My opinion right after watching movie
My opinion right after watching the first North American animated film is that it has aged a lot better than it could have. While when the story is focused on it is good, the filler in the middle and the constant gags hold it back a bit. The characters are not the most developed, but developed enough. It is revolutionary in its own right, but the biggest issue is that it is struggling away from coming out of the short film formula. It still catches up to today’s films though.
Production for this film began in early 1934, when at the time, the studio were only making shorts, and wanted to expand into features to make more revenue for the company. Apparently during production, this was deemed as “Disney’s Folly” since everyone including his brother and wife, thought that he went mad and the film was gonna flop; since no one would want to watch a cartoon for 90 minutes.
Walt Disney took a lot of interest into the dwarfs from when production started, and it was thought of that they were gonna be the main characters of the story, with many footage of them was cut from the final film. It was decided that the base of the film should be the Queen and Snow White. He also wanted as much gags in the film as possible, which was shown from many of the earlier drafts.
Apparently the animators went to a few classes to learn how to animate better for this, since most of them were newspaper cartoon animators, and they refused to used Rotoscoping for most of their animation.
They did not have their own music company them, so any music from the movie was and still is owned to Bourne Co Music Publishers.
So the movie starts with a storybook explaining the relationship between Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) and the Queen (Lucille La Verne), and how the Queen asks the mirror (Moroni Olsen) who is the prettiest of them all, and as long as it said her, Snow White was safe, since she knew and was afraid her beauty would surpass her own, so she forced her to be a maid and dressed in ragged clothes. So when we are introduced to the Queen, she is told by the mirror that Snow White is now the most beautiful in the land, she gets extremely pissed. Snow White is singing I’m Wishing, which is one of her I want songs, and it adds to her character, and yes, I like her voice. I am an oldies person. Sue me.
So conveniently, the extremely bland Prince (Harry Stockwell) conveniently shows up and sings with her. She gets scared and runs from the well and inside. She grooms herself and goes on the balcony for him to sing One Song, and now that he found her, she should listen to his feelings for her. It is unclear of they met before (since she was singing about the one she loves) or he just randomly showed up and started singing a bunch of bs. Imma rip him apart in the Characters section.
After the Queen witnesses their interaction, she closes the curtains dramatically and tells the Huntsman (Stuart Buchanan) to take Snow to the forest to kill her and to bring her heart. Her plan is to the smartest because there will be others that are prettier and she will just kill them? Okay.
So Snow is cheering up a bird after it gets lost, and the huntsman is about to kill her, but could not do it because she is so sweet and beautiful inside and out. He tells her that the Queen wants her dead and to flee, which she does. We are at the infamous forest scene, which is really to show off the animation that they can do.
So she breaks down crying and the animals swarm around her. She realizes that she made a fool of herself, and she sings With a Smile and a Song, which shows her optimism and not to break down crying when something goes bad and to bitch and moan, but to keep your head up. So the animals take her to the Dwarfs house to stay at, and the house is a mess, so she cleans it up with the help of the animals. This comes with Whistle While You Work, which shows that she can take control of others and to instruct.
We are introduced to the dwarfs (Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig, Otis Harlan, Scotty Matraw, Billy Gilbert, and Eddie Collins) who are miners. They come home, and they realize that their house is clean. Here is where the plot slows down and stops for 10-20 minutes, since we are filled with a bunch of gags from the dwarfs. So for 10 minutes, the dwarfs finally get to their room to find Snow White in the room.
She wakes up and they introduce themselves. We enter even more gags with the dwarfs washing their hands and Grumpy. While it is somewhat funny, it makes the film weaker. While the dwarfs and Snow have a jam and bond, the Queen is told that the Huntsman fooled her with a pig’s heart, so she takes matters into her own hands and turns herself into an old hag and makes an apple to poison Snow White. She thinks that the dwarfs will think she is dead, so they will bury her, and she is on her way.
So the next morning, they leave for work and they tell her to NOT open the door for anyone. She makes a pie for Grumpy since she is happy he cares (she prayed that he likes her, showing her insecurity), and as soon as she finished her reprise of Someday My Prince Will Come, the Hag shows up, and she immediately has a bad feeling about it. The Hag tries to give her the apple, which the animals did not like, so they tried to bombard her. Snow tells them they should be ashamed, and they ran to get the dwarfs.
So the dwarfs follow the animals, trying to save Snow, but they are too late, a she ate the “wishing apple”, wishing for the plot device of a prince to get her. The queen leaves the home as soon as the dwarfs get there, and she immediately runs to the cliff. She tries to push off a huge rock to crush the dwarfs. As she is trying to push it off, the cliff breaks via thunderstorm, causing her to fall. The same rock falls over her, and vultures follow her. That is an epic death, and it is great because she caused it herself.
They think she died and put her in a glass coffin, to show off her beauty. Plot hole, wouldn’t they think she was alive when she did not decompose in a few days? So months pass, and the plot device of a prince sings his One Song and kisses her goodbye. She soon wakes up, and they realize they are up, so they embrace one another and the dwarfs and animals cheer up. Snow White kisses them all goodbye, and the couple go to the prince’s castle.
My opinion on the characters is that they are not that developed overall. While some are enjoyable and entertaining, others are completely flat and plot devices and no personality. I also feel like some got more focus than they needed to, extracting from other characters. The characters are not the strongest point in the film.
The animation in this film is good, nothing more. I say that because there are a lot of animation mistakes with the consistency of the characters and the character movements. I can tell the cells and the separation from the characters and the backgrounds. Other than that, I LOVE the water-paint backgrounds, and it gives the film a soft yet not overly detailed look to it. The character designs are good for the most part, but you could tell that Disney excels on unrealistically and cartoon designs and not the realistic ones at this time.
The music has more of a 1930’s feeling to it more so than a classical feeling, but it still works. While I admit that some of the songs like Whistle While You Work and the Washing Hands are just there for filler, they are enjoyable to listen to, but that is kind of the issue. Most of the songs are there for filler instead of improving the story. The romantic songs help the story and characters more and gives it a sense of establishment. The score is great though, still giving it a fairytale but 1930s feeling.
Reception at Release
When the film premiered at December 21, 1937, it was extremely well received with a huge applause by everyone in the theater, most filled with the people who doubted it. A week later, Disney and the Seven Dwarfs were on Time Magazine
When it was actually released on February 4th 1938, it made $7,846,000 internationally, which was HELL OF A LOT in those days. It was the highest grossing film until Gone with the Wind beat it a year later. Critics loved it, saying things like “[so] perfect is the illusion, so tender the romance and fantasy, so emotional are certain portions when the acting of the characters strikes a depth comparable to the sincerity of human players, that the film approaches real greatness.” quote being from Vibe. This was all with its (then expensive) $1.5 million budget.
Since it has been released and deemed an instant classic, it has been re-released MANY times and with that and the inflation, it currently made $416 million. It was and had been nominated for Best Song, is included in the AFI (American Film Institute) for many things. It is seen as a classic and the VERY FIRST traditionally animated film (In North America, and now overall because all of the other ones have been lost and unplayable). It set the standard for animated films, and is often deemed as one of Disney’s best.
Story = 7/10
Characters = 6.5/10
Music = 8/10
Animation = 7/10