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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Journeys in the Disney Vault kicks off with the film that started it all: the 1937 classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Snow White, as it will be referred to from here on out, was a seminal film not just in the animation world but in film in general.  It was the first, full-length, narrative animated film that proved that animation wasn’t simply “cartoons” to be played before the main event.  The movie is a beautiful piece of animation with a sweet story (although I will bitch about Snow White for sure).  As Peter Pan once said “Here we goooo!”

Snow White (voiced by Adriana Caselotti) is a princess hated by her evil stepmother The Queen (voiced by Lucille La Verne).  When the Queen sends Snow White out to be killed she escapes and seeks shelter with seven dwarfs that live in a cottage.  Unfortunately, the Queen is still intent on being “the fairest in the land” and decides to find Snow White and kill her herself.

Let me preface this whole feature by saying I LOVE Disney.  I visit Disneyland any time we go on vacation (to the chagrin of my family), I see all the movies, and my room is filled with any type of Disney merchandise one can find.  That is not to say that I can’t be irked over the faults with the movies themselves so if I make mention of the views on women, minorities, etc, it is meant to give a well-rounded view of the film.  It does not mean I love the movies any less (unless I don’t like them as films).  With that….

The opening credits of Snow White

The film opens with the storybook intro that I feel doesn’t get enough love anymore.  Sure Enchanted paid tribute to it but it’s such an iconic image for these fairy tale stories.  I haven’t seen Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty in a while so I’m not sure if they too open with books, I believe so.  I’m going to keep track of these opening credits because they’ve all but vanished with more recent Disney films.  They’re so beautiful and set the tone for the entire feature.  I know that moving the credits to the end allows audiences to just leave but these credits really made you appreciate the detail in just putting names on the screen, and if you’re like me you’ve seen a lot of these names in various Disney related material.

Even her nose up against the glass is animated!

In terms of the animation its breathtaking.  Obviously this movie was meticulously hand-drawn and painted and you can see that in the level of detail.  Disney created the multiplane camera to create the notion of depth in this movie and you can really see the layering of the different settings.  The background, the foreground, and the characters all seem to inhabit their own distinct space.  I always recommend that the best way to watch these movies is in Blu-Ray or on an HD television because the colors and the detail are more obvious.  The animation is so detailed that when Snow White sees the dwarfs’ cottage for the first time she presses her nose up against a window and you can see that!  It’s such a small detail, a little white space around her nose, but it makes all the difference in showing that the humans are real in some way (I’ve recently discovered the “snapshot” feature on my media player so I might be going overboard with the photos).

You think Shrek too don’t you?

Another thing that seems to have disappeared that I distinctly noticed with Snow White is the use of background music.  The music that played as the characters did stuff.  There’s a scene where the dwarfs come home and know someone (Snow White) is there.  As they creep around there’s an appropriate musical accompaniment that plays with every one of their steps.  It heightens the emotions you’re supposed to feel and it sounds almost like live theater in a way.  Now, you have big show-stopping numbers sung by actors.  The songs in this film are interesting as it seems like the majority of the memorable ones come from the movie’s second act.  “I’m Wishing” and “One Song” are the first two songs of the movie and I had no recollection of them.  They sound the same and aren’t particularly memorable.  It’s after she meets the dwarfs that the songs “Heigh-Ho,” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” arrive which are the bigger Disney songs (they have a HUGE presence in the parks).  My favorite song is “Someday My Prince Will Come.”  It’s cliché I know but it is a sweet melody and I praise Caselotti for having a great set of pipes.  The one song that she sings with the birds…obviously parodied in Shrek.  It’s hilarious to see in its original form here.

I can’t avoid it anymore.  We have to talk about Snow White.  Personally, she is the blandest princess in the Disney canon.  I mean she’s just such a caricature of Betty Boop only not as sexual.  The big eyes, the round face, the constant giggling, it’s just annoying.  I can’t fault her for not saving herself or doing other pro-active things because this was 1937 but she just has nothing.  I find myself drawn to the Queen.  Her animation coupled with the voice work of La Verne draws you in.  When she’s not on-screen you have the dwarfs, the movie never has Snow White do much of anything…except cook….and sleep.  Honestly, this girl must sleep like a log because the dwarfs make a racket coming home and she doesn’t make a peep!  Not to mention Snow White spends way too much time treating these grown men (they have beards!) like children.  She’s obviously “civilizing” them but come on.  She’s a freeloader living in their house and forces them to wash their hands and gives them kisses on the forehead before the leave!  Talk about being condescending (yes I know..1937).

Jiminy Crickets!

