If I walked up to complete
strangers—just normal people out on the street—and asked them if they had ever
seen Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,
I bet over half of them would say yes. Those who answer no, I then would bet
have at least heard of it. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a
classic. Even though it came out nearly a century ago, people still talk about
it frequently today. And that’s because of how revolutionary it was. Not only
in its techniques but in its style and story-telling as well. And this is largely
due to Walt Disney. The film’s creation faced a lot of adversity, but it held
out and the result became a success.
So, despite being called
“Disney’s Folly,” Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs became the first full-length animated feature in color and
with sound because of Walt Disney and his maxim, “You don’t know what you can
do unless you try.”
Walt Disney was a creative
genius. Without his creativity and determination, the film would have been
impossible. There are numerous accounts of these two traits, ranging from his
live portrayals of characters to his desire for a three-dimensional feel—which
led to the invention of his own multiplane camera. As well, having read the
Grimm’s original, “Little Snow White” and then watching Snow White, I can see Walt’s deliberate changes. He altered
elements of the story so it would be more appealing to viewers. He added
romance. He softened the violence. He made it a story that engaged people and
touched their hearts. He had a knack for that—touching people’s hearts.
However, Walt Disney didn’t
have an easy life. “Walt Disney’s adolescent years were ruled by a repressive,
increasingly cruel father who was incapable of love and affection.”
He was born in Chicago,
Illinois on December 5th, 1901. He grew up on a farm and had three
older brothers and a younger sister. However, despite these siblings, “it has
been assumed that Disney embraced the animals around the farm because of lack
of companionship in his family.” His
father, Elias Disney, was very strict and political.
Though Elias ran his entire
“household with an iron fist and did not shrink from imposing his authority by
physical punishment,” he seemed to have it out for Walt. He rode his back,
cracking down on him for even minor things.
intimidation seems to have left deep scars on his son’s emotional makeup.” Walt
Disney was a creative and determined person, and no one can deny him of that.
However, there were instances with his employees where “he was often impenetrable,
distant and brusque, and considered those who left or who opposed his will to
be traitors.” This was only a side of Walt Disney, though, and not one that was
commonly seen. For the most part, he was as people know him: humble, bold, and
There is more to Walt’s
history than his abusive years with his father, though. In high school—he
attended McKinley High School in Chicago—Walt was a cartoonist for the school
paper. At 16, though, he quit school to join the Army. He was rejected for
being underage. Rather than return to school, “he joined the Red Cross and was
sent to France for a year to drive an ambulance.” When he returned to the U.S.,
he settled in Kansas City, where he pursued a career as a newspaper artist. It
wasn’t long before he was introduced to animation, though, and quickly
developed a fascination for it. So, he joined the “infant animation industry”
with his brother Roy. After early success with Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney became
very adventurous and introduced “synchronized sound, full-color three-strip
Technicolor, feature-length cartoons and technical development in cameras.” All
these advancements furthered the development of animated film. However, the
company that he was creatively heading, needed something more to grow. And Walt had known that “more” was feature-length
films. They would generate the necessary income that would allow for the
company to expand. However, when he took on Snow White, there were many critics
and people sharing their doubts. Walt displayed his courage and resolve, not
letting their doubt phase him, and was unmoved by their slander and negativity.
In result, he produced a classic.
And Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is
a classic because of its “firsts” and its engaging story. It was the first
full-length animated feature in color and with song. And its storyline is an
appealing twist on a known tale.
The story is based off
“Little Snow White,” a short story by the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. It
is very close to the story, in terms of the characters and setting. However,
there are some obvious differences. For one, in the tale, the prince wakes Snow
White because one of his servants—who was carrying her coffin—missteps and
stumbles, and the movement dislodges a piece of the poisoned apple from her
throat. In the film, the prince wakes
her with a kiss. There are other notable differences—such as minor changes with
the characters—but this one really shows how the movie was created to be more
appealing. It brought in romance. And it softened the tale, which was kind of
gruesome—especially for how the queen ended.
Besides having a fascinating
and exciting story, the film also had wondrous representations of the characters
who made up the story. Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs had a realistic portrayal of humans. Even though it was
animation, the feelings and movements were so realistic—in comparison to prior
animations—that it was easy to connect with the characters. As a viewer, you
sympathized with Snow White and came to love the dwarves. However, as John
Canemaker said, “One of the greatest challenges in making this film was the
depiction of the human characters.” The company went through many different
concepts and ideas for the queen, Snow White, the prince, as well as the
dwarves. In an earlier short created by Walt, there were dwarves, but they were
all the same—they were doing the same thing and appeared the same. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the
dwarves are “definite individual characters.” These distinct, lovable
characters really brought the animation to life, aiding in the film’s success.
And really, no one can argue
that Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
wasn’t a success. On its first trip around the world, the film grossed
$8,000,000. And while a large part of this success came from the film itself,
there was also tons of advertising for it. The company was even selling toys of
the dwarves! This beckoning of attention to the movie’s release created a lot
of excited anticipation for it. However, though there was a lot of hype
surrounding the film before it was released, there was also a lot of criticism
directed at Walt Disney. The company didn’t