Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)

It’s our first actual movie!  Who’s excited?  I know I am!

Okay, I’ve never actually been super fond of this one on its own merits, other than a few scenes which all involve the Queen.  But artistically, it’s still GORGEOUS.  And of course, without this one, cinema as we know it wouldn’t exist at all.  So let’s dive into Walt’s Folly!

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, are property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The authors’ claim no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the authors and are not to be viewed as factual documentation.  All photos are from fancaps unless otherwise stated.

As mentioned in the last review, Disney in the 1930s made short films. But one day in 1934, Walt came into the studio and reenacted the whole Grimm story to his staff.  I guess that’s one way to announce you’re making a movie.

Everyone from Hollywood Producers to Walt’s brother and wife tried to talk him out of it.  I mean, I see where they’re coming from.  Innovation and experimentation are one thing.  Mortgaging your house to finance it is another thing entirely.  I mean, this thing cost close to two million dollars in the middle of the Great Depression!

Rich people.  Oy.

But Walt was determined.  Three years, twenty-one pages of notes, a ton of cut scenes, and some incredible new inventions later, Snow White premiered  the Carthay Circle Theatre.  In Walt’s own words “all of Hollywood brass turned up for a cartoon!”

Is that really a good thing?

The picture garnered rave reviews and made four times as much money as any other feature that came out that year.  The same people who had laughed and called the production “Disney’s Folly” now gushed about how incredible the feature was.  Some of them were so blown away by the emotional story that they forgot they were watching animated actors instead of real ones!

I don’t blame them. This scene gets me every time.

Disney’s Snow White is now seen as the definitive version, but it was inspired by a silent film young Walt saw in Kansas City.  He considered it the perfect story, with “the heavy, the prince and the girl, the romance, the sympathetic dwarves and things…”  (I may have misquoted this.  I can’t find the actual quote online so I’m doing it from memory based on the movie they show at Walt Disney Presents in Hollywood Studios).  Naturally, it also takes heavy inspiration from the Brothers’ Grimm.  Major differences include the fact that Snow White is not seven (Walt wanted her to be old enough to be married so he made her… fourteen).  There’s no mention of Snow’s actual mother, and the Queen’s first two attempts to kill Snow White with a bodice and a comb were cut out.

Walt’s version of the story also took inspiration from such diverse stories as Romeo and Juliet (1936) and Nosferatu (1922), among others.  The Queen’s transformation in particular is heavily and obviously influenced by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919).  Actually, quite a few Disney films took inspiration from that movie and its German expressionism.  But we’ll get there when we get there.

First, let’s actually talk about Walt’s version of the story.

Once upon a time….

CHARACTERS

Walt wanted the world’s first cel-animated feature film to be different from his largely comedic shorts.  This one had to focus on characters, their interactions, and their development above all else.  Some of his earlier shorts, like Three Little Pigs, started to move in that direction, but this was another league.

I wish I could do this.

Let’s take a look at our leading lady.  Snow White, the original Disney Princess, the one that started it all, is widely regarded as a feminist’s worst nightmare.  And I mean, I get it.  A large part of her story involves cooking and cleaning and keeping house for a bunch of dudes.  But I also feel like a lot of the people who ban their kids from watching it A) haven’t seen it themselves, and B) are expecting the movie to teach life lessons so they don’t have to… like… parent.  That’s simply not what these older films were meant to do.

Sure, she’s a lot more passive compared to more modern heroines like Tiana or Merida.   But in what universe are optimism and kindness bad traits for a kid to emulate?  Snow White is astonishingly resilient considering all that happens to her.  She only dwells on the fact that her parental figure just put a hit out on her for a few seconds before picking herself up and moving on with her life.  She’s actually ashamed of being scared in the forest!  Okay, that last bit’s not super healthy, but the point is, being able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and make the best out of a bad situation is not weakness.

She also doesn’t actually marry a man she just met like a lot of people give her flak for.  Yes, their romance happens in about .02 seconds and yes, she spends most of the movie pining for a guy she’s shared zero screen time with.  But we don’t actually see them get married.  For all we know, he carried her off to his castle in the sky, realized he couldn’t stand her, and dropped her back in the woods.

