Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.” (Note: originally posted on the Disqus site two months ago)

Title: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Year: 1937
Box office: Budget: $2,000,000 (estimated)
Gross: $184,925,485 (USA)
Directed by: David Hand (supervising)

Plot: Snow White is a princess living with her stepmother, Queen Grimhide. Jealous of her beauty, the Queen forces Snow White to work as a scullery maid and asks her Magic Mirror daily “who is the fairest one of all”.

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One day, the Magic Mirror informs the Queen that Snow is now the fairest in the land. The Queen orders her Huntsman to take Snow White into the forest and kill her, demanding that the huntsman return with Snow White’s heart in a jeweled box as proof. However, the Huntsman cannot bring himself to kill Snow White. He urges her to flee into the woods and never look back. Lost and frightened, the princess is befriended by woodland creatures who lead her to a cottage deep in the woods.

The cottage belongs to seven adult dwarfs, named Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey, who work in a nearby mine. They eventually welcome her into their home.

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Meanwhile, the Queen discovers that Snow White is still alive. Using a potion to disguise herself as an old hag, the Queen creates a poisoned apple that will put whoever eats it into the “Sleeping Death”, a curse that can only be broken by “love’s first kiss”, but dismisses that Snow White will be buried alive. The Queen goes to the cottage while the dwarfs are away, and fools Snow White into biting into the poisoned apple. The dwarfs return as the Queen leaves the cottage and give chase, trapping her on a cliff. She tries to roll a boulder over them, but before she can do so, lightning strikes the cliff, causing her to fall to her death.

The dwarfs return to their cottage and find Snow White seemingly dead, they place her in a glass coffin trimmed with gold in a clearing in the forest. . A year later, a prince, who had previously met and fallen in love with Snow White, learns of her eternal sleep and visits her coffin. Saddened by her apparent death, he kisses her, which breaks the spell and awakens her. The dwarfs and animals all rejoice as the Prince takes Snow White to his castle.

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Source: German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm

Creation: Disney had been primarily involved in animated short subjects like Mickey Mouse. He hoped to expand his studio’s prestige and revenues by moving into features. Both his brother and business partner Roy Disney and his wife Lillian attempted to talk him out of it. He had to mortgage his house to help finance the film’s production.

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Initially, Disney wanted to focus on the dwarfs, but later beefed up the storyline between the Queen and Snow, this led to the cutting of a completed animated sequence of the dwarfs eating soup

Voice Actors: Adriana Caselotti as Snow White: after a brief stint as a chorus girl at MGM, Walt Disney hired Caselotti as the voice of Snow White. She was paid a total of $970 for working on the film . In a particularly dickish move, she was under contract with Disney, who prevented her from appearing in further film and other media, in order to preserve the illusion

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Pinto Colvig as Grumpy and Sleepy in a dual role. Colvig also voiced the characters of Goofy and Pluto for Disney as well.

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Billy Gilbert as Sneezy, specifically the sneezing. He had a vaudeville act which would build into a sneezing routine. Disney later used him as Willie the Giant. The rest of the cast was rounded out by Hollywood veterans Lucille La Verne, Harry Stockwell (father of Dean Stockwell), Roy Atwell, and Otis Harlan

Critical Reception: The film was an immediate success. It premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre on December 21, 1937, to a wildly receptive audience, many of whom were the same naysayers who dubbed the film “Disney’s Folly”. The film received a standing ovation at its completion. Six days later, Walt Disney and the seven dwarfs appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. Noted filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein and Charlie Chaplin praised Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as a notable achievement in cinema; Eisenstein went so far as to call it the greatest film ever made.

At the 11th Academy Awards, the film won an Academy Honorary Award for Walt Disney “as a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field”. Disney received a full-size Oscar statuette and seven miniature ones, presented to him by 10-year-old child actress Shirley Temple.

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Legacy: Snow White’s success led to Disney moving ahead with more feature-film productions. Walt Disney used much of the profits from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to finance a new $4.5 million studio in Burbank – the location on which The Walt Disney Studios is located to this day.

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Snow White generally meets in character at the parks: in the Princess Theatre at Magic Kingdom and in the Germany pavillion at Epcot. Queen Grimhilde and the Dwarfs appear for the Halloween party. Disneyland features a dark ride called Snow White’s Scary Adventures. The Magic Kingdom had a similar side, but it has since closed. A new ride called The Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride opened in a new expansion at Disney World. The Disney Channel also aired a program called “The 7D” starring the dwarfs.

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Next: Pinocchio