Monday, August 29, 2011

#1: The One That Started It All

Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, 1937
Watched August 20, 2011

As a lover of the more modern Disney classics, I probably don’t appreciate Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as much as I ought to. It has been probably more than 20 years since I have seen it and therefore this was nearly like watching it for the first time. (On a side note, I watched this movie while drinking beer with my parents. How many people can say they have ever done that?) This recent viewing made me see how much this film really has served as a foundation for all of Disney’s subsequent animated films.

First of all, there is definitely an innocence and simplicity to Snow White. Its heroine has two very important traits: a pure heart and a dream. To my millennial worldview this seems a bit naive (okay, a lot naive). But I can imagine that in 1937 this is the very kind of character that would be seen as ideal and appealing. She is the epitome of beauty and goodness. Present in all Disney films is that belief--that beauty and goodness will and should always win.

But perhaps the most enchanting part of the film is Snow White’s relationship with the dwarfs. Walt Disney was quite brilliant in deciding to name each dwarf and give them personalities and feelings. They instantly become endearing and lovable, both to Snow White and to the audience. Never mind the many questions that arise about their situation (Were they brothers? Where were the other dwarfs in the kingdom? Did they not have wives or children? What did they do with all those sparkly jewels they mined for? You’d think they’d be able to afford separate houses - or at least bedrooms!)

At first I thought Snow White was quite motherly to the dwarfs - which was weird because she is clearly quite young (maybe 15 or so?). And why was she so eager to keep house for them? (Again, this is my 2011 self making observations about the role of a female in a male-dominated 1937 culture.) After doing what any good InterVarsity staff would do (observe, then interpret, then apply!) I eventually came to the conclusion that although some of their interactions seem to imply it, Snow White is neither a mother figure nor a servant to the dwarfs. However you might define their unlikely relationship, it is actually what is at the center of this story. When Snow White is in danger, it is not the prince but the dwarfs who rush to her aid. After Snow White has been poisoned, they are the ones who chase after the Queen, though they are vocally fearful of her. And they are the ones who preserve Snow White in her glass casket even after she has ‘died’. Their courage and devotion is extremely moving.

I found myself particularly drawn to the character of Grumpy, whose cynicism is perhaps the most relatable to our postmodern generation (I pretty much couldn’t relate to Snow White at all, other than the fact that we both have short black hair. Mine doesn't curl in quite so naturally as hers though. Darn it.) Unlike the other 6 dwarfs, he is initially very hesitant to welcome Snow White to their home, and we see that Snow White makes an extra effort to win his affection. When he finally shows his softer side I had to give a little "yay!". I imagine Grumpy has experienced a lot of hurt in his life, and is afraid to open his heart. All along he needed someone with a pure and honest heart like Snow White to bring healing to that pain. I imagine that many of us can resonate with that in our own life. In that sense, Snow White could be like a savior figure to Grumpy, and to the rest of the dwarfs. And mutually, the dwarfs embrace her warmly and openly, unlike the extremely cruel treatment she has received from her stepmother queen all her life. Snow White is a love story, but it’s not between a princess and a prince.

It’s quite astonishing that this was the very first animated feature length film. Ever. At the time that Walt Disney was making it, everyone in Hollywood thought he was crazy and that it would be a big failure. Back then, cartoons were known for just providing silly slapstick humor before the ‘real’ movie at theaters. But Walt Disney brought a realism and humanity to these drawings (while still retaining that charming humor) that truly brings them to life and makes you care for them. This is truly the magic of Disney animation.


  1. I'm surprised you didn't say anything about the Queen--for me, she's by far the most interesting character. The early Disney films in particular did not shy away from "dark and scary"--that moment when the Queen turns into a crone had me soiling myself in the theater when I was five.

    The animation is truly astounding as well--the scene where Snow White is running through the dark forest and the tree branches are grabbing at her is really stunning.

  2. @peter - oh, don't worry, there are more Snow White posts coming, including one where I talk about some of the other characters. :) the Queen is definitely a significant character that cannot be ignored!

  3. Fun, Laura. I love all Disney movies and yet I am so torn with exposing Emma to them too much because of the insane amounts of princess merchandise targeted at her age group. You make a good observation about the friendship of the dwarves. I like all of Snow White except for the fact that what wakes her from death is a stranger riding up to kiss her and the idea that "someday my prince will come..."

    Apparently SW was my first movie in the theatre and I fell asleep :)

  4. You've inspired me to pull the Snow White DVD out and watch again =D

    Good observation, too. The real love here is with Snow White and the dwarfs, not with the prince that just shows up at the end.

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  6. Laura! I'm excited to see this blog! :D Coincidentally, Jodi checked out a bunch of Disney animations and we've been watching as a family. Well... mainly because Byron has never seen them!?

    Snow White: I never really enjoyed this one as much. Probably because I've watched this way too many times as child. I also had the same initial thoughts about the female-role that Snow White had portrayed and the wealthiness of the dwarfs.

  7. laura, today i start my reading of your disnerd blogs(sorry it took me so long). i didn't realize that our visit last year and watching snow white with you was history in the making (well, not really history, but the beginning of your disnerd journey). i am amazed at how you could think deeper into a movie and made profound observations. i am looking forward to reading all of your blogs. for snow white, i really like how you said about the love story between her and the dwarfs. and esp. about grumpy. how many "grumpys" are there around us to show our affection to?