Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) movie poster

directors various
viewed: 01/01/2013 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

As many Disney films as we’ve seen together, we’re not one of those “Disney Families”.  But I’ve always liked Disney’s earliest films, so when the chance arose to see a new restored print of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, we went for it.  We also have the benefit of the Disney Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio, which currently hosts an exhibit of the artwork from the film.  So, we have a plan and a half.

What’s most striking to me about this film is its lush beauty and detail.  This was Walt Disney’s first feature film, something that could have ruined him, and he put everything into it.  He hired up the best animators in Los Angeles, got them formal training in art that many of them never had, used every technique and technology to create a film of greater depth than any of his very successful short films.  And it paid off.

It’s paying off still.

Snow White was the first film of an empire.  And as much as it set in place a template for future feature films to come for years: princesses, comic sidekicks, fairy tale fodder, and catchy musical numbers, most of what it achieves, it does not with formula but with loving attention.  If anything, it’s perhaps got a little too much music, though it certainly has a number of classic tunes: “Heigh-ho”, “Whistle While You Work”, and “Someday My Prince Will Come”.  Disney had already had success with music in his short films and this would be formula for decades after.

One other odd element is the rotoscoping of Snow White, Prince Charming, and even the evil queen.  Particularly in the tonalities of Snow White’s skin, the prince’s visage, and so on, as beautifully done as it is, it’s one technological trick that was dropped in favor of hand-drawn cel animation, as the dwarfs are.  There is a dichotomy between the images of the characters, one that seems to further emphasize the styles of the period.  Snow White is most definitely a girl of the 1930’s…or maybe even the 1920’s, dressed for the fairy tale.

It’s brilliantly done.  The dwarfs are all drawn with wonderful unique qualities.  As I recall, lead animated by different people to maintain unique qualities.  And the film’s most wonderful moments, in terms of the animation, are those with the evil queen, her transmogrification into the old crone, her poisoned apple, her run through the woods and her ultimate demise, with the sly, haunting vultures swirling into the mist above her.

I’ve always felt that the film ends a bit abruptly.  Apparently, Felix felt the same.  The kids did enjoy it, though I think it shows it’s age in comparison to some of Disney’s other films, like Pinocchio (1940).

This film, for its smallish flaws, though, is a masterful, amazing piece of animation, perhaps one of the most lovingly rendered of any of Disney’s features.

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