Ranking Disney: #7 – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has a special quality that separates it from the other films, because it’s the first Disney movie. It’s like Dr. No. The first time is something special. (I just discovered many other different analogies I could have used.)
While some would fault the quality of the animation (Snow White and the Prince barely have faces. It’s kind of creepy if you look hard enough at them), or the simplicity of the story, I think the fact that this is the first animated feature film ever (all right, first American animated feature film ever. But it’s not like any of those earlier ones are better than this is) that makes those not matter.
The great thing about it is how good they managed to make it. This film is actually better animated than about half of their entire catalogue. Ideally this is a top five film, probably a top three, but I’ve always said I was going to rank based on my enjoyment of the films first and foremost. So, I have to put it here, since, of the top films, I only really enjoy it around here. But, objectively — top five for them. Easy.
Before the film begins, we get this dedication, which I felt I had to include. It’s very touching.
The film begins with a storybook opening, in hindsight the only way Disney’s feature film history could begin. Not to mention the words on the first page of the book, “Once upon a time…”
The plot, as we all know, is very simple. The Queen calls upon her Magic Mirror to tell her “who is fairest of them all,” only to find out that Snow White (the rightful princess) is the fairest, and not the Queen.
The Queen isn’t very happy about this, so she decides to have Snow White killed. (Weird to think this is how a Disney movie starts — “KILL THAT BITCH and bring me her fucking heart!”)
And we first see Snow White (first image of a Disney princess ever), cleaning the castle grounds like a peasant woman. (It’s very Cinderella. Seriously. Look at that image. It’s literally the same one from Cinderella.)
And she seems to have no idea notion about life except that she’s “wishing” for the one she loves. The song she sings is not coincidentally called “I’m Wishing.”
And while she sings, the Prince arrives (first image of a Disney Prince ever). Check out that framing. Foliage!
And as she sings — there’s actually a great set of shots they do this with — she sings down into the well, and then he appears and sings along with her. It’s beautiful.
And she then runs inside, embarrassed, I guess, and he serenades her with “One Song.” (Again, check the framing.)
And she pretends to be shy and all, but you know she want it.
“Romeo. O Romeo. Give me some of that dick!”
We then return to the other part of the castle, where the Queen sends the Huntsman out to the woods with Snow White to kill her and bring her heart back.
Beautiful image. Also a version of the Disney “window” shot.
So Snow White goes into the forest to pick flowers. (Is this really what rich white girls do all day? Pick flowers and sing? Is this where Taylor Swift gets it from?)
And she sings to birds and shit (“With a Smile and a Song”), because — well, that’s what Disney princesses can do.
And that leads to a fucking scary image where it looks like the Huntsman is gonna rape her. Even without the whole rape thing it’s still pretty scary. The shadow looming behind her like that.
Only the Huntsman doesn’t have the heart to kill something so beautiful, so he tells her to run away and brings back a pig heart to the Queen.
So she runs off into the forest, and we get that classic image (which was repeated in Alice in Wonderland) of Snow White deep in the forest, with all the scary eyes looking at her. (They parodied this in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure).
Of course it’s then revealed that it’s not dangerous. They’re all kind animals who are merely curious at why this girl is so sad. Which gives us our classic “Princess and the animals” shot. (Also, note the framing again — lots of foliage.)
Snow White, of course, ends up at the house of the Seven Dwarfs.
The Dwarfs are not home, of course, because they’re out at work, in the mines. (In the mines.)
I hope you all got that. It was pretty funny.
They also sing “Heigh Ho” here.
Anyway, back at the Dwarfs’ house, Snow White sees no ones home and decides to clean it. Because that’s what you do, I guess. So she “Whistles” while she works, and all the animal friends help her out. Because that’s what you do.
This is one of the most famous shots in all of Disney. (They also used it again in Beauty and the Beast, though there, Gaston and Lefou are watching Belle.)
So Snow White cleans and cooks (not really, though, since the animals do most of the work), and then she gets tired and falls asleep. Because that’s what you do. Rich white girl, never worked a day in her life, does three minutes of sweeping and *yawn* “Oh, I’m exhausted! Let me sleep in the beds of these people I don’t even know in whose house I am uninvited. What could happen? I’m white and pretty!”
