Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (USA, 1937)
Directed by David Hand
Starring Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig
The recent release of Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman makes this the perfect time to re-examine the Disney version of Snow White, whose success and reputation these films are trying so hard to emulate. The temptation would be to go in intending to rip the film to shreds, holding it up as a glorified relic to give the modern versions of the fairy tale a fighting chance. But for all the cynicism surrounding Disney (most of which is justified), there is no getting away from the fact that their first feature-length animation is a masterpiece.
In an age where fairy tales have been thoroughly deconstructed, and their positions on gender and sexuality have been analysed down to the letter, it would be very easy to dismiss Snow White as outdated, chauvinist claptrap - or to blame it for the arguably worse, more offensive claptrap that followed. While the film isn't as overtly limiting in its depictions of women as some of the more recent Disney offerings, you can make the point that its success set the template for everything that followed, and therefore it deserves its fair share of the blame.
Peter Pan review, the film was dubbed "Disney's folly" when first announced. The conventional wisdom of the time was that the only way to make money with animation was through shorts: you could produce a large number of them relatively quickly, allowing you to build up a regular audience, and always had something in reserve if one of your cartoons fared poorly. Feature-length animation was a huge financial risk which threatened the future of Walt Disney as a creative artist. Hence he and director David Hand were as thorough as possible with the finished product - and it shows.
Verdict: The jewel in Disney's crown (in spite of everything)
Click here to read my earlier Letters of Note post about the naming of the seven dwarfs.