Once a month I’m going to tackle a Disney Animated Feature Film and declare it a masterpiece, classic, or signature. What do those mean? A masterpiece is a timeless work of art for an animated film. It would have incredible art, a great story, wonderful music, and the Disney magic. A classic is a film right below that. It has the art form, but may not quite be the work of art that is amazing. Or maybe the story didn’t quite work but is still good. And, it still has the Disney magic to it. A signature Disney film is one that deserves to be in the Disney library. It’s not what I would call a work of art, but it’s a Disney film through and through. It still has heart and fun characters.
As you can tell, I think highly of animated films. They are an overlooked art form. Disney is the studio that makes these films in spades. So, I want to celebrate the films while looking at them objectively.
I’m going to look at animation art, music, story, and characters. How well are these accomplished? And I’m going to start with the one that started it all: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs! Even though it’s the original animated feature film I’m not going to give it a pass.
It being the first animated feature film there was a lot riding on the art form for Disney. It had to be pitted against live-action films of the 1930’s. The studio did a lot of experimenting before tackling this project. Animators spent a lot of time crafting the forms to make this a fairly realistic portrayal of a princess and her environment.
Did it pay off?
I’d say it did. The artwork is incredible! I’m saying that for the time that this was produced too. But, I would also say the art holds up to today’s standards. Even the animation has some life-likeness that would give many animated pieces a run for its money in modern times. It captured emotion and movement so well.
The backgrounds and camera shots are superb as well. The landscapes look like paintings that have come to life. There are some special animation effects that are astounding when you realize they had to draw them frame by frame. Cinematography-wise there are some magic shots that, I think, would win an Academy Award if they were live action.
Overall this is animation eye candy.
A musical fits well with animation. It helps it appeal to audiences even more than just watching a cartoon on the big screen. For an animated full-length film, I’m sure the company was hard pressed to have some hit songs for people to enjoy.
I’d say there are some timeless tunes and some that fit a little more in the context.
The dwarf songs are catchy and pleasing. Heigh-Ho, the Silly Song, and Washing Song are great, don’t get me wrong. But, out of the Disney context, they are mostly for kids and kid at heart.
Put up against the other songs in the film – I’m Wishing, Whistle While You Work, and Someday My Prince Will Come – they’re not as timeless for outside of the movie use. I know I’m being rather critical, but I’m treating the music as even works of art. I like all the songs, and I think they are great Disney classics. I think some work and some don’t as commentaries on life overall. The songs that Snow White sing are the strongest with emotion and lyrics.
Story and Characters
I’m going to combine the story and characters. I think they go hand in hand. The story is simple but has some weight to it. It’s about jealousy and that not paying off. It’s about kindness and love winning out. Yes, it’s a lesson story, but a good one. And I’d say it doesn’t hit you in the face.
The characterization is the key to the story. The Evil Queen is so consumed with jealousy she is almost that pure emotion. Snow White is contrasted with her as an innocent, kind-hearted girl. And I found some depth whether or not it was supposed to be there. The queen hardly lifts a finger. Right off the bat, we find out that she has made Snow White be like a servant to clean the castle they both live in. She has the huntsman go after Snow White at first instead of trying to do the work herself. Snow White takes her responsibilities well, and I see her as a capable woman. I’m not saying women should clean, I’m pointing out she actually is active where the Evil Queen does nothing. To me, it’s saying jealousy = laziness and kindness = taking action. Also, there is such a big contrast to Snow being kind that I think is a good example for anyone. I know she’s been seen as a passive princess, but I actually think she represents a strong princess character. She’s one who takes action and truly shows that kindness is one of the best traits any person can have.
The story is carried by the relationship between the Evil Queen and Snow White. But the title contains other characters. Are the dwarfs needed? Yes and no. They provide a place for Snow White to hide. They also provide the outlet for her kindness. They are also comic relief. Is that needed in this film? Not necessarily. It does provide added animation technique. Their humor is not too over the top. It still works to have them in the film, but I’d dare say barely.
A final remark I’d say about the story is I wish we didn’t have the word card narration device. The fillers the on-screen paragraphs give, like that book introduction, would be some very strong scenes. But, I recognize the experimental quality of the film. There was a deadline and it’s hard to walk the line between art and entertainment at times. Time becomes a factor. It would have taken a lot of time to get those scenes done well. So, I give it a pass with the narration knowing the history.
Masterpiece, Classic or Signature?
I would put Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in the masterpiece category of Disney films. Even if there are some not quite so strong features of story, characters, and music, they still have other strong points to counter the weak. But, it’s the animation that pushes it over. It’s so beautiful that it also helps make up for any weakness in the film. It is a masterpiece by many standards!
With the 80th anniversary of the film currently going, there are several opportunities to partake of this masterpiece. I would encourage you to watch in some way and admire the beauty of the film!
And, what do you think? Does it deserve to be in the masterpiece category? Let us know in the comments below!