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Okay, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. Snow White is awful.
Wait wait wait! Let me explain. Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs Dwarves Dwarfs, the 1937 film that pioneered the feature length hand-drawn animated movie was and remains a seminal work of art whose influence on its genre and cinema in general cannot be overstated. But Snow White the character is…well…awful. She has no personality, because sweetness is not a personality, it’s a flavoring. She has no agency except when it involves cooking or cleaning for the nearest mammal with a dick and…oh my God…that voice. THAT VOICE! She sounds like Betty Boop but with this vibrating quality that suggests she’s hunting for moths in a pitch black cave.
She spends the first half of the movie either singing or talking in rhyme. Name me one movie character who talks in rhyme that you don’t want to punch in the face.
Disney movies get a bad rep as a feminist’s nightmare. With these reviews I will be trying to argue that that’s not entirely fair but with Snow White…shit, I got nothing. She is the Disney Princess ideal taken to its worst extreme and that’s impressive considering she did it first and best. From a modern perspective she’s pretty much unendurable. Alright, I will say this; she’s certainly an impressive technical achievement. We take it for granted but animating a human being who doesn’t move like a nightmarish puppet doll is very difficult and the Disney team don’t drop the ball once. Every movment is fluid and natural. If you want an idea of just how far Disney’s human animation had come in only a few years watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80UIC1g__yY at around the minute mark. And scream. And breathe. And there’s no denying that the character model is certainly beautiful. So she’s worthless as a human being, but pretty.
So, that’s our main heroine. And our hero? Well, the Prince is a fascinating study in zzzzzzzzzz…
Seriously, he is the most underwritten, underwhelming character. His presence is so slight that when he appears at the end to wake Snow White it feels like a Deus Ex Machina because you’ve half forgotten he was even in the movie.
Okay, so our two leads are duds. Screw it. It’s a Disney movie, the leads don’t matter. It’s all about villains and comedy sidekicks. For a villain, Snow White gives us the Evil Queen.
I have a theory that the quality of a Disney movie is directly proportional to the strength of its villain. The Evil Queen (who by the way is the very first character we see, establishing the dark mood of the film as she stalks towards the mirror trailing a jet black cloak) is terrifying. So many of the traits that we have come to expect in a Disney villain are already here; the arch delivery, the poise, beauty, cruelty, madness, elegance. But there is a primitive quality to her as well. She has few of the trappings that her successors will display. She doesn’t give big speeches, she has no comedic henchmen apart from one easily startled crow and her plan is rather simple and petty compared to the villains that will come after her. She doesn’t want to rule the Pridelands. She doesn’t want to become an all powerful genie. She just wants to kill this one girl for being prettier than her (in my head, it’s also because of Snow White’s voice.) And the movie doesn’t shy away from showing the depths of her cruelty. One moment that always got in my head as a child was a sequence where, disguised as the Old Beggar Woman, the Queen passes a dungeon where a skeleton lies reaching desperately through the bars for a jug of water that’s been set on the ground. She cackles and kicks the bones, scattering them. But it wasn’t this casual act of desecration that spooked me as a child. It was the idea that this poor sap was left in that cell, with no water. And a jug placed outside the bars. Just. Out. Of his reach. I mean…Jesus.
Interesting fact, this was Hitler’s favorite movie.
But by far the strongest element of the movie, and the one that I think has helped it stand the test of time, are the Seven Dwarfs. The Dwarfs are masterpieces in character design, each one charming and distinct, and instantly recognisable. This is especially impressive when you consider that we’re talking about six old white dudes in nightcaps with long white beards and one bald mute chick.
Can’t unsee it now. Can’t unsee it ever.
We first meet the dwarfs as they work in their gem mine, singing the movie’s most famous song; “Heigh-Ho”.
The Dwarfs names match their personalities, making it easy to identify and remember each one. There’s Bashful who’s bashful, Sneezy who sneezes, and Actually Has a Character Arc who actually has a character arc (renamed Grumpy in the final draft of the script.) Grumpy is hands down my favorite character in this, and not just because he gets all the best lines:
As he slowly changes from a misogynistic ass hat to the one who probably loves Snow White more than any of the Dwarfs, he shows just what potential this new medium of long form animation has, and it’s potential to pull at the heartstrings. Cartoon characters would no longer be unchanging ciphers, but could be real characters capable of growth and depth.
For all it’s advances though, Snow White does still come across at times as an awkward transition from the simpler shorts of the time to the fully realised animated motion pictures like Pinocchio that would come three years later. Not a lot happens in this movie. There are long stretches of characters tidying up, dancing, playing instruments, searching houses. These are less events driving the plot, and more the animators saying “Look what we can do, isn’t this cool? The drawings look like they’re moving!” In this way it resembles the older shorts of the twenties and it’s a credit to the strength of the character design that it can hold a modern audiences attention in the way that those cartoons no longer really can.
But eventually, plot happens. Snow White’s poisoned, the Queen dies and is presumably eaten by some vultures who traveled a long ass way from their natural habitat just to get some Queen carcass. And the dwarfs put her body on display in a glass coffin just in time for the Prince (remember him) to show up and get seriously inappropriate with Snow White’s supposed corpse (although thankfully not as inappropriate as in the original fairy tale).
God I hope you’re not actually dead or these dwarfs are going to MURDER me.
And yeah, she rides off with him without so much as a thank you to the dwarfs for the whole sheltering her from a murderous tyrant thing. And then the movie ends with the weirdest goddamn thing I have ever seen,
That’s right. Disney made it, but it’s technically an RKO film. Which means it’s not really a Disney film. Which means I just wasted my time and yours. Well. This is off to a great start.
Despite being an experiment, the animation is amazingly assured and fluid.
The Leads: 6/20
Snow White is almost intolerable to modern sensibilities and the Prince while demonstrating many fascinzzzzzzzzzz…
The Villain: 15/20
The Queen is a classic Disney villain, and sets the template for what is to come.
Supporting Characters: 18/20
I’ve said everything I need to about the Dwarfs so I’ll just add that the Mirror is a creepy and cool visual.
The Music: 14/20
Snow White’s voice spoils many of her songs for me, which range from the insipid to the very good “Whistle While Your Work”. There are comparatively few songs in this movie, but “Heigh-Ho” is a stone cold classic. The incidental score by Paul J. Smith and Leigh Harline is excellent too, and sets the standard for Disney music whereby by every action on screen, no matter how small, has some musical counterpart.
Final Score: 69%
Next Week: The Unshaved Mouse faces some of his oldest fears as he reviews Pinocchio AKA the Scariest Fucking Movie Ever Made.