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Revisiting Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

15 Apr

Snow_White_1937_posterThe last time I saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I must have been around eleven years old. I had just watched the 1978 Les Miserables with Richard Jordan and Anthony Perkins and, along with my cousin and siblings, found it a stressful experience. None of us knew a thing about the story, so when Javert stood there for what seemed an impossibly long time, pointing a gun at Jean Valjean’s head (with one stressful note of music held for an impossibly long time) we really were concerned. After Les Miserables, we wanted to watch something a little more restful.

But after watching She and reading about how the costumes in that film might have inspired the animators of the Evil Queen in Snow White, I wanted to see it again. Here are my seven main thoughts on the film.

1) It’s like a symphonic poem. I had forgotten how much music is in this film. Not only do characters break into song every five minutes or so, but the musical score (composed by Paul Smith and Leigh Harline) almost never ceases to play. There are multiple examples of “mickey-mousing,” which means using the music to accompany or punctuate a character or animal’s movement or expression. When music is played in time to the steps of the dwarfs, that is mickey-mousing.

But it’s not irritating, but adds considerably to the charm of the film. This is largely because everything in the film seems to be part of the music. The particular sing-song way Snow White talks, the way characters often speak in rhymes, the various noises that animals make, even the noises that characters make (the snoring, the squeaks of shoes, the indelible sound of Doc clearing his throat or Grumpy’s “Humph”), the different timbre of character’s voices. Every sound and every word seems part of one consistent musical whole, making the narrative less important.

I’d also forgotten just how catchy and numerous all the songs are. I spent days singing “With a Smile and a Song” and “I’m Wishing.” Frank Churchill (not Jane Austen’s Frank Churchill) wrote the music for the songs and Larry Morey wrote the lyrics.

Snow-White-and-the-Seven-Dwarfs2) Along with the music, the movements of characters are highly stylized. Nobody walks the way Snow White does; she practically floats. The queen has a way of sweeping her cloak artistically and makes grand gestures with her arms. Hands are particularly fascinating to watch in this film. I’m struggling to find a word to describe it all. Poetic, balletic, operatic? Realism is not the dominant goal of this film. It’s a musical storybook.

3) That forest Snow White runs through at the beginning used to frighten the living daylights out of me. Watching it now, it looks rather German expressionist to me. In fact, I noticed a lot of things this time that never occurred to me previously. Like the cross cutting at the end between the queen offering Snow White the apple and the dwarfs racing to the rescue. I was just reading a book about the silent era that was discussing D.W. Griffith’s famous use of cross cutting in his films, most famously in Birth of a Nation (Diary of a Movie Maniac also makes this observation).

4) Does the magic mirror make house calls? The Evil Queen uses her magic to call him forth and I wonder if there are other homes that he visits.

5) The attitude of Snow White is extremely 1930s. She actually apologizes for being frightened and breaking down in tears. She is a survivor. She just keeps moving forward, bravely ready to face whatever comes next. Snow White is generally considered a rather un-empowered princess, but I think this is partly a product of the Depression. During the Depression, no one was particularly empowered (not even men) and the main thing was to keep moving forward and not complain. Her apology to the animals and then her cheerful “With a Smile and a Song” as she looks for a home in the woods strikes me as typical of the era.

Disney has progressed from “With a Smile and a Song” and keeping on without complaint to “Let It Go,” where Elsa’s practically shaking her fist and shouting, “I’m an individual!” It’s interesting how times change.

Evil_Queen_(Snow_White_and_the_Seven_Dwarfs_1937)As a side note, I was trying to fit the Dwarf’s apparent wealth with a Depression mentality, but if you think about it: their diamonds and rubies don’t actually make them rich. They don’t have any way to sell or use their gems. They even sing a line about how they don’t know why they dig. They lock their gems in a shed with a key hanging right by the door. Their real treasure is Snow White.

6) In The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks, the author mentions in her introduction that Walt Disney wanted his animators to make the prince look like Douglas Fairbanks. As she notes, however, it’s not obvious that they succeeded.

7) Is it just me or does the prince’s castle look like the celestial heavens? Does that make him death? Not sure I like that interpretation.

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20 Comments

Posted by on April 15, 2016 in Movies

 

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20 responses to “Revisiting Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

  1. Andrea Lundgren

    April 15, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Ooh, the prince as death, taking Snow White away! That sounds very believable, and very, true-fairy tale-esque.

    Liked by 2 people

     
    • christinawehner

      April 15, 2016 at 11:02 am

      You have a point there…though I hate to admit it. 🙂 I’m glad I didn’t think of that as a child, though. Does that happen in any other fairy tales? The only one that comes to mind right off the top of my head is The Little Mermaid.

      Like

       
      • Andrea Lundgren

        April 15, 2016 at 11:23 am

        Doesn’t it happen in a number of them? Little Red Riding Hood getting eaten by the wolf and the Little Match Girl dying in the cold?

