Disney: Looking Back At SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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For the first of a new weekly retrospective column looking back at many classic Walt Disney film releases, Martin Rayburn quite aptly goes back to the very beginning.
Over the last few years, portions of Walt Disney's 20th Century output has begun to be dismissed as outdated, culturally inappropriate, sexist and misogynistic. Although I can quite understand why some parents, Keira Knightley included, may not want their daughters to watch a two dimensional heroine lamenting the day their prince will come and solve all their problems with a kiss, in the case of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that summation and dismissal really doesn't do the film justice.

Based on the 1812 German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, the main premise of Disney's Snow White is still the same; the magic mirror, the vain queen who wants Snow White dead as she wishes to be the fairest of them all, the poisoned apple and, of course, the dwarfs. But in what was Walt Disney's first ever full length animated picture, released way back in 1937, there are some additions to the story that years after would become known as that 'Disney Magic'.
The inclusion of songs, and extremely memorable ones primarily penned by Frank Churchill, may well be the most prominent addition to the Brothers Grimm's work, and arguably the biggest single contributing factor to Snow White's longevity. Sure it's pretty amazing that Snow White has such groundbreaking animation, and it certainly deserved all the praise it received in its day for this aspect, but whereas the animation, although still quite magical, does show its age thanks to modern advances in technology and CGI (and I'm not saying modern approaches to animation are better or worse, there's a perfectly nice fence which I will sit on regarding this argument whilst other more intelligent and/or opinionated people present their respective cases for both hand-drawn vs CGI), tunes like "Whistle While You Work" and "Heigh-Ho" have made such a lasting impression that 80 years on they are still hummed and quoted the world over. I suspect the melody and some of the refrain to one of those songs is in your head now? And I'd suspect there's a good chance you've not seen Snow White in many, many years too? And I'm sure there are many other people that can be heard quoting and singing the odd rephrase from these songs who quite likely haven't even seen the film, that's how seeped into our culture Snow White's music has become.
Of course, a great score needs a great singer and Walt did a wonderful job picking Adriana Caselotti as the voice of Snow White. Whether singing or talking she plays the character as wholesomely beautiful, sweet and cute, matching the way her character is drawn quite nicely. Her nemesis the Queen/Evil Witch, voiced by Lucille La Verne, also makes her character very memorable and I can quite imagine her voice alone sending chills down the spines of the children watching back in the day.
As Snow White flees from the Queen she befriends a large amount of the forest animals which all have the ability to somehow understand her, starting a trend in Disney films for years to come and adding to that all important magic. But animal friends aside, the supporting characters that everyone loves and remembers the most are of course the seven dwarfs. Voiced by various radio character actors of the day, Disney, in yet another masterstroke, gave the dwarfs names and characteristics to match. Every child has a favourite dwarf and every one of us has likely been compared to either Grumpy or Dopey at some time in our life. If not, then we all know someone who fits one of those monikers, don't we? Again, this use of aptronyms for the dwarfs turned out to be an extremely important decision in helping the film's legacy and impression on popular culture.

So although it's hard to argue against the fact that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is outdated, in respect to certain character traits in its heroine, there is so much more to the film that has become a mainstay in our lives 80+ years on that even though it is quite clearly a product of its time it's such an outstanding example of one that when taken as a whole Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is actually quite timeless.

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