remembering that the artists were still honing their craft at this stage and had yet to perfect some of their techniques – this is the main reason why the Prince has so little screen time. The deer seen in this film are also a lot less anatomically precise than the ones we’ll be seeing in Bambi a few years down the line.

By far the most interesting thing about Snow White’s animation, though, is the extensive use of special effects. For this film, the Disney artists used a new type of camera called the multiplane, which they had experimented with in the Oscar-winning short The Old Mill earlier in 1937. Inventor William Garity designed the multiplane used in this film, improving upon the original model from famed Disney animator Ub Iwerks. This camera allowed the animators to achieve an illusion of depth in their work for the first time, which greatly added to the overall effect of the picture and helped to draw audiences into the world of the film.

The list of special effects employed by the animators on Snow White is long and varied; they used everything from coloured gels and frosted glass to transparent paint and camera diffusion in order to achieve the desired look. The scene near the beginning, with Snow looking into the wishing well, was done using a distortion glass, which created the illusion of movement in the water; the ripples were done on special cels. The rain in the storm during the film’s finale was real falling water, filmed in slow motion and then superimposed onto the picture; the brief shot of snow falling behind the narration during Snow White’s long sleep was done in the same way, using bleached cornflakes. The animators even used a device called a Shadowgraph to help them provide the characters with realistic shadows. Impressive as all this is, however, not all of the stories about the special effects are true – one particularly common one tells that the ink-and-paint girls working on the film, with the aim of adding some colour to Snow White’s anaemic complexion, used their own rouge to literally tint her cheeks as they coloured the film. In reality, red dye was used, with rouge being much too messy a substance to be applied to delicate film cels.

Snow White in the well

While it’s fun to marvel at the innovations of the animators, it can be just as fun to look for the rare slip-ups, if only as a reminder that, great as it is, even Snow White has its flaws. There’s one particular moment in the dwarf’s first scene as they’re marching out of the mine to go home, where the first dwarfs to leave the tunnel seem to “pop” into being out of nowhere, rather than gradually appearing from the darkness. There are a few instances of poor voice synching, too, most notably during Snow White’s goodbyes at the close of the film – her lips don’t seem to match her words to Dopey. And of course, the shimmying Prince, discreetly tidied up in the restoration of the ‘90s, shouldn’t be overlooked. Overall, though, the animation in Snow White continues to hold up very well, still blowing people away with its bouncy charisma and subtle realism to this day.

Plot

There’s really not too much to say about the plot of Snow White. It’s a beloved classic which most of us grew up with and we all know how it goes. This version is beautifully done, just as we’ve come to expect from Disney; fairy tales truly are their speciality.

The pacing is perhaps a little slow by modern standards, but the “filler” scenes with the dwarfs still manage to build character and you don’t feel that the film is wasting any of its eighty-three minute run time. Disney tightened up the original story quite a bit by cutting out several of the Queen’s earlier failed attempts to kill Snow, for instance by giving her a poisoned comb for her hair. The dislodging of the piece of apple from Snow’s throat at the end is also dropped, as such a mildly disgusting detail would of course ruin the romance of the moment. Indeed, most of the cuts or changes to the original story can be seen as improvements. The dwarfs were not named in the Grimm’s version, but judging by the endless pages of name suggestions from the artists, it must have been a lot of fun coming up with some for this version.

The pacing of the finale is a particularly strong moment in terms of plot, I think. The use of the soundtrack and dialogue, the animation of the characters and the cutting back and forth between cottage and mine all enhance the drama and build tension as the Queen’s evil plot nears its climax. This continues with the dwarf’s chase and the Queen’s demise, before we reach the most arresting scene of all: Snow’s funeral. This was an exceptionally bold move at the time, as nobody had ever tried to use “drawings” to create a genuine emotional connection with the audience before. It’s played very effectively, with no dialogue and simple organ music, all helped by the completion of Grumpy’s character arc in his mourning for the lost princess.

Funeral

The one weakness with the plot is, arguably, the “passivity” of the female lead and the general representation of women in the film. This film was made less than twenty years after women got the right to vote in the USA and it does seem to glorify the “traditional” role of women, showing Snow to be quite content cooking and cleaning for a group of lazy males  (although she does hold a certain degree of authority over them because of this). The Queen and her motives might also come across as a little ridiculous nowadays – in a world where women are being encouraged to embrace their natural appearances, her obsession with being the “fairest in the land” is more than a little disturbing. Women of the 1930s, especially in Hollywood, were subject to all manner of outrageous advertising campaigns focusing on their figures, their housekeeping skills and their dedication to their husbands. Just run a Google search for vintage ads to see what I mean; some of them are truly astonishing in their brazen sexism. There’s really no excuse or explanation beyond the film being a product of its time; thankfully, most of us have moved on from such outdated ideas, but it’s important to keep films like these around to remind us of the progress we’ve made.

