Directed by: David Hand (supervising)/William Cottrell/Wilfred Jackson/Larry Morey/Perce Pearce/Ben Sharpsteen
Written by: Ted Sears/Richard Creedon/Otto Englander/Dick Rickard/Earl Hurd/Merrill De Maris/Dorothy Ann Blank/Webb Smith
Based on story by: The Brothers Grimm
Everyone thought he was crazy. Why would anyone (even children) ever want to watch a full length animated feature? How would that even work? Even his wife and brother tried to talk him about of it. “Walt! All you’ve ever done are shorts? How are you going to do this?”
Well, he mortgaged his home and pumped everything he had into this project that would take almost four years to produce. He took all of his master animators from the Silly Symphonies and Mickey Mouse cartoons and put them on the project. They honed their crafts and the story and turned it into one of the most beloved films of all time.
Initially, the film was going to be a lot more comedic. The Queen was going to be a fat buffoon, the Prince was going to be silly and the Dwarfs were going to be a bigger part of the story.
Luckily, none of that panned out.
You know the story. Evil Queen is vain and HAS TO BE the fairest of them all. Each day, she asks her Magic Mirror if she still is. Her step-daughter, Snow White, is a budding young lady, so she’s always scared that the girl will take her place.
Eventually, she does. Evil Queen gets angry and has her Huntsman take Snowy out to the woods to kill her and bring her still beating heart to her in a box.
Ok. Maybe not still beating. But it’s still horrifying.
Huntsman can’t bring himself to do it, implores Snowy to run into the woods and never come back, and slaughters a pig for its heart. Evil Queen buys it…for a while. But Magic Mirror ruins it all by telling her, “Nope. She’s still alive and she’s still a prettier person than you.
Meanwhile, Snow White has found herself in a tiny house with tiny furniture. It’s gotta be rogue children, right? Nope. It’s a bunch of Dwarfs who come back to find their house all clean and a young woman in their beds.
Luckily, while the Dwarfs are pretty sexist (“A girl! We can’t have a GIRL here!!” Then, they’re all, “A girl! She can cook and clean for us!!”), they’re not monsters. They hear her plight and let her stay with them while she figures out her next move.
Sadly, Evil Queen figures out her next move: turn herself into an ugly old hag, concoct a poison apple, and feed it to Snowy. This she now does. Snowy goes into a death-like sleep. The Dwarfs rush to her side when Snowy’s animal friends come get them, but they’re too late. Not too late, though, to help Evil Queen throw herself off a cliff. (The irony, here, being that she died as an ugly old hag. Score!)
Wait…I skipped a bit. There’s a Prince. Remember him? Yeah. He’s pretty forgettable. The two met very briefly at a wishing well and he falls in love with her. For one reason or another, she runs away from him and they never meet again. Then, a year after her “death,” he shows up on the Dwarfs’ doorstep, sees a glass coffin full of girl, and kisses the “dead” girl. Because magic, this brings her back to life and everyone is happy again. Snowy and Unnamed Prince ride off together in the sunset where she presumably never has to do another tiny dish as long as she lives.
One thing that strikes me about the film is the sheer terror of it. I mean, “cut her heart out and bring it to me”?! The Dwarfs chasing her up a cliff and her falling off with a rock falling on top of her? Jesus, man. This is a kid’s movie!
The thing is, kids can take a little horror. Disney, somehow, knew that. The films made during his lifetime have scenes that would NEVER pass these days. (Well, maybe they would. They don’t have any dirty words or nudity in them, so the still super-conservative MPAA would let it pass with all violence intact.) We’ll get to them one by one, but these are, obviously, my favorite scenes in the movies.
Another thing that’s always striking in movies like this is the sexism. Snow White barely has ANY agency at all. She’s thrown out of the house. She’s saved by the Huntsman’s retroactive kindness. She’s taken in by the Dwarfs. She’s nearly force-fed a poison apple. She’s “killed.” She’s brought back to life by a kiss from a dude she’s barely met. She’s just passed from one bad situation to another. And where’s her positive female role-model? I know that not everyone gets one of those, unfortunately. But it would be nice if there was one to show kids, “Hey, you don’t HAVE to be awful to each other.” Or at least have Snowy be the agent of her own saving.
But, this is a movie from 1937. There were hardly any women in film that had any agency at all. Scarlet O’Hara was still two years away and, honestly, she was pretty awful.
We’ll get into some sexism and other -isms in other movies on this list. Trust me.
But let’s also look at the good things about this movie. Because, MAN, there are some amazing things.
1937. No other full-length cell animated features out there. (There were a couple of stop-motion films, but they’re super hard to find, nowadays.) Disney found a way to knock it out of the park. The animation is amazing. Rotoscoping (animating over live-action footage) was heavily relied upon in the animation industry and early Disney was definitely no exception. In fact, if you pay attention, there’s a LOT of rotoscoping in their films. Snow White and the Prince are almost fully rotoscoped. The Queen, however, isn’t. You can decide which you like better. There’s no right answer.
There was also new technology used here: multi-camera animation cinematography! The scene where the Queen turns into the hag is shot with multiple cameras so we’re able to spin around her as she changes. It’s a beautiful and frightening sequence.
This movie started it all. Disney never looked back, even when they were on the verge of bankruptcy more times than you would think. The formula comes from this, for better or worse. With all of its social issue problems, it’s an amazing film.