Then, the Dwarfs – Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy, Dopey, Sneezy, Bashful and Doc – return home. And they find this woman asleep in their bed. And then they find out who she is and find out she cooked for them. And she makes them wash up and stuff before dinner.
They then have a party — the Dwarfs sing their “Yodel Song (The Silly Song),” which is a great drinking song variation, and then Snow White sings “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” which is one of the top ten Disney songs ever. It’s so good it’s become a jazz standard.
Then she spends the night at the house. All the dwarfs sleep downstairs out of respect. You know, because it’s only fair that she get seven beds and they sleep in fucking drawers and urns.
Meanwhile, the Queen, upon finding out Snow White is alive (as the Mirror tells that she is still fairest in the land), goes into her dungeon and creates a potion that will disguise herself as an old hag.
And she then fashions a poison apple, which will put Snow White in “the Sleepless Death,” which is basically a comatose like state that makes one appear dead, which will fool the Dwarfs into thinking she’s dead so they will bury her alive.
However, the one caveat to this Sleepless Death is that it can be overcome by the power of “love’s first kiss.” (Amazing how all of this is in the book like that.)
So the Queen, disguised as the hag, goes to the Dwarfs cottage while they’re at work and tempts Snow White into biting the poison apple.
This also leads to, in my opinion what might be the scariest shot in all of Disney history. Snow White is just hanging around the house, and then they just cut to this:
Seriously, watch it in context. It’s terrifying.
And Snow White takes a bite of the poison apple, of course.
Meanwhile, the Dwarfs are alerted by the animals (who are able to see through the creepy old lady disguise), and rush home just in time to chase the Queen up into the mountains, where she plummets to her death during a freak thunderstorm that broke out of nowhere.
The villain falling off a cliff. Classic Disney shot.
Then we find out that the Dwarfs could not bear to bury Snow White, so they enshrined her in a glass coffin, and kept vigil over her for days and days.
Meanwhile, the Prince, who had met Snow White once and been enchanted by her beauty, travels into the forest to see this “maiden in the glass coffin.”
And he kisses her (the first Prince-Princess kiss in Disney history), and she awakens. True Love’s Kiss. Most powerful thing in the world in this universe.
And they ride happily ever after to a golden castle in the sky.
And it ends with the only thing the first Disney film ever could end with:
It’s a great film. In terms of plotting, it’s very straightforward and very simple. It seems as though the best Disney films are simple like that. They tend to be (based on what my Top Ten are) based on classical fairy tales/stories, which allow for a simply story structure, and allows them to put their creativity into the characters and the songs and the overall environment (such as putting “Hamlet” in the jungle).
The other great thing I love about the film is that it begins with “Once Upon a Time,” and ends with, “…and they lived happily ever after.” That’s classic Disney.
One thing I wanted to mention, because I thought of it as I watched the film again: One could interpret the ending as Snow White dying. If that were your fancy. Of course that’s clearly not the intention, but you could make the argument. (It’s like in The Negotiator, when they argue that in Shane, Shane dies at the end, since he’s been shot and looks as though he slumps over on his horse as he rides away.) In the film, the Prince is never given a name. He’s just a prince. It’s possible he doesn’t exist and is just a figment of Snow White’s imagination. She sings about her prince coming, but he only really appears in two scenes: when she’s by herself, and after she’s in the “Sleeping Death.” Also, at the end, they leave the forest and go to a castle in the sky. (And her last words are “Goodbye!”) I’m just saying – the interpretation is there, if you ever want to piss off your friends.
Also, Marilyn Monroe would have made a great Snow White.
I also love how she falls in love instantly, then has no care in the world, just picks flowers, talks to animals, finds a house, sleeps there. cleans it. Total domestication. Brings animals in to the house, has them clean. It’s great. The least empowering character in the world.
Anyway — objectively, this is top five for all time, and possibly an unrankable #1. Either way — top five for certain. But my list is subjective, and I only put it here because the other six films I love more for various reasons, mostly animation/entertainment reasons. That’s all. As long as we’re in agreement that it’s a top five, that’s all we need.
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Official Disney Number: #1
Run Time: 83 minutes
Release Date: December 21, 1937 (premiere)
February 4, 1938 (general release)
Budget: $1.48 million
Box Office: $66.6 million (in 1938), $184.9 million (lifetime)
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- “I’m Wishing,” performed by Adriana Caselotti
- “One Song,” performed by Harry Stockwell (Adriana Caselotti also reprises it)
- “With a Smile and a Song,” performed by Adriana Caselotti
- “Whistle While You Work,” performed by Adriana Caselotti and Marion Darlington
- “Heigh-Ho,” performed by Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig, Billy Gilbert, Otis Harlan, and Scotty Mattraw
- “The Dwarfs’ Yodel Song (The Silly Song),” performed by Roy Atwell, Eddie Collins, Pinto Colvig, Billy Gilbert, Otis Harlan, and Scotty Mattraw
- “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” performed by Adriana Caselotti
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- The film was nominated for Best Original Score. (It lost to One Hundred Men and a Girl.)
- The next year (the 1938 Oscars), the film won a special Oscar, for being “a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field.” Disney was given one full-size Oscar and seven miniature ones. It was also nominate for Best Original Score. (How it was ignored for Best Picture and Best Original Song is beyond me. But they really screwed up Best Original Song that year.)
- Adriana Caselotti, who voiced Snow White, also lends her voice to The Wizard of Oz, during “If I Only Had a Heart.” She’s the one who says, “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” (She also appears, singing in a bar in It’s a Wonderful Life, as Jimmy Stewart prays.)
- This film was thought to be a disaster before it came out. Nobody wanted to produce the film, and it was called “Disney’s Folly” while it was in production. Walt Disney’s wife and brother tried to talk him out of it, and he mortgaged his house in order to help finance the movie. (How they’ve never turned this into a movie in itself, I have no idea.)
- Since the Dwarfs’ names are not mentioned in the fairy tale, the Dwarfs’ names and personalities were chosen out of a group of about fifty, by process of elimination. (And apparently only five of the seven came out of that original group. Dopey and Sneezy were replaced by ‘Jumpy’ and another one.)
- This is my favorite bit of trivia: “Walt Disney encouraged his staff to see a wide range of films while working on this, from Romeo and Juliet (1936), to Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931).”
- This was the highest grossing film of all time until Gone With the Wind.
- Sergei Eisenstein called this “the greatest film ever made.” (Apparently it was also Hitler’s favorite film. Which might be my favorite bit of trivia about it.)
- Perhaps the most important bit of trivia: This film inspired MGM to make The Wizard of Oz.
- This film is essentially Disney’s Iron Man. The success of this film directly led to them making more films. This film (literally) built Walt Disney studios.
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1. The storybook opening:
2. First, let me say — this is the very first image in a Disney film, ever. That makes it essential for inclusion. Second — how many times have you seen this image? Third — classic Disney. Framed by foliage. That’s the great thing about this film, pretty much every shot will seem familiar to you, since they’ve used them again dozens of times. (Most obviously in Beauty and the Beast.)
3. Our first Disney princess close-up.
4. “Oh, I’m trippin’ off acid!”
5. Character (well, in this case, object) reflected in water. (It also seems like they’ve used almost this exact same shot a few times, most obviously in Bambi.
6. White people just love to walk into other people’s houses, don’t they?
7. Classic Disney shot of character walking over a log/fallen tree. Also one of the most famous images in all of Disney.
8. Look, a soft focus close up! Don’t see many of those in Disney. This makes me so excited. It’s so Classical Hollywood!
9. Your classic Disney creepy castle shot. (See also: Sleeping Beauty.)
10. Classic Disney side window shot. (I love how pretty much everything they do that’s memorable has roots in this film.
11. The villain walking up/down spiral staircase. It’s not always the villain, but this is definitely a classic Disney shot.
12. I love this shot. How many bookshelves look like this? (Also, the coloring is amazing.)
13. An artful variation of the character being reflected in water. (More aptly, character reflected in poison.)
14. “Now I’M trippin’ off acid!”
15. Look, our Disney princess is a Christian. Hmm…
16. This must be a Phantom of the Opera reference. And if it isn’t, it reminds me of that film, and that’s one of my favorite films of all time, so I’m going to mention it.
17. Lots of negative coloring here. Of course there is.
18. It totally looks like the Prince is going down on her here.