When it comes to Disney’s history as a pioneering animation studio, there are plenty of key films that helped to make the company the leader in the industry today. I would argue that few of their feature films hold as much significance as their debut feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Released in 1937 to international acclaim from critics and audiences, Snow White is still a very much loved installment in the Disney filmography. It remains my favourite Disney film for a variety of reasons that makes it a hugely important presence in my film journey as well as how I view the filmmaking process. As a child who grew up on the films of Disney and Don Bluth, no other film affected me than Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This is thanks to the special edition VHS I received for my birthday that had a mini documentary at the end which explored the making of the film. Viewing this glimpse into the film industry, how it works and how hard all of the departments worked to get a feature length animation out made the film viewing experience so much more exciting.
For those who may not know the plot, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs follows the titular character who is forced to run away from the Evil Queen after the latter becomes jealous of the former’s beauty. Snow White finds sanctuary in a small cottage inhabited by seven dwarfs who then do what they can to protect Snow White and hide her from the Queen. Based on the fairytale by the Brothers Grimm, Disney’s interpretation takes away the horror from the source material such as the apple core getting stuck in Snow White’s throat and makes it accessible for all audiences while incorporating the iconic designs often associated with Snow White in succeeding adaptations. This remains the most iconic adaptation of the fairytale with the designs and songs recognised around the globe.
As mentioned earlier, the reason why I love Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs so much isn’t necessarily due to the character development or the script but the innovation and approach to creating the film. Tasked with making sure that audiences are going to be attentive enough to sit through 80 minutes of animation, Disney had to be extremely calculated when it came to the plot. This is one of the reasons why the plot and the script is simple and linear so as not to challenge the audience too much. It’s a film that is showing off the latest in animation rather than boasting in depth characterisation. The craftsmanship that went into creating every scene is above and beyond complex and this is what draws me in time and time again. Even against the latest Disney releases, Snow White holds its own thanks to the detail and beauty in every frame. I think it’s easy to forget that it was the first ever technicolour animated feature film. That’s a huge feat in film history.
One aspect that I love the most is the use of colour and the various palettes used throughout, particularly in the expressionist forest scene when she is running away from the Evil Queen. Despite this being Disney’s first feature film, he doesn’t play it safe as the forest transforms and becomes a culmination of nightmares. The trees have faces and logs become alligators as Snow White runs deeper and deeper into the forest. The green, grey and black palette than opens up to a brighter spectrum as the eyes that have been following her are revealed to be friendly woodland creatures. The visual style is designed to put the audience at a state of unease as we flit to and fro between the happy, joyful moments with the dwarfs and the plotting Evil Queen who transforms into the Old Hag in a bid to kill Snow White.
Another iconic aspect of this film is the music. Drawing inspiration from the woodland creature trills for “Whistle While You Work” to incorporating the sound of the mine digging into “Heigh Ho”. Even if you haven’t seen this film, chances are that you have heard the songs at some point which shows how Disney was already pioneering not only the animation field but also defining the musical genre.
Overall, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has earned its place in film history and deservedly so. The chances are that you have seen the films or are familiar with the characters and songs if you haven’t because it has become so iconic. Although there are issues in terms of how it’s female protagonist is portrayed, Disney are showing improvements on this ground with their latest Princess films that feature more assertive and explored in more detail but what makes Snow White such a brilliant film isn’t necessarily the story but the amount of time and work that went into its creation.
What do you think of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Let me know in the comments below!