Disney By The Numbers: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

One Man, One Woman, Eight Decades of Disney Animated Features watched in order, and the overly complex system they invented to grade them. These are our thoughts, rants, and observations.

This is Disney by the Numbers.


 

First Time here? Why not check out our introductory post explaining the grading system? Or just head on in and enjoy!


 

Every few years a movie comes along that pokes fun at the “Disney Princess”. The idea of animal companions, singing for no reason, and true love’s kiss are all skewered and lampooned as outdated and old fashioned ideas. These jokes land because after fourteen Princesses and one Queen, we’re all familiar with the clichés and tropes that go into making a Disney Princess movie.

Now keep in mind, ever since Shrek was mercifully retired, it usually isn’t Disney competitors doing this. More often than not, Disney is either spoofing itself as in the case of these movies:

 

 

 

Or Subverting those tropes as in these movies:

 

 

 

 

But my wife and I learned as we started watching through all the Disney movies, is that when Disney, or Shrek, or anyone else spoofs the idea of a Disney Princess, more often than not they’re only spoofing this movie:

Snow-White-Seven-Dwarfs

 

 

And that’s with good reason. It’s not that this movie deserves to be ridiculed and mocked. Far from it. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs gets parodied the way it does because as Walt Disney’s first theatrical release, it establishes most of the tropes that go on to, not only define Disney Princess movies, but virtually every animated feature produced by Disney ever afterward.

So since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs originated most of the Disney tropes, that in turn, means it should have one of the highest scores, right? Let’s take a look and find out.

Story Telling

  • Theme: 3
  • Tightness of Script: 1
  • Dialogue: 1
  • Use of Comedy: 2
  • Use of Drama: 2

Before its release, Snow White was mocked as “Disney’s Folly”. Conventional wisdom at the time held that a full length cartoon feature wouldn’t be able to maintain an audience’s attention. And while we can look back with the weight of eighty years worth of cartoon movies and know that’s not true… from the perspective of an audience in 1937, that’s not entirely off base. After all, before Snow White, most cartoons lasted, at the longest, ten minutes and had… let’s be honest… very loose story structures. The shorts typically had only just enough story to loosely link one set of gags to another.  So attempting to tell a complete story with a theatrical runtime seemed crazy. That was what Walt set out to do and… well for the most part he did.

While certain scenes from the film can feel a little too self-contained or even drag on, particularly the more gag oriented scenes involving the Dwarfs, they don’t feel entirely disjointed; it’s these particular detours that lend the film a lot of its comedy but somewhat at expense of keeping the narrative on track.

In spite of this the movie’s theme’s of the importance of inner goodness, friendship, and true love overcoming evil shine through in both the comedy and the drama of the film. Whether it be in the ways the Dwarfs seek to entertain Snow White, or the running subplot of Grumpy being the most distrustful of her to being the most heartbroken when they think she’d been killed.

grumpy
There’s a reason this scene made Clark Gable sob in the theater

Like I said, even if the plot can be a bit thin in places and the dialogue outside of the Dwarfs can be a bit rote, the comedy, drama, and heart of this film land more often than not. All of this gives Snow White with a respectable yet imperfect score to go along with it’s admirable but flawed storyline.

Total: 9/15

Music

  • Lyrics: 2
  • Score: 2
  • Number of Songs: 2
  • Notoriety of Songs: 4

Ask someone in 1936 what a soundtrack is and they’d think you were talking about the sounds you’d make while train hopping. Ask someone that same question in 1937 and they’d hand you this…

snowwhitesound
Also since it’s vinyl it would be trendy today.

That’s right, the music from Snow White was so important that Walt Disney had to invent the entire concept of the soundtrack just to contain it. So as you can imagine, it does pretty good in the music category. The songs that everyone remembers are every bit as iconic as the word implies. Like all the best Disney tunes, one just has to hum or sing a few bars from Heigh-Ho, Whistle While you Work, or Someday my Prince will Come and even if the person next to you doesn’t continue the song, you can rest assured they will have it in their heads.

And it’s not just the songs that are sung, the score is completely on point as well, the opening score is ominous and enchanting, it turns appropriately sweet for Snow White herself, likewise terrifying for the Queen’s transformation, and ultimately inspiring when the curse is lifted. Disney’s foundation has always been the marriage between animation and music and their debut film goes a long way to proving that rule.

