Leaving the war genre behind, temporarily, the next genre to be examined by the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book is that of family. And it all begins here, the amazing legacy that Walt Disney created, with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This was among the first full-length animated features created and almost 80 years on, it’s still a wonderfully crafted film, and created the template for many of the Disney features that would follow.
It has all the hallmarks of the most successful Disney films, a strong story, fun characters, memorable songs, and top-level animation. There is an eye to realism to most of the human characters, dwarfs excluded, who are decidedly more cartoon-ish.
A young princess, Snow White (Adriana Caselotti), who is despised by her stepmother, the Queen (Lucille La Verne) is forced to work as a scullery maid. But when Snow’s beauty far outshines her own, and a Prince (Harry Stockwell) comes courting, she decides that her step-daughter should be killed, so that she may be fairest in the land. When the Huntsman (Stuart Buchanan) assigned to the job, lets Snow flee, the Queen believes the girl is dead, until she receives troubling news from her enchanted mirror.
Snow finds refuge with seven dwarfs, who work a local diamond mine, and keep a fairly messy, child-sized home. While she whistles while she works, the dwarfs tramp back forth to work to Heigh-Ho. There is affection, loyalty, hard work, a frightening sequence of a flight through the woods, and when the Queen learns Snow still lives, a terrifying transformation into a witch. I’m sure that both the woods and the transformation sequence caused some nightmares in their time, as both are pretty dark.
The dwarfs, not in time to save Snow, give chase to the Witch and she gets her just, and violent dessert, hinted at by a pair of circling vultures. Pretty ghastly stuff. With Snow plunged into a deep sleep, akin to death after taking a bite of a poisoned apple, the dwarfs keep a vigil, until, finally, true love arrives in the form of Prince Charming, and a happy ending is restored. This is a film that has beauty, laughs, terrors, love, adventure, and an incredibly innocent spirit, and best of all, it still works.
It won an honorary Oscar, and paved the way for the Best Animated Film award. It remains a major landmark in cinematic history.
It’s terribly easy to take animated films for granted nowadays, as it seems every major production company, and some minor ones are putting them out, but can you imagine what this would have been like when it was first released? Nothing like this had been seen before. This film started an almost century long tradition of the animated family film.