Okay, maybe not.

The point is, Snow White may have created that stereotype, but if you actually look at what happens in the film, she doesn’t actually fit it.  The only Disney heroines who do are Giselle and Anna- the ones created to break it.

She’s not as perfect as people act like she is, either.  Snow is actually pretty bossy and patronizing towards the dwarves.  She acts like a mother disciplining her children through most of the scenes with the dwarves.  It always gets me all indignant because these are grown men and she definitely doesn’t have the right to order them around two minutes after breaking into their house.  Now, in fairness, isn’t actually a bad thing from a character point of view.  Everybody’s got to have flaws.

I’ll give you the criticism of her voice.  Adriana Caselotti plays her with a saccharine innocence to really drive home Walt’s vision of Snow as a “good girl”.  And frankly, it is piercing at times, especially when she’s singing.  There’s a note she sings in The Silly Song that actually distorted the speakers on my (admittedly terrible) monitor.  I mean… dang.

As a whole, I like her.  I wouldn’t exactly call her my favorite princess by a long shot, because there are things about her that irritate me.  Still, she gets a lot of  hate for being bland and weak and it’s really not deserved.

He’s got all the personality of the bricks he’s sitting on.

I can’t defend this guy, though.  As the story goes, Prince Florian/Ferdinand (depending on who you ask) proved so difficult to animate realistically that he was all but cut from the final film.  And I mean, I get it.  Most of the human characters in the Silly Symphonies were caricatures, and this was their first go-round with a realistic man, but come on.  Even in subsequent media, like theme park shows and the Kingdom Hearts series, this guy doesn’t get a personality!  It’s all just “in love with a girl I’ve never actually interacted with”!  He’s exactly the sort of nonsense that’s been parodied to death!

Apparently one of his plotlines was going to involve the Queen falling in love with him.  She was going to propose, and he was going to refuse her because she’s like twenty years older than him and also he’s in love with Snow, and that refusal was going to send her into her into her jealous rampage.  Kind of like a gender-swapped Frollo.  I would have loved to see that version!

But as it stands, we just have this set piece that goes around smooching corpses.  Lovely.  At least he’s better than his Grimm counterpart, who never actually meets the seven-year-old princess before the corpse kissing thing.

Ew.

Moving swiftly on…

SWISH.

I’m not going to lie to you.  With maybe two exceptions, the villains are always my favorite part of any Disney film.  Queen Grimhilde here is no exception.  The film opens with her approaching her mirror, and you just know this is gonna be good.  Her motives are petty and unrealistic, but sometimes, that can work.  Having such an insane goal- murdering a girl for being prettier than her- underlines how despicable her actions are.  It’s the same thing that makes Maleficent so memorable.  She has a commanding presence on the screen with sinister Kubrick stare and the most awesome cape swish you’ve ever seen.

The scene where she changes into the Hag is one of the single scariest moments in the Disney canon.  This is where you really see the Dr. Caligari inspiration.  Gone are the saccharine woodland critters and bright watercolor backgrounds.  Now we’re in a hellish dungeon watching the Queen consulting evil spellbooks.  The soundtrack is going berserk as she recites the ingredients for her spell (including needing the black of night to… change her clothes).  And then we go full Disney acid sequence to watch her hands wither into an old crone’s claws.  Kudos to Art Babbit (her supervising animator), because this scene is awesome.

“Look!  My hands!”

Grimhilde’s Old Hag form takes all that queenly grace and throws it out the window.  From here on out, she chews the scenery to shreds, beginning a long and glorious tradition of hammy Disney villains.  She monologues  directly to the camera multiple times and repeats phrases to make sure she squeezes as much drama out of them as possible (BURIED ALIIIIIIVE!!!!!).  It’s a blast to watch as a 26-year-old villain fan.  She did give me nightmares until I was twelve, but I guess that’s the mark of a good bad guy.

Not sure how this is going to help with the whole “fairest of them all thing” but you do you I guess.

