Sunday, April 21, 2019

How Do You Like Them Apples

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Directors: William Cottrell, David Hand, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen (Goodness, this movie could have been called Snow White and the Seven Directors!)
Voice Talent: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Roy Atwell, Harry Stockwell
Released: December 21, 1937 (premiere in L.A.)/ February 4, 1938 (United States)

Oscar nominations:

Best Score (lost to One Hundred Men and a Girl)

A few months ago, my mom and I were trying to see if we could name all the seven dwarfs. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, guess again! We came up with Doc, Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Happy, and Dopey, but we could not think of the damn seventh dwarf no matter how many times we listed them! So finally I had to get my phone and when I figured out we were missing Bashful, we were both like, "Oh! Of course!" I think we couldn't think of him because he's the only one (aside from Doc, but everyone remembers him) whose name doesn't end in a "y".

I'm trying to think of my history with this movie, which is now 81 years old, can you believe that? (And you thought The Lion King was old, turning 25 this summer!) I know I've seen it before, but it's been awhile. I don't really remember growing up with this movie. I have a vague recollection of seeing it in theaters during one of its many theatrical re-releases. While I'm very familiar with the storyline and characters from this movie, I'm pretty sure it's been quite a few years since I last saw it. There were a few things I had mis-remembered, for example, I always thought the Evil Queen says, "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?", but she actually says, "Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?" Mind blown!

Snow White is simultaneously the oldest and the youngest Disney princess. She is the oldest because she is the first official Disney Princess since her movie came out in 1937 (and was the first full-length animated film to boot), but she's also the youngest because her character is only fourteen-year old and all the other Disney Princesses have been older than that. I have no idea how it is known she is 14 since her age is never mentioned in the film, but there is an age for every Disney Princess in their movies whether they tell us how old they are or not. I bet the last time I saw this movie, I was younger than 14!

There's no doubt Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a remarkable cinematic achievement and paved the way for all other animated movies, not just ones from Disney. For a movie that was made 80 years ago, I was pretty impressed with the animation, even watching it today. I was expecting it to look really bad and while the faces of Snow White and the Prince look a little flat, there are lots of really impressive animated scenes, like when it's raining during one of the later moments in the movie. Walt Disney received an honorary Oscar for it (well, he received one Oscar and seven mini ones) and its box office total would come to over a billion dollars if adjusted for inflation. Despite all those remarkable achievements, do I like the movie? We-ell, even though there is plenty to like about the movie, there's also plenty of things I don't like. For one thing, there is absolutely no character development. When the movie opens, we see pages of a storybook informing us how Snow White's evil stepmother, the Queen, is jealous of her looks (seriously, why is she jealous of a fourteen-year-old) and makes Snow White dress up in rags and makes her do chores (sounds like Cinderella!). We learn how the Evil Queen will stop at nothing so she can be the most beautiful in the land, including killing her stepdaughter. We never learn what happened to Snow White's father, the King. Why did he ever marry this vain woman? I'm assuming she must have used one of her magic books to create a spell to make him fall in love with her, then killed him, but we are never told anything about her father.

We only meet the Prince at the very beginning, and then, not until the very end. When Snow White is singing at the wishing well about one day her prince will come, he just comes up and starts singing beside her. This is their only interaction until he will wake her with a kiss. We don't even know his name. Let's be honest: the early Disney Princes were bland, bland, bland.

Another thing I don't like is the music, more specifically, Snow White's singing voice. Oh god, it is so shrill. And way too saccharine. Maybe it's because my ears are more used to "current" music and if I had grown up in this era, it wouldn't have bothered me because maybe that's how singers sounded. While I'm not crazy about the songs (I'm somewhat familiar with them, but besides "Heigh Ho", couldn't really sing any of them for you), I think I would have liked them a lot better if that irritating voice wasn't singing them. Sorry, Snow White. Or should I say, sorry, Adriana Caselotti.

While this movie isn't very long (about an hour and twenty minutes), it can feel very long at times because there's a whole lot of nothing going on in this movie. A lot of time is devoted to cleaning the cottage, or the dwarfs washing their hands (that scene goes on FOREVER...a good time to use the bathroom or get a snack), or dancing with Snow White.

