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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

Week # 2: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"

(Originally published on 1/13/22)


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Run time: 83 min

Release Date: February 4th, 1938

Where/when I first saw it: Arlington Theater, 1983

How I watched it today: Blu-ray, Sunday afternoon.

As a piece of film history, “Snow White” is, indisputably, a milestone and gets more and more impressive as time goes on when you see what was accomplished at this period of time. The ripples in the water, the layers of gothic imagery in the forest, the dozens of characters on screen at once, each beaming with their own personality. So many elements of animation, music and storytelling that we now take for granted were born here, and, from all appearances and by all accounts, with no corners cut. The amount of detail that went into this (at the time) risky endeavor is staggering. Every frame was rendered with the utmost care.

On this most recent viewing, I noticed what a bold choice it was to have it start raining during the big, perilous climax. Given the pressure to finish the film and the daunting task to convince the world (not to mention investors) an animated feature film was a worthy endeavor, this is a corner that could have easily been cut and an animator at that time might have made the choice to keep it simple and easy for this first go-round. But the scene isn’t the scene unless it rains! So, more painstaking, backbreaking hours/weeks/months had to be spent making sure the rain, the drops, the splashes and shadows looked just right to get that creepy, unsettling look. The sequence ends with just the right amount of dread with those two vultures diving into the deathly void to gnaw on the Queen’s corpse. Just breathtaking!

This lens of history through which to view the film is what makes ‘Snow White” such a unique viewing experience today. Imagining what it must have been like to see it in 1938 is hard to do, but I suppose modern examples would have to include “Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” as game-changers in special effects-based cinema. The audiences of 1938 are always in the back of my mind when I watch it.

Yet, to view the film as simply a film, “Snow White” feels a bit bloated and with a narrative that, at some point, comes to a halt in terms of forward momentum. The antics and merriment of the dwarfs grows a bit tiresome after a while and you kind of want the Queen to come back after a long hiatus from the screen. That’s how I feel in the film’s second half whenever I watch it. Happens every time.

But how can I fault something this monumental simply because of pacing issues I might have with it? Again, as I write on "Steamboat Willie," a star rating seems silly here. I’m too wrapped up in the story of its creation, the historical importance and the animation techniques and innovations at play here to think about how it flows today as just a normal film. It’s not normal. It never has been. As I often say about young people who go to old movies and snicker at some of their cornier moments (the original “West Side Story,” for example, where I often see this happen): it’s not up to the movie to adjust to our sensibilities today, We have to make the adjustment ourselves. They didn’t know then what we know now. When you have that ability to suspend your cynicism for a mere 83 minutes for this deceptively innocuous fairy tale, the rewards are plentiful.


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