One thing that I almost forgot about the Queen was how competent and sadistic she is.  Other than the whole “cutting out her stepdaughter’s heart” thing, Grimhilde doesn’t do much besides glare as the Queen.  As the Hag, though, she kicks a skeleton who died begging for water that lay just out of his reach in a very Tantalus-like manner to underscore just how sadistic she really is.  And even better because it’s actually plot-relevant, she preys on the very goodness that makes Snow White so loveable by faking a heart attack to gain entry to her house.  She’s competent and crafty and is only defeated because nature itself wants this broad dead.

This woman falls off a cliff, gets crushed by a boulder, is struck by lightning, and gets eaten by vultures.  It’s A Lot.

The last of our lead characters are the Seven Dwarfs themselves.  Doc, Sneezy, Bashful, Sleepy, and Happy kind of function as a composite character.  Most of their screen time consists of gags that allow the animators to make use of their one character trait a piece.  It’s understandable, considering Walt promised his animators an extra five dollars for every gag that worked its way in to the film, but it’s not the most inspired characterization.  Also, a lot of the gags run way longer than is probably necessary for the story.  The first ten minutes of the movie blaze by, and then it grinds to a halt for several long scenes of the dwarves bathing or dancing or sleeping.

Even the scene of the dwarves reacting to someone breaking into their house is extremely drawn out.  And then they immediately get over because she’s pretty!  Their collective reactions to things are inconsistent at best and frankly, these guys are kind of the reason no one thought they’d be able to sit through ninety minutes of cartoons.  They’re the children of the Silly Symphonies.

There are two exceptions to my dislike of the dwarves, though.

Points for trying though.

Other than the Queen, Dopey is my favorite character in the film.  He’s our first cute cuddly sidekick and he does his job admirably.  The only reason he’s mute was because the studio couldn’t find a voice actor, but I can’t imagine him as anything but a vehicle for physical comedy.  And that’s not a bad thing!  His jokes with the diamonds on his eyes and the bubbles from swallowing the soap are some of my favorite moments in the film.   Another fun fact- Dopey was almost the Sorcerer’s Apprentice!

Just look at him.  He’s precious.

As cute and fun as Dopey is, there’s not much to say about him because he’s not that deep a character.   Grumpy, on the other hand, is alone among the characters in this movie in that he has an actual character arc.  He starts out a crabby, cantankerous misogynist, so bad it’s actually hard to watch at points.  But as the film goes on and Snow White captures the dwarfs’ hearts, Grumpy gets more attached to her than anyone else.  That gradual change makes Snow White’s eventual death even more gut-wrenching as we watch Grumpy turn away in tears.  For being such a nasty piece of work at the beginning, Grumpy really becomes the heart of the whole movie.

One small moment that really struck me was when the dwarves learn that the Queen’s found Snow White.  Grumpy, who’s been nasty and stuck up to her the entire film, is the first one to cry out that they have to save her.  He’s finally come full circle and it’s so satisfying.

D’awwww.

This character section has gone a little overboard mostly because I went off on a huge tangent about how much I love Queen Grimhilde and got really defensive about Snow White.  I do feel like I have to talk a little bit about the Huntsman, though.  He’s only in two scenes, but the animators do a fantastic job of bringing across his hesitation.  He’s as enchanted by Snow White’s sweetness as everyone else, but he’s got a job to do.

The reason I wanted to talk about this guy, though, is that he’s a realistic male character who’s animated spectacularly.  They complained about the Prince and nearly cut him out because he was too difficult, but they were able to pull the Huntsman off?  Come on, guys!

Look at that!  You guys could do it!  I believe in you!

The final characters I want to talk about before I finally move on are Snow White’s woodland animal friends.  There are scores of them, each lovingly hand drawn… except for the one time one of the animators forgot he was drawing a rabbit and it morphed into a squirrel mid-scene.  They, like the dwarves, are mainly used for comedy but maybe it’s me, I find that they’re more successful with it.  I guess I just like the mute sidekicks better than the jokey ones.

