Revisiting the Disney Princess Canon: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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via PosterTeam

Although I have a general disdain both for many mainstream multiplex offerings and for corporate consumer cultures, I have an enormous soft spot for all things Disney, especially their animated feature roster. Disney revolutionized and set a high standard for the way that we enjoy animation, and despite some still-looming problematic tendencies is a major force for a sense of wonder and enchantment in both young and young at heart. Aside from Sailor Moon, The Simpsons, and most recently Archie Comics, Disney is one of the only geeky fandoms I choose to associate with and engage in. There is so much creativity within the Disney fan community, from Disneybounding to creating artwork interpreting beloved characters in a new context. There are so many characters to identify with and relate to, as evidenced by the number of “which Disney princess are you?” quizzes online alongside Harry Potter sorting hat quizzes. In terms of content, Disney is also one of the only fandoms where there is consistently quality new releases as well as constant discoveries of more archival materials. I generally only visit traditional movie theaters the 2-3 times per year that Disney or Pixar exhibit their latest animated offerings, and my personal Tumblr is loaded with vintage photographs of Disneyland throughout the 60s and 70s.

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via waltsdarlings on Tumblr

I stumbled across this Tumblr post admiring the beautiful animation in Snow White the other morning, and immediately decided to rewatch the film in its entirety before heading to work that evening. Once I put the DVD in, I realized that it had been a long time since I had seen most of the animated Disney canon. Despite being such an active Disney fan, there are many that I haven’t seen since I was a child. I have decided to dive back in headfirst and challenge myself to rewatch all the Disney Princess films in chronological order.

With nearly 80 years’ worth of film history to go through, I have decided to set a few ground rules for this challenge:

  1. Only feature-length, theatrical releases will be counted. This means no straight-to-video sequels, or princesses from TV series such as Sofia the First or Elena of Avalor.
  2. Disney films must either be fully animated or partially animated. For instance, I’ll be watching Enchanted but not The Princess Diaries.
  3. Obscure princesses will be featured. Princess Eilonwy, Kida, and Maid Marian being a few that come to mind.
  4. I have to watch Frozen even though I hate it with every fiber of my being.
  5. The one chronological exception to this will be attending Moana as soon as it is released, since I have no idea how I want to pace the rest of the films in this challenge quite yet. If you start running a marathon at top speed, you will burn out before the finish line, so this could be a relatively long term project.
  6. I must include my viewing format in each post. Some Disney films are ones I own nice copies of. Some are ones I only have on VHS. Some will be borrowed from the library. Moana will definitely be a big screen venture.

 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Release year: 1937

Viewing format: My personal DVD copy

Thoughts while watching:

  • One detail I love from early Disney films that I don’t see very often after the 1970s is the storybook opening. While having to physically read the opening of the film is clearly inaccessible to young children watching the film (later storybook openings have narrators), the books and their settings are so intricately designed, and I am amazed by how the book opening on its own was achieved through practical effects.

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via David Bordwell

  • Two to three minutes in and I already can’t believe that this is the first feature length animated film ever released. The wicked queen’s movements are so fluid as she talks to the magic mirror, and their lips match the dialogue so perfectly. Obviously not every scene is perfectly animated, like how when the prince sings One Song someone literally just pans a camera around the castle background details instead of trying to animate him singing. But even then, the attention to detail in every aspect of the film’s design is amazing, and the technical skill throughout the film is so overwhelmingly abundant. This movie is to animation what Jurassic Park is to digital special effects. Despite being one of the first, it is still so far ahead of almost every major productions decades upon decades later.
  • I think that Snow White arguably has the most interesting character design out of anyone else in the line-up. Although Disney has worked tirelessly within the Disney Princess branding over the past few years to make their leading ladies look nearly indistinguishable, Snow is still clearly a product of the 1930s. With her bobbed hair, round face, large brown eyes, and nearly curveless figure, she is a spitting image for many of the starlets from the silent era and the early talkies. She reminds me a bit of the blind girl from City Lights,  but there is obviously some Marion Davies, Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo and Louise Brooks in there as well.

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via girlschannel

  • Additionally, I feel that Snow White is the Jane Bennet of Disney characters. She’s kind, caring, beautiful, and generous. She is so good and pure that she has no real flaws, and on paper isn’t a very fleshed out character. But once you see her on screen, her loveliness radiates through you and you can’t help but admire her. I’ve noticed in the past that Cinderella and Aurora don’t get very much screen time in either of their own films, but Snow White has the charm to carry a 90-minute feature.
  • Disney films have a bad rep for watering down their source material, especially the dark tones of the Brothers Grimm. Disney is more and more guilty of this later in their history, but Snow White remains a solid text-to-film adaptation with a vast majority of plot details remaining intact. The most striking inclusion has to be when the wicked queen sends the huntsman to kill Snow White and bring back her heart in a small box. I was surprised to see this detail retained in this version, although I wasn’t surprised to see the queen’s intentions with the heart removed—she eats the heart. She just fucking eats it. Why.
  • Disney also gets a bad rep for a saccharine quality to their films, but there is some pretty freaky stuff in this film. Like the scene where the trees in the haunted forest try to claw at Snow as she runs to escape from her death. In fact, after the film’s run at Radio City Music Hall ended, all their seats had to be reupholstered because so many children wet their pants in sheer terror during this specific scene.
  • I am near tears any time that the woodland creatures appear onscreen. I’m especially enamored by the mama and baby deer who are featured frequently throughout. When they first stumble upon the dwarfs’ cottage, Snow makes a comment about how there might be orphans living there. The baby deer, concerned, cuddles up to its mother, who gives her child a big lick on the forehead. They’re also seen cuddling together as they sleep on one of the dwarf’s beds. No, YOU’RE getting emotional about two background characters in a children’s movie!

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via fantasia1940 on Tumblr

  • There is a term in film called “Mickey Mousing” (not to be confused with one of Titus Andromedon’s kinks in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), used to describe when the score is perfectly sync with any action happening onscreen. The scene where Snow and her forest friends are cleaning the dwarfs’ home is probably one of the best examples of this technique being utilized in film.

Next on the list is Cinderella, which was my favorite movie as a child, but one I haven’t seen in nearly 10 years. See you next time!

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Hey there, I'm Ellen. 22-year-old film & gender studies student. Art house valley girl. A full-on Monet. I wish Sofia Coppola directed my life.

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