Disney Reviews by the Unshaved Mouse: #1 Snow White

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of the Walt Disney Corporation unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. 

(Listen to the audio version of this review HERE.)

Okay, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. Snow White is awful.

Image

Well. He didn’t last long.

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.

Oh sure. He’s fine now. But put him in a movie…

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 achievementWe 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.

What the…now how did that get there?

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.

Do me.

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”.

Oh sure, they’re singing now. But they dug too greedily, and too deep…

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:

Grumpy: Angel, ha! She’s a female! And all females is poison! They’re full of wicked wiles!
Bashful: What are wicked wiles?
Grumpy: I don’t know, but I’m agin’ ’em!

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.

Funny story. Right now, this fish and I have the exact same expression.

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.

Scoring

Animation: 16/20

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.

DON’T LOOK INTO IT’S EYES! THAT’S HOW IT ENTERS YOUR SOUL!!

65 comments

  1. Always thought someone needed to review the Disney Classics. Ever thought about also doing the Live Action movies that Disney has made? Old Yeller, Savage Sam, Swiss Family Robinson, and many more great classics!

    Ok. Maybe Savage Sam isn’t a classic because NOONE knows its the sequel to Old Yeller. Still a great movie featuring the original cast reprising their famous roles!

    1. Thanks! To be honest, I probably won’t be doing the live action ones for two reasons. Firstly, I didn’t grow up with them which means it’s harder to come up with jokes, and secondly this thing will probably take a year as it is. Throw in the live action movies and I have to review everything from Blackbeard’s ghost to the Avengers!

  2. For a while I shared your feelings about Snow White…but now, I can honestly say that I’m enjoying her character. She will never made it on the top of my favourites, but I think she is a way better character than she seems to be on the first glance. What I admire about her is that she takes on life whatever happens. While she is more proactive than active, to her credit she ends up in a very terrifying situation, homeless, in the dangerous forrest (I would be terrified too, in her place), but she pulls through. While she cooks for the dwarfs, she also manages to get her way in the end quite a bit. The only downside of her character is that she isn’t a particulary good role model…not because she is so housewify, but because no real person can be that innocent.

    1. I have to agree with Swanpride. I think you are way too hard on Snow White. I find it irritating when people – in an attempt to display their “modern” sensibilities – refer to the character of Snow White as cloying and passive. Quite the opposite, says I. She fled from her home to escape the cruel treatment of her insane stepmother, she managed to find a new place to live, she showed outstanding organizational skills and leadership abilities when she uniting the animals in the challenging task of making order out of the dwarves’ cottage (as for considering cleaning demeaning to women – or men, for that matter – hogwash. Is it more enlightening to live in squalor?), she gently disciplined the dwarves and had a hugely positive influence on their lives and behavior, and she transformed Grumpy from an emotionally shut down mess into a loving, caring individual.

      And regarding the claim that she sat around waiting to be “rescued” by The Prince – again, twaddle. She was not “sitting around” – she had moved on with her life yet had unshakable confidence that she would eventually be reunited with her true love…and she was. Being loved and to be loved in return is the greatest reward life can give a person; if the populace finds this overly sentimental tripe, no wonder their are so many lost, unfocused and dissatisfied people in our world.

      It seems that if a girl isn’t loud, immodest, quick-tempered, and generally masculine, she’s stupid and a weakling. Snow was not at all anti-feminist though. She ran away from her psychotic stepmom instead of freaking out and getting killed, got herself a job to earn her keep by doing stuff she was good at, she did it sweetly and motherly (because being overconfident and b*tchy like girls try to be is better, right?), and she was confident that she’d get the husband she wanted, which is not only very common for girls (and NOT wrong, unless they obsess over it), but she’d been abused by her only family member for who knows how long, so naturally she’d get lonely too.

      She was busy the whole time she “waited” for the Prince (who I also suspected that unlike with Ariel, was not a complete total stranger; at least they shared a little communication) and did something with her life, even if it was for a short time. She was actually very feminist considering this was made in the 30’s, plus in the film’s setting that makes her seem even more progressive. It’s generally disgusting how a lot of young girls act today, especially to get guys, and she’s a good example of how they should try to act.

      As for her voice…like I said before, I don’t think it sounds that bad. In fact, I’ve always liked it and found very endearing. Also, the prince is only boring because Disney was having trouble animating the character and making him look right. He was originally going to have a larger role; for instance, he was going to be locked up in Grimhilde’s (the Queen) dungeon and she was supposed to taunt HIM on her wait rather than that skeleton. However, that idea was tossed and used later for Sleeping Beauty.

      1. ‘It seems that if a girl isn’t loud, immodest, quick-tempered, and generally masculine, she’s stupid and a weakling.’

        It’s alright for men to act that way though? She didn’t have a choice to run away, she had to so that wasn’t a decision she consciously decided on

        ‘she’s a good example of how they should try to act.

        No, it’s not for you to decide how girls nowadays should act

  3. You don’t consider Snow White kissing the dwarfs at the end thanking them for all they had done?

    Also, I have actually always liked Snow White’s voice…yeah it’s very squeaky and high-pitched, but I have always found it to be very pretty and endearing. Plus, I’ve heard a lot worse similar voices.

