Thursday, March 20, 2014

Film Review: Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs

"Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs"  *** (out of ****)

I am sure I saw Walt Disney's "Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs" (1937) growing up as a kid. I was definitely familiar with the story and the characters. I am sure, if I did see it, I probably liked it. But time and age have a way of changing things. I can't tell you how many random things I enjoyed as a child that I didn't like when I was older. Everything ranging from food, movies and clothes.

Watching "Snow White" again as an adult I look at the movie with a critical eye. With an adult's mindset. Having said that "Snow White" is not as great as its reputation would have you believe.

Now I know making a statement like that will get me into a lot of trouble. Many people consider this a classic. We often hear how Disney's early animated feature films; "Pinocchio" (1940), "Dumbo" (1941), "Bambi" (1942), "Cinderella" (1950) and "Lady and the Tramp" (1955) are masterpieces. Without question the studio created memorable characters in each of these movies. Characters which all these years later are still known today by children. People have a lot of fond memories of these movies. They have a sentimental value. They remind people of their children. I understand that affection. I have movies which I feel that way about as well. But, watch "Snow White" again and tell me what you think.

As "Snow White" begins words appear on the screen. There is an evil Queen (voiced by Lucille La Verne), who is Snow White's step-mother. The Queen as a mirror on the wall that tells her who is the fairest in the land. Being afraid of Snow White's beauty, The Queen keeps her in rages. As long as the mirror on the wall tells the Queen that she is the fairest in the land, Snow White is out of danger.

In the first scene of the movie the Queen stands before the magic mirror on the wall (voiced by Moroni Olsen) and asks the mirror who is the fairest in the land. The mirror replies Snow White. Immediately after the Queen wants to have Snow White killed.

This all leads to my first problem with "Snow White". There is no detail to the story. Explain the background story of the Queen. Explain how she came to be Snow White's step-mother. Acknowledge there was a king. Everything in "Snow White" just glosses over the details. It is all about the big picture. There is a Queen. She hates Snow White. She wants to kill Snow White. Snow White runs away and meets seven dwarfs. A Prince finds Snow White and they live happily ever after. That's it. That is the order of events in the movie. Nothing is explained. How does the Prince know where Snow White is? How have stories of her whereabouts traveled?

My other problem with "Snow White" is Snow White herself. Looking at the movie again I realize I don't like how she was drawn. She lacks facial expression and dimension. Her face almost blends into the background. Compare the way she was drawn with the dwarfs; Doc, Dopey, Sleepy, Grumpy, Happy, Bashful and Sneezy. The dwarfs are given more facial expressions. They are clearly defined. They have more personality. It is like looking at two different movies. Also, the Prince is poorly drawn. It is the same problem with him. He lacks definition. No facial expression.

You wouldn't normally expect to hear these type of remarks about Disney animation. But again I say watch the movie again. Tell me honestly the dwarfs weren't drawn better than Snow White or the Prince. Even the Queen is drawn better.

Of course looking at the movie today, compared with the CGI animation we get from Pixar and Dreamworks, the movie really looks dated. Today we would see the tree branches in the forest move with the wind. The background in this movie is static. But that is to be expected. The technology wasn't available then. I don't criticize the movie for that.

One cannot deny "Snow White"'s importance in the history of cinema. It was the first feature length animated film as well as Walt Disney's first feature film. It received an honorary Oscar and the musical score was nominated. It created memorable characters which Disney is still making money off of. There are memorable songs in the movie; Someday My Prince Will Come, Whistle While You Work, Heigh-Ho and my personal favorite, One Song, which the Prince sings early on to Snow White.

"Snow White" is fine for children. There is humor kids will enjoy. The antics of Grumpy and Dopey should entertain them. They may like the songs too. I'm sure the story won't bore them. The movie moves along briskly enough. But when they get older, they will notice what I am saying. For now, let them enjoy it.