This isn’t to say it’s perfect. While the songs everyone knows are genuine masterpieces, some of the others fall a bit flat. And while Snow White’s dog whistle of a voice doesn’t particularly bother me, it can be pretty jarring for a lot of people.

But in spite of that, Music remains one of the high points for this film.

Total: 10/15

 

Animation

  • Fluidity of Animation: 2.5
  • Use of Color: 3
  • House Style: 2.5
  • Character Design: 3
  • Breaks New Ground: 3

It’s easy to look at a movie that debuted before a lot of people’s grandparents did and dismiss it. There are countless film, that premiered at the same time or after Snow White and look shoddy, cheap, or plain; this is especially true of animation. But Snow White holds up remarkably well. This is especially significant when you consider that only a couple years before this, Disney was still in its “rubber hose” phase and couldn’t consistently animate a realistic looking human.

spring

Point of fact, the Prince, who was supposed to have a larger role in the movie, had his scenes severely cut because Walt hadn’t yet discovered the technology to animate elbows.

Only a few things prevent this movie from having a perfect score in the animation category. While the characters are still unmistakably “Disney”, the famous “House Style” hadn’t yet completely taken root. Also while the animation itself is fantastic, the use of rotoscoping in a few places is noticeable and thus takes it down a notch.

But those are barely nitpicks, the character designs of the Dwarfs and the Evil Queen by themselves are almost enough to carry this movie. And, being the first full length animated feature, it breaks all sorts of new ground every step of the way. Even eighty years later Snow White is still a looker.

Total: 14/15

 

Love Story

  • Character Interaction: 3
  • Importance to Overall Plot: 2
  • Depth: 1.5
  • Pulls at the Heartstrings: 2
  • Overcomes Obstacles: 1

Everyone knows the story of “Snow White”. We all know she lives with dwarfs, eats some questionable produce, and is awakened by True Love’s Kiss. Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs takes it a step further by having Snow White and Prince No Name–

ferdinand
“It’s Ferdinand.”

Oh, right. So in the Disney film Snow White and the Nameless, Symboless Prince with No Name sing a love ballad together and later Snow White goes so far to serenade the dwarfs with the iconic Some Day my Prince Will Come to further reinforce their love.

But here’s the thing, the love story in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs isn’t between the Snow White and the Prince.

It’s between Snow White and the Dwarfs.

Now hear me out.

It’s very tempting to simply look at the two people kissing on screen and think of it as the “love story”. But when we were crafting our scorecards we knew that every Disney movie has a Love Story, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a featured couple or even necessarily romantic love. A Love Story can be familial, friendly, platonic, or romantic. Some movies only have one, but others have multiple and in that case, it all depends on which love story is the most important. This is the case with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White and the Prince are in love when the movie starts, and they’re in love when the movie end and they share maybe five minutes of screentime. That’s not much of a love story, and frankly, not the relationship the film seems to want us to invest in.

Meanwhile Snow White has a freaking meet-cute with the Dwarfs, who go from being scared of and mistrusting her, to literally attempting regicide to save her. Grumpy in particular goes from warning the rest of the dwarfs that she’ll bring them nothing but trouble to… well you saw the gif… easily the most broken up over her ‘death’.

The love between Snow White and the Dwarfs hits nearly all the marks we look for in a meaningful love story. They spend the most time together of any characters in the film, most of the films comedy and drama, and only real story arc, are derived from them. I’ve already covered how it tugs on the heartstrings. and the Prince wouldn’t have been able to kiss her if the Dwarfs hadn’t put her in the glass casket, thus indirectly helping to overcome obstacles.

Now granted, it’s not a perfectly realized idea within the film. It doesn’t have particularly many layers and while the Dwarfs odd choice of interment allows the Prince to save the day… it’s still he that delivers the curse breaking kiss.

All that said, while it may not seem like the conventional choice, the strength of the bond between Snow White and the Dwarfs is actually the very heart of the film. And consider this, while the film ends with Snow White riding off with her Prince, the last bits of dialogue in the movie are Snow White saying her favorite Dwarf’s names while kissing their heads. She never even acknowledges that her Prince might have a name at all.