Cinematography

In the summer of 1935, during the film’s production, Walt took a three month holiday to Europe which strongly influenced the look of the final film. Snow White draws artistic inspiration from a wide range of sources, with the film’s overall aesthetic being reminiscent of the artwork of Gustave Doré, Arthur Rackham and Gustaf Tenggren, Tenggren even being a Disney employee for several years.

Gustave_Doré_-_Loch_Lomond 1875
Gustave Doré, Loch Lomond (1875)

 

The forest

The film’s style was also inspired by many works of German expressionism, including films such as the two-part Die Nibelungen (1924) by Fritz Lang and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) by Robert Wiene. The scene where this influence is most evident is Snow White’s famous flight through the forest, which so horrified audiences in its original run. Meanwhile, the staging and set-up of some of the Queen’s scenes, including her transformation sequence, were inspired by the likes of Nosferatu (1922) and Frankenstein (1931), but it wasn’t all darkness and terror. MGM’s 1936 production of Romeo and Juliet was another major inspiration for the artists, perhaps most clearly in the early scenes between Snow White and the Prince at her balcony, where he is framed by blossoms as he serenades her.

Nibelungen_film2
Die Nibelungen (1924)

 

Poison apple

Much of the cinematography is quite understated, with special effects being used to heighten the drama when necessary. The gentle watercolour backgrounds look positively delicious, real artwork worthy of any gallery. John Grant points out that the film’s colour palette is generally quite muted when compared to the shorts which preceded it, but the principle characters are all clad in much bolder, brighter colours to enhance their “stage presence.”

Light is used to great effect throughout the piece, to draw the viewer’s attention to particular details of parts of the scene, or to change the tone of it (one of the early shots, slowly honing in on the window of the castle, is later repeated in darkness right before the Queen’s transformation). The candlelight used in the dwarf’s cottage lends the place a homey, comfortable atmosphere when contrasted with the gloom of the Queen’s castle interior.

Snow with Candle

There is also (naturally, for a fairy tale) plenty of symbolism. The apple is easily the best-known symbol here, with its powers of temptation dating all the way back to the Old Testament and further ingrained into popular culture by this very story. The dove which helps the Prince woo Snow White demonstrates his purity and peaceful intentions towards her, while the Queen’s more sinister companion, the crow, has long symbolised death and is often depicted as the familiar of witches. Diamonds, a well-known symbol of love, fill the mine where the dwarfs work, telling us that they mean Snow White no harm and will make good caretakers of her until the Prince returns.

Soundtrack

Yet another of Snow White’s many distinctions is that it had the first commercially issued soundtrack album, released in January 1938. Disney was consciously trying to avoid the “Tin Pan Alley” sound commonly used in animated shorts and musicals at the time, striving to create something more unique and memorable. The songs were a huge hit in their day, but musical tastes have changed a lot in eighty years – how do they hold up? Well, it’s a pretty mixed bag. There are eight main songs in the film, so let’s take a look at each of them.

The first, I’m Wishing, is very sweet and the scene it features in has some of the best mise-en-scène in the film, although it’s unintentionally hilarious when the Prince randomly pops up at the end and musically interrupts with “Toooodaaaay!” Snow’s singing voice has been said to irritate some (including Walt himself at times), but personally I don’t mind it too much; it’s an acquired taste. Adriana Caselotti had some operatic training, so it’s certainly not badly sung.

One Song is probably the most dated of them all. It’s a very 1930s-style crooner ballad, twee and sentimental, but the engaging acting from Snow White and the use of the dove helps to keep it charming rather than nauseating.

With a Smile and a Song is my favourite of Snow’s songs; it has such an uplifting message and really brightens things up after the horrors of the forest scene just before it. I also love the animals and this number is the one that introduces us to them.

Whistle While You Work is a fun little tune that tends to float into your head whenever you’re doing housework, and the sequence features plenty more enjoyable animal antics. This song was directly parodied by Amy Adams’ character Giselle in Enchanted, when she sings her Happy Little Working Song.

Heigh-Ho

The dwarfs’ first song is the famous Heigh-Ho, which is kind of like this film’s Hakuna Matata. It really is down to the individual whether you’ll like this one or not; it’s catchy enough, and certainly the best of the dwarf’s songs, but not really anything incredible.

My favourite dwarf song is the perfectly-titled Bluddle-Uddle-Um-Dum, also known as The Washing Song. This has some great lyrics and is far less annoying than The Silly Song, with Dopey clowning and Doc blathering, all while Grumpy grumbles in the background.

The Silly Song is more boring than silly, serving mainly to lighten the mood as the Queen schemes and plots in her castle. There’s some creative use of instruments here, with a more Germanic flavour to it than the other songs, but perhaps I just don’t enjoy the dwarfs enough to really get into this one.

