Ranking the Disney Canon – 11: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

“Magic Mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” – The Wicked Queen 

And here we are. Finally, we have arrived at the film that started it all. Without Snow White, there is Disney, No Disneyland or Disney World, No Renaissance, No Package Films, No Golden Age or Silver Age or Dark Age, and certainly no Ranking the Disney Canon! Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a story that captured Walt from a early age, and when the time came for him to create his first Feature Length Film, there was no other story he could think of other than Snow White. Of course, everyone else thought he was crazy, and other’s called the film “Disney’s Folly” during production. As we know, the film was a huge success and the rest is history. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs remains 10th on the All Time Box Office Gross List, right above another classic Disney film, 101 Dalmatians.

The story of Snow White begins with The Wicked Queen asking her Magic Mirror “Who is the fairest of them all?” Of course, the answer is not the Queen, but Snow White, as perfect as person as a person can be. So, The Wicked Queen tells the Huntsman to kill Snow White, but The Huntsman cannot go through with it, warning Snow White about the Queen. Snow White runs through the Dark Forrest, where she seems to come across a dirty cottage housed by children. With the help of her animal friends, Snow White cleans up the cottage, which is actually the home of the Seven Dwarfs. As Snow White and the Dwarfs connect, wash their faces, and dance, The Wicked Queen finds out that Snow White is still alive, and decides to disguise herself as an old woman in order to finish the job. The Queen succeeds at poisoning Snow White, but is killed after being chased by the Dwarfs onto a cliff. All ends Happily Ever After, however, when Prince Charming comes and awakens Snow White with Love’s True Kiss.

STRENGTHS

One of the reasons that Snow White works as well as it does, and one of the reasons I would assume Walt Disney chose it as his first feature, is that it is beautiful in it’s simplcity. It really is. It certainly isn’t the most complex Disney feature of Walt’s time, but the simple story makes for a brilliant film. The plot is just classic. It’s as simple as that.

I think what I love about this plot so much is I love the way the story flows. Many of Walt’s films had this mixture of episodic pieces wrapped up in the structure of Three Acts, and Snow White is probably the simplest example of that. Though it may not have the darkness of Pinocchio or the weirdness of Alice in Wonderland, or the style of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White flows like the grandest river imaginable, and it is still special in its own right.

The story of Snow White running away from the Queen and then meeting The Seven Dwarfs is just great. Disney and his crew interpreted the story in such a way that it is so completely timeless and so completely fun. Every scene just flows into the next one perfectly, and, once again, there is a beautiful simplicity to it all. Again, it may not get as fancy as some other stories in the Disney Canon, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t wonderful. Because it is wonderful.

The plot also does a wonderful job at enhancing the characters through its sequence of events. Sure, that may seem like a general suggestion for all good movies, but Snow White works because the plot allows us to see Snow White be Snow White, and it allows us to see the Dwarfs grow from simple miners into the heroes of the day, and it allows us to see the continued downward spiral of the Queen into a wicked Old Hag. Walt uses the story of Snow White to the fullest effect, turning the simple story into a simple story driven by character. It really is a great opportunity to look at the genius of Walt Disney as a storyteller. He saw this from an early age, and he was able to bring it to life in his first feature film. What a brilliant filmmaker.

Well, since I just talked about the characters in the relation to the plot, I might as well finally get into the characters of the story. Man, I thought I could hold up the characters for just a little bit longer! But, as with all of the Disney films around this, the characters are just wonderfully written. And there is probably no greater example of this than the title character, Snow White. Well, the Seven Dwarfs are also extremely awesome, but we’ll get to them later.

From the opening moments of the film, Snow White is written absolutely amazingly. I think the best way you can see this is the way she interacts with the world around her as she sings the opening song, “I’m Wishing.” That opening sequence alone does so many wonderful things for Snow White’s character, I don’t know if I can get them all down here without going overboard, but I shall try, because I am here to give you the full story.

That opening sequences really builds Snow White as the fairest of them all, without really being upfront about it. It’s all about subtlety here. Let’s start with her interaction with the animals around here. Showing Snow White with the ability to connect with the nature around here truly shows how her fairness is on the inside. Snow White is completely sweet and innocent, and she is almost always the brightest ray of sunshine, no matter who or what is around her. And the sequence really shows that just by the way she treats animals. I want to describe it more, but it is one of those thing that is just brilliant. And it is.

This sequence also establishes her relationship with The Prince, who tries to court while, but ends up scaring Snow White away. Now, it is known that originally The Prince had a bigger role in the story, with him being captured by the Wicked Queen and escaping her castle in order to save Snow White. However, Walt felt that trying to animate a human female and a human male in a believable fashion would be way too much work for his animators, and thus he decided to focus mainly on Snow White.

I bring this up because I feel that The Prince is in this film for the exact right amount of time. This is Snow White’s story, and her interactions with him bring out her character more than it could possibly bring out hers. The fact that Snow White and The Prince only interact at the beginning and the end of the film, to me, is perfect, and the classic romance aspect of their relationship is still able to be built up through Snow White’s dreams of love (which we will get to in a bit.)

(For the record, many of the concepts for The Prince that weren’t in this film ended up being used for Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty. We’ll get to that film soon, but suffice to say, I think it works much better for that film than it would have for this one.)

What the first encounter with The Prince does for Snow White’s character is reminding the audience of the youthful side of her innocence. This is another key aspect of what makes Snow White the fairest: her youth. She is a shy, young woman, and the continually reminds us of this. Another fantastic sequence that this is presented in is the classic Dark Forest segment where Snow White becomes scared as she runs through all of the scary and spooky looking trees. This emphasis on youthful innocence also makes it completely believable that she would fall for The Wicked Queen’s trap later in the film.

