Pros:animation, characters, voice talent
Cons:pacing, fodder for cynics
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first feature length animated film, and Walt Disney had bet heavily on it. It cost his studio $1.5 million to make, which was six times the cost of an average feature. More than five hundred animators contributed to the film, which used a multiplane camera to create an effect of depth.
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Competing studios dubbed it "Disney's Folly", at least until the film opened. It made $8.5 million during its first run alone, with many more millions made during subsequent re-releases. Disney quickly followed Snow White with other classic animated films, all within the next four years: Pinocchio, Fantasia and Dumbo.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was not merely the first, but remains the best of all animated films. Cynics may have more room for complaint than exists in later, more 'sophisticated' films. But it is the lack of self-consciousness that adds to the charm of Snow White. The story may be simple, and the characters may be stereotyped. But the execution is nearly flawless.
The basic plot has similarities to later Disney films, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Snow White (voiced by Adriana Caselotti) is a sweet, young, beautiful, and passive princess subjugated by her jealous stepmother, the Queen (Lucille La Verne). The Queen's murderous plans force Snow White to hide in the woods, living with seven distinct and comic relief dwarves. (Dopey and Grumpy get the most screen time.) The Queen's evil treachery seems to have worked, but the necessity of a happy ending dictates that Prince Charming (Harry Stockwell) will set things right again.
The pace is quite slow compared to 'modern' films. Filler scenes exist, such as the bathing of the seven dwarfs. Snow White is so sweet and innocent that the forest animals assist her at every turn, even helping her to clean house. The dwarves work in a mine strewn with gigantic diamonds that are already cut and polished, none of which seems to have increased their standard of living. No one thinks to leave a dwarf at home to help protect the hopelessly gullible Snow White from the wiles of the evil Queen. Snow White and Prince Charming are not only perfect in appearance, but are blessed with incredible voices.
Complain all you want to about how unlikely the story is. All criticism of the story elements is made meaningless by the overpowering quality of the presentation. The drawings are magnificent, with their multicolored backgrounds and shadows. The characters are strongly defined, and their motions are perfectly animated. The voices are perfect as well. Today, actor celebrities typically provide cartoon voices in Disney films. But with Snow White, the voice talent was cast via a perfect match with the character, which is just as it should be.
Some scenes are justly famous. The dwarves return home from work singing, with each of their walks having a different cadence. Dopey dances with Snow White while atop the shoulders of another dwarf.
But my favorite scenes feature the evil Queen. It is gloriously frightening when she transforms herself into an 'old hag', and her last stand is also great cinema. The suspense of the poisoned apple is extended, with the cavalry riding to the rescue as in the climax of an old D.W. Griffith silent feature.
Despite all the comic relief dwarves and friendly forest animals, Snow White is to some degree a horror film. And not just due to the Queen's presence, as Snow White has a terrifying flight into the forest.
Walt Disney was awarded a special Oscar for "significant screen achievement" by the Academy. The presenter was Shirley Temple, who also gave Disney seven little Oscars, one for each dwarf. The film was also nominated for Best Score. (98/100)