Supervising Director: David Hand.
Voices: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Pinto Colvig. USA 1937. 83 mins.
Engrossing, engaging, cute and comical but creepy, and wonderfully wrinkle-free eighty years after release, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs still just might be the fairest cartoon fairy tale of them all.
But it was a big gamble for animation legend Walt Disney. Though he was popularly renowned by the 1930s for his creation Mickey Mouse, the sphere-eared star of the first synchronised sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie (1928), and had been acclaimed by the intelligentsia for the increasingly sophisticated animated shorts his studio made afterwards, cartoons were still seen strictly as quick programme fillers. Around 1934, Disney came up with idea of doing a feature-length animated adaptation of his favourite Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Industry insiders thought Walt had bitten off more than he could chew: surely it could never work.
How wrong they were. An incredibly dedicated team of animators and artists lavished years of love on Walt’s dream, ultimately realised as an innovative and exciting cartoon feature, expertly, expensively crafted with an obsessive perfectionism that’s still hard to get your head around. Every separate splendid sequence in this film is a complex, multi-faceted moving masterpiece – an expert synthesis of cartoon conception and animated execution. But more important even than mastery of technique was the genuinely heart-warming nature of the characters – especially those Dwarfs. These are no interchangeable cardboard kiddie cut-outs, but seven individuals, carefully crafted over countless painful hours until each one moved, breathed, whistled while they worked, and expressed a whole gamut of human emotions. Thanks to all this care and attention, surely even the most Grumpy-like of modern viewers will find their cold hearts defrosted by what remains an astonishingly affecting drama. Indeed, at one peculiarly poignant moment near the end, you may even find yourself shedding tears uncontrollably along with an animated Dwarf. You’d better believe it.
This is also a film shot with remarkable aesthetic economy and balance. Whatever issues you may have with Walt’s subsequent self-indulgences, the first time out he nailed it. The mood flits from funny to fearsome in a flash. Each time the whiff of impending saccharine and cute bunnies threatens to overpower things, we’re masterfully whisked away to the still-scary lair of that malevolent Queen, or cheered with a catchy song standard, or delighted by brilliantly choreographed Dwarf antics. And it all races along at a cracking pace. Walt made sure of that, mercilessly chopping out splendid scenes – one in which the Dwarfs slurp up soup, and another in which they build a bed – just to ensure the action never drags. Even the obligatory handsome prince barely gets a look in.
Such attention to detail paid dividends. A huge critical and commercial success worldwide, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs vindicated Disney and became the benchmark for every animated feature that came after. Any magic mirror worth its witchcraft would surely agree that this Technicolor evergreen is a glorious perennial. Deeply embedded at the heart of the enchanted forest of Disney that grew up around it, it must surely be destined to live happily ever after.
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs screens as part of The Enchanted Screen: A Season of Folk and Fairytale Films and Vintage Sundays on Sunday 10 December.Find your cinema and book tickets.