It’s so sweet I’m getting cavities.

The animals are also Snow White’s real heroes.  They’re the ones who recognize that this “haaaaarmless old peddler womannnn!” is bad news.  When Snow White ignores their warning and digs herself into a deeper hole despite she herself being visibly uncomfortable having the woman that close, the creatures come to the rescue.  And they’re as devastated as anyone else when it turns out to be too late.  Like the dwarves, their sorrow comes as a real punch to the gut because they were always the ones meant to make you smile.

Also there’s a turtle.  Turtles are cool.

You go little guy, I believe in you!

ARTISTRY

A major reason this movie holds up so well nowadays is because it is stunning.  It’s even more impressive when you consider the fact that every leaf on the trees and every speck of dust on the cottage is hand-drawn.  Seriously, there is not a piece of art in this film that doesn’t blow my mind.  It looks that good.  And when you factor in the fact that none of this had really been done before.  I’m going to let a few screencaps speak for themselves, then round things out by talking about the music.

Okay, this shot’s better in the movie because you can really see the multiplane camera at work.  But it’s still pretty.
A prime example of using the background as symbolism to further the story.  Look at the peacock!
More pretty multiplane work
Nightmare fuel unleaded
I cannot get over how lovely the cottage looks ❤
hurr durr I’m so edgy she actually died hurrrrr

Sometimes, you just don’t need words.

MUSIC

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was also the first movie to have its soundtrack released commercially.  The movie was such a sensation that people wanted to listen to its songs and story again and again.  As home video wasn’t a thing yet, it was released on a 78 rpm Victor record (look at me pretending I know what I’m talking about), featuring songs by Frank Churchill, Larry Morey, and Leigh Harline and score by Paul J. Smith and Leigh Harline.

With a handful of exceptions, I think the soundtrack’s a little uneven.  It’s got some excellent songs, don’t get me wrong.  But it’s also got some mediocre ones.  But then it’s also got one of my absolute favorite pieces of score in any Disney movie….

I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m Wishing serves as Snow White’s “I Want” song before “I Want” songs were really a thing.  It showcases Caselotti’s lovely operatic voice (it doesn’t get annoying until later) and introduces her as a bastion of innocence.  A lot of people nowadays criticize the whole “wishing for a man” thing, but I really don’t think it’s as simple as that.  Remember, at this point in the narrative, she’s been forced to be a scullery maid and abused by her stepmother for an indeterminate length of time.  She wants someone to be nice to her more than anything.

One Song is one that actually surprised me a little bit with how much I enjoyed it.  I literally just derided how boring the Prince and, therefore, the romance are, but the song itself is very pretty and heartfelt.  It’s your standard love ballad, but standard isn’t a bad thing.

The scene itself is a little uncomfortable.  He comes up behind her and scares her half to death and he spends most of the song standing at her window begging her to come out.  You know, like creepy dudebros do.  Somehow, though, he wears her down and she falls in love with him.  Probably because he’s nice to her.

I think I’m going to stick to listening to this one without the visuals, thanks.

With a Smile and a Song is my favorite song in the film.  It’s a sugary sweet little ode to the power of positivity, and a great pick-me-up on a bad day.  It’s also incredible to me that the girl’s got the fortitude to sing it after her stepmother sent an assassin after her.  Have I mentioned that?  Snow White’s optimism is one of the highlights of her character.  Like most of the soundtrack, it’s not particularly deep, but it’s not trying to be and it doesn’t need to be.

Some movies just aren’t meant to be screencapped.

Whistle While You Work is the film’s big earworm, sung while Snow is cleaning the dwarves’ cottage.  Its bouncy melody and cheerful lyrics make it one of the most memorable song in the films.  It’s been parodied and covered dozens of times throughout the decade, including by Disney itself in Enchanted, but it’s all out of love.  This is one of the two most popular and memorable songs on the soundtrack.

Heigh Ho is the other most popular and memorable song in the movie.  It’s catchy and upbeat.  It’s easily the most dynamic song in the film, with its two distinct halves.  I was honestly surprised to learn that it wasn’t on the soundtrack as Dig Dig Dig/Heigh Ho or something like that.  Maybe I’m spoiled by the Renaissance soundtracks.  I don’t know.

