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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

by on 2011/05/15

“Ho hum, the tune is dumb. The words don’t mean a thing.”

* * *

Ready for an unpopular opinion?

This screening of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs represents my second go-round to justify the cost of its video. At first I couldn’t endure what is sometimes known as “Disney’s Folly” . . . yet I knew I’d have to try again one day.

Well, that day has come and, thankfully, is now done. (With any luck I won’t hear the lead’s vibrato caterwaul again.)

Frequently listed as a landmark in film — animated or not — Walt Disney had the last laugh with this first feature-length cartoon. Retelling the “Snow White” fairy tale, it involves a beautiful princess, condemned to death by her jealous stepmother, the Queen. She escapes and hides in the forest home of seven reclusive miners.

There’s not much more to it. If you don’t already know the story, I’m not going to ruin it for you. You may feel I’m being unfairly harsh in denigrating this classic piece. Some will suggest it’s intended for children, and not subject to adult scrutiny. To which I’d voice my concern for any kids exposed to its vapid heroine.

While her incessant singing is an irritant to me, the music might be to your taste. However, my greater concerns are with:

  • her need to apologize after escaping a murder attempt,
  • her antiquated notions of a woman’s domestic role,
  • her willingness to exploit the goodwill of her hosts,
  • her blinkered gullibility posing as optimistic charm,
  • and her notion of romance, of love, and of happiness for ever after.

Alright, I’m going to leave it there. I won’t get all political. Let’s chalk these (and many more) complaints up to being functions of “once upon” times.

Production-wise I had other concerns. One could scarcely ignore this effort’s laggard pace, too little substance spread out far too thin. Ironically, Snow White is often as frantic as it is overdrawn. Padded with saccharine and slapstick, a sitcom’s worth of content becomes a cloying and exhausting 84 minutes. I strongly suspect “Whistle While You Work” is remembered not just for its catchy melody, but because its associated scene goes on forever.

Whew. Now let’s get to the compliments. Er, compliment.

I quite enjoyed the visuals . . . the art design, the painted style, the rotoscope-like motion. The backgrounds look like quaint broad strokes, grainy watercolours. Although foreground elements are inherently less impressive, they move with a compelling fluidity, slightly choppy and yet also oddly hypnotic. The Queen’s cape is a particularly good example of this dynamic.

Despite my appreciation of its vintage presentation, I just can’t muster much enthusiasm overall. Maybe it’s a Disney thing. I rarely find their treacle to my taste. As a child I usually favoured the edgier Warner toons and, as an adult, I prefer the bittersweet balance that is Pixar. I shouldn’t ignore the fact Snow White was an important historical breakthrough, but I also won’t lie and pretend that I enjoyed it.

* * *

Rated G

84 minutes

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