    Last but not least, I think you would LOVE this video:

  4. I agree with almost everything you said; from the paper-thin bland prince, to the milestone villain, extremely long filler scenes, and to the very entertaining dwarfs. What I do not particularly agree with Snow White. She has more personality than what is appeared. She is a bit stubborn, has a happily sarcastic humor, and is bossy. She is extremely passive though.

    1. I also think people hate on Snow White too much. While I do prefer my heroines to be much less passive, Snow’s a thousand times more interesting than, say, Aurora or Pocahontas. At least she had a personality! Plus she’s a fourteen year old girl who’s just found out her own stepmother wants to kill her. She handles the situation with a better attitude than I would LOL.

      1. I must say I was relieved to find a fellow Disney fan who wasn’t in love with this film either. I appreciate it for being the first full length animated film, but for my taste it has way too much filler and Snow White’s voice annoys me to this day. It has some good scenes like the forrest one and the scenes with the Evil Queen, but a lot of the scenes just bored me. I would pick Sleeping Beauty any day of the week:-)

  5. It is true that not much happens in this movie, which is why I don’t really like it. The only element I really like in this movie is Queen Grimhilde (yes, that’s her name.)

  6. Why, greetings, Mister Mouse! I’ve been a major fan of your blog for quite some time and have read quite far into it. I’ve kind of been dragging my webbed feet with signing up for WordPress to be able to do so, but I am the type who loves to give glowing, often highly rambling, wordy reviews, and your brilliantly elegant, culturally knowledgeable and uproariously witty commentary most definitely deserves it, and because I’m also all for being thorough, I’m starting at the beginning!

    To quote you, this is off to a great start. Lynching before you even get to the review. Well, agreed, Snow White sure does have a cacophonous shriek to her. And I guess she isn’t much personalitywise, but then again, this movie is a first. The thing about groundbreaking anything is that there isn’t any true experience with anything like it behind it, so they can often be more appreciable than enjoyable.

    That Silly Symphonies video sure was fascinating, and I’m glad I stumbled upon this blog and your link early enough before The Man pulled the poor Goddess of Eternal Spring back into the depths of the Underworld, erm, Disney Vault. I think the characters’ portrayal was really interesting. This Hades, superficial devil-esque ness aside was actually far less villainous than his cinematic Renaissance counterpart. He actually let Persephone go back home for a while because he seemed to genuinely care for her as his wife. I guess you could say that goes full circle as Fantasia’s version of Zeus (or was that supposed to be Jove? *shrugs*) was much more brutish than his, well, Jovial characterization in Hercules.

    And yes, Snow White sure did have some scary bits. Though strangely enough, I don’t remember getting chills from it when I was little. In my earliest memory of watching Snow White as a kid involves my sister, who would have been about 4 or something at the time watching the horror trip through the woods scene with all the freaky faces and calmly asking, “Why are they all so mad at Snow White?” But that dead prisoner… Damn, that’s gotta be one of the darkest ways to go in Disney canon. I mean, at least most of the others got to meet their end quickly. Good thing little kids tend to be connotation-proof. I certainly don’t remember noticing it the first time I watched it.

    This movie may not have had a ton of plot going on, but I seem to remember really enjoying all the animal montages when I was little (animal lover as I was. Maybe that’s why I enjoy review blogs written by furry little creatures of the woodland). That poor tortoise sure had it rough. Never even got to get to the bed, poor fella.

    And I’ve got to say, your sarcastic closing quote along with all the positive commentary definitely establishes the affectionate, yet never unwilling to be mocking at times, tone of this blog, which I really enjoy. You’re great, Mouse, you really are.

  7. Snow White was supposed to sound (and look) like Betty Boop. That was the ideal image for young girls during the time of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ release. Short hair, squeaky voice, blush, long eyelashes, etc.

  8. Her voice made me want to punch her. Hated it, it was a big part of why I can’t stand her. She is pretty though, I’ll give her that

  9. As I haven’t seen this movie for many years, I decided to refresh my memory by watching some clips on YouTube (yeah, that is the next best thing at the moment). And like many others, I think you are a little bit unfair on Snow White. Well yes, she seems to be the least independent and most helpless Disney princess. And yes, she was too sweet and naive. But she was also the studio’s first princess, and they had to start somewhere. And we also have to remember that she was a sheltered fourteen-year-old in the 15th century, so I think we should cut her a bit of slack. And nevertheless, the girl was able to find a job and a place to stay. It seems to me that the dwarfs needed her as much as she needed them. And as for her voice, Cardeen is probably right that it was a popular style back then in the 30s. So what can we do?

      1. Oh, she hardly is my favorite either. Quite the opposite. Cinderella is already a big step forwards, and then we get the Renaissance with all its far more interesting heroines. You are so right that Snow White “is the Disney princess ideal taken to its most extreme”, and unfortunately, some people will still judge them all after how the first one was. But still, they had to start somewhere…

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