tek's rating: ½

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (G)
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Caution: Spoilers!

This came out in 1937 (long before I was born). Of course I saw it when I was a kid in the 80s, on VHS or something. Heck, maybe I even saw it at a theater or drive-in, I don't remember. Anyway, it's the very first movie in the animated Disney canon. And it is considered by some to be perhaps the greatest animated film of all time. Before watching it on DVD in 2016, for the first time in many years, I kind of thought that would be stretching it somewhat, and probably people gave it more credit than it deserved just because it is such a monumental classic of the medium. But having watched it now, and vastly refreshed my memory, as well as having a deeper appreciation for it than I could have had when I was little... I don't really think it's a stretch at all. I mean, it's still certainly not my favorite animated film, and in a lot of respects I find it slightly inferior to modern animated films. But damn... this movie is way better than I remembered.

Anyway, of course it's based on the 19th century fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm (which I haven't read). There have been many adaptations, over the years, but I daresay this is probably the best-known version. It begins with a couple of storybook pages that set up the backstory, which is that Snow White's stepmother, the Queen, is vain, and afraid that someday Snow's beauty would surpass her own. It doesn't say exactly when or how Snow's father, the King, died, nor when her mother (the former queen) died, nor when the King married the current Queen, because I guess none of that is important. But it does tell us that Snow White's stepmother forced her to dress in rags and serve as a scullery maid. (This rather reminds me of Cinderella, though Snow seems to remain more upbeat and innocent than... well, pretty much anyone in any story, ever. (And while it may be common for animated animals to love animated princesses, no princess is more beloved by woodland creatures than Snow White.) Anyway, the Queen has a Magic Mirror that she always asks "who is the fairest one of all?" and the Mirror always tells the Queen it's her. (Incidentally, I was rather surprised that she actually starts her question, "Magic Mirror, on the wall..." because I'm sure I've always heard it quoted as "Mirror Mirror, on the wall..." And I'm sure I'm not alone in that. But whatevs.) Anyway, one day, as the Queen has long feared, the Mirror finally tells her that Snow White is the fairest. So, the Queen orders a Huntsman to take Snow out into the forest, kill her, and bring her heart back to the Queen as proof that the princess is dead.

The Huntsman is reluctant, but agrees (because he fears for his own life if he disobeys). However, once he gets out into the woods with Snow, he can't bring himself to do it. (Because, who could possibly kill a girl who's so sweet and innocent that she's literally trying to help a lost baby bird find its parents as you sneak up behind her with a knife?) He begs her forgiveness for what he was about to do, and tells her that the Queen wants her dead, and that Snow must run away and never return. What follows is probably the greatest, and spookiest, example I've ever seen of trees and things like that looking like monsters. (And I couldn't help but think Snow's perception of this was totally earned, because holy crap, if you're basically the sweetest girl in the world, who gives little or no indication of even noticing that your stepmother is unkind to you, and seem to believe the world is a pretty great place, and suddenly this guy you thought was there to protect you tries to kill you, then tells you your stepmother was the one who ordered your death, I'm pretty sure you'd be freaked out enough to imagine everything around you is suddenly evil and trying to get you. Seriously, that realization- which I'm sure I couldn't have fully understood when I was a kid- combined with the sheer awesomeness of the animation, had my eyes moistening significantly by the end of the sequence.)

