1937; Rated G; 84 Minutes
Adriana Caselotti: Snow White
Harry Stockwell: Prince
Lucille La Verne: The Queen/Witch
Moroni Olsen: Magic Mirror
Billy Gilbert: Sneezy
Pinto Colvig: Sleepy/Grumpy
Otis Harlan: Happy
Scotty Mattraw: Bashful
Roy Atwell: Doc
Stuart Buchanan: Humbert, The Queen's Huntsman
Produced by Walt Disney; Directed by David
Hand; Screenwritten by Dorothy Ann Blank, Richard
Creedon, Merrill De Maris, Otto Englander, Earl Hurd, Dick
Rickard, Ted Sears and Webb Smith; based on the fairy
tale by the Grimm brothers
by DAVID KEYES
it takes an earth-shattering event before you are able to
truly appreciate something you haven't before, and the recent
DVD release of Disney's first animated feature, "Snow
White And The Seven Dwarfs," is evidence of that. What
the studio has done in restoring their crown jewel of feature
animation is one of the most astonishing things we will
ever see, a sophisticated and informative remargining of
one of cinema's most beloved movie fairy tales that doesn't
simply present a restored classic as much as it re-energizes
years, countless critics and historians called the film
an important landmark, citing both its technique and its
storytelling as contributing factors to its status as a
benchmark. They were right about the first part; the second,
however, felt questionable. Though there was never any doubt
that "Snow White" presented a very memorable story
with colorful characters and imagination, parts of it felt
unfinished and ambiguous, and certain players did not seem
to attain the importance in the plot that they should have.
Seeing the film for the first time in five years, however,
completely restored and alongside countless bells and whistles,
perhaps I was a little unfair in my initial judgment; in
the long run, the minor quibbles don't matter as much as
the fact that this was, undoubtedly the birth of a magnificent
era in filmmaking.
know animation well. It's the genre that every child, big
or small, leaps to when they long to escape from the sometimes
troublesome world around them. It's the medium in which
the journeys of the minds know no limits, and the place
where ordinary beings can get sucked into a vortex filled
with endless excitement and color. For many a generation,
our moviegoers have taken part in a passionate affair for
the feature cartoon, flocking to them like free money raids
and coming away feeling enriched and satisfied. Who does
not remember the moment when a blue fairy gave life to a
wooden puppet, or the moment when a young deer prince took
his first step? Products like these live long and fruitful
lives in the back of our minds, existing as archetypes of
joy that bring up our spirits when the world pulls us down.
Trying to imagine life without feature animation is like
trying to imagine culture without electricity or telephone;
some things are essential.
those things into considerationwhether we want to
or notbrings us directly to "Snow White,"
the lead reason, no doubt, animation became a success in
the movie industry. At the time of its release in 1937,
moviemaking was a relatively new enterprise with much to
teach us; few filmmakers who enjoyed a challenge could clearly
define what purpose the motion picture would have in the
not-too-distant future. Walt Disney undoubtedly asked himself
this question when his ideas began sprouting onto the movie
camera; he experimented with several different ideas and
techniques through cartoon shorts, trying to outline a clear
path in which he could pursue higher ground for the future.
The fact that most of his material utilized the art of animation
made it even more difficult; many had played with different
genres and tones by that point, but no one had ever tried
to create the illusion of movie entertainment by using a
series of hand drawings.
the Disney studios finally came out with the "Snow
White" picture, the world was astonished. Suddenly
the cinema made a leap it hadn't expected to happen for
several more years. The level of artistic integrity in filmmaking
was raised to new heights. And ultimately, and perhaps most
importantly, it revitalized the notion that anything could
be achieved in the movies, no matter how limited the technology
at the time was.
the obvious, audiences also loved "Snow White"
because it featured some of the most colorful, energetic
and amusing characters we'd ever seen up to that point.
The Seven Dwarfs, for instance, were cheery and unique screen
creations that stood out individually, as they were written
using diverse human traits that many of us have been familiar
with since the beginning of life. The Evil Queen, meanwhile,
offered the perfect contrast to the lighthearted mood of
the other featured players; her foreboding visage and mean-spirited
attitude served as the fuel for the movie's need for a conflict,
realistically representing that not all stories are always
happy right up to the end. In that manner, the story itself
was also well structured and paced, and by the end we felt
we had experienced all the necessary emotions needed to
create a pleasing payoff.
ultimately, is this movie better now than it was when I
first saw it? Yes and no. The Disney studio has made a relentless
(but successful) effort in restoring and improving the quality
of the original visuals, but they have failed, needless
to say, to make the movie's story as flawless as the art.
Though the plot works regardless, the same painful questions
that I had the first time around still distract me: why
does the picture avoid using the prince beyond two scenes
(one at the beginning and another at the end)? Why does
Snow White lack nerve, unlike many later Disney heroines,
past her relationship with the seven dwarfs? Why is it so
important to the Evil Queen to be the "fairest"
in the land, and furthermore, why doesn't she realize her
transformation into a hag destroys her chances at being
the most beautiful? Fairy tales have always left much up
to the imagination, but even some things shouldn't go unanswered.
matter, though, because it's not simply the story that makes
us so fond of "Snow White"it's the notion
that, without the film, there would be no greater animated
efforts like "Pinocchio," "Fantasia"
or "Bambi" to follow it. And besides, we are living
in the era of DVD, an age where video buyers don't make
purchases based simply on the quality of a movie, but of
the quality of its supplemental features as well. And regardless
of what you may think of Disney's very first animated feature,
the bells and whistles offered on the DVD edition are the
most extensive we have seen up to this point, undoubtedly
pushing the envelope for digital video in the same way the
movie itself did for animation over 60 years ago. "Snow
White and the Seven Dwarfs" may not be the "fairest
of them all," but being the very first of them all
is reason enough to admire the effort.
2001, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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