Disney, Reviews, Studios

Disney Canon Countdown #1: ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’

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It’s more than a little daunting to review the first in our Disney Canon Countdown, the film that started it all: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I have so much to say I hardly know where to begin. Let’s just say I can’t think of a time in the history of movies when such a huge gamble produced such dividends.

It can’t be overstated the risk that Walt Disney took in making his first animated feature film. Animation was a bonus for live action films at the time. In fact, some people even believed “it would damage their eyes if they were subjected to viewing a full-length animated film.” The biggest previous animated film was The Adventures of Prince Achmed, which was made in 1926 and had not done particularly well.

snow white walt

Walt Disney saw past these concerns and felt there was great potential for profit and creative output with a feature length animated film. He assembled a now legendary team to help him and was willing to mortgage his home to get the project finished. The cost of Snow White ended up being nearly $1.5 million, which is an insane amount for 1937.

What a risk Walt took and fortunately for all of us it not only did well at the box office, but also produced a really special film that stands the test of time.

Most of us know the story of Snow White. She is the princess who is hated by her stepmother, the Evil Queen. The Queen looks into her Magic Mirror and asks, “Who is the fairest one of all?” When one day it answers Snow White, the Queen assigns a Huntsman to kill Snow White and bring her heart in a jewelry box.

However, the Huntsman can’t go through with it and tells Snow White to flee from the Evil Queen. Eventually she makes her way to a small cottage in the forest that is inhabited by seven little people, referred to as dwarfs in this film. The Dwarfs are miners and live together in a cottage. Each of the Dwarfs is named after an attribute like Grumpy, Dopey, or Sneezy.

evil queen

Unfortunately the Evil Queen finds out she has been given the heart of a pig by the Huntsman and must take matters into her own hands. She makes a potion that turns her into an old hag, and she makes an apple filled with poison. As the Old Hag, the Evil Queen tricks Snow White into eating the apple and she collapses to the ground. The Dwarfs return and, thinking she is dead, have a funeral putting her in a glass coffin. Fortunately, the Prince comes and sees Snow White (whom he met earlier) and gives her a kiss that wakes her up from her sleep. Revived, they are seen riding off into a happily ever after.

We all know this story, so what is it that makes it hold up? Well, I think there are a lot of things. First, the animation for the most part is beautiful and still looks great. Some of my favorite scenes are the Queen’s transformation into the old hag. The colors and the way the bubbles work is beautiful. Also the scene where Snow White gets caught in the forest is scary and striking even now.

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The characters are also likable, particularly the Evil Queen and the Dwarfs. I mean think about it, the Queen is already queen. She has all the power ,but that’s not enough for her. She must be most beautiful as well. And the Dwarfs are funny, sweet, and completely charming. Snow White and the Prince are a little bland, but it works for the story being told.

The songs by Frank Churchill, Paul J. Smith, and Leigh Harline are excellent with classics like “Heigh-Ho” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.” My only gripe with the songs is the high-pitched singing voice of Adriana Caselotti feels a little dated.

Lucille La Verne is magnificent as the Evil Queen. I particularly like her old hag voice. It totally works! I also like the rest of the voice cast and the pacing of the film clips along nicely. I’m never bored watching Snow White.

Whenever anything is first it is easy to put it on a pedestal, but in the case of Snow White it is truly a great film and it is no surprise it was a huge box office and critical success upon release. Even recently a new Blu-ray release came out to great acclaim. Walt Disney received an honorary Oscar for “a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field.” No arguing with that from me!

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One of the unheralded aspects of Snow White is its emotional scope. There are very sad parts, like the funeral when Grumpy breaks down. However, there is also a fair amount of humor with the seven dwarfs and their silly antics.

In the end Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a delight and if you haven’t’ seen it in a while give it a watch. I think you will be dazzled by the sweet characters, beautiful animation and lovely songs. At least I certainly was on the rewatch.

What do you think of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Put it in the comments section and let’s talk!

Edited by: Hannah Wilkes

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About Rachel Wagner

Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic and podcaster. She loves all things animation and does a monthly podcast on classic Disney films and on obscure animation at Rachel's Reviews. She also is the founder and lead host of The Hallmarkies Podcast. She grew up with mainstream classics like The Little Mermaid and The Simpsons but also loves indie and anime fare like Song of the Sea and Your Name. Most important to her is discussing all kinds of film and TV shows with her friends and all of you. Follow Rachel on twitter at @rachel_reviews and on her blog rachelsreviews.net