There has never been anything in the theatre quite like Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” seven reels of animated cartoon in Technicolor, unfolding an absorbingly interesting and, at times, thrilling entertainment. So perfect is the illusion, so tender the romance and fantasy, so emotional are certain portions when the acting of the characters strikes a depth comparable to the sincerity of human players, that the film approaches real greatness. It is an inspired and inspiring work, the commercial success of which will be notable, particularly the heavy foreign returns because of the mechanical ease with which all languages may be synchronized to the action.
More than two years and $1 million were required by the Disney staff, under David Hand’s supervision, to complete the film. In a foreword Disney pays a neat compliment to animators, designers and musical composers whose united efforts have produced a work of art. No less than 62 staff names are flashed in the credit titles as being responsible for various divisions of the job. Highest praise must go to Disney himself for collating all the diverse efforts into a conception of single purpose which bears the mark of one creative imagination.
The superlative Disney skill, which has shown itself frequently in previous short cartoons such as “Three Little Pigs,” The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The Country Cousin” and the irrepressible Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck is merely indicative of the excellence of “Show White.” The fairy tale is not a feature length short. It is a full hour and 20 minutes of delightful story telling, of a plan and pattern new to the screen.
While one marvels at the skill of its producers, “Snow White” permits no mental ramblings in the course of its unreeling. The opening shows the cover of Grimm’s book of tales. The pages turn to the story of the little princess who escaped from the jealousy of the queen step-mother. Thereafter, to the accompaniment of charming music and suitable sound effects, the drawn figures of the story move through their adventures with realism that is heightened by visual poetry.
Soon all the characters assume lifelike personalities. Snow White is the embodiment of girlish sweetness and kindness, exemplified in her love for the birds and the small animals of the woods that are her friends and, as it subsequently develops, her rescuers. The queen is a vampish brunet, of homicidal instincts, who consorts with black magic and underworld forces of evil. And the seven little dwarfs, Doc, Grumpy, Dopey, Sleepy, Happy, Sneezy and Bashful, are the embodiments of their nametags, a merry crew of masculine frailties.
Best is little Dopey, half wit, who never has learned to talk, who is forever the drudge of the others, but whose smile when Snow White speaks a kind word is enough to soften the heart of the bitterest human. Dopey wins the final embrace from the princess when at the end of the story, she is taken away by the prince to everlasting happiness. The world is full of misfits like Dopey. Perhaps Snow White will bring about a happier understanding of their timid souls.
Although the film is replete with moments of hilarious comedy, it is unique because of other equally potent entertainment features. There is, for instance, the sequence in which the dwarfs, returning to their cottage from a day’s hard work in the diamond mines, discover that their little home is spotlessly clean. Someone has intruded in their absence. Dopey is dispatched to the bedroom at the head of the stairs to investigate. There is suspense and anticipation. When the princess awakes and reassures her strange hosts that she is a good cook and housekeeper, a merry dance follows, spontaneous and joyful.
Snow White’s little helpers, the rabbits, squirrels, fawns and tortoise, are amazing creatures. Likewise, the birds, who carry her message.
Visually, the film is one of the finest examples of Technicolor. Disney is said to have perfected certain processes of photography which create illusions of depth in some of the scenes. Whether this is accomplished by the perspectives of draughtsmanship or by the lensing is not material. Pastel shades predominate and there is an absence of garish, brilliant colorings.
Sound plays an important part in the production and the synchronization of words to the moving lips of the characters is worked out perfectly. Probably the finest effect in the picture is the reproduction of echoed notes from the depths of the wishing well. In this department, as in the others, the film reflects meticulous craftsmanship.
Extent of the commercial return on the production investment, which is said to have exceeded $1,000,000, will depend entirely on the astute showmanship of the exploitation engagements. The title indicates that the appeal might be limited to children. However, once the true artistic merits of “Snow White” are universally proclaimed and accepted, adults will crowd the youngsters out of these acts.
Picture should keep the wickets spinning for extended engagements everywhere.
1937: Nomination: Best Score.
1938: Special Award (significant screen innovation)