To kick off our 20 Weeks of Disney Animation, we are discussing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!
In 1937, the first Disney animated feature film was released: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However, this wasn’t only the first Disney feature; it was the first animated feature film, period. During this time, filmgoers were used to seeing at least one cartoon during their regular moviegoing experience. They were usually between six to eight minutes and played before the feature would begin. However, a full-length cartoon AS a feature? “Walt must be crazy!”, they said. “No one is going to sit through a full-length cartoon!”. However, as we know today, people did. The reviews that came from those early screenings surprised everybody and the film was a monumental success.
There has been so much written about the impact of this film, in particular, on animation and film history. However, the work that Walt Disney and his team did cannot be understated or taken for granted. Not only did they pave the way for future animators, this film was, and still is, revolutionary. One such modern (for the time) technique created for the film was the multiplane camera. This camera was a way to add depth and layers to the the film, giving the filmmakers the ability to pan in and out of scenes and backgrounds. This technological innovation was first tested in the Silly Symphony The Old Mill before being used, as intended, in Snow White.
One of the most important aspects of the film is its soundtrack. As Snow White is the oldest of Disney’s feature films, the impact of the music has spanned generations. Interestingly, the film does not begin with an opening song. Instead, we get the classic fairytale book opening (something that Walt would make a habit of using over the years) and a quick scene with the Evil Queen and the Magic Mirror. None of this includes any singing. The following scene, however, features Snow White and her friends, the animals. What begins as dialogue quickly and seamlessly transitions into the first song in the film, “I’m Wishing”. As evidenced by the title, this is considered an “I Want” song. When Howard Ashman was writing the lyrics for The Little Mermaid, he gave a lecture about musicals and musical theatre history to Disney’s staff. In this lecture, he talked about how he gathered inspiration for “Part of Your World” from “I Want” songs of the past. He spoke not only of classics from the musical theatre canon, but also songs like “I’m Wishing” and “Someday My Prince Will Come”. The concept and practice of the Disney princess “I Want” song has become so prominent that it was recently parodied in the Disney film Ralph Breaks the Internet, and that began with Snow White. In this first song, Snow White sings of her desire to meet the love of her life. He quickly arrives and rather than making “I’m Wishing” a duet, an entirely new song begins, sung by the Prince. This is called “One Song” and the tune is echoed throughout the film by both the Prince and Snow White. This song, along with “Heigh-Ho” is one of the better known songs from the film. “Heigh-Ho” functions as a way to introduce the other main characters for the film, the dwarfs. We immediately see that both the dwarfs and Snow White have a similar attitude about work: be positive and have fun even when the work may be hard.
“Someday My Prince Will Come”, which appears later, is another song sung by Snow White. As the title implies, this song gives Snow White an opportunity to convey her feelings and hopes about the Prince to the seven dwarfs. This is another of the most well-known and remembered songs from the film and is the second “I Want” song. Most musicals only have one “I Want” song and during his lecture, Howard Ashman laughs and points out that “somehow they got away with two”. The film concludes with a reprise of “One Song” by the Prince and a chorus sings “Someday My Prince Will Come” as the Prince and Snow White get ready to live happily ever after.
There were two songs that were written for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that were ultimately not included in the film, “Music in Your Soup” and “You’re Never Too Old to Be Young.” “Music in Your Soup” was a song that the dwarves sing, or rather slurp after Snow White makes them supper. The dwarves slurp loudly in time with the music, which makes for a fun song that showcases the personalities and lack of manners of the dwarfs, much to the dismay of Snow White. This song was completely animated, though not inked and painted, and can be viewed as a special feature on several home video releases of the film. It also was later included as part of Snow White Live. The second deleted song, “You’re Never Too Old to Be Young”, was replaced by “The Silly Song” in the finished film. The songs are quite similar in sound and in theme, both featuring yodeling and function as a means to entertain rather than to move the story along. This song was later sung by Dick Van Dyke in the television special Disney’s Golden Anniversary of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1986. For an even more detailed discussion on the soundtrack, check out our Snow White entries in our series titled Disney’s Musical Theatre. Click here for Part One and here for Part Two.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a highly entertaining watch, both as a film and as a piece of animation history. It is a great introduction into the world of Disney, especially as a kid. It is enjoyable to watch this movie again as an adult because certain things will affect you differently than as a kid. As a villain, The Queen/Peddler Woman holds up very well and is still scary, even as an adult. However, as an actual character, she is somewhat weak. How did she become Snow White’s stepmother and a Queen, for instance? That backstory isn’t here. This weakness also applies to Snow White and the Prince, both. Part of this is likely due to the challenges of animating human characters at the time something that, interestingly, also applied to innovations in the world of computer animation as well. The animation of characters often does appear as less than satisfactory but, due to the beautiful backgrounds and scenery throughout, is easily forgivable. As for the dwarves, I can only say that I relate more to Grumpy now than ever I did as a kid.
Live-action remake: It has been announced that there will be a live-action remake of Snow White from Disney, featuring new songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. These prolific songwriters have not only written some of Broadway’s best musicals in recent years such as Dear Evan Hansen but also have written songs for such blockbuster films as La La Land and The Greatest Showman. They were also involved with Disney in 2019’s Aladdin, writing the lyrics of Alan Menken’s new song “Speechless”, featured in the film. There is some great potential in the music that could be written in the upcoming remake. Personally, I would love to see more story-driven musical numbers, specifically a song from the Queen. Though she has always been a terrifying and interesting villain, her character has always been somewhat one dimensional, as she has never been given a great backstory by Disney. This is a perfect opportunity to flesh out this famous character by giving her more to do. The transformation scene, in particular, would be a great place for a new showstopping number. Check out more information on the remake by clicking on our exclusive here.
Snow White in the theme parks: With Snow White being Walt’s first film, it is unsurprising that it has always had a huge presence in the theme park. The most obvious example is Snow White’s Scary Adventures, which was one of the few operating rides on opening day in Disneyland. This dark ride is a simple one, taking you on a ride through the woods with an emphasis on some scary aspects from the film. One of the best effects of the ride is when the queen in the mirror turns around to reveal herself as the witch!
Sequel: Though Walt Disney never made direct sequels to his own films, he considered making one to his first film, with a tentative title of Snow White Returns. The characters from Snow White, particularly the dwarfs, proved to be popular and successful among film viewers, appearing in several wartime propaganda pieces and ads. The deleted song from the film featuring the dwarves, “Music in Your Soup”, was considered to be included in said sequel. Ultimately, it never came to fruition but more details on it can be found on the Blu-ray on a feature hosted by Disney producer Don Hahn.
Snow White on the stage: Snow White is notable as the first Disney property to make its way to the stage. Years before the Disney Theatrical Group was created, Snow White was adapted for the stage in the late 1960’s. Though people could see live cartoon characters walking around at Disneyland, this was the first time that the general public could see a live musical version of a Disney classic. Using all of the songs from the film, as well as newly written ones for the stage, this marked a major business venture that would be taken even farther in the years to come. This was a way to make the cartoon world a real, living place. This production is often forgotten about by both Disney and musical fans because it was never on Broadway and the later production of Beauty and the Beast on Broadway is better known. Snow White Live premiered in New York in 1978 at the Radio City Music Hall, in order to save this venue that was about to be torn down. This production was a huge success and is instrumental not only in the history of Snow White but also when looking at the history of Disney musicals on stage.
When it was first released on VHS in the 1990’s, an introduction to the tape was filmed featuring Roy Disney discussing its impact and legacy. Check it out before watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, now available on Disney+.