I love Disney. I have always loved Disney, and I have never grown out of it. I love the films, I love the history, I love visiting the theme parks. It’s an industry reflective of our culture as Americans, and a massive empire of consumerism, certainly, but I love it all the same. The other day while discussing our upcoming trip to Walt Disney World, the fella pointed out how many Disney animated feature films I actually haven’t seen. There’s a whole slew of them, to be honest, that I just haven’t gotten around to. “Why don’t we watch them all?” he suggested. “Start to finish. In chronological order.” So that’s what we’re going to do. Not only is it a great Mandatory Date Night idea, but I’m also going to use it as blog fodder.
And so, I give you DISNEY ODYSSEY (2015): A Pilgrimage from the Past to the Present Through the Animated Feature Films of Walt Disney Animation Studios!
Last night, we began this sojourn with the animated feature film that started it all….
The Movie: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
- Walt Disney did not direct this film – he produced it. He actually utilized a team of six directors to bring the film together, and eight writers to create and storyboard it (including one woman: Dorothy Ann Blank!).
- Disney’s wife Lillian and his brother/business partner Roy O. Disney both thought it was going to bomb at the box office. It didn’t. In fact, if you adjust for inflation, Snow White remains one of the top ten highest-grossing movies of all time.
- Based on the German fairy tale “Schneewittchen” found in the Brothers Grimm’s compendium “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.”
- After its initial theatrical release, many velvet seats in Radio City Music Hall in NYC needed to be replaced; the movie was so frightening that children wet their pants and ruined the upholstery.
- The design and names of the seven dwarfs went through tons of rewrites and revisions until Disney was satisfied with the right mix of “screwiness” and comic potential.
- The voice actress for Snow White, a girl named Adriana Caselotti, was under strict contract never to act or perform on stage or screen again – Disney wanted Snow White’s voice to be ‘unique.’ However you can hear Adriana in one other famous film… The Wizard of Oz. In “If I Only Had A Heart,” she quotes Romeo & Juliet from offscreen! She also appears in It’s A Wonderful Life in the background at Martini’s bar.
- First establishing shot of the fairy tale kingdom after the book opens at the beginning is really beautiful! Considerably gorgeous artwork in this film. This is really the beginning of ‘fairytale culture’ and the long legacy of Disney Princesses yet to come.
- This is also the beginning of princess-animal relations, as we know it today. In the beginning while singing at the Wishing Well, Snow White has like fifty white doves hanging out with her and nodding their heads to her questions. They don’t talk, but they’re obviously sentient. When Snow White collapses after running through the woods, she is suddenly surrounded by hundreds of Friendly Woodland Creatures: squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, bluebirds, sparrows, quail, deer, and raccoons. It makes you wonder what sparked that idea for Disney: where did this come from? Disney Princesses are to animals what sirens were to ancient sailors: an irrevocable draw and an insatiable need to help and serve at the Princess’ beck and call. I think it’s partly because animators were skilled at drawing and bringing to life animals and non-realistic human creatures but animating the realistic Snow White and her Prince (whose name I learned is Ferdinand) was extremely difficult for them. We read online that the Prince was originally supposed to have been a much more prominent player in this story, but that animating him was so difficult they had to cut back on his involvement. This may also be why Snow’s nose disappears at certain angles, and her eyes are closed 95% of the film. It was just easier that way.
- For perspective on how old this film is, J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit (the original book, you ding dongs) was published in September of 1937, just a few months before this movie hit cinemas. *INCEPTION NOISE BWAAAAAAARRRRRR*
- Another Princess Culture thing established in this film: Princess As Cleaning/Hospitality Staff. Snow White’s wicked stepmother the Evil Queen (literally she has no name) hates her so much she forces her to dress in rags (which as still pretty form-fitting and adorable) and makes her clean the castle. This is ingrained in her so much that when she later arrives at the Dwarfs’ house she IMMEDIATELY STARTS CLEANING. Nature or nurture? OCD or queen’s conditioning?
- Okay, the dwarfs. Their house is hella German, filled with animal woodcarvings in the architecture (mostly owls for some reason) and they own a pipe organ (wow) but they don’t clean at all… it’s implied that it’s because they’re men. MEN DO NOT CLEAN. Of course not. They poke fun at each other for being ‘girly’ when Snow White makes them wash up later, also to indicate that washing and bathing one’s self are likewise effeminate. Mmhmmkay.
- Dopey….okay. Dopey. Why doesn’t Dopey talk? Happy says it’s because he’s never tried to. But he screams a few times, and makes noises. So…. Wait a second. Mute. Long sleeves he trips over. Adorably awkward. Dopey is PEDROLINO. Wait, actually, the dwarfs are riddled with commedia dell’arte references….!
- What is actually the deal with the dwarfs? Are they brothers? They all share the same hair/beard cut. They all have the same brown eyes (except Grumpy whose are black/regular cartoony like, and Dopey, whose are blue).
- HOLY CRAP the witch chase up the mountain in the thunderstorm is pretty intense, no lie, annnnnnnnd boom. Lightning. That’s an Act of God if I ever saw one…
- Why doesn’t Prince Ferdinand’s horse respond to Snow White’s siren song of animal assistance? He just….stands there and stares at everyone bowing their heads and showing reverence while she’s in her glass coffin.
- Whoa…whoa whoa whoawhoawhoaWAIT a second. He wakes her up, he puts her on the horse, she says bye to the dwarfs, and then….castle in the sky? angelic music? New theory: Ferdinand is actually an angel, sent to retrieve Snow White’s spirit from her body and bring her to Heaven cause ain’t no way her corpse stayed fresh for six months while he searched for her. Gross.
COMMEDIA BONUS! Number of Commedia Lazzi Seen in This Film: 8 (including sneaking, chasing, tripping on sleeves, trying to hit someone but hitting yourself instead, malapropisms)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a surprisingly long flick, but it is a true feature film and the first of its stock, paving the way for many more beautifully drawn and imagined cartoon movies from Disney and other studios and creators the world over. Its successes at the box office allowed Disney to open his studios in Burbank, CA, and within two years they were hard at work on the next five or six films.