August 2015 Blindspot: Snow White and Seven Dwarfs

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The Blindspot Series is a series of twelve posts spread throughout the year designed to offer bloggers a chance to catch up classic films we somehow may have missed. Started by The Matinee, here is my list of Blindspot films for 2015. Next up for August is Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

poster_snowwhiteandthesevendwarfsLike many children, I was terrified by many a Disney film in my youth. I don’t think I ever saw the first animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in its entirety, for exactly this reason. Now that I have, I kind of wish 1998 Hunter had persevered. 2015 Hunter can appreciate a lot of things about the movie, but unfortunately it felt like kind of a slog.

We all know the story by now, but what I hadn’t expected is how awkwardly paced this film is. The set up is pretty fast, we establish that the Queen (Lucille La Verne) is jealous of Snow White’s beauty and dispatches the Huntsman (Stuart Buchanan) to cut out her heart. At the same time, Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) is falling in love with the prince (Harry Stockwell). Things are moving right along, until we get to the dwarfs, then the film comes to a grinding halt. It’s not as if this film is long; it’s only 83 minutes, but it feels a lot longer because of those insufferable dwarfs.

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After the Huntsman tells her to run away and hide from the Queen, the forest animals (who are all bffs with Snow White, of course) tell her to hide with the dwarfs. Then we get at least four or five musical numbers over the course of that one night where Snow White hides out with them. There’s a song about them mining, there’s a song about them washing up for dinner… seemingly, these dwarfs can’t do anything without singing a song about it! I know this sounds hypocritical, coming from a lover of musicals such as myself, but this is overkill. Another drawback with the dwarfs is the fact there are seven of them, so they often have to do things seven separate times. The repetition is quite exhausting.

The dwarfs are so benign that there isn’t enough fantastical imagery to hold the audience’s attention. The middle section of the movie would cut back to the Queen and her evil machinations, which had all of this creepy and disturbing imagery that was a lot more compelling than anything the dwarfs and their endless musical numbers had to offer. Also, things were happening. The scenes with the Queen were actually advancing the plot as she explains her evil plan, transforms into a hag, and puts her plan into motion. The scene where she transforms and when she makes the poison apple is wonderfully creepy, and I loved the tiny bit of characterization where she walks past a skeleton in a cage and taunts it, clearly a prisoner of hers who she callously denied water to, keeping the jug just our of reach. That’s cold, man.

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It’s interesting to think that exactly what turned me off this movie as a small child was what I appreciated about it most finally completing it all these years later. It’s obvious to see why I would be afraid of the Queen as a young child, but she was almost the only thing the film had going for it on a rewatch. Goodness isn’t always banal and evil more interesting, but that certainly is the case in this film, as the good side is strangely aimless and passive where the Queen actually has a goal and advances the plot. I have no idea why Walt Disney and company would make a film like this for children; it seems like kind of a weird message to pass on.

Recently I revisited Dr. No and was noticing how much of the franchise staples are already present in that film, and also how many are still not established yet. I was sort of trying to think along those same lines for Snow White. Disney’s love for helpful animal compatriots is already firmly established in this film, even though they can’t talk yet. The common fairy tale characters are established as well, and the traditional opening of the storybook beginning.

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I’m not an expert in animation by any means, one reason that Snow White is on my blindspot list in the first place. I did find some interesting things about the character design in this film though, mainly that the human faces seem pretty indistinct. Snow White’s face especially does not seem to have very defined features; it’s kind of just a white blob with eyes. However you look at the dwarfs and the animals and their features and expressions are much more clearly drawn. I have no idea why this would be the case, it was just something I noticed while watching the film. A lot of times the landscapes were even more detailed than the human faces, and similarly, the Queen’s features were much more defined after she turned into the hag. In further regards to the animation, I did really like a lot of the fantastical imagery in the film, like the tree branches reaches out for Snow White while she’s running away, and most of the Queen’s sequences.

I feel I may be going a bit rough on this film, but I really did enjoy parts of it. Ultimately though, it’s kind of a mixed bag. Reading about the production, it seems that Disney was just way too enamored of those dwarfs. He may have succeeded in giving them distinct personalities, but it’s really only on a surface level and they don’t have much to do in the vast amount of screen time that is given to them. I’m glad I finally saw the movie and there is a lot to appreciate here, but it’ll never be one of my favorites.

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“Thirsty? Have a drink!”

Long story short: 3/4 stars

For Further Reading:

The New York Times review
Slant review
Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” review

The next Blindspot will actually be coming on August 23, as I catch up with June’s blindspot, City of God.

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4 responses to “August 2015 Blindspot: Snow White and Seven Dwarfs

  1. Fine and honest review. I quite like the film and have always found the animation to have a harmonious elegance to it. I’m not the biggest animation guy but I do appreciate this one.

    • I totally get that. I liked the animation itself and I appreciate the impact this film has had on cinema as a whole, but as just a movie I would watch? I think it has a lot of problems that the highpoints can’t necessarily overcome. I am very glad I finally saw it though!

  2. Good review. This is one I saw multiple times growing up, so I’ve got a soft spot for it. Remember, this is the very first feature length animated film, not a perfect art yet, and all that dwarf-song filler is part of the charm. After all, it’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, not the evil queen. 🙂

    • Thanks! Sorry it took me a million years to respond to this…
      But The Evil Queen would have been a better movie! Ha ha, I kid. Kind of. Though it is the first animated film, films had still been around for a while. The pacing issues for me are still issues. Though the film is still a great achievement, there’s no denying that.

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