Thursday, January 29, 2015

Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Second thoughts

Finally got around to doing these. I obviously can't promise any kind of update schedule, but I'd really like to keep on top of 1s and 2s as much as I can. On the plus side, I have notes so it's a bit easier. Doing a post for each one, so don't miss them. Of course the way these post I should be saying that in the Fantasia post... whatever. I do what I like :D

This is a movie that must have been all kinds of revolutionary when it came out. According to Roomie they just plain weren't doing full-length animation before this, and given that's the case there's a lot of ambition here. It would have been really easy, for instance, to make the dwarves overly samey or lose track of a few here and there, but instead they all manage to stick out despite the pretty simple character design.

Speaking of which, Snow White herself has a very iconic look, with the deep blue top and yellow dress. I feel like Disney has a knack for character design, which is a thing I can say with a bit of certainty having seen three movies before coming back to write this. Yes I'm cheating but shut up. The animals are all fun and their style is absolutely adorable and you all already know all of this I said as much.

It's weird in a way to write second thoughts on this movie just because I made a lot of stray comments in the first impressions. Not having to really follow the story per se afforded me a lot of time to do that. Let me know if it was annoying and I'll stop.

Anyway, back onto not being on a digression... need to get my train of thought back here. Oh yes. There's a lot of moving pieces to the animation (no pun intended) from independent background and foreground elements to the characters themselves. As should be very clear from the first impressions, I didn't think much of how the human characters were depicted, this rotoscoping technique. It sticks out in how they seem to move a little too much while having too little visual interest. There's nothing to exaggerate like there was with the dwarves, the animals and the witch-queen. I feel like the real joy of animation is in doing things that just don't work in live action and exaggeration should definitely be in the toolbox. Less is not always more.

I can't really talk about the story, which is also weird, since it's pretty humdrum. I will say that it comes across like they used the choice of fairy tale as an excuse to put together musical numbers, gentle comedy and a troupe to perform it all. The Seven Dwarfs and Snow White would have been a more apt way to write the title. And yes the F still bothers me

So I suppose what's left to talk about is character design and music. The dwarves all have a great individual look to them, and Grumpy and Dopey are particular favorites. Not surprisingly, both of them get a great deal more screen time than the rest, one because he's the only one with an actual character arc and the other because he's the comic relief in a troupe full of comics. Not an easy task. Grumpy's hearty and often put-on scowl is a treat. The prince... well, he's a guy. Snow White, at the very least, has taken years of child slavery and turned it into being able to lord over seven fetid, uncouth miners with the power of home ec, which is probably about as positive a message as you can get out of a story where the woman does all the household chores. Awesome role model today? Not a chance. 80 years ago? Quite possibly. What do I know?

The Queen is a striking design, as is her spooky mask-faced mirror. Her coloring says Villain right away, and her pointlessly one-note hubris doesn't diminish her glowering unseen from windows, delivering supercilious threats to the huntsman, and even telling off her own enchanted mirror for being obviously wrong. "Uh, no thank you, I think I know what I'm talking about, Device I Use To Answer Questions For Me." Literally that is the thing's function but the Queen is the kind of person who would sooner believe that her magic scrying mirror is on the fritz than that any mere mortal would have dared to defy even her most immoral and horrific orders. Mind you, I still don't know why she needed to drink something to change clothes...

The witch-queen character design is really simple, but was probably really effective and a standard-setter. Big creepy eyes, Emperor fashion sense... the voice is the same voice, and I was picturing the actual Queen behaving the way she did in disguise, which was a really interesting exercise. Given how much she was enjoying herself I am almost tempted to wonder if "who is the fairest" was just her latest in a series of arbitrary questions that boiled down to "who will I be murdering today?" Certainly there aren't a heck of a lot of people in her queendom; the castle is apparently deserted except for the Queen, her huntsman and the stepdaughter she hates, there's a prince from another kingdom who intrudes without difficulty, and far away there are seven short guys who can't keep the sink clear of dishes. I would expect it's due to animation budget or complexity but the effect is to make it look like everyone avoids the Queen if they can and she likes it that way. They got a lot of mileage out of a stock character.

As for the music, it's devilishly catchy, but a lot of it is either brief, repetitive or lyrically lazy. The dwarves' washing song in particular is just flat-out dumb. The Silly Song and dance number is a fun sequence but nothing to write home about musically (though the artwork is often gorgeous). Many of the others just kind of... pass by. It doesn't help, I suppose, that I don't like the range Snow White sings in. That all being said, Someday My Prince Will Come is a wonderful melody and one of those instantly appealing phrases. If I were to guess at the most popular song from this movie, it's right there. A gentle waltz with these romantic string phrases and just a hint of melodic complexity, it stands head and shoulders above the rest. Also there's Hi-Ho, which is just relentlessly jaunty and catchy but inanely repetitive. Inanely is a word, right? I think so. Pretty sure.

Anyway, that's Snow White. I can't really say it's a favorite of mine, but I sure enjoyed it as an intro to the movies of Walt Disney. I'm hoping things keep getting better from here. :D


  1. Inanely is a word, yes.

    Your reviews are very good, you should make more of them when possible. Sadly I don't have any insight to comment wittily about this one here, but I wish I had.

  2. Heigh-Ho is pretty widely referenced, but on the balance I'd say you're bang on about Someday My Prince Will Come, seeing as it's enjoyed about seven straight decades of popularity as a jazz standard. Disney did, eventually, put out movies with some fabulous, Broadway-worthy scores... but that's another story for another time.

    You know, it never occurred to me to envision the Queen in her normal appearance during her disguised scenes. That would be terribly interesting, must remember to do that next time around.

    1. Yeah, it's supposed to be a "disguise so complete", but the way she acts is more like "Feels so GOOD to take the mask off for once"

      And I still have a fondness for "One Song"...


    Clearly inspired by Heigh-Ho!