Monday, November 5, 2012

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) - The Grandaddy of them all, and Still the Best

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: You Don't Get A More Iconic Disney Movie than this one, Folks

 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937
The original poster of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
In "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937), Princess Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) has a wicked step-mother who also happens to be the Queen (Lucille La Verne). The Queen is quite vain, always asking her mirror to confirm to her that she is the "fairest of them all." An evil step-mother, the Queen makes Snow White toil and work every day, from dawn to dusk, to earn her keep. Snow White does not complain and is so pure and good that all the animals love her. 

 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937

Snow White talks and sings to them as they devotedly follow her around during her daily chores. From all appearances, Snow White leads a blissful, carefree existence.

DVD case front and back Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937
Disney only pulls this out of the vault to sell every so often.
The Queen clearly doesn't care about Snow's happiness, though. Instead, she is jealous of Snow's beauty and keeps asking her magic mirror (Moroni Olsen) to confirm that she, the Queen, is "the fairest of them all." Unfortunately, the mirror cannot lie and tells the Queen that Snow, despite her rags that cannot hide her beauty, is the fairest in the land and not the Queen. This only further enrages the Queen.

Prince Charming in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937
Prince Charming singing to Snow White.
Snow White is simple and pure. She sings into a wishing well that she just wants to meet her one true love. Prince Charming overhears her and sings back to her, but Snow runs away, ashamed of the rags she is forced to wear. The Evil Queen sees this and makes up her mind: Snow White must be eliminated.

On the balcony with birds Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937
Snow White, at one with nature, listening to Prince Charming sing to her.
The Queen orders the Huntsman to take Snow White into the forest, kill her, and bring back her heart in a box as proof. The Huntsman, though, just cannot do it. He drops his knife at the last moment and warns Snow to leave and never come back, even if it costs him his own life due to the Queen's likely vengeance (his fate is left unexplained, but a skeleton later is pointedly shown in the Queen's dungeon).

Snow dancing with the dwarfs Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937

Snow White runs and hides out in the forest, alone and fearful. There, after a horrible night, she finds a cabin and is taken in by seven dwarfs (Eddie Collins is Sneezy, Otis Harlan is Happy, Scotty Mattraw as Bashful, and Pinto Colvig is Sleepy/Grumpy). They, like the forest animals, love her and offer Snow a place of refuge. They even wash up for her! That's devotion.

Trailer page for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937
A page from the original trailer for the film.
Ultimately, though, the Queen learns of Snow White's survival and location from the Mirror. She realizes she must take care of matters herself, so she disguises herself as a frightful old crone (the ugliest woman in all animation) and sets off.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937

The Evil Queen manages to feed Snow a poisoned apple, the "sleeping death."  This puts Snow into a deep, endless sleep (don't worry, the Evil Queen gets hers). The Dwarfs are worried sick. Oh my, what is going to happen to Snow? Things sure look, .

Snow dancing with the dwarfs Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937
Snow dancing with the Dwarfs.
The Dwarfs refuse to bury Snow and watch over her. Along comes Prince Charming (Harry Stockwell) (who, oddly, is never named in the film). He hears of the Dwarfs' sleeping ward and comes to see for himself. He sees the beautiful Snow sleeping, and kisses her, providing the only antidote, "Love's First Kiss." She awakens, "and they lived happily ever after."

Snow White and dwarfs Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937
Now, look, boys...
This film established the Walt Disney legend for all time. The song sequences are as good as the animation and endure, with the "Heigh-Ho" tune a standard along with "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "Whistle While You Work."

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937

Count among the unsung heroes of Hollywood the men who came up with the original music, Frank Churchill and Larry Morey for the showstopper songs, Leigh Harline and Paul J. Smith for the incidental music. Churchill, in particular, is a legend, as he died tragically by his own hand only a few years after this film. His music (for this, "Bambi" and "Dumbo," among many other works) continues to be used on soundtracks to this day, and probably as long as films are made.

Snow White holding bird Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937
Hello, little bird, I think it's time for a song!
Other bits are just so well known that it is almost startling to realize they began here. "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is...." Do you know how that finishes? Sure you do, just like everyone else. That's sheer cultural impact. Snow White is given a little girl's voice and mannerisms which enhances her innocence and purity, while the Evil Queen has a full, womanly voice and regal gestures. Walt Disney knew his business.

Prince Charming and Snow White Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937
Snow White has found her true love.
While this is thought of as a children's tale, the animation genre was a serious business in the 1930s, and not just for kids. The scene in the forest, when Snow White is so terrified that she faints dead away because of all the creatures menacing her and eyes staring at her (which turn out to be cute little rabbits and deer, who all become her friends), could scare adults as well as little children. The whole romance with Prince Charming was not just aimed at kids, either. Walt Disney was not limiting his audience in any way. One can well imagine adults flocking to the theaters to see this glorious island of technicolor shining bright in a sea of black and white. The impact of this film was so widespread that a virtual remake was quickly made with decidedly adult themes starring Barbara Stanwyck, "Ball of Fire." "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was recognized at the time as a seminal moment in Hollywood history, and the Academy gave Walt Disney a normal-sized Oscar accompanied by seven miniature Oscars.

Evil Queen Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937
The Evil Queen, voiced by Lucille La Verne.
The classic hand-drawn animation is stellar and, in fact, set the benchmark for all animation to follow. The animators did everything painstakingly by hand, and since it was during the Great Depression, everyone really bore down to keep their jobs. The attention to detail is incomparable except, well, compared to some later Disney efforts that continued the tradition. The chase sequence towards the end has terrific detail that enhances the story. All credit is due to the six (!) directors, many of whom went on to brilliant careers at Disney: William Cottrell, David Hand, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, and Ben Sharpsteen.

Snow White and Prince Charming Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937
The glorious climax, when Snow White finds her Prince.
Some might claim that the ending is somewhat abrupt, but there is no question that it is cathartic and that it works. The story drags a bit in the middle as the Disney animators show off their skills with the animals and the Dwarfs perhaps a bit too much, but every minute is fun to watch and listen to. Besides, the story is so simple that it could well use the padding. This is a classic fairy tale in the best and truest sense of the phrase. Below are original trailers of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" for your viewing pleasure, and also beautifully restored versions of the classic sequences showing the dwarfs singing "Heigh-Ho" and Snow White and the dwarfs in the "Whistle While You Work" sequence. You may read more about the drama behind the scenes of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" here.


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