Movie 1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow_White_1937_poster

To begin this project of course we have to start where it all began.  The first full length animated film- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Debuting in 1937, Snow White was not only a creative success but a commercial hit as well.  Earning $8 million dollars in its initial release, making it the highest grossing film at the time.  Walt Disney was given an honorary Oscar in 1939 for his achievement and the 7 Dwarfs became marketing icons on all kinds of merchandise, creating a commercial profitability which film had not seen to that point.

Work on the film began in 1934 with an initial budget of 250k.  For a time it was called ‘Disney’s folly’ because Walt had to mortgage his house and ran up a cost of nearly 1.5 million to produce.

Disney was fond of the 7 Dwarfs and many different personalities were tested including Tubby, Jumpy Puffy, Dizzy and Shorty before they settled on Doc, Grumpy, Bashful, Sleepy and Happy, Dopey, and Sneezy

Originally there were more comedic elements with a dungeon skeleton dance and a more laughable Evil Queen and Prince.  But Disney will show in nearly every film he produced a concern of realism and taking his subjects seriously.

We will see in Fantasia, Pinocchio, Dumbo and Bambi that darker elements are not glossed over and comedy is relatively muted.

Initially frustrated with the project, Disney went to Europe in 1935 and was inspired by the architecture, landscapes and the creativity of his team.  They say he had  renewed confidence and was ready to push forward.

Disney was also famous for having his animators take classes on many European art movements and styles and you can see this influence in many of his films.   He even set up a school in the Disney Studios for the animators to improve.   These classes were referred to as a ‘brutal battle’ by some of the animators, but it did inspire them to try new ideas and create the beautiful lush atmosphere we see in Snow White.

snow white castle
You can see the European influences in this castle scene from Snow White

The music was composed by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey.  Snow White was the first American film to have a soundtrack album released with the film.

Movie Review-

So how does it hold up?   I think very well.  I do not have children but the story is familiar enough with a balance of laughs and spooks to still entertain a child today of many ages.  Perhaps pre-teens and teens will be less interested in the plot but if they appreciate art maybe they can enjoy it on that level.

The strengths of the film are still the Dwarfs.  Their ‘Heigh-Ho’ work song is catchy and their movements sparkle and feel smooth and easy whereas Snow White sometimes seems plastered into the shot, less natural.

The dwarfs taking a bath to ‘The Washing Song’ will still bring a smile to any viewers face.

The villain is also first rate.  Perhaps only eclipsed by Cruella Devile, no other Disney villain has been so obsessed with beauty and vanity.  She doesn’t need power or money.  She already lives in a castle as queen.  No, she needs to be beautiful and most importantly more beautiful than anyone else.  Even Cruella didn’t seem to care what others thought of her in the way the Queen did.

This is interesting when you think of the despots and villains of the late 30s.  Someone like an Adolf Hitler already had power but it was not enough.  He had to have everyone look a certain way, act a certain way, total control.

This transformation scene is stunning.

Where the film is weaker and outdated is with Snow White and The Prince .  The voice by Adriana Caselotti is squeaky to a modern ear and The Prince is given no name or personality at all.  We have instant love which makes both their characters and motivation kind of boring.

The songs are actually not half bad with the melody for Someday My Prince Will Come being one of Disney’s best (the lyrics could use work but the melody is beautiful). The Work Song is also charming but the high pitched squeal is a definite distraction.

It is the Dwarfs we become emotionally attached to through the film.  I love how classic Disney was open with children about all kinds of emotions including grief.  Surely the funeral scene would be tempered and muted today

Conclusion

Grade- A

A landmark achievement of both art and film.  Beautiful music, loveable Dwarfs, dynamic villain and at only 83 minutes the squeaky singing doesn’t go on for long.  A definite must for any film lovers library.

23 thoughts on “Movie 1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

  1. This was actually not the first full-length animated film ever. There were about 5-6 full-length animated films that were released before this, but most are lost now. Many of them were Argentinian films. This was just the first full-length traditional cel animated film as well as first American animated film as well as first Disney animated film. See here for more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_animated_feature_films_before_1940

    This film really does hold up and the Washing Song is my fave! I’ve never found Snow White’s voice to be weird; I enjoy it.

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    1. Cool. I did not know that! Thanks.

      The singing thing isn’t a big deal to me. Just a personal preference. The high pitched voice was popular in the 30s and feels a little dated but the songs are still great and it doesn’t hurt the movie as a whole.

      It feels like so long ago I watched and reviewed this.🙂

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  2. There is a lot in this movie I excuse because of it’s age which I would never let slide in a modern animated movie. The countless filler scenes. All the little tricks the animators used to hide the problems they had still with animated humans (and certain animals). But there is also a lot in it which still holds up surprisingly well, mainly the scene in the woods, the transformation and the funeral sequence.