Total: 9.5/15

 

Hero

  • Sidekick: 2
  • Charm: 1.5
  • Goodness: 2
  • Emotional Transformation: 0
  • Comedy: .5

As it was pointed out in the beginning, a lot of fun is had at Snow White’s expense. And it’s not entirely unwarranted. She fits all the clichés of a Disney Princess and as a protagonist she isn’t the strongest. More often than not things happen to her rather than her driving the plot herself. She also doesn’t have a lot of speeds she’s either happy or she’s scared. There’s just not a lot to her when compared to later Disney protagonists. That’s partly why she consistently winds up at the bottom of “favorite princess lists”.  And frankly,  that’s why this is the lowest scoring category for this film.

But that isn’t to say that Snow White’s a nothing character. She gets a lot of flak for being a damsel in distress who’s only thoughts center around cleaning. But when we actually look at the film, it reveals a bit more. Snow White is a princess by birth, and so wouldn’t have grown up really knowing how to clean, she would have had servants of for that… until the Evil Queen murders her dad and forces her to become one of those servants.

Later, when she’s on the run for her life, she comes upon a filthy cottage, but she doesn’t clean it simply because it’s dirty. Instead she decides to unleash her army of cleaning critters with the thought that it might earn her room and board. That’s not passive, that’s industrious! Between her housekeeping skills and the dwarf’s mining they might have set up quite the little cottage industry!

snowwhiteclean
Making that paper

Furthermore, while she’s not particularly funny, she actually has a fair amount of charm and bucket loads of goodness, both are traits that are not as common as you might think when it comes to Disney protagonists. She actually manages a bit of sass in a few place in the movie (her interactions with Grumpy show that off)but of all the Disney Princesses, she’s also the biggest flirt (again mostly around Grumpy).

And while she has a touch charm and humor, her goodness is the foundation of the film’s story. Yes, the Evil Queen decides to kill Snow White because she’s “fairest” but the Queen only values outer beauty while the film is trying to show us that Snow White’s inner goodness is actually what makes her “fairest”. The huntsman spares her life because of it, the animals help her because of it, the Dwarfs love her for it, and the Queen dies never understanding it.

So when you see Snow White at the bottom of a Princess List calling her bland and uninteresting just remember, the moment all the Dwarfs decide that they like her, is when she perfectly lampoons their resident sourpuss.

snowwhitesass
Like I said. Meet-cute.

 

Total: 5.5/10

 

Villain

  • Evilness: 2.5
  • Comedy: 0
  • Sophistication: 2.5
  • Henchmen: 1
  • Poses a Threat: 2

While Snow White herself can often be found a the bottom of Disney Princess lists, her counterpart, the Evil Queen, can be found near the top of a lot of a Disney Villains lists. And it’s easy to see why. The Queen has an amazing character design, more beautiful than Snow White but also cold and harsh. Her motivations are suitably petty and cruel and her methods of overcoming the object of her hate is over the top and theatrical.

snowwhitequeen
I mean she literally wants to put a teenager’s heart in a box. That’s some grade A villainy there.

She does stumble in the comedy category which is more a sign of the times she was created in than anything else. Disney villains wouldn’t really become funny until Captain Hook more than a decade later. Similarly she doesn’t have much in the henchmen category, the Magic Mirror is a plot device, an awesome brilliantly designed plot device but not much more than that.

But while the Queen isn’t particularly funny she is quite fun to watch; a key feature to all the great Disney Villains. This is especially true once the Queen transforms into her hag disguise. Suddenly this austere, plotting, beautiful woman transforms into a hideous… but unhinged, cackling, hag. She goes from being evil as a means to an end, to being evil and loving the hell out of it.

The film reveals Snow White’s character by putting her in situations where she improves the lives of people around her even though she doesn’t have to; that’s what makes her “fairest”. In contrast, the Queen starts out more physically beautifull than Snow White but  her actions take her inner ugliness and put it on display.

The interesting thing is that once she drops her false outer beauty, her inner ugliness, madness, and true evil come right to the fore… and it almost seems liberating for her. Where before she’s completely buttoned up and severe, she now laughs and jokes and in spite her haggard appearance seems spry and healthier than ever. So in a way, embracing her inner evil is actually a positive move for her.

snowhitedeath
Until this happens.

