Friday, August 10, 2012

Disney Animated Film Critique #1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)

   So my fellow book minions, I don't know about any of you but I have a serious obsession with animated films (whether they're Disney or not).  But the most recognizable in my culture as an American citizen are the main 50 animated films produced by Walt Disney's film studio, in chronological order.  I might do some side posts with critiques of live-action Disney films, animated sequels, Disney-Pixar films, or even ones like The Nightmare Before Christmas who have oddball status, with no specific categorization.  But this is something that I have been considering for quite awhile and I finally decided to take the plunge.  The criteria will be: plot, characters, music/songs/score, design/animation, and cultural/historical context and/or overall effect of the other elements.  So take a seat, grab some popcorn and some soda and be prepared to find out the verdict.


Snow White is a beloved princess whose Mother died when she was young, her Father re-marrying a woman who is a wicked sorceress obsessed with beauty and youth.  Now that her Father is dead, Snow is forced to run away to stay alive and finds refuge with seven dwarves who need a housekeeper/cook because they're in the mines all day.  But the Evil Queen won't stop until Snow is dead for good so she can be the fairest in the land.  When all seems lost, can anything rescue her from certain death?

*Critique: The Disney version of this very old fairy tale is of the same basic structure as the original, but with less obvious brutality and moral lessons.  Keep in mind it was one of the first attempts at a major, full-length animated film.  Many naysayers thought it would be a flop.  By keeping the plot more simplistic and less grim than the original, Disney managed to infuse it with a more universal appeal and viewing ease to help it pass cultural barriers.  Plus the overall tinge of hope throughout, supplemented by music makes the ending a lot easier to stomach.

*There aren't very many main characters who play large roles in the story: Snow White, Prince Charming, the Wicked/Evil Queen, Huntsman, Doc, Grumpy, Dopey, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy and Happy. 

Snow White - She is a seemingly one-dimensional character.  But despite her overly cheerful personality and approach to life and work in general, don't be fooled.  The girl definitely feels more than we know, if the look of sheer terror on her face when running from the Huntsman is any indication.  Plus she manages to stalemate Grumpy into behaving.  Not quite so oblivious. 

Prince Charming - He is by far my least favorite character.  He's a total perv, hitting on what he believes to be a servant girl singing by a well.  Yeah, love at first sight, um-hmm.  Also, after he thinks she's dead he still kisses her!!!  Not only a perv, but a necrophiliac as well.  Poor Snow, maybe fairy tale world allows quickie Vegas-style divorces?  As a character overall we never get to know him personally, or find out what makes him tick.  You could put a cardborad cut-out in his place and it wouldn't make a big difference.

Evil Queen/Wicked Stepmother - She is kind of a wild card.  The major drawback to Disney's 84 minute film is that never once are we given a reason (any reason at all, no matter how stupid would've been better than none!) for her vanity and subsequent murderous rampage.  Obviously some deap-seated mental issues are going on there.  Maybe I've been spoiled by T.V. shows like Once Upon a Time, but a one-dimensional villain can be entertaining, yet always disappoints on a higher intellectual level.  I love the cackle, but what else is there really? 

Huntsman - Talk about an almost completely sympathetic character (not quite completely, because he almost did go through with the murder attempt)!  The poor guy goes from working for a King who was at the very least SANE, to being enlisted for an assassination attempt - which he purposefully botches.  He does this knowing that the Queen will probably have him executed.  Clever, substituting the pig's heart - too bad she's a FREAKING SORCERESS!!!  The original big, dumb lug ladies and gentlemen.

The Seven Dwarves - Doc, Grumpy and Dopey are really the only ones with any real purpose in the story, other than to personify the descriptions of their names.  Doc is the one in charge, looking after everyone, but especially the truly oblivious Dopey.  Snow becomes another part of the brood, but he does seem to have a soft spot for her even though their interactions are mostly awkward.   Grumpy is a one-man ad for PTSD meets Oscar the Grouch.  He needs a chill pill BADLY.  Mostly its a case of being super glued into his ways and opposed to any kind of change.  But the fact that Snow White accepts him at face value, rolls with his attitude problem and doesn't make a concerted effort to reform him wins him over eventually.  Dopey is like a male proto-type of Dory from Finding Nemo, only he alternates between seeming childlike in his curiosity and being ignorant with his unthinking follow-through.  But he has a good heart, even when he's burping soap bubbles.  Bashful, Sleepy, Sneezy and Happy are really just there to blush, nod off at inopportune moments, be very allergic to life and always be smiling widely for the world - just like their names suggest.