Anyway, after a terrified, hallucinatory dash through the woods, Snow suddenly falls down in tears. This frightens away all the animals, but true to her nature, the very fact that her outburst has frightened them is what makes her come to her senses, and in spite of her own dire situation, apologize for frightening them. So of course they gather around her and immediately love her, and she asks them if they know a place for her to sleep, somewhere in the woods. And they lead her to a little cottage, which at first glance she thinks looks like a doll house. (It really doesn't. I mean, aside from the slightly lower-than-average doorway, it's probably actually bigger than most houses would be in the time the story's set... whenever that is. But it made me think, she was a princess, so before her parents died, she very well may have had her own doll house that was nearly as big as this cottage. Incidentally, it was also when she arrived at the cottage that I noticed she wasn't wearing rags anymore. I have to wonder if the Queen decided to let her wear nicer clothes for her last day alive, or what.) Anyway, she and her new animal friends enter the cottage, and because the chairs are a bit small and the place is a mess, she figures children must live there... and they must be orphans. So she decides to clean the place up for them, with help from the animals. (They're remarkably good at housecleaning, which is something they couldn't possibly have ever done before. Although they're also prone to taking shortcuts which are common to people doing housework, so I found that amusing, as well as the fact that Snow immediately set them straight about how to do it- or how not to do it, anyway.) Snow and the animals also start cooking, but then Snow goes upstairs, where she finds seven small beds, each with a name carved on it: Doc, Grumpy, Sneezy, Happy, Bashful, Dopey, and Sleepy. That last name makes her realize she's sleepy, herself, so she and the animals avail themselves of the beds, for a little nap.

Meanwhile, the owners of the cottage, who aren't children at all, but dwarfs, are away at their job mining gemstones. (It seems like they are actually ridiculously rich, even if they choose not to use their wealth on, like, anything.) Anyway, they go home after work, and the animals hear them coming, and quickly leave the cottage before they get there. The dwarfs are really scared when they realize someone has come into their home and (gasp!) cleaned it up. There is a fairly long scene of them being hilariously frightened, before they even find Snow asleep on their beds (which are small enough that she has to lie across three of them). And of course she's covered by a blanket that makes her look like a ghost. But eventually they see that she's not a ghost or monster or anything, but a beautiful girl. So they immediately give up their plan to kill the sleeping monster. And once she awakens, she soon charms all of them, except Grumpy. (Yeah, he really is grumpy, as all the dwarfs except Doc seem very aptly named.) And once they hear that she can cook, they agree to let her stay with them. (Even though Grumpy's still against it, both because of his attitude about women, and for fear of what the Queen would do if they were found to be harboring Snow White.)

Anyway, the Magic Mirror reveals to the Queen that the Huntsman had brought her the heart of a pig, so she decides to take care of Snow personally. (Seriously, I need to mention how crazy it is that she is so damned obsessed with being the most beautiful woman in the world that she wants to kill her stepdaughter. That goes way beyond vanity.) So... she goes down to her secret vault (the existence of which I found amusing because of the show Once Upon a Time). And she has a few spellbooks and whatnot, which I get the impression she must never have read cover to cover. It really seems like this is the first time she's read any of them, as if she's just hoping they'll contain useful spells, though she doesn't have any idea what kind of spells she'll find. So, first she makes a potion to turn herself into an ugly old hag (or kindly old grandma, I guess?) Then she makes a potion to poison an apple, one bite of which would put Snow White into a "sleeping death." (There's an ellipsis at the end of the spell that made me say, "Why are you not turning the damn page?!" which reinforced my idea that she'd never read the books before. But before she leaves, she does eventually turn the page and see how the spell could be broken, so I was happy that she wasn't completely incompetent. Although there seemed to be another ellipsis after that, which I'm sure didn't lead to anything, so maybe I was wrong to think the first one meant anything, either. I mean, it may have just been a stylistic choice of whoever wrote the book.) Either way, I guess it made sense that the Queen didn't worry about the spell being broken by "love's first kiss," because she expected the dwarfs to bury Snow when they thought she was dead.