The dwarfs themselves are all one-trick ponies as evidenced by their names that tell you everything you need to know about them.  They all have various one-note jokes, my personal favorite is Sneezy.  After they leave the diamond mine (at least they weren’t blood diamonds) they notice the light is on in their place and they say “Jiminy crickets.”  Gotta laugh at that, that’s the movie for next time!  Grumpy obviously hates women by the way.  When he first meets Snow he says “all females is crazy.”  Oh Grumpy!

As much as the movie is named after Snow White and the seven dwarfs you gotta love the Queen.  Her transformation sequence is one of the scariest scenes in the Disney canon (I don’t say the scariest as I’ll be mentioning a few others when we get to those films).  She’s a character whose obviously sold her soul and the whole transformation sequence is such a beautifully shot moment.  Here’s a great video of all the Queen’s best moments, she’s good enough to take us out:

Snow White is such a remarkable work of animation.  I won’t say it’s my favorite Disney animated film but you have to love how this movie demonstrates the craft of animation.  Without this movie who knows how animation would be used.  It’s a time-tested story to be sure, but the animation is the reason to watch.

Grade: B+

NEXT TIME IN JOURNEYS IN THE DISNEY VAULT:  The 1940 morality tale Pinocchio!

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

14 thoughts on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) Leave a comment

  1. Excited to follow along with this, I did a Disney animation marathon (but stopped before Alice In Wonderland) last year so they are fresh in mind. I’m not really a fan of Snow White though. While the animation generally is good, I thought Snow White herself looked pretty bad, and stood out from the animation around her. I’m pretty sure they used a different technique for her.

    • Yeah there’s a few movies I have never seen (mostly the later animated efforts) and a few I haven’t seen in years (Bambi, Fantasia) so this should force me to prove how much I love Disney. I wanted to make mention of that, Snow White looks feathered almost which I’m sure was meant to make her look angelic but with on Blu-Ray she looks smudged almost.

  2. I enjoyed this one as a kid but Snow White is not my favorite Disney Princess (that’d be Aurora). I can’t avoid it anymore. I agree she’s rather bland and even the Prince is lame, but hey I guess this is late 30s. I’m curious to see how the Snow White and the Huntsman adaptation will pan out, Snow White is decidedly more bad ass in that one, ahah.

    • No same here, Snow is nothing compared to Ariel (in my opinion). I’m excited for Snow White and the Hunstmen and was supposed to mention it in the review

  3. I, for one, LOVE Snow White. She’s not very realistic, perhaps, but she’s awfully sweet. I know sweet isn’t very cool right now, but it’s nice for even me to relax my feminist urges every once in a while. Snow White actually reminds me a little bit of Sara Crewe from The Little Princess (in the book Sara has black hair – she’s described almost exactly like Snow White). I don’t think Snow White is very Betty Boop because Betty Boop is so cutesy and flippy and flirty. Snow White is much more grounded and practical than that.
    Here’s an interesting article with another take on the movie. This blogger has started a series about Disney Princesses – thought you’d be interested.

    • I get yelled at all the time by my friends for not putting aside my “feminist urges” lol. It’s not that Snow isn’t cool, I just think the time period really limits her any strength she may possess (maybe that will change with the upcoming Snow White and the Huntsmen). I’d never thought of her as a Sara Crewe-esque character! I’ve never read Little Princess although I have seen the 1995 movie (although I do know that’s a different interpretation). Thanks for giving me new reading material! I love reading various takes on the princesses! Thanks for reading!

      • Yes, I’m really looking forward to the new Snow White movie. Mirror Mirror was a bit of a disappointment so I’m really investing a lot in this Kristen Stewart mumbo jumbo. It’s a bit of a gamble, I’ll admit, but it shows promise!
        I’m a huge Frances Hodgson Burnett fan and Little Princess might be my favorite, followed by Secret Garden and LIttle Lord Fauntleroy. Definitely worth a read – let me know how you like it!

  4. I enjoyed reading your take on Snow White. I agree that the time period certainly limits her to distinctly “female” activities. As far as Snow treating the dwarfs like children, I think your follow-up comment about them each being “one-trick ponies” explains why this is natural within the context of the film. The dwarfs are children in the sense that they are unwordly, simple, messy, and need a mother’s care. Enter Snow White with all of her glorified female-ness! Thanks for writing!

  5. I think Aurora is blander than Snow White to be honest. She’s not very pro-active because her character in the original story wasn’t that pro-active. Plus, Snow White’s rather dull character never bugged me because she’s not the reason I love the film: that’s the dwarves, the witch, the animation, and the music.

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