It’s followed immediately by the final song and probably the most iconic, Someday My Prince Will Come. Apart from the most hard-core feminists, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t like this song, even if begrudgingly. It displays Snow White’s positive attitude and innate sweetness to its fullest extent, and nicely rounds off the songs before the drama-packed finale.

Motifs from the various songs recur throughout the score, which was primarily composed by Frank Churchill. He did a stellar job, but the man was famously troubled and left shortly before the completion of the film. Leigh Harline finished most of the remainder, with the bulk of the finale’s gripping score being his work. Paul Smith’s most memorable contribution was the little tortoise’s adorably ponderous theme, as well as the short scene where Snow White says her prayers before bed. The score is well mixed and complements the dialogue without overpowering it – and this just one decade into the sound era of cinema. One aspect I especially like is the “lyrical” feel much of the dialogue has; there’s lots of rhyming and harmony to it, which gives it a nice flowing poetic feeling. The soundtrack is even used to create comedy, by using accents to emphasise a character’s actions (think of Snow White’s jaunty knocking on the cottage door).

One piece of criticism I do have, though, is that the voice actors all went uncredited. I know that this was the standard practice at the time, but it’s still a shame to think that the talents of La Verne, Caselotti and Pinto Colvig were overlooked by many at the time. The lack of credit also breeds some confusion, as voice acting can be a notoriously scatty job and some lines or sounds were the work of other actors, used when the main performer was unavailable; for instance, a few lines of Snow White’s dialogue in the finished film are actually the work of former Disney Laugh-O-Grams star Virginia Davis and Thelma Hubbard.

 

Final Verdict

This film’s legacy cannot be overstated. In the days before home video entertainment, it was popular enough to get re-releases in 1952, 1958, 1967, 1975, 1983, 1987 and 1993, the year of its digital restoration. It became the highest-grossing film of its day, before being overtaken less than two years later by Gone With the Wind, and when adjusted for inflation, it remains the tenth highest-grossing North American film in history (and that’s not just animated films, either). It went on to inspire The Wizard of Oz, and was praised by legendary director Sergei M. Eisenstein as “the greatest film ever made.” Even Hitler was said to adore the film! (And no, Disney was not a Nazi!)

I put this in my top ten favourite Disney films of all time. It deserves its place – as a true pioneer with a lively spirit and plenty of artistic merit, I recommend this one as highly as possible. If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a cinematic treat.

 

My Rating – 5/5

References

I consulted my own books to research for this review, as well as some standard web sources:

The World History of Animation (2011) by Stephen Cavalier

The Art of Walt Disney (2011 ed.) by Christopher Finch

Once Upon a Time: Walt Disney (2007) edited by Bruno Girveau

Encyclopedia of Walt Disney’s Animated Characters (1998 ed.) by John Grant

The Fairest One of All (2012) by J.B. Kaufman

Disney’s Art of Animation: From Mickey Mouse to Hercules (1997 ed.) by Bob Thomas

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40982148 – credit for film poster

Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10583989 – credit for Die Nibelungen

By Gustave Doré – Saint Louis Art Museum official site, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5623704 – credit for Doré’s Loch Lomond

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_White_and_the_Seven_Dwarfs_(1937_film) – Wiki article

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0029583/ – IMDB profile

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4 Replies to “Film Review: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)”

  1. Great review and greatly researched!

    “not THAT way”, lol, I laughed there!

    Yes, this film is a masterpiece and 80 years later, it’s still going great! I’m tied between Doc and Grumpy for my favorite dwarf. Unlike you, I do love them all and don’t find any scene with them to be dragging out too long. I think they’re the main stars of the film.

    I also love Snow White and disagree with many of the feminists’ complaint against her. Okay, yes she may be traditional and cook and clean, but you have to remember she’s a 14 y/o girl who just ran away from a castle and all she’s done her life is work as a maid cleaning. What I mean is she doesn’t know any other skill. And she feels that she needs to do something nice for the dwarfs since she is staying in their house, so it has to be cooking and cleaning as those are what she knows how to do.

    And I don’t find the idea of the Queen wanting to be the fairest in the land to be unsettling. Even today, there are many people who have that belief, even if they don’t fully state it. I’m not saying it’s a good belief, but it’s one of the reasons why makeup companies and the like make millions.

    But that’s just my 2 cents. Anyway, love this film and love the research you did for it. Can’t wait until you get to Beauty and the Beast!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed it!

      Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the dwarfs or anything, they’re fine characters. I just found some of the gags a bit repetitive, you know? I do love Dopey though, and Doc. And of course Grumpy!

      Yes, that’s what people seem to forget – a girl in her situation wouldn’t be able to do much more than cook and clean. I find Snow to be a very positive role model, she’s got such a great attitude!

      It’s definitely an unfortunate epidemic, far too much shallowness and vanity in the world. Thank goodness we aren’t all like the Queen!

      I appreciate the comment – and I’m certainly looking forward to BATB too, it’s my favourite one! But it’s a long way off yet haha.

      Liked by 1 person

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