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  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Apple-y Ever After
Year: 1937
Director: David Hand, various
Stars: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig, Billy Gilbert, Otis Harlan, Scotty Mattraw, Moroni Olsen, Harry Stockwell, Stuart Buchanan, Eddie Collins
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Animated, Romance, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  9 (from 2 votes)
Review: The Queen (voiced by Lucille La Verne) has ruled over the land for some time now, holding it in her iron grip as much thanks to her cruel despotism as her use of sorcery. Her stepdaughter is Snow White (Adriana Caselotti), who she ensures will never take her place by keeping her in rags as a scullery maid, but the girl maintains an optimism even the wicked Queen cannot discourage. She loves to sing with the birds, and is doing so when she is overheard by the Prince (Harry Stockwell) who joins in with her singing, startling her. Snow White scampers away and hides initially, but overcomes her shyness to make a genuine connection with this potential suitor - yet the Queen's magic mirror (Moroni Olsen) has bad news for them both.

Disney's folly, as it was labelled back when Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was in production, proved to be one of the most significant films not only of its era, but considering its influence of all time as well. We have this to either blame or thank, depending on your point of view, for keeping cinema at the position of a mass cultural phenomenon it remains today, and with animation at the heart of encouraging families in to watch it, thus generating an interest in the medium that will endure well into old age for all who have caught a Disney feature at just the right point in their lives. You could argue that it also ensured cartoons would struggle to emerge from that children's entertainment ghetto it continues to take its place in, but the creators would prefer the young at heart enjoy it in most cases.

That was certainly the case with Snow White, drawn from one of the Brothers Grimm's most celebrated fairy tales to create a film that was - possibly subconsciously - pulling in various directions. In one scene it's a jolly comedy, in another its a rollicking adventure, then again it could be a wild horror movie or a deeply felt romance, and don't forget it was a musical as well - as if Walt Disney was so determined for it to succeed that he needed it to appeal as widely as possible. And that was precisely the thinking, they needed that majority endorsement to break even after the years of toiling away on it obsessively, every one of the animators convinced they were creating a work of art and maybe more pertinently aware their jobs were on the line if this flopped.

Not only their jobs, for if a feature length cartoon had not been prosperous at the box office then the entire industry would have suffered, as the medium would have been regarded as only fit for short subjects, most of them comic in nature, for who knows how long? But the Disney people had nothing to worry about, as audiences were fascinated by the experiment (there had been animated features before, but nothing out of Hollywood had adopted the format, and certainly nothing so ambitious) and many nascent memories of watching movies are not only of the sensory impact of Snow White but of a whole raft of Disney movies, whether that be laughter, excitement, fear or enchantment. Going back to it so long after it was first a hit, you can see how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.

It was true enough a formula was set in stone by Disney that is still adhered to now, but other aspects, such as toning down the villain with humour, didn't appear to have crossed the production's minds: the Queen is the only lead character not to have a song, and her machinations in attempting to destroy Snow White are pure malice, as if even the presence of such sweetness and light in the world are cause for utter offence from someone so dark-hearted and evil, which you imagine they would be. There are two sequences often cited as traumatic, first, the nightmare come to life when our heroine is nearly murdered by the Queen's Huntsman; he lets her go instead of tearing out her heart as a trophy for his mistress, but Snow White's flight through the now-grotesque forest does not hold back in depicting the terror of the situation.

Then, second, when the Queen transforms herself into a hag to fool Snow White into taking a bite from a poisoned apple, a scene that has been giving bad dreams to children for decades, curious how elemental it is in how it unfolds - little wonder the film has been fuelling psychological interpretations ever since. Yet while there are parts that stare long into an abyss of potential destruction borne of irrational, primal hatred, you also have the dwarfs (note how none of the characters call them that, they're just "little men" to them, very P.C.) who are the much needed contrast, themselves complemented in their comedy by Snow White's wholesomeness and purity. When she stumbles across their cottage, she thinks it belongs to children, and adopts a mothering attitude to them from then on; add to that the fact the woodland creatures trust her and you had a protagonist drawing on vast reserves of decency, kindness and a strange, fundamental understanding to the power of barely grasped forces of rectitude the film almost accidentally harnesses. A marvellous, near-mystical classic.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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