1 Year, 100 Movies: #34 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

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For 1 Year, 100 Movies, I will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year- and will complete a goal on my 2013 Manifesto. Come along on the ride with me- oh, and please pass the popcorn!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs“- the beginning of animated features as we know them. Up until this “Snow White” animated motion pictures were shorts that played before the feature along with the newsreel, but the genius Walt Disney dreamed and worked for something more. He envisioned an animated feature filled with color, and that had movement throughout the frame. He saw this not as a lesser motion picture, but as a way to free one’s creative vision from the limits of live action filmmaking at the time. Because of his drive and vision, several new technologies were created to bring “Snow White” into being. One of them was a large animation cel- the smaller ones could not hold the amount of information that Disney wanted. The other- and more inspired, was the multiplane camera. This process shot the background, midground and foreground on separate planes, creating a sense of depth and space. This process was used until very recently, when the image could be constructed in a computer.

The incredible thing about this movie- almost more than the fact that the entire genre of a full length animated feature was invented with this film, is that the film itself is amazing. There is nothing simple or amateurish about it- it is an ambitious and fully developed film, with an amazing quality of movement. The attention to detail in even the smallest scenes is incredible. Right out of the gate Disney hit a home run. With that long (and deserved) intro that Disney’s first feature length deserves- onto the actual film.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is a film based on the Queen’s desire for her beauty to be ‘the fairest in the land’ – and when young Snow White comes of age she overtakes the Queen’s beauty, according to the Queen’s enchanted mirror. Many of the scenes involving the Queen are very dark and scary- amazing that it didn’t scare more children- and showing that Disney was aiming for a wider audience. In order to once again be the fairest, the Queen sends a huntsman after Snow White to cut out her heart, and bring it back to her in a box. He takes the Queen the heart of an animal- after warning Snow White to flee into the forest and never return. She takes his advice, and finds a cabin to sleep in- the home of the seven bachelor dwarfs.

There are several light-hearted moments in this film, and Snow White provides most of them in the form of lessons in manners, musical songs, and her growing relationship with the men. The good times can’t last though. The Queen finds out that Snow White still lives- that darn mirror- and pursues her into the forest, disguised as an old hag- with an apple that she has poisoned. While the dwarfs are off working in their jewel mine (one of my favorite musical scenes from the film)- the Queen finds Snow White and gets her to take a bite of the “wishing apple.” I can’t think of another scene this dark or intense in any other mainstream animated film that is marketed for children and families. The play on the viewer’s imagination is remarkable. We don’t see the bite, nor do we see Snow White clutch her neck and writhe in pain. All we get is a glimpse of the apple rolling out of her lifeless hand, and the reaction of the Queen.

In the same way, the death of the Queen comes when she falls from the cliff, but we don’t see her fall or get a shot of her motionless form on the rocks below. Instead we see the reaction of the Dwarfs and the vultures. This use of the macabre off-screen elements allows Disney to manipulate the viewer’s imagination. He knows that the violence that we don’t see is always more devastating. Once the Queen is gone the tension is gone- the Prince finds her and gives her true love’s kiss- the antidote for the poisoned apple.

When the only limitation in a film is the power of an artist’s imagination, we are in very capable hands with Walt Disney.

In my humble, non-professional, average movie-goer opinion this movie earns:

5star

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