Join the beautiful princess Snow White as she escapes her jealous stepmother, the queen, and befriends a lovable group of dwarfs. But when she falls under the queen’s wicked spell, only true love’s kiss can save her.
You know what? I really enjoyed this animated version ‘Snow White’. I know, I know… that probably comes as a surprise, given my predilection for darker material, and I assure you that I am no less astounded by this.
My only true recollection of the film, based on my last viewing (some decade and a half ago!), was of a gratingly dated Snow White who sang lacklustre songs in an annoying fashion. Everything else was lost to selective memory while I recalled the chalkboard-clawing presence of this animated creature.
And, while I still find her quite irritating at times, I was quite impressed with all the rest. There is no denying that ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ is a masterpiece: not only is it a fine film as it is, but, when one considers the era in which it was made, it is a true wonder to behold, a groundbreaker.
Still one has to get beyond a few of its limitations:
For starters, it is quite short on actual story – which whizzes by at light speed, and is padded with multiple musical numbers. This is a product of its time, evidently, as talkies (which were still relatively new) made musicals quite popular back then. Unfortunately, no doubt due to Disney’s tremendous success, this became a staple of animated films for quite some time – as though an animated film required musical numbers (a falsehood only in North America, it seems, much like the long-standing -but misguided- belief that animation = cartoons = cute and cuddly = family fare ).
And then there is the afore-mentioned singing (if one insists on calling this brutalization of eardrums “singing”! ). While everyone else is actually quite fine, Snow White’s and her beloved Prince’s songs are knuckle-gnawingly horrid. I can’t explain it, but every single time that Snow White unleashed her trembling vocals, I wanted to ram a blunt instrument down her throat – the irrational expression of someone driven mad with pain. For whatever reason, hearing her makes me feel incredibly aggressive, something quite out of character for me. As for the Prince, well, he deserves to be shot – but his agonizing renditions pale in comparison to the torture suffered at the hands of Snow White.
Snow White was also far too sweet to endure; she was basically a Hollywood caricature of what someone lovely and delicate might be. It was nauseating. Half of the time she had her eye closed so that we could only see her large lashes and her eye-shadow – even when she was looking directly at other characters. And the way she moved was more akin to ballet dancing, floating from one point to the next like a kite in a mild wind. It wasn’t all bad, quite frankly, but she was the lowlight of the film, as far as I’m concerned.
Having said this, I immediately want to dispel the notion that this may be a problem with the animators, that they poorly designed this character. The reality is that she was rotoscoped, as was the Prince, so they clearly have nothing to do with the way she was conceived – they strictly traced her over the original film, which was directed by someone else. This is evident in that, while the animation for those two characters has a nice fluidity, it has a slightly “dreamy” quality that is not present in the rest of the animation – which makes Snow White and the Prince stand out quite dramatically from the rest.
The rest of animation is quite nice, though. In fact, it’s impressive given the time period. I’m still impressed with the depth that Disney’s films had – something that is entirely due to the use of a multiplane camera, an innovative technique at the time. Snow White was the first feature-length film to use this camera, and I think that the hard work involved paid off. The animation style is also quite pleasant, quite an improvement over Disney’s peers. Some of the characters are a product of their time (especially the animals), naturally, but overall it’s quite nice to look at it.
Back in 1937, what must have been great about animated films is that, unlike with live-action ones, filmmakers could do ANYTHING and weren’t limited by the confines of limited technical and special effect know-how. This means that Disney could show Snow White interacting with animals to his audiences, for instance, or make magical transformations happen before their very eyes. It’s quite stunning, all things considered, and I can only imagine how amazing this must have been for audience at the time.
‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ holds up surprisingly well some 70 years later, actually. In fact, my aversion to it has now been totally erased. Its longevity is a tribute to Walt Disney’s vision, to his use of paintings and cel animation, multiplane camera, rotoscope, …etc. Say what you will about Disney Corp, or the man’s personal life, but there’s a reason why he’s a legend in the entertainment industry: he was a visionary. And while ‘Fantasia’ would be his ultimate achievement, ‘Snow White’ was undoubtedly the dawn of a new era.