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    1. Not to be snarky, but I must say, there is a lot in modern animated movies I don’t excuse because of movies like Snow White. You may call them “filler scenes,” but I think it builds the dynamic between its characters (mostly referring to snow white and the dwarfs) and slows down the pace of the story. I think that is so refreshing in an age where animated movies have picked up the pace in order to keep up with the lessening attention span of the average TV-ravaged child. That isn’t to say there aren’t problems Snow White suffers due to it’s age, but I would watch this classic over most animated movies being produced today.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Please be snarky all you want!🙂 I think you are right I would rather watch Snow White over most films made animated or not. The only thing that bumped it from an A+ to an A was the high pitched singing isn’t my favorite but it’s great!

        I’d have to read the review to remember what I said about the filler scenes but that’s an interesting point you make about slowing things down and spending time with the characters. I hadn’t considered it quite like that. Bambi has a lot of those moments too. Hmmm…Interesting idea.

        Thanks!

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      2. I just saw you were responding to Swanpride. I agree. I don’t mind the fillers. I think it endears the dwarfs to you and when they are sad you feel very sad because you saw them being silly. And stopping the momentum for a song is basically what a musical is. If that is filler than all musicals are full of fillers.

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      3. But seriously all the commenters on this blog also blog about animation or other topics (and all quite good I might add) so don’t worry about being snarky.

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      4. Even as a child, I felt that the washing scene of the dwarfs is too long, especially for something which leads to nowhere. I think there is a difference between this and something like “be your guest” which also slows down the movie a little bit, but is visually interesting, tells us a lot about the side characters and doesn’t overstay its welcome. You just can’t see the leaps the studio made with the years. The pacing of Snow White is sometimes too slow…have you ever paid attention to how long the scene is from the point the Dwarves come home to them discovering Snow White? This kind of Shenanigans get old at one point, and that has nothing to do with the attention span, and a lot with something overstaying it’s welcome. Did you ever see the complete version of Bedknops and Broomsticks Portobello road scene? THAT is overstaying it’s welcome at it’s finest, and I really love the short version of it.

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      5. That’s an interesting point. I will have to watch it again sometime and look for those things. I didn’t think the pacing seemed slow and the washing scene seemed ok but certainly worth taking another look at it.

        Totally right on Portabello Road. That was a time when there were very long extended dance numbers (like in White Christmas or Singing in the Rain) and to a modern audience they are tough to sit through. I admit I usually fast forward unless I am in a dancing appreciation mood.

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      6. The thing is, it was originally not as long (and even shorter in the German version of the movie) and it was perfect, but for the DVD release they put in the full scene for some reason and it just doesn’t end.

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  3. ‘Snow White’ is a tricky film for me to judge because I really didn’t watch it that much when I was little. And when I did, it always seemed to swing from nightmarishly dark with the Witch, the dark forest and the climax in the storm to almost saccharine sweet with Snow White. I certainly laughed at all the scenes with the Dwarfs and still do, and to my own surprise I find myself defending Snow White herself from modern critics. To me she represents pure kindness and innocence, and while she is naïve I can’t bring myself to be mad at her. That’s almost like kicking a kitten. She has this sort of quiet resilience and maternal side that emerges from time to time. Yes her voice isn’t for everyone’s liking but I don’t mind it that much.

    But again, the Prince, like Mr. Charming in Cinderella, has absolutely nothing interesting going on. Of all the romances in Disney, I feel theirs is the weakest, and almost pulls me out of the movie in how rushed it is. I wish that Disney had managed to animate that one scene where he’s kept as hostage in the Queen’s dungeon. It’s ironic that the early princesses get harshly criticized yet the princes aren’t really scrutinized; the first two don’t have much to them. I don’t even care that much if it’s a bit slowly paced or not that enlivening with it’s main character because it pulls no punches when it comes to delivering a strong emotional resonance. It’s still a classic worthy of the love and respect it receives.

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    1. I agree on the prince. He is my least favorite Disney man https://54disneyreviews.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/ranking-disney-men/. Evidently it was hard to draw a man for some reason so that’s why they avoided them.
      I’m surprised how well it has held up. It perhaps swings a bit but it is definitely a satisfying film. I find the voice a little annoying but the songs are very good. Just a personal preference. Interesting what you say about the maternal side and I agree. There is a warmth to her which is lovely to see. A quaintness without being trite. Thanks again for your amazing comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good news: Yep, that castle does resemble Neuschwanstein in southwest Germany.
    Bad news: One vid embedded here no longer works; it got deleted along with the uploader’s account. Such may be the case for one or more vids in the entries for subsequent films as well.

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    1. Sorry about that. When I was doing this series I didnt realize that would happen. (Duh but I was new to blogging). I will go through and change the clips one of these days. Hopefully the writing will carry you through

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