“Lips red as the rose. Hair black as ebony. Skin white as snow.”
I can’t say I’m eager to write about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, probably no more eager than I was to watch it again after 15 years or so. I had an idea in my mind of what this film looked like, the story and the themes it carried, an idea that turned out to be heavily distorted. All these visual upgrades and marketing ploys with the Disney princess franchise have probably shifted the image of Snow White so far from accuracy in the public consciousness that people are taken aback to see what the actual movie is like. This, too, raises an interesting question: why any regular audience member would need to see what this movie was like? Disney has been clinging to the same tropes for 80 years now, and this one doesn’t even have Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
This is coming out more cynically than I expected; I didn’t hate the movie. The early Disney quality is present, and the songs can be fun, but the more I think about it, the more this whole business just brings me down. If you think (as I did) that Snow White is about the evil queen and the mirror and the huntsman and the apple and so forth, you’re only about 20 percent correct. I’d estimate an entire hour of this 80-minute film features our protagonist, Snow White, hanging out with dwarfs. She cooks for them, teaches them proper hygiene, and they all become strangely infatuated with her as she inserts herself into their home with the help of a bunch of woodland creatures. Perhaps after seeing Moana this year, I was under the impression that these sort of movies taught powerful life lessons, but Snow White feels more like a propaganda piece compelling children to do their housework.
If you can place yourself in a more backwards time, I’m sure Snow White was a revolutionary experience: a sensation among audiences. The visuals are smooth and pleasing, and the music complements the story at a nice balance, but I can’t bring myself to excuse the laborious narrative and the regressive social message. If the American Film Institute is going to call this the 34th greatest American film, I would expect a bit more foresight. There are many other Disney films, some of which fall into the “princess tradition,” which I actually really like. Snow White just isn’t one of them, and how could it be? It’s undoubtedly innovative and lays a steady foundation for this type of storytelling, but it’s one of the most hollow things Disney has ever made, and I would rather heap praises on the finer products that have emerged from its legacy rather than the original for tradition’s sake.
Just to ensure I’m covering all bases and to convince you that I wasn’t absolutely miserable watching this thing, I should point out the really impressive things about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Structurally, I’m always enamored by early animation and its conservative approach to storytelling. Less is definitely more, and in a double-edged way, this works wonders for Snow White. I mentioned above the hollow, almost nonexistant plot, but this deviation from the three-act-structure does have a charming effect. You wouldn’t see a Disney film today that dares to meander this much, focusing on characterization and musical set pieces over the hero’s journey. This structure definitely makes Snow White one of the weirdest Disney movies you’ll ever see, but it’s refreshing in a cinematic sense that Disney was so focused on the magic of the film and its characters that they let conflict fall to the wayside for once.
Snow White is a pivotal film for our culture, and I think I’m less cynical about the movie itself than I am about its reputation and the lessons Disney has learned from it over the years. While these movies have thankfully distance themselves from the sexism, the strange social agendas, and the paint-by-numbers plot devices (Prince Charming ex machina, for example) in recent years, I’d still like to see a full rejection of this Snow White storytelling tradition. What worked, and what captivated audiences, was the magic: the intangible sense of wonder and love that went into making the movie, and when Disney can recapture that, those are the movies I want to see. Also, if they have The Rock in them, that helps too.
Films Left to Watch: 887