That said, I don’t like this one nearly as much as the general public.  Living in Orlando has absolutely ruined it for me.  Too many crazy parents flipping out because they have to wait two hours for a little roller coaster.

Anyway.

Bluddle-Uddle-Um-Dum (The Washing Song) is one of two filler songs that could absolutely have been cut with no real negative impact to the storyline.  I personally think this one is the weakest song on the entire soundtrack. The lyrics aren’t inspired and while the melody is perky it’s really nothing special.  It definitely loses its luster without the visuals. There’s a clunker on every Disney soundtrack, and it’s usually the sidekick’s song.

Usually.

The Dwarf’s Yodel Song (The Silly Song) is the other song that could probably be cut out with no real negative impact to the story.  This one is redeemed by featuring some clever if nonsensical wordplay and a lot of unusual instrumentation.  Wikipedia says Sleepy’s playing something called a tarogato, which I’ve never even heard of!  That’s the kind of innovation I come here for.  I also enjoyed the visual of Dopey and Sneezy in the old coat dancing with Snow White.

As did Disney.  They reused it several times.

Also this is the song where Snow White nearly blew out my speaker.

Someday My Prince Will Come is the movie’s standout song.  It’s become a jazz standard and the American Film Institute ranks it the 19th best film song ever!  Like With a Smile and a Song, it’s simple and sweet, a showcase of Churchill’s musical talents and Caselotti’s bright soprano.  I think this one could have benefited greatly by the visuals that were planned for it instead of the visuals we ended up with.  Originally, it was going to be played over a dream sequence of Snow and her Prince dancing in the clouds, a visual that we’d later see at the end of Sleeping Beauty.  As it stands, we got Snow White sitting there and the Dwarfs watching all doey-eyed.

Now, the score in this one is wonderful.  Each character gets their own leitmotif, with a quavery chromatic scale for the Queen and manic flute for Dopey to name a few.  Music’s also used to great effect to emphasize or punctuate action, like the raccoons using the turtle as a washboard.

Was this just an excuse to post the turtle again?  Maybe.

However, the standout of the entire soundtrack is easily Chorale For Snow White.  After the action-packed sequence where the dwarfs face off against the Hag and she’s ultimately defeated, the soundtrack goes almost silent.  As we cut to the dwarf’s cottage, where they’re holding vigil over Snow White’s body, a hauntingly beautiful organ melody starts playing.  It’s this brilliant contrast that makes that scene so affecting, even today.

Is someone chopping onions?

THEME PARK INFLUENCE

As one of the most influential features of all time, you can bet Snow White has a theme park presence.  And lots of it.  Snow White, The Queen, The Prince, and all Seven Dwarves are popular meet and greet characters at all six Disney resorts world wide, with the latter garnering multi-hour lines at Magic Kingdom’s popular holiday parties.

I actually found this experience a little underwhelming but hey that’s just me.

The ride Snow White’s Scary Adventures (now Snow White’s Enchanted Wish) has been a Disney park staple since Disneyland opened.  In its first incarnation was truly nightmarish and had to be toned down.  Seriously.  Watch this and wonder what is wrong with the Imagineers, and be glad they revised it into this and eventually into this.  The ride still exists in five out of six of the Disney resorts, having been closed down in Florida to make way for Princess Fairytale Hall.  It has a spiritual successor in the new Seven Dwarves Mine Train, which still has two to three hour waits every time I walk past it.

Less obvious references include the Once Upon a Time shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is modeled after the Carthay Circle Theatre where the movie debuted.  As a tribute, the outside of the shop is decorated with posters and a diorama of the dwarfs’ cottage, and the background music that plays inside includes snippets of songs from the film.  There’s another store called the Candy Cauldron in Disney Springs, themed after the Queen’s evil lab, complete with a prominent statue of the Old Hag.

