Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was Walt Disney’s first feature-length animated film, and it took over four years to go from his initial idea to the theaters. Even today, the animation still has a special quality to it, with a fluidity in many scenes which hasn’t always been matched in Disney animation since then.
First, a little animation history lesson. Snow White was quite different than any other animation at the time, including works by Disney. Disney had made a name for himself doing short animation works featuring Mickey Mouse and other characters, mostly in black and white (though he had started doing color animation in 1932 with Silly Symphonies: Flowers and Trees). Rotoscoping had been introduced in 1915 by Max Fleischer, and Disney had used it briefly before abandoning it as too time consuming.
For Snow White, Disney instead had live-action film shot of actors performing many of the scenes, especially with Snow White and the Queen, and the animators referenced the film sequences and individual frames when trying to accurately reproduce an action. This is what gave to many of the scenes that natural feel.
The story, while having its own unique take on the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, kept a lot of the scary elements which had been removed by contemporary (to the time the film was being produced) live films and plays. Disney wanted the film to have a serious feel to it while still having some of the fun elements for which he was known. The result was an unexpected runaway success which earned Disney a unique Oscar featuring a standard-size statue with seven tiny statues.
The only drawback to the film is the lack of character development for the main character. Snow White is a nice young girl at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. Her motivation throughout most of the film is to be whisked away by her Prince Charming, whom we meet at the beginning of the film and again at the end. The wicked Queen is also quite shallow as a character, motivated only by vanity which leads to her ultimate demise. The only character to show any real change in the film is Grumpy.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is still one of my favorite Disney films. I recently picked up Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Art and Creation of Walt Disney’s Classic Animated Film by J.B. Kaufman, which walked through most of the production process and gave a lot of insights into what the animators went through to create the final work. I highly recommend it to any fan of animation or Disney in general. I also highly recommend the film. It’s worth seeing multiple times, and worth sharing with children of all ages.
Release Date: December 21, 1937 (USA)
MPAA Rating: G
Violence: 1 (peril from a huntsman, wicked witchery)