        Liked by 1 person

         
        • christinawehner

          April 15, 2016 at 12:02 pm

          I forgot about the Little Match Girl! Does Red Riding Hood stay dead originally? I clearly need to go back and read the originals. 🙂

          Like

           
          • Andrea Lundgren

            April 15, 2016 at 12:43 pm

            In one of the originals (Perrault) she is supposed to be a warning to young girls in France about being independent, and she dies. In an earlier version, her grandmother dies but the girl gets away. Either way, there is plenty of death to go around.

            Liked by 1 person

             
            • christinawehner

              April 15, 2016 at 3:46 pm

              It’s funny how we talk about how stories have gotten more violent in this day and age. It seems like, in some ways, we’ve gotten more squeamish. That’s very interesting.

              Like

               
    • Eric Binford

      April 18, 2016 at 12:48 pm

      That’s a wonderful interpretation. I never thought of that!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  2. The Animation Commendation

    April 15, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    You didn’t see this since you were 11? Glad you watched it again!

    I personally don’t have any dislike for the school of thought of not complaining and just moving forward; I know it’s not particularly popular these days, but I feel it’s a perfectly legitimate way to live if someone so chooses to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      April 15, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      It was good to see it again – I don’t know why it took so long!

      I’m in complete agreement with you about believing that not complaining is a legitimate way of life. Actually, I think it’s rather admirable. I just wish I lived that way more often!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  3. FictionFan

    April 15, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Have you watched Enchanted? I unexpectedly adored it – and the main reason is that Amy Adams does such a brilliant impersonation of Snow White and Princesses of that time – the way she walks, the way she uses her arms when she’s singing, her chirpy outlook on life. Oh, I wish I didn’t love it so much… my street cred is in severe danger now. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      April 15, 2016 at 4:22 pm

      It’s been a little while since I’ve seen it (though I do enjoy it a lot), but I’ll have to revisit it now that I’ve seen Snow White again. It had been so long since I’d seen Snow White that I confess I didn’t make the connection between Amy Adam’s performance and Snow White. I’ll particularly look for that!

      If anybody asks, I’ll deny fervently that you ever said you adore it. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

       
  4. stephencwinter

    April 16, 2016 at 4:21 am

    I did not often have the opportunity to go out with my Father as a child but going to our local movie house to see Disney animations stands out as a strong memory. He took my brothers and I to see them with great enthusiasm and that alone would have grabbed my attention. Two visits stand out and one is to see Fantasia (have you written about this?) and the other is Snow White. He must have seen it first when first released in 1937 having grown up during the depression and just before he began work in Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market in London. I am sure that he would have endorsed the don’t complain and “keep your chin up” approach of the film. My grandparents certainly did although they were active members of the British Labour Party at the same time. I think that like you I was scared by the forest and certainly by the queen but the cheerful folk come out on top in the end. The whole forest turns on the queen at the end of the story.
    I don’t think that the Disney heroines were ever as powerless as they have been portrayed. Sleeping Beauty is probably an exception. If anything it is the male matinee idols that lack colour and character.
    As I often feel when I read your blog, thank you for taking me back to an experience that I have not thought about for a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      April 16, 2016 at 10:51 am

      It is always wonderful to hear your stories and memories! It shows me that these films are not just films, but are connected to the lives of people.

      I agree about the princesses; it seems like the popular understanding of Disney princesses is more simplistic than they actually are (though, as you say, it’s hard to do much with Sleeping Beauty – though I’ve always really loved that film). It seems like we lost something important in losing the “keep your chin up attitude.”

      It seems odd, but I’ve actually never even seen Fantasia! But I’ve been thinking, recently, that I really ought to.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • stephencwinter

        April 17, 2016 at 11:48 am

        It has surprised me while reading your blog to realise how important movies have been in my life. I do recommend Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 is just as good. The short film to the music of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is a masterpiece.

        Liked by 1 person

         
        • christinawehner

          April 17, 2016 at 1:40 pm

          I love Gershwin: I didn’t realize that his music was included in Fantasia 2000!

          Your stories (and the stories of other people, like my grandmother) has just started to make me think about movies in a new way; so often as part of shared memories involving other people. In a way, I wonder if it is kind of our version of reading aloud with others. Since most people don’t read books aloud (unless to their children), reading is mostly a solitary experience (though we talk about the book with others), but watching a movie is something we share with others.

          Liked by 1 person

           
          • stephencwinter

            April 18, 2016 at 12:26 am

            I really like that thought, that watching a movie together is the creation of a shared memory. And I think it is the same kind of sharing as reading aloud. We gladly did both with our children.

            Liked by 1 person

             
  5. Eric Binford

    April 18, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    Great review! The Princess is a a rather passive heroine, isn’t she? The Evil Queen is a much more interesting character. Perhaps this is not the fault of Disney, but of the source material.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      April 18, 2016 at 8:56 pm

      That’s true…I wonder if we would like Snow White as well if it had been changed to make Snow White stronger. Not that there’s anything wrong with a strong heroine, but I wonder if it would have seemed forced.

      Liked by 1 person

       

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