Producer, Walt Disney; Supervising Director David Hand; Original Music, Frank Churchill, Leigh Harline and Paul J. Smith
Walt Disney announced plans to produce an animated feature in 1934. He was met with almost universal derision. Who would pay to see a feature length cartoon? Even his wife and brother believed Disney was embarking on a folly that would sink the studio. But Walt Disney hit on the perfect formula for animated features: retell a classic fairy tale and populate it with cute and/or furry sidekicks and lots of catchy songs. And people loved it. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first of the artistic and commercial successes that came to define Disney Studios. Disney would continue with this formula and produce some of the greatest animated features through the 1950s including Cinderella, Dumbo, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland.
Snow White works on multiple levels, both for children and adults (the true test of any so-called children’s movie). It’s a heart-pulsing adventure, tender romance, toe-tapping musical, all held together with gorgeous Technicolor animation. Using a well-known fairy tale ensured that audiences would relate to it; they’d been relating to it for their entire lives. A cruel and petty villain (the evil Queen) relentlessly pursues the virtuous Snow White for no other reason than Snow White is the only person between the Queen and the official title of the “fairest of them all.” Disney ensured the Queen sufficiently sociopathic and not at all comical (the way some later villains were like Captain Hook or the Queen of Hearts) to make her a true threat. He didn’t attempt to tone her down because she might scare children. He was smart enough to see that she should scare children. Without that the inevitable happy ending would mean less.
he Queen’s villainy is off-set by Snow White’s pals, the cute and cuddly critters of the forest in which she’s hiding and, of course, her dedicated protectors and companions, the Seven Dwarfs. The alliance of these characters sets evil apart as a lonely, unfulfilling endeavor. The Queen has no one to keep her company except a magic mirror, bored in its omniscience. Not exactly rousing company. And the Queen’s monomania is so complete, that she is willing to sacrifice that which she loves the most to kill Snow White: her looks. It’s a bit like Ahab surrendering everything to pursue his vendetta against Moby Dick. The Queen without her beauty is a bit like Ahab without a ship.
Snow White elevated the Disney studio from a small producer of solid animated shorts to a respected force in Hollywood. Few believed Disney had a shot at making back his money with an animated feature, but its premiere silenced the naysayers. It went on to become the highest grossing movie to that date, receiving praise from usually reserved movie critics. The New York Times went so far as to personally thank Walt Disney for the treat playing in theaters. That the movie has endured is telling. It is one of my two-year-old niece’s favorite movies; she spent last Halloween dressed as Snow White. I think in a few years time she will be surprised to learn how old the movie is because there is nothing to date it. It is as timeless as the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale on which it is based.