I think what is wonderful about Snow White is despite her youthfulness, she seems like she would make the greatest mother possible. The way she treats the Dwarfs throughout her time in their cottage is absolutely wonderful and is probably the most perfect way to show Snow White’s character. Even when she is strict with them about washing their hands, she is the sweetest person in the world. The way she just cares for the complete strangers surrounding her as if she had known them all of her life is simply amazing. It’s no wonder she is the fairest of them all.

And of course, that is the key distinction: Snow White has to be the fairest of them all. The film needs to present that difference between Snow White and The Wicked Queen, and it does that beautifully. Again, let’s look at the opening scene. The film truly begins with The Wicked Queen asks the magic mirror that famous question, and after Snow White runs from The Prince, we see that The Wicked Queen is watching over her. Even if we just remove the dialogue from these scenes, the visuals and the animation paint a clear distinction by themselves. Whereas the Wicked Queen is cold, menacing, and adult in the strict and villainous way, Snow White is Warm, Open, and Motherly in the best way possible. The Character Design of these two characters just emphasize this to the fullest as well. The distinction is absolutely practically perfect in every way, as Mary Poppins might put it. (RANDOM DISNEY REFERENCE.)

I think the most important distinction, however, is one of philosophy. The Wicked Queen is more concerned with the harsh reality of the present. She was to be the fairest of them all right now, and will do anything to achieve that goal as quickly as possible. Snow White, on the other hand, dreams of the future. She wishes for the one she loves, and she believes that someday, her prince will come. Again, it’s not something that is ever explicitly stated, but the fact it is there is just great, and a great read into what makes these character special.

(Another note. The Queen spends all her time in front of a mirror and concerned with her outwardly appearance, in more ways than one, while Snow White is in tune with nature and spends time caring for the Dwarfs. Just an observation.)

Even though we have spent quite a bit of time on The Wicked Queen, I do want to mention that she is certainly is in contention to be on that list of greatest Disney villains ever. She is just perfectly wicked, and written and acted to the point where she is evil, but not over the top. Her design is flawless, and she is a fantastic villain to root against. The transformation sequence with her is a particular standout, both visually and writing wise.

Wow, we’ve come this far and we have not even talked about the Seven Dwarfs yet! The Dwarfs are so much fun, and nearly always steal the show from Snow White and the rest of the plot. It’s just so much fun to watch the physical comedy of the Dwarfs throughout the entire film. A wonderful example of this is the scene where the Dwarfs are attempting to investigate who is sleeping in their house, and Sneezy lets out a huge sneeze that blows the other Dwarfs across the room. It is so funny and so brilliantly executed.

Another things to love about the Dwarfs are how strong their personalities are. I mean, their personalities are in their names. They’ve got to be strong. Luckily, Happy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Bashful, Doc, Grumpy, and Dopey are all distinct and great in design and execution. What’s also amazing is the fact that all of these personalities play off of each other so easily. These Seven Dwarfs feel like family. They feel like they belong together. It just seems natural. That is fantastic writing.

They all stand out in their own way, but to me, the two that stand out most are Grumpy and Dopey. Grumpy has an absolutely wonderful arc of going from Grumpy to Caring, and it builds up well throughout the middle of the film and comes full circle when Grumpy leads the charge to save Snow White. And Dopey, of course, stands out because he is another fantastic testament to how well silent characters work in animation. He so much fun to watch not talk.

I think the most important element of the Dwarfs is how their relationship to Snow White changes both her and them. The Dwarfs have a great and interesting arc of going from children to becoming caring adults that have the capacity to truly take care of themselves. Meanwhile, Snow White, from her time with the Dwarfs, learns to embrace her dreams. Whereas “I’m Wishing” is purposely vague, “Someday My Prince Will Come” specifically mentions The Prince. Snow White becomes more sure of herself through her opportunity to care for the Dwarfs.

Now would be a wonderful time to mention the Soundtrack. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has a wonderful, and at times extremely underrated, soundtrack. Yes, the famous songs like “Heigh-Ho” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” are extremely amazing, the soundtrack is full of extremely strong gems. “I’m Wishing,”  “The Dwarfs Washing Song,” and “The Dwarfs Yodeling Song” that get lost. Really, this whole soundtrack is amazing, and perfectly balances itself between the silly, fun Disney Songs, and the broadway style, powerful love songs. It perfectly sets up a great history of Disney Music.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

My favorite song in the piece has to be Heigh-H0. It is just so lyrically brilliant and so catchy, and the visuals are hilarious too.

My favorite moment is certainly the sequence in which The Dwarfs come home and try to figure out who is in their house. I laugh every time. It’s perfect.

CLOSING COMMENTS

It is amazing to me how well Snow White can hold up, considering it was one of the first major Animated Features to be made. Thanks to a strong soundtrack, strong characters, and a simple story, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs set the stage for the rest of the Disney Empire to rise. And to think that I find an amazing film like this just outside of the Top 10. Amazing.

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2 thoughts on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 11: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

  1. Fun fact: the Dwarves’ “Silly Song” (Yodeling Song) was the original yodel cue for the Cliffhangers game on The Price is Right.

  2. People can say what they like about this movie, but one fact cannot be ignored: Without ‘Snow White’, then there wouldn’t be the Disney films that would be developed on this very day. Sure the story may be simple, Snow White may be so pure she is bland at times, and some of the songs may be dated at times. But the film still retains that whimsy and charm that made it a success, each Dwarf gets their moment in the spotlight, and the artwork is like staring at a painting come to life. It’s that kind of film to introduce fans before they see all the current Disney films to see how far the company has gone since the 1930s. It’s a charming fairy tale classic that kids of all ages will enjoy for years to come.

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