Also, I'm not sure how I feel about Snow White as a character. She comes off as very sweet and innocent and caring and while she does have all those qualities, I also found her to be very condescending at times. She's also a little bit dumb, let's be honest. First of all, she's the one trespassing in the dwarfs' home and when they confront her, she just laughs at them, calling them "little men", then asks, "How do you do?" and repeats, "I said, how do you do?" when they don't answer. Keep in mind she has just woken up in three of their beds and is asking this question like she lives there. Uh-huh, honey, you don't live there. This is not your home. You have no right to ask any questions. They should be asking the questions! Grumpy is the only one who is wondering what she's doing there, but all the others don't care because she's so pretty and looks like an angel. There is a mother/child relationship between them. Before she meets the dwarfs and sees all the small chairs and bed, she assumes that seven children live in this cottage and have no mother. She tells the dwarfs that if she can stay with them, she will cook, clean, sew, etc. Sounds like a fair trade, but then she chides the dwarfs for not washing their hands before dinner and the way she comes off across at times, I'm really surprised they didn't kick her out. I guess it's a good thing she's pretty, because I wouldn't be putting up with that.

In fact, because of Snow White's beauty, she has been saved from death twice. The first time is when the Queen orders the huntsman to take her out to the woods and kill her and bring back her heart in a box. Because she is so beautiful and young, the hunter tells her to run away and instead brings a pig's heart back to the Queen. Then, when the dwarfs see the form of Snow White sleeping under the covers and thinks it's a monster and is about to kill her, they stop when the sheet falls off her and they see such a beautiful princess. I guess you could also argue that if she wasn't pretty, then the Queen wouldn't be jealous of her.

The dwarfs all have their own personality or unique trait, thanks to their names. I thought Doc was supposed to be the smart one, though. After all his name is "Doc" and he wears glasses. But instead he either has a speech impediment or he's a total idiot because he can never say the right word or phrase. I forgot that Dopey doesn't talk at all and the reason he doesn't talk is because he never even tried. Yeah, Dopey is pretty dopey. Also, he could have been easily been called Pervy because he's always trying to get an extra kiss (on the top of his head) from Snow. Settle down, Dopey. While Grumpy seems to be the only voice of reason among the seven of them, he's also quite the misogynist. He tells them that all females are "poison" and that they're full of "wicked wiles". Makes you wonder what HIS backstory is. Did he not have good relation with his mother? Did he have a dwarf woman who scarred his heart? (I wonder if dwarf women also have beards?) I laughed when Snow White is trying to guess who is who and when she gets to Grumpy and he's being, well, grumpy, she says in a mock irritable voice, "Ooh, you must be Grumpy." Okay, now THAT was funny and it gave Snow a little bit of personality which I appreciated.

Speaking of things I liked, I really loved the woodland creatures that Snow befriends after she is told to run away. I thought they were all super cute. Once again, she is a bit condescending to them when she's telling them she needs a place to sleep (super cute how the rabbits are nodding), but tells them she can't sleep on the ground (super cute how the rabbits are shaking their heads), or in the tree or in a nest. The "Whistle While You Work" number is my favorite musical scene in the movie because I'm able to ignore Snow's shrill voice because there are lots of funny and cute (and quite unsanitary!) moments involving the animals cleaning. We see the deer and squirrels using their tails to dust and get rid of cobwebs (two squirrels try to sweep the dust under the rug until Snow stops them), the deer are licking the plates to clean them, and the turtle provides his belly as a washboard when a chipmunk is cleaning the clothes. In a later scene when she's cooking gooseberry pies for the dwarfs, the birds will help her by using their feet to create designs on the pie crust. When Snow makes her comment about the seven children not having a mother, a baby deer rubs up against his mother and cries. Perhaps a precursor to Bambi?

There's a great running gag in this movie involving the turtle. I felt so bad for him! He's always the last one to get to where all the other animals have gone and by the time he reaches his destination, all the other animals go back to where they just were. I believe this happens three times. One of the first times is when all the animals follow Snow White upstairs and by the time the turtle makes it to the top step, the other animals hear the dwarfs (wait, is the plural dwarfs or dwarves?) return home and rush back downstairs. Luckily, the turtle just slides down the stairs so he is able get away just in time!

Another character I loved is the Evil Queen. She's not in the movie much and we go long stretches without seeing her, but the few scenes we do have of her are deliciously delightful...almost like a scrumptious crisp red apple, you could say. There's a scene where she's walking through her dungeon with rats and cobwebs and human skeletons everywhere. One of the skeletons is in his cage, poised reaching for a pitcher of water that's just out of reach. The Queen cackles when she sees this and says, "Thirsty?" while kicking the water even more of out the way. You could tell the voice actress (Lucille La Verne) was having a lot of fun with it. I'd like to think that the skeleton was Snow's father. Morbid, I know.

