Saturday, January 16, 2010
#1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
You gotta hand it to Walt. The man had a mission, and he always set out to do something knowing deep down it would pan out in the end. That being said, the production of 'Snow White' was heavily debated, even mocked by outsiders. Even his brother and his own wife thought not only would no one see a "dwarf movie," but could someone sit through an 80-minute cartoon? And actually have a vested interest in the story and characters? Well, turns out Walt was right all along. The movie was an absolute success, helping build further credibility to Disney, and was the first in a long, long line of feature-length films from the studio. But enough history. Let's talk about the movie.
The story? ...come on, you know this. Snow White is the fairest girl in the land, and her Wicked Stepmother is right pissed about it. So she sends a hunter to kill her and rip out her heart to be put in a gold box; that'll teach her to be so pretty. But the hunter loses his nerve and tells Snow White to go far far away through the deep dark woods. Thanks to her new animal friends, she ends up at the house of the seven dwarfs, who agree to let her stay as long as she keep house. The Stepmother finds the deed has not been carried out, so she turns herself into a hideous witch and... alright, seriously, why bother keep writing. This story is known by everybody; it's a classic. That was kind of the strange thing about this movie though, it all seems so basic and simple, but that's only because it's over seventy years old, that and every single plot device, motif, scene and aurora has been repeated, homaged and parodied over and over again. To watch this movie, one must disassociate themselves from all of that and focus on the film itself. And you know what? I say it still holds up wonderfully.
The film is engaging from the start, setting up the stepmother's motives and constrasting her selfish, mean-spirited nature with Snow White, who is kind and friendly, and almost seems more to be an embodiment of good and innocence than an actual character. But that's good enough for the story. Contrary to what I thought, the film isn't really that slow; the story progresses naturally, and every scene is interesting, and a treat to look at. This only improves once the dwarfs enter the picture. While Snow White and the animals' antics are amusing, the cartoony dwarfs and their eponymous personalities bouncing off each other are great, especially Grumpy in all his grumbling misogyny (but of course he comes 'round). The scenes with the Queen are particularly unsettling, and she is truly worthy as the first Disney villain; meanwhile the dancing number with Snow White and the dwarfs is like unbridled, unrestrained hedonism. Such merriment and joy, it is.
As for the animation, it looks pretty great. In a Disney fashion that would continue... well, forever, you've got your "human" characters, like Snow White and the Queen, and your "subhuman" characters, the dwarfs, who are allowed to move a bit more loosely and "cartoony." They don't show up for a good thirty minutes, but all that comes before it is excellent too. The characters are animated to serve the action of the story, and the tension builds up until the amazing scene of Snow White in the woods. Everything about it is spooky and creepy, and everything just builds until she faints, leading us into what I suppose would be the second act of the film. The animals are done in true Disney fashion; I particularly loved the squirrels and the movement of their tails to sweep away dust. Everything looks really solid, but still animated somewhat loosely. As said before, things only improve when the dwarfs arrive. Not only is their banter amusing, but they're animated in kind, all clearly indicative of their character. When the evil witch arrives, she commands the screen, with her sinister appearance and raspy voice. Who but a true naive like Snow White would think she's nothing but evil incarnate.
I'd like to say that some scenes are overlong, but I found myself thoroughly interested for the most part. Everything in the film just worked: the character animation, the backgrounds, the atmosphere, the voices, the music, it was all in sync and all done effectively. While there's no denying it showing age in terms of the hyped up edge and pacing of today, I was surprised how the film still grabbed my attention and kept me watching. It holds up better after seventy years than a lot of movies do in a mere five, and that's saying a lot.
Verdict? Pretty damn good if you ask me. Even putting aside what an animation milestone the film is, it still holds up astoundingly well. I say give this one a watch if you haven't seen it. I mean, I did, and I liked it quite a lot, and I think you will too, or your money back.
Note: I will not actually refund you any money.