Snow White and The Queen also feature prominently anywhere Disney needs a princess or a villain.  Snow White joins the dwarves in the finale of Magic Kingdom’s Festival of Fantasy Parade, and the Queen leads the villains in the invasion of Mickey’s dreams in Fantasmic! in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Tokyo DisneySea, and Disneyland resort.

Obviously, there are more, given that this is THE single most influential Disney animated film of all time.  If I outlined all of them in WDW alone, we’d be here all day.  And after that, I’ve got five more resorts that I’m not as familiar with!

FINAL THOUGHTS

I mean, what more is there to say about Snow White?  This movie popularized an art form that’s still popular today (sort of).  The story and the characters are very simplistic, and the pacing is… weird.  Disney has definitely improved since these days, but it wouldn’t have gotten the chance to.

Favorite scene: The Queen’s transformation.  It’s absolutely chilling, and the animation is beautiful.

Final Rating: 9/10.  The characters are also kind of flat and the story’s really simplistic, but I actually think those are points in its favor.  Not bogging us down with logic lets us focus 100% on the emotional punches the film keeps throwing at us, culminating in the wake scene.  The thing that really keeps me from rating it a full 10 is the weird pacing.  The first ten minutes blaze past, and then it’s just… dwarf gags.   So many dwarf gags.  For a solid third of the movie.  But the animation is so gorgeous and when the plot is focused, it’s impactful and as timeless as Walt always intended.

I’ll try to have Pinocchio up by Friday or Saturday, but since I’m new at the review thing it’ll take me a hot minute to get into a groove and establish a schedule.  Also, I am trying to read all the source material and this one’s longer than the fables and Grimm stories I’ve been doing.  So bear with me, please! 🙂

Here, have a turtle.

Just can’t get enough of this lil guy.

Published by The Great Disney Movie Ride

I'm a sassy snarky salt bucket lucky enough to live in Orlando, Florida. I've had a lifelong interest in the Walt Disney Company and the films and theme park attractions they've created. I've now made it a goal to go down their Wikipedia page and watch every animated AND live action film they've ever made. Can I do it? How many of them will make me go completely mad? Only time will tell....

4 thoughts on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)

  1. You know, I’ve never really been a fan of Snow White (the character). Her voice is annoying (I laugh that it nearly managed to blow out your speaker, though XD), and she’s just soooo boring! The flack she gets…I used to hate her; all she does is cook and clean and sing. But the Queen faked a heart attack! No matter how ugly someone is, who wouldn’t help a person who they thought had a heart attack? She doesn’t know it’s her evil stepmother. I bet she didn’t know anyone was capable of magic!

    The Prince though…he kissed a corpse. I mean, sure, in deleted scenes he overhead the Queen’s plan from his prison cell, but in the final product? …well, I guess it’s better than in the original fairy tale where he’s just some rando in love with a 7-year-old’s corpse, but…ewwww.

    Cali, my girl, you are a scaredy-cat. I watched both videos of the ride you linked. That first one ain’t scary—it’s annoying because I can’t understand what the Hag’s saying. And the gators are so fake.

    Like

    1. You know, my speakers notwithstanding, her voice doesn’t actually bother me anymore. In the movie, at least. Her current voice in stuff like the parks and Kingdom Hearts, though? Eugh. In fairness, the story doesn’t really call for her to be an action girl, and her kindness and willingness to take charge (getting the dwarves household in line) are traits I’d want my daughter to emulate if I had any desire to have one. Like you said, she saw an old lady in trouble and instantly went to help her. Go girl!

      The Prince is a creep but it’s a fairytale whatcha gonna do

      IN MY DEFENSE I was five when I first went on that ride and those crocs jumped real close to your car. I’m really not a fan of jumpscares and those were close enough to one that they freaked me out.

      Like

  2. Even though I’m not really a huge fan of this movie, I’m glad you like it. For me, the art is phenomenal, the villain is decent, the Dwarfs are funny, but I don’t really care for the leads. Snow is OK. I hate the Prince, he is so boring and kind of a creep. Nevertheless, I definitely respect this movie for how revolutionary it was. It’s just not my favourite.

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