When the Queen learns that Snow White is still alive, she goes to her sorcerer's dungeon room where she concocts a potion to  change her appearance. She gets the spell from her "Disguises" book. Other books in her sorcery library include "Black Arts", (is that the same thing as the Dark Arts? If so, I bet all the DADA professors at Hogwarts had copies of that!) "Black Magic", "Alchemy", "Witch Craft" (I bet season six BtVS Willow had a copy of that!), "Sorcery", and "Poisons".

Most of the ingredients the Queen needs for a peddler's disguise are intangible items, so I have no idea how she acquired them. I guess that's why she's a witch. There's mummy dust, the black of night (seriously, how do you capture that in a bottle?), an old hag's cackle, a scream of fright, a blast of wind, and a thunderbolt "to mix it well". Why not just stir it?

Would you let this woman into
your home????
I don't quite understand the Queen's motives. Her goal is to get Snow White to eat the tasty red apple that's poisonous, right? Well, why the heck did she disguise herself as the creepiest old woman you could possibly imagine. She has one tooth, a wart on her nose, long white scraggy hair, a long pointy nose, long knobby fingers, dark circles around her eyes, and she's wearing a ragged black robe. This woman screams no good; I wouldn't open my door to her. If you're trying to get someone to trust you, why not disguise yourself as a sweet old lady type, like a Betty White? I feel like the Queen wasn't being very smart there. Luckily for her, Snow White isn't the sharpest tool in the shed and will invite the super scary looking woman inside.

The animals are the only ones with a brain in this film. THEY know what's up. They know that this scary looking old woman is up to no good and try to discourage Snow from taking the apple from her. Snow scolds the animals, "Shame on you, frightening an old lady!" No, shame on you, Snow White, for not having any sense of stranger danger! The animals will run to the mines to get the dwarfs and once again, we will get the running rag where the turtle is the last to reach them and by the time he gets there, everyone is running back to the cottage. I really don't understand why the animals need to get the dwarfs. There were a couple of deer among them; why couldn't they just break in, then impale the Queen with their antlers? These animals are much more capable than the dwarfs.

The old fruit peddler takes out the red poisonous apple and gives it to Snow, telling her it's a "magic wishing apple" and of course the naive Snow White believes her and makes her wish of living happily ever after with the prince, you know the one she's only met for thirty seconds and doesn't even know his name. I laughed when the Queen hurriedly says, "Fine, fine, now take a bite" as if she's saying, "Just shut up about your prince and die already." I don't know, the way she said it just made me laugh.

So of course Snow White takes a bite and is cursed by the sleeping death and by the time the dwarfs arrive, it's too late. They chase the old woman up the cliffs and she tries to dislodge a huge boulder to run them over, but she ends up falling off the cliff and the boulder falls on top of her. In a really creepy scene we see two vultures watching all this, then they fly to where she had just fallen, ready to feast on her corpse.

The curse is called the sleeping death, but she's not really dead. The Queen even says, "She'll be buried alive". And I think the dwarfs know this (I hope so at least), cuz otherwise they wouldn't have kept her coffin out in the open because they claim she was too beautiful to bury. I would like to think they know she's not technically dead; that she's just sleeping, but unable to wake up, otherwise don't they know about human decomposition? The only way for her to wake up is by true love's kiss, so in a way it's very similar to the Sleeping Beauty story. A year passes and the bland Prince we met in the first five minute of the movie comes trotting up on his horse, lifts up the glass lid of the coffin and kisses the Princess. First of all, how did he even know to kiss her? Also, don't you think it's a little weird that he's kissing a dead girl? (I don't think he knows she's technically only sleeping). ALSO, they have only met once and all of a sudden, he's her true love? What the huh? I don't buy that at all. I mean, I would have bought it more if one of the dwarfs had kissed her and she woke up from least she had somewhat more of a relationship with the dwarfs then she did with Prince Drip! At least on the TV series Once Upon a Time, Snow and the Prince develop a relationship and are in love before Snow is cursed by the Queen. And the Prince has an actual name! They also have a much better reason for the Queen hating Snow other than she's prettier than she is.

Snow White is like "Peace out!" as she says goodbye to the dwarfs and gives them one last kiss on their heads. Really, she could not get out of there fast enough and barely acknowledges the dwarfs for keeping a candlelight vigil at her coffin for a year.

Yes, this movie is pretty dated and definitely needed help in the character development department, but you have to give it a lot of credit for starting the Disney empire and paving the way for animated movies, so this is defintely a must see. Come for Snow White and the seven dwarfs; stay for the Evil Queen and the woodland creatures.

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