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SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS


Directed By:
David Hand, William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, & Ben Sharpsteen
Produced By: Walt Disney
Based On: “Snow White” by the Brothers Grimm (1812)
Premiered On:
February 4, 1938
Distribution By:
RKO Radio Pictures

There are few who have not heard the story of Snow White and fewer still who have not, at least once in their lifetime, seen the film that well and truly started it all for mainstream animation as a whole. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the story of the titular princess Snow White whose mother, or step-mother as was done in the film, learns has become “the fairest in all the land” and so sets her huntsman to kill Snow White and to bring back her heart as proof.

The huntsman, a kindly soul, could not bring himself to kill an innocent girl and bade Snow White to run and never look back. The young princess would eventually find refuge in the cottage of the seven dwarfs and, for a time, she would become something of a mother hen and loving daughter to the seven dwarfs, some more so than others.

For though the dwarfs are masterful miners, finding and digging up all manner of jewels and gems with ease, not a single one of them are able to cook or clean in a satisfactory manner. So while they work at the mine during the day, Snow White upkeeps the small cottage, oftentimes with the aid of her animal friends, and at night they celebrate in song and dance. However, the Queen soon learns of the huntsman’s deceit and so decides to handle matters personally by transforming herself into a wicked, old hag and creating an apple poisoned with “Sleeping Death” a curse that can only be broken by “love’s first kiss.”

Despite this horrendous flaw of essentially putting her stepdaughter into a coma, the Queen believes that the dwarves will unknowingly bury Snow White alive and so goes to their cottage. Despite her disguise, the animals instantly recognize the Queen for who she is and quickly run off to fetch the dwarfs but they return too late. The Queen had already tricked Snow White into taking a bite of her “wishing apple” and makes for her escape with the dwarfs hot in pursuit. They manage to corner her on a cliff and though she tries to roll a boulder down over them, a bolt of lightning tears the ground from under her feet, causing the witch to fall down to her supposed death.

Returning to their cottage, the dwarfs all agree that to bury Snow White out of sight in the ground is something that none of them can do, they craft a beautiful glass coffin to place her in and visit her every day as they go to and from their mine for the next year, with the forest animals keeping watch over her day and night. It’s not until a certain prince whom Snow White had met previously, delivers a farewell kiss to her, thus breaking the curse.

And they all lived happily ever after.

As for me, I would never, not ever, be able to look at trees the same way for most of my early childhood. Say what you will of the whimsy and romantic heart of Snow White, the fun and fancy of the dwarfs, but when this film wanted to get scary, it skipped that and dove right into terrifying. Though a short and brief moment in the film, Snow White’s run through the “haunted forest” was scary for me when I was toddler and the ride at the Magic Kingdom only worsened it for me. No matter how many times I went on it or how old I was, I never once opened my eyes during that part of the ride.

Yet this all pales in comparison to one of the more truly horrifying moments in the film when the Wicked Queen, or Grimhilde as she’s named in other media, turns herself into a hag. Specifically, the ingredients that she uses such as mummy dust to make her old, the black of night to shroud her, a old hag’s cackle to age her voice, a scream of fright to whiten her hair, a blast of wind to fan her hatred, and a thunderbolt to mix it well.

Magical transformation aside, you have to give Grimhilde credit, she went above and beyond for her disguise but again I can’t help but notice one element in particular. “A blast of wind to fan my hate…” Why would the disguise to be an old peddler call for such a thing? Unfortunately, I have long since given my opinions on Grimhilde so I’ll leave that well alone and move on to the more delightful portions of the film, namely the songs.

Is this a movie for kids of all ages? Eh, I’d say that’s really dependent on said child’s tolerance towards scary moments like the aforementioned scenes. Even Walt Disney himself admitted that he had made Grimhilde a far more frightening character than he intended and made it a point to never make one as frightening as her. Bar one living representation of Evil dwelling within the heart of a mountain, I’d say he succeeded. It’s one of the main reasons why a lot of Disney Villains are somewhat comical or have an overbearingly bad weakness to them such as overbearing arrogance or hilariously short tempers.

Moving on to the music, I’ll admit that choosing one song in particular was extremely tough. There’s hardly a song in this film that anyone hasn’t heard at least once and truly, depending on one’s mood, any song can best fit the film as a whole. Some songs weren’t even really songs in themselves with full lyrics but the animation that accompanied the music more than made up for it. Songs like “Whistle While You Work” or “The Dwarf’s Bathing Song” where it was more humming, whistling, and other such musical tones than outright singing. Regardless, my personal favorite song in the film is the popular “Heigh Ho” as sung by the Dwarf Chorus.

Honestly, it was a true coin toss between this song and “The Silly Song” as both these songs do a great job of showing off the dwarf’s distinct personalities. Though one cannot guess each of the dwarfs by name straight away, the antics and subtle motions as they sing certainly. Dopey and Grumpy being the easiest amongst them by far in my opinion with Sleepy being a close second because lets face it, we’ve all been that and more early in the morning.

Jests aside, the main reason I chose this song, aside from the coin toss of course, is simply for the fact that it is a song that most anyone can sing with ease and without ever having watched the film as a whole. While it’s not a song that’s commonly played on the radio or sung anew by modern singers, it’s still one that most can at least hum along with if not outright sing for themselves, particularly after a long day at work.

As to the difference between the film and the original story, there are two major differences to note overall. The first comes from Grimhilde’s attempt at Snow White’s life. See, contrary to the film, Grimhilde did not just go straight to the poisoned apple trick but had tried two other devices to kill Snow White.

The first was a laced bodice that she tied so tightly upon Snow White that she fainted from lack of oxygen and would have died had the dwarfs not returned in time. The second was a poisoned comb that only worked so long as the comb was in Snow White’s hair so she managed to survive that. Even the poisoned apple trick almost failed simply for the fact that Snow White had grown cautious of these mysterious peddler women flocking by and only took a bite herself when the disguised Queen ate the non-poisoned side of the apple.

While these scenes were considered and even sketched out, there were ultimately dropped for time and for a better flow of the story because honestly? Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, but by number three it’s just getting boring. Yet there was one other moment in particular that was heavily altered from the original story, that being Grimhilde’s death.

In the original Grimm’s fairytale, the Queen had been invited to Snow White’s wedding and though the magic mirror told her that this new queen was fairer than she, she went anyway despite her suspicions. As punishment for her many attempts at murdering her daughter, and yes Snow White was her own flesh and blood in the original story rather than a step-daughter, the prince bade a pair of glowing red-hot iron shoes to be placed before the Queen and she was forced to don them and dance in them until she eventually dropped dead.

… Wow.

Just… Wow.

There are times that I hear people complain of Walt Disney’s changing the classic fairy tales, and at times I cannot help but agree but most often than not, I can’t help but agree with him. Walt Disney said once that he’ll never patronize children, won’t play down a story though he may temper it. Frankly, I’m glad to have seen the Queen come to an end by her own folly rather than because of a justice system that punished her with such severity, especially in the eyes of Snow White, arguably the kindest and most innocent of all the Disney Princesses bar none.

Overall… A solid ten out of five stars. Why? Because say what you will of the story, the animation, and even the music, this film and this film alone is the reason there is such a thing as animation, that the name of Disney, both the man and the company, are a forever etched in the annals of human history. For though the man himself said it all started with a mouse, it really began with a young princess, a wicked queen, and seven dwarfs.

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