Like a lot of kids, I grew up on Disney movies. I remember all the big, plastic box VHS tapes for classics like Pinocchio, Snow White and The Rescuers. There’s no way to count how many times I watched Peter Pan or The Great Mouse Detective. As someone with a strong sense of nostalgia at times, I can still enjoy a lot of these movies. As someone who loves fiction in general and can enjoy pretty much any kind of movie so long as it’s good, I also like some of their newer animated movies. Of course as an adult, it’s a lot easier for me to judge movies for their quality.
Recently I came up with the idea of going through every Disney animated feature, in order of release. Pixar doesn’t count, nor do any of Disney’s other sub-studios. I’m also not touching their straight to video sequels because the vast majority of them are terrible. As it is there will be stretches where I’ll look at a bunch of mediocre movies in a row. There are also a number of these movies I’ve never seen, and plenty more I haven’t seen since I was 10 or 11 at most. As of now, the plan is to try to watch and discuss at least one classic Disney movie a week, whether I’m writing or editing a book that month or not.
After all, while this is primarily a comic blog, I would like to talk about something other than comics every now and then to keep things fresh.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a very important film from a historic standpoint. It wasn’t just Walt Disney’s first animated feature. It was the first animated feature film period. There were animated shorts, yes, but a full-length animated feature was a huge undertaking. They needed to figure out ways to make their animation look at least a little bit realistic to visually keep people’s attention. They needed to figure out ways to do so without their costs skyrocketing. Part of the method they used was taking in actors to physically act out everything, and basing their cell animations on that. Additionally, it established the Disney Princess that’s worked so well for the Disney corporation over the years.
It was a very risky move at the time. For a film in 1937 to have a budget of nearly $1.5 million is no small undertaking, especially when it’s the first of its kind. Yet it was enormously successful, making more than $8 at the box office during its initial release. It briefly held the record for the highest grossing sound film. If you count all of its re-releases since, then adjusted for inflation it’s currently sitting at the 10th highest domestically grossing movie of all time at $963,560,000. It’s sandwiched between The Exorcist and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was enough for them to build an entire studio in Burbank, at a location Disney still uses today.
Even now when you watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the animation is generally smooth and it looks natural. Sure, there are a lot of repeated frames with characters walking and the background moving across like you’re scanning across a huge painting, but it works. Looking closely, you’ll also notice that each of the dwarves have their own walking animation that kind of represents their distinct personalities. Sure, there isn’t nearly as much detail as there would be today, but the animation holds up surprisingly well for being the very first animated feature.
All that said, the movie as a whole really hasn’t aged well. Snow White is a fairly useless character who spends her days sing wishing into a well that her true love will find her and listening to the echo. She’s easily frightened, easily fooled and falls in love with the very first man she meets. If she’s royalty, why isn’t she guarded by anyone at the castle … at all? Does she not have any parents around? If her queen stepmother wants her dead, why hasn’t she fled the country a long time ago? Perhaps she should marry into another royal family at least for protection’s sake? She’s desperate to get married anyway. And that voice. That high pitched, overly soft voice. It’s grating after a while.
I will give Snow White this much though. Despite everything she goes through, she remains kind to everyone. That does take a special kind of strength, even if she’s far too trusting for her own good.
The dwarves fare a little bit better, but with the exception of Grumpy who shows at least a little bit of depth, they’re all walking stereotypes. They’re all messy workaholics whose personalities are about as deep as their names.
The plot is paper thin. The queen wants Snow White dead so that she’ll be the prettiest woman in the land. Why anyone would follow a queen this petty is a mystery. So the queen sends an assassin to kill Snow White. She flees, finds the dwarves home, and they take her in. The queen disguises herself as a creepy old woman and poisons Snow White with a poison apple, but dies by falling off a cliff when the dwarves chase her. Prince charming shows up, and despite the fact that they haven’t spoken one word to each other, his kiss somehow counts as true love’s first kiss and wakes Snow White up from her eternal sleep. Somehow this movie needed 83 minutes to tell us what could be summed up in a 10 minute short.
To make up with this, there’s a lot of music. This is where the movie gets a little subjective, I’ll admit, but with the exception of the fun Heigh-Ho, it’s mostly a bunch of mildly catchy jingles from the 30’s. There are 11 songs in this movie, most of them are full-length. Sure, the silly song may be entertaining for kids with the Dwarves yodeling and the strange instruments, and “Someday My Prince Will Come” is famous (although the lyrics are way too wishy washy for my tastes), the rest of it is pretty forgettable these days. I’ll give it this much though – Snow White’s soundtrack was the very first soundtrack to be released alongside the movie. So that’s yet another reason why this movie is historically significant.
When there’s that much time spent on music, there isn’t much room left for a movie. And half of what’s left doesn’t have much dialogue – instead relying on visuals for either slapstick humour or action sequences. The first action scene is basically Snow White running in a forest and being scared by things, and the second is the chase I mentioned earlier. Some younger kids might enjoy this movie, but there’s so much better these days. Even in the classic Disney movies there are much better movies.
Yeah, Snow White isn’t nearly as good as I remembered it as a kid. Of all the upcoming live action remakes of classic Disney movies, Snow White is the one that desperately needs it the most.
It might sound like I’m being harsh on the movie, and I am, but there’s still no denying its important place in history. It kick started an entire style of filmmaking that now has its own dedicated Oscar category. There are so many better kids movies these days, from Disney and other studios, that there’s no real reason to show this to kids anymore. It’s only worth watching if you’re feeling nostalgic for it, or you’re interested in film history. Or you could watch Asylum’s Snow White mockbuster that adds bad CGI dragons into it.
Yes, this is a thing that exists.
Disney’s second animated feature was Pinocchio, and unlike Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I have watched it since I was a kid. For a while it was one of my favourites. I’m looking forward to seeing how it stands up today.