Friday, October 9, 2009
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) dir. David Hand
Voices by: Adriana Caselotti, Roy Atwell, Lucille La Verne, Moroni Olsen
By Alan Bacchus
For consistency I have to identify ‘David Hand’ as director of this picture, because, this is how I title all my film reviews. We all know, of course, this misrepresents the authorship of this picture, the visionary entertainer Walt Disney. In fact, other than the opening credit ‘Walt Disney Presents’ Walt’s not even listed as a producer.
So is the effect of Mr. Disney on animation, the movies, and pop culture in general - an unclassifiable artist, producer, director, writer, entrepreneur, animator and all of the above. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is indeed the brainchild of Disney’s desire to create the first-ever feature length animated film, a medium which up until then served only in short form to warm audiences up to the longer, more prestigious feature pictures. And so to produce a film with such a distinct assimilation of comedy and pathos the first time out of the gate, makes it one of the great milestones in cinema. The leap in technology and storytelling was so big, few milestones in cinema can compare.
Based on the Grimm’s fairytale, the story is told with same simplicity as in its literary form. The evil Queen who is so vain, looks into her magical mirror and asks ‘who is the fairest in the land’. Expecting to hear her own name repeated back, she's angered to hear it’s ‘Snow White’, a gorgeous raven-haired princess. Seething with jealousy, she sends one of her minions to kill her and to reclaim the title. But when the soldier arrives on the grounds of her estate about to stab her in the back, he catches sight of her innocent and ravishing beauty. He just can’t do the deed and tells her to flee into the woods for safety.
And so Snow White goes running away from danger into a dark, gothic and gloomy forest, alien and frightening. But the forest reveals itself to be a utopian land of cute furry animals who take to Snow White as one of their own. The princess and her mammalian followers eventually stroll into the home of the seven dwarfs, a group of happy-go-lucky, working class little people. Snow White is ingratiated into their home, a joyous occasion with much singing, dancing, and frolicking. But when the evil Queen discovers Snow White is still alive, she plots her demise via a poisoned apple which will render her asleep forever – unless her “prince” can smack with her a kiss and bring her back to life.
If this film were to be made today by Disney I doubt it would even make it past the first round of script coverage. The story is revealed to us with a seemingly unsophisticated simplicity of its fairy tale origins - very little dialogue, only a few talking characters, none of the bunnies, deer or other forest animals, and absolutely no pop culture references. This is what makes rewatching 'Snow White' the ultimate reboot. We can see how far, technically, Hollywood has come in terms of animation and the types of pop cultural referential storytelling which prevails in almost every animated film. 'Snow White' serves as the rock solid immovable foundation of everything after it.
Even before 1937, the animation rendering of 'Snow White's' characters is a result of a decade of fine-tuning the Disney style with hundreds of Mickey-related shorts. And for decades since, the fluid motion and watercolour pastel visuals are inimitable and timeless. Looking carefully, there is not much to Snow White's character visually. Her face is drawn without any detail, a flat uncountoured look which serves to play off the exuberant and highly developed and distinct personalities of the dwarfs - Dopey’s slapticky amblings, Doc’s deliberate and controlled presence, and Bashful’s adorable shy sweetness comes off only with physicality.
The most remarkable and resonating achievement of ‘Snow White’ is it’s enchanting tone and pathos. The remarkable imagery of Snow White’s funeral send what would have been considered delightful cartoon film up until this point in the film into the stratosphere of cinematic grandiosity. The expressive and art deco framing of the dwarfs surrounding Snow White’s lifeless body, with angled streams of light from the clouds is typical of that prevailed artistic movement of the 20’s and 30’s – a blend of modern futurist design with the Baroque 16th century renaissance styles.
The reverence of the mythological tone of Grimm's fairytale with the technical advancements of the new merged with unprecedented success artistically and monetarily. Upon release, 1937 ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ was then the highest grossing film ever made, and to this day, when adjusted for inflation, sits at #10 of all time.
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is available on sparkling Blu-Ray from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film is presented in two formats, 4x3 original aspect ratio, framed with the vertical black bars on widescreen television as as well as in ‘Disney-vision’ where the vertical bars are replaced with traditional watercolour hand drawn borders complimenting each scene. The reverence to the original source material with this Disney vision is admirable and work a look, but the viewing experience is arguably best seen without this distraction. The special features includes a number of well-produced interactive featurettes constructed like a puzzle. The navigation through each segment is fun at first then quickly turns frustrating for those who would prefer just to see them all sequentially and uninterrupted.