Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

17 05 2010

Few people today fully appreciate the ground-breaking work apparent in Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Now over 70 years old, this film is where animation grew up and matured into a complete art-form in its own right.

Never before had cel animation been used to tell a story in feature-length. Could animated characters display real emotional depth in a performance—enough to sustain an 80+ minute running time? Would audiences buy into the drama?

Three key scenes display the success of Disney’s gamble. The first involves the huntsman preparing to slay Snow White in the woods: the suspense builds as the spectator anticipates the blow, and yet as Snow White cowers, the huntsman finally relents and confesses. The second is where the witch offers Snow White the poisoned apple: again, the suspense builds, this time with the witch playing on Snow White’s innocence and naivety in order to trick her into taking a bite. Finally, the scene where the dwarves gather around Snow White’s bed to mourn her loss is heartfelt and genuine: the dwarves are real characters beyond their cartoonish, comedic function.

In all three scenes, characters other than Snow White carry the drama. Despite being the title character, Snow White is a foil, with her innocence and purity giving the surrounding characters something to react to. The Queen reacts to Snow White with contempt, the dwarves react to her with warmth and the woodland creatures react to her with curiosity and good cheer, but all find her archetypal nature captivating and powerful.
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