Total: 8/10

 

Supporting Characters

  • Comedy: 2.5
  • Inventiveness: 2.5
  • Clear Help or Hindrance: 2.5
  • Strength of Relationship with Main Characters: 2.5

One of the things we discovered during our Disney watch-through was that very often, the titular hero of each film, is the least interesting part of it. Everyone knows that Disney excels in animation, music, and storytelling. But its secret ingredient, from its very first film onward, has been the supporting characters.

Before Disney cemented their version of Snow White as the default version for most the world, the Dwarfs in the fairy tale were only just “the Dwarfs”. They didn’t have names, or personalities, let alone names based on their personalities.

snowwhitesneeze
Or apparently their allergies…

Not to put too fine a point on it, but while the Evil Queen is fantastic, Snow White is underappreciated, and the Prince is… present… it’s the Dwarfs that carry this film. In order to score a point in our grading system, all a movie has to do is carry single element that we’re looking for. The Dwarfs not only do that but they also do it well enough to score all the points. They’re funny, they’re creative, they’re helpful, and if the movie had been made today Snow White would have ridden off with Grumpy.

snowwhitegrumpy
Somebody hose them down they’ll heat the screen up until it melts!

Sure the Dwarfs don’t really get personalities beyond their names but there are seven of them sharing screentime with a Princess and a scenery chewing Witch Queen, it’s actually impressive how much character they fit in.

Now, it is confusing how the Dwarfs live in that tiny cottage in the woods when they are extracting literal cartloads of precious gems from their mine. By all accounts they should be running that Kingdom. They could easily buy off all the palace guards and huntsmen and dispose of the Evil Queen, thus restoring the Kingdom to its rightful ruler.

snowwhitedopey

Total: 10/10

 

Disney Magic and Legacy

  • Theme Park Presence: 1
  • Timelessness: 2
  • Impact on Culture: 2
  • Scope of Audience: 2
  • Disney Feels (Or Did it Make us Cry): 3

In our final category Snow White again manages a top score. It’s had a home in the Disney Parks since the day Disneyland opened, be it in rides, meet and greets, or merchandise. In spite of being over 80 it manages to hold up even to modern audiences, there are Disney movies much younger that can’t do that. It’s cultural impact changed the landscape of cinema and the entire trajectory of the Walt Disney Studios. It was never designed to appeal to only children but rather all ages and it still accomplishes that easily. And finally, you have to have heart of stone if you aren’t moved by the magic and feelings it evokes. Walt’s folly has proven time and again to be no less than the masterpiece that it has come to be seen as.

Total: 10/10


Grand Total: 74/100

There’s no denying that there are Disney films out there with stronger protagonists, better songs, more entertaining villains and more cohesive stories. There are Disney movies that are more modern and whose themes are more easily discernible and digested by its audience. And that’s to be expected. Walt Disney Animation has had nine decades to perfect its craft. Even discounting that, times change and tastes along with them. So given that, it’s actually amazing how well Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs holds up.

The animation is still a joy to look at, the antics of the dwarfs still amuse, the Queen still gives chills and most importantly, the fairy tale happy ending still stirs audiences. That’s why it’s parodied and why every successful Disney movie since has borrowed from it at least a little bit.

So maybe the next time you’re watching Enchanted lampoon the Princess movies, or seeing something like Frozen subvert them a bit, you’ll remember that those movies do it out of love for just how amazing this movie still remains in spite of its flaws.

And if you feel weird for shipping Snow White and Grumpy… don’t. The movie wants you to.

snowwhitegrumpy2

3 Comments

  1. Fun read, with fun animations. I liked learning some things I didn’t know about the movie/Disney. A couple of years ago we tried watching all of the movies pertinent to our upcoming Disneyland vacation. I thought Snow White was going to be a complete snore. My husband and I were surprised how much we both enjoyed it, and especially how much the kids liked it. They thought the dwarves were HILARIOUS. My husband’s favorite line is, “Sugar’s gone” from one of the dwarves after they discover Snow White has done all the dishes – my husband still finds many opportunities to quote it IRL.

    Like

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