*Critique:  With a balance of a few well-rounded characters and some that are fun to look at but don't offer much intellectual food, Disney has a decent cast to show for his film that everyone else thought would be a disaster.  Plus, it's funny to see the woodland creatures scampering to get out of the house when the dwarves come in and think they've been robbed.  I think the best utilized character development is in Dopey and Grumpy.  They definitely show the most change of any of the characters.


Score - The incidental music score was composed by Paul J. Smith and Lee Harline.  Honestly, I think it is the forefather of many great modern Disney scores composed by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.  It follows the emotions of the film, which is the mark of any truly good score.  I bet that like with other classic films, if you played some of the score for a bystander on the street they would probably have a good guess as to where it came from.  Some of the most chilling music in  a Disney film is the music that follows the Evil Queen in this film.  It used to creep me out so bad as a kid that I would turn it off or hide.  That and the music from the haunted forest scene definitely do their job, reaping audience emotion in spades.

Songs - The actual songs were composed by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey.  They are One Song, Someday My Prince Will Come, I'm Wishing, With a Smile and a Song, Whistle While You Work, Heigh-Ho, The Silly Song, and Bluddle-uddle-um-dum (Dwarfs' Washing and Yodel Song).  Disney does not hold the rights to these songs, as they were published by an outside company who controls them to this day.  Also, this film was the first American movie to have a soundtrack released with it.  These songs are catchy and still in the cultural conciousness today.  They were the beginning of a Disney musical empire and between them and the score, they personally comprise some comfort music for me.  I think they are some of the better done of Disney's attempts at a well-blended musical.

*Critique:  This movie in general had such a major cultural impact and I think that the soundtrack is no exception (literally and figuratively speaking).  It is a wonderful blend of score and words that are sung in almost operatic style by Snow White (Adrianna Caselotti) and American folk style by the Dwarves.  It is something that every American should hear straight through at least once, if only to gain an appreciation for the roots of animated film in our country and how far it's progressed.


Animation - This is before there was CGI, 3D or computer animation to make animated fimmaking an easier endeavor.  A team of designers was employed and they had to find a way of making each and every character look consistent and real, not to mention their surroundings - rocks, trees, courtyards, the cottage, all the animals, etc.  Each and every frame was HAND DRAWN and if that isn't awe-inspiring, I don't know what is.  Not to mention the rich colors and the beautiful settings that are reminiscent of some small, Eastern European nation in a bygone era.  It truly manages to look like it came from a fairy tale storybook. 

*Critique:  I will give MAJOR props to the designers who managed to make the Prince and the Evil Queen look so real, especially knowing how hard it was to make the Prince look like a real person (I watched some featurettes on my Snow White DVD).  Also, for as Betty Boop-like as Snow looks, she still has a very gorgeous color with the designers using real makeup to color in the panels for the effect.  It is very cool to think of this being possible before computers and programming made it easy for almost anyone, with or without talent, to accomplish this sort of thing.  Something any aspiring animator should see at least once, if just to wonder how in the heck it came into being.


This was the film that no one wanted to finance, no one except it's creators really believed in and that all of the critics were just waiting to tear apart.  Then it came out and silenced/amazed them all.  At it's Hollywood premiere it was given a standing ovation by some of the greatest in the movie biz of the time.  It garnered an Academy Honorary Award for Walt Disney, also being nominated for Best Musical Score.  It made four times the money at the box office as any other film released in 1938.  It was re-released in theaters to garner additional revenue in 1944, 1952, 1958, 1967, 1975, 1983, 1987 and 1993.  Walt Disney put everything that he had financially into its production, and its success is the only thing that kept him from complete ruin and being forced to close his studio for good.  There are rides that are Snow White themed at Disney's parks, the characters have been featured in video games, comics and books, including Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen by Serena Valentino.  Not to mention the original tale and other retellings that have been spawned from it.  I think it's safe to say that considering it being the orginal savior and goldmine of Disney's company, it definitely has a place of reverence in out culture.  Without it there would be no Aladdin, Lady and the Tramp, Cinderella, Little Mermaid, etc. OR anything by Pixar.  It is worth appreciation, even if a bit antiquated because of it's humble beginnings and all that is has managed to accomplish with its staying power.  You guys should check it out! :)

OVERALL VERDICT:   4/5  Mickeys

1 comment:

  1. Wow, very good review!

    This definitely isn't my favorite Disney movie, but it still holds a special place in my heart. I love "Heigh-Ho." :D


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