April 11, 2011

#34: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

"Someday my prince will come..."

... yeah, if you're pretty and haven't got a mean bone in your body. Luckily, our heroine, the first of the Disney princesses, has little to worry about in those two departments, and not even a cranky, vain bitch can stop her from riding off into the sunset. Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the second of only two animated films on this list (blasphemy!) but truly serves as a placeholder for the entire Disney canon, and while it may not be the best of the Disney films, it is still the very first entirely animated full-length feature film, which carries plenty of historical significance. I hadn't seen this since childhood (and neither had anyone with me last night) so it was almost like watching it for the first time. LOVE that.

Company: Kecia, roommate, co-conspirator and dreamer of spring cleaning; Adam, actor and Henry Sweet Henry songstress; and Katie and Matt, hipsters in matching glasses

Cuisine: raspberry vodka and diet Squirt. I had finished my leftovers before everyone ordered Chinese food so the sweet smells of soy and MSG were in the air.

I love harmonizing with myself in a well, don't you?

Snow White's simple plot begins in a far away storybook kingdom, where a magic mirror tells the reigning bitch-on-high that she is not, as she believes, the fairest in the land, and that that title belongs to a young girl accurately named Snow White, who just happens to be her stepdaughter. Aw man. Stepmothers always get a bad rap.

The queen, insane with jealousy, tells her royal huntsman that he must kill Snow White and bring her heart back to the queen in a box, but the huntsman is luckily not so quick to anger -- he tells Snow White she must run into the forest, for reasons never explained to her.

It turns out the forest is not very keen on having Snow White there ... or maybe it's all just made up in her head that branches, trees and logs come to menacing life for the sole purpose of freaking her out. Either way, this sequence is the first of many in the film like it: operatic montages, light on plot and heavy on emotion. In fact, for an 84-minute film, I'd say about the middle 45-50 minutes is largely plotless. Very little actually happens. Snow White wakes up from her panic attack ("I'm so ashamed of the fuss I've made!") and summons all manner of woodland creature, who miraculously follow her and do her every bidding, including doing some major spring cleaning on a strange house they happen upon in the woods.

As Disney princesses go, Snow White may be one of the lamest: her three main attributes are beauty (but what Disney princess doesn't have it going on?), the ability to control animals with her warbly-ass singing voice (okay, that's actually pretty impressive when you think about it), and most of all, kindness. That flawless compassion certainly comes in handy, but it kind of goes to show that she's not the most complex protagonist Disney was destined to create. But look, too, at the number of films on this list with stories centered squarely on a female character: I can count them on two hands, and I even cheated a little. Think on that, AFI.

"It's home from work we go!"

The house she happens upon, cleans with the animals (whistling while she works), and curls up in for a exhaustion nap belongs to seven dwarfs (dwarves? dwarfs!) who mine diamonds nearby. Who they mine for and why they live in such a dilapidated shanty when they have access to great quantities of such precious gems are mysteries the film opts not to explore. I assume their work ethic, as shiny and spotless as Snow White's kindness, and their virtue is being put on display as we see them head home from work, if nothing else to show the parallels between the folks in our title.

When they arrive home, they're stunned by the spic-and-spanness of their home and even more perplexed to find a princess passed out across three of their tiny beds. Ms. White and the dwarfs, however, are actually a perfect match: they're all kind and virtuous, and every last one takes great pleasure in a hard day's work. What a message for rough times, eh?

But Snow White will teach these tiny tots some manners. The animals had informed Snow White that the dwarfs have no mother or woman figure of any kind in their lives, so it's no surprise I suppose that their house is filthy and they don't even know how to wash up. Common men! They're so feral! Thank God a princess happened upon them and took pity on their hygiene!

This middle act is punctuated by long montages of animals being cute and dwarfs engaging in sight gags, but it dawned on me that a lot of this brand of visual humor had never been available to the movie-going public before feature-length animation. How delighted they must have been to watch, enamored, as cute little animals fell into socks or teacups and dirty dwarfs, as pictured above, learned to wash their faces. These extended lazzi sequences, perfected in later years by geniuses like Tex Avery, shouldn't really be that surprising for Mr. Disney, who hadn't ever had to sustain a story for so long before. Give the man some credit.

Then suddenly, we're jolted back to reality. It's not all washing up and dancing, White. The evil queen thinks she's gotten rid of her rival for good, but the mirror tells her it just ain't so. So she hatches a plan, underscored by operatic music played to the melodramatic hilt, to entice the princess with a poison apple. Of course, she'll have to go in disguise.

This is just an amazing face to be making as you surprise your stepdaughter.

La-da-dee-dum, just makin' a gooseberry pie for Grumpy so he'll like me as much as the others--OMG. There the old hag stands at her window. Would you accept fruit from that woman? It's not like Snow White doesn't have access to produce. But since it's a "wishing apple," oh well, then, that makes much more sense. Never mind the fact that this ugly old biddy could probably wishing-apple herself some new hands that didn't look so arachnid-like, Snow White. One bite and:


What a gorgeous moment, that we don't even see our heroine bite the apple that dooms her, we only see the witch's reaction to her hatching plan. The dwarfs arrive home just in time to see their princess sprawled out on the floor and have mere seconds to put together the pieces and dash after the witch, who runs herself into a dead end at the top of a super-stormy mountain cliff conveniently located nearby. Her avarice, it seems, leads to her untimely end, which is significantly less satisfying than the fates of other animated villainesses (e.g. Ursula), but at least she got what was coming to her.

An hour after we last saw him, the huntsman, wandering aimlessly in the woods, happens upon the glass coffin, kisses Snow White's corpse and magically revives the princess, who is in mysteriously good spirits and sports no bed sores from months spent on her back in the woods. But here's where it really gets interesting, kids.


The film ends with the happy couple considering the castle, supposedly where the prince lives. So... wait. We have interpretive options here.

a) Snow White wakes up, magically revived by "true love's kiss," and lives happily ever after with her prince in a castle that is actually on a mountaintop but for weather-related reasons just looks like it's suspended in the clouds.

b) Snow White's prince joins her in death and carries her off to heaven.

I honestly think these are two equally valid interpretations, but I know which one everyone believes. Am I morbid? No. I just think it's interestingly (and ambiguously) visualized. If nothing else, rewatching this classic makes me want to revisit all those golden-age Disneys. And even though it's easy to make fun, it's truly cinematic bliss, if only at times (the "Someday My Prince Will Come" sequence is classic, among others).

Next up: one of the only films to win the Big Five at the Oscars (the highest on the list!): Milos Forman's winning adaptation of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

1 comment:

  1. I ended here because of searching for opinions about the ending of the Disney Snow White.

    It looks like this is not much discussed or understood but I too had the same thought (with the same emotion) when I saw the golden castle literary hanging above the clouds.

    I think that probability of the option a being the case is higher because when you look carefully you will see more of these subtle references.

    I searched the reddit for the discussions but did not find anything hinting that somebody else had the same thought.

    But I found some other option from there http://redd.it/vd5lu

    Anyway, thank you for addressing this issue.