Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

AFI Rank: #49
Year Released: 1937
Director: Ben Sharpsteen, David Hand, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Wilfred Jackson
Actors: Adriana Caselotti, Harry Stockwell, Lucille La Verne, Roy Atwell, Stuart Buchanan

There's a very good reason that Snow White, an animated film by the Disney studios, has earned a spot on the AFI top 100 list. Back in 1937 there hadn't been a full color animated movie before. People thought the very idea was ridiculous. Not only that, but at the time it's important to remember that talking-sound movies were fairly new. Jazz Singer, the breakthrough film that had SOME singing along with the read-along story cards, was barely ten years ago in 1927. Plus, color films were barely starting to come out as well. So here you suddenly had a gorgeous, full color film, with talking and singing, and with full, fluid animation. All the critics said it would be a complete flop, because it was such a long shot. But instead the audiences LOVED it and even now, adjusted for inflation, it's one of the top money makers of all time. It was a stunning success, and it spawned the entire animated film industry.

So, how well does this groundbreaking film hold up? Often with classics they are classics because "at the time" they were exciting, but nowadays they seem fairly drab. It's a testament to the high quality artists at Disney that this is NOT the case with Snow White. The characters are just as compelling, the emotions just as powerful, now as they were then. Sure, you could say that some of the animation isn't perfect in certain scenes, but this was a brand new field for them! The issues are slight, and overall the atmosphere is gorgeous. You are immersed in a Germanic-styled world of tall castles and deep forests. When Snow White flees for her life and imagines the trees are scary, you can feel her fear, and understand it. I'm sure all of us have been scared at night or in dark woods when it was just trees or owls making noise. And then Snow White even realizes it, herself, that she was getting scared over nothing.

The film doesn't "water down" the issues here. The Queen says right out that she wants to slay her stepdaughter. She wants the girl's actual heart carved out of her chest. I'm not sure many modern cartoons would have that kind of a storyline!

Perhaps because the film DOES have such powerful themes, and handles them so directly and honestly, that makes me a bit sad that they made the romance part of it so shallow. It's not that Snow White knows her prince at all. She literally never talks with him! She looks into a well. He sees her and is obsessed with her beautiful body and her singing voice. So he chases her and she flees. Then he sings up to her that he adores her - and she decides she's going to marry him and live with him. That's it. That's the entirity of their relationship, until he kisses her at the end and she wraps her arms around him so he can carry her off. She never once talks with him. He only glances at her and decides she must be his. I'm uncomfortable with this being how love works.

Surely it wouldn't have been that hard for him to have spent even SOME time talking with her, a la Cinderella, to show that they really did like each other.

Snow White and a Pie Also, as much as this is a movie about two powerful women - Snow White and the Queen - they pretty much never interact! It would give more depth to their relationship if they were EVER seen interacting together in some way. Instead, the sole time they're together is when the Queen is disguised as an elderly woman selling apples. And most of that conversation is about men. I'm paraphrasing here.

Queen Hag: "Oh look! You're making yummy food for men-folk!"
Snow White: "Yes, I hand-bake gooseberry pie for my men!"
Queen Hag: "But men really adore apples. If you make apple pies, they will love you even more."
Snow White: "Oh Goodie. I will definitely do that."
Queen Hag: "Eek! Birdies attacking me!"
Snow White: "Bad Birdies."
Queen Hag: "Tell me all about your True Love."
Snow White: "I am obsessed with him. I want to marry him."

That is in essence the gist of the conversation. It's all about Snow White either pleasing her dwarves or going off with the man she glanced at once. The ONLY time in the entire sequence that they talk about something other than men is when they're talking briefly about the birds attacking the hag, since the birds of course can see right through her disguise.

And then the dwarves come home, chase the Queen off a cliff, find Snow White is "dead" and put her in a glass coffin where they stare at her for months and months. Then the Prince shows up, kisses her, and she climbs into his arms (literally) so he can take her home as his wife.

As a final note, the movie was solely animated by men and Disney ACTIVELY REJECTED FEMALE APPLICANTS. This is from an actual rejection letter sent to a woman - "Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen". Here's an actual rejection letter - Disney Rejection Letter

But, that all being said, the movie is clearly a classic in portraying that story in a way which appealed to children and adults for decades. So despite my complaints with specific parts of it, I still appreciate greatly the whole of the effort, and how well it has survived the years.

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AFI Top 100 Film Listing
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The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100