Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 23 min.

Release Date: December 21st, 1937 MPAA Rating: G

Director: William Cottrell, David Hand, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen Actors: Adriana Caselotti, Pinto Colvig, Cordelia Ferreira, Lucille La Verne

 


 

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he initial, most notable element of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” isn’t the fact that it was the first feature-length, cel-animated motion picture. Instead, it’s the music (by Frank Churchill, Leigh Harline, and Paul Smith), which perfectly captures the feel of a children’s fantasy, full of romance and adventure and whimsy. From here, the monstrous villain takes the stage, alongside her sinister magic mirror – itself a wonder of animation, what with its carefully detailed smoke and fire and refraction.

It begins as every fairy tale should: with the words “Once upon a time …” written ornately on the physical pages of a book. This now-famous method of introduction would be used on many of Walt Disney’s animated features, and it’s here that it features most prominently, especially as the majority of the setup is read, not witnessed. Adapted from Grimms’ Fairy Tales (confusingly putting the apostrophe in an uncommon spot), the plot follows Princess Snow White, whose beauty may some day surpass that of her vain stepmother, the new queen. And so the evil woman dresses the girl in rags and forces her to work as a scullery maid. But it’s not enough to conceal the young princess’ loveliness, especially from the queen’s magic mirror, which can always pinpoint the fairest maiden in the land.

Although Snow White doesn’t look quite as realistic (or mature) as the following Disney princesses (both Cinderella and Aurora were moderate improvements before the astounding work of Ariel and Belle), her movements are still convincing, and her voice and singing are spectacular (provided by Adriana Caselotti). The musical components, which were embellished for the sake of marketing the film as a family-friendly product, are always at the forefront. In general, the instrumental notes are stronger than the lyrics, except when it comes to whistling while working, and when the dwarfs get their quirky work chant on the way home from the mine, which became two of the most recognizable songs from the movie (and in pop culture forever after). However, neither one has more than a couple of lines of lyrics. The best is instead the theme music (“Some Day My Prince Will Come”), which resurfaces from time to time in the background, and can’t help but to be sensationally moving.

As is traditional with stories by the Brothers Grimm, there is an abundance of antagonists, as well as some scary scenarios – particularly as the queen insists upon cutting out her stepdaughter’s heart as proof of death; when the huntsman slowly raises his dagger to accomplish that deed; and when the young girl is terrorized by imagined forest monstrosities. But Snow White’s singing always comes to the rescue. Further visual frights await, headlined by the queen’s transformation into the wicked witch (perhaps as shocking in 1937 as the transformation was in “An American Werewolf in London” for audiences of 1981). But the film also includes a few lessons for kids (such as tidying up and properly washing before dinner), plenty of comedy routines (including verbal humor [primarily from sputtering leader Doc and the distrustful Grumpy – “All females are poison!”], slapstick, and exaggerated movements by the dwarfs), a magic spell (and a traditional antidote), and an exhilarating finale. The film may not possess the emotional impact of Disney’s later animated classics, but it’s nevertheless a fascinating historical milestone in animation, and a powerful story of good and evil and the rousing, classical triumph of love.

– Mike Massie

  • 10/10