Meanwhile, Snow and all the dwarfs enjoy their time together. Well, except for Grumpy, but even he eventually comes around (whether he wants to admit it or not). And the next day, the dwarfs go back to work, warning Snow to beware of strangers, because they know the Queen is also a witch. And sure enough, as soon as they've left, she shows up with a basket of apples, and tricks Snow into taking a bite of the poisoned one. Of course, the animals knew what the crone was up to, and tried to warn Snow, but since they can't talk, she thought they were just being crazy, attacking a poor old woman. So the animals run off to find the dwarfs, who also think they're crazy... until they don't. So they go home to save Snow, but before they even find her seemingly lifeless body, they spot the crone outside the cottage, and chase after her. That kind of bothered me, because really, they had no way of knowing she wasn't just some kindly old woman, nor that anything had happened to Snow. They just assumed she was the Queen in disguise, for no reason other than that the animals had been acting crazy. Anyway... the old witch ends up dead.

Later, the dwarfs build a glass coffin for Snow instead of burying her (because she's still beautiful, and it's kind of weird that it never occurs to them that after awhile, a dead person should start to decay). Anyway, the Prince... oh, right, I never even mentioned him. At the start of the movie, Snow White had been singing, and he showed up and joined in the song, but she ran back inside rather than even talk with him. But later in the movie, she told the dwarfs that she was in love, and she hoped to see him again someday. Which is kind of weird, right? Anyway, at the end of the movie, we learn that the Prince (whom we'll call "Charming") had been searching for her ever since he first met her (stalker, much?) and when he heard about the girl in the glass coffin, of course he had to come and kiss the corpse. Because of course he did. And then she wakes up, to the delight of the dwarfs and the animals and Prince Charming. She bids her friends goodbye and rides off with the Prince to get married or whatever. The end.

Okay, look. As usual, I think it's ridiculous that these two people fell in love at first sight. (Or first sound, as the case may be. Because singing.) Especially Snow... I mean, some people might say her characterization is kind of flat, but actually I felt like we get to know her personality more than that of most princesses in classic fairy tale movies like this. It may not be a particularly complex personality, but she really is very sweet and selfless. (To the point that when saying her prayers, she specifically asks God for Grumpy to like her. Because, obviously, she likes everyone.) But Charming? We don't know a damn thing about him except that he stalks maidens and kisses corpses. Also... I'm not really sure how much time passes in the course of the movie. I read online that it was two days, and that might be true, but I could just as easily believe Snow spent more time than that with the dwarfs, and we just weren't shown all of it. Either way, she clearly got to know them way better than she did Prince Charming, and they got to know her better than Charming did. So it seems a bit classist and possibly ageist and/or heightist for her to just assume she could only be with a prince. (On the other hand, the SJW in me appreciated the fact that none of the dwarfs really displayed any entitlement or complained about being "friend zoned" or resented the Prince, or anything.)

But aside from all that... the animation really was pretty amazing, for its time. (And some of it was amazing for any time.) And I do appreciate the fact that Snow, despite being supposedly the "fairest one of all" was depicted with a very innocent sort of beauty. And the humor in the movie was... wow. Seriously, just wow. There is so much humor, and most of it is really funny. That's like the best part of the movie, how funny it is. But there's also some really good darkness and scariness. (It's probably one of the most apt Disney movies to have a segment appear in Disney's Halloween Treat.) And of course the movie has some iconic songs, including "Someday My Prince Will Come", "Heigh-Ho", "Whistle While You Work", et al. And... what else can I say? Um, I guess I've always had this idea of Snow White's voice being kind of... odd. There's this sort of uniquely shrill warbliness to it that I always thought of as being vaguely annoying. Though my childhood memory of that was likely exaggerated by my youth when I first saw it and by how long I went before seeing it again (and based largely on the opening song, "I'm Wishing," which to be fair, was itself exaggerated by Snow's echo in the wishing well). Watching the movie now... it didn't really bother me much at first, and as the movie went on, I think I mostly forgot to even notice it.

And I guess that's all I can think to say. But I can't stress enough how much better this movie is than I remembered. (And I'm sure I always remembered liking it, just not necessarily loving it, as I do now.)

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Snow White adaptations
movies: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs * Sydney White * Mirror Mirror * Snow White and the Huntsman
TV: Snow White: A Tale of Terror * Snow White: The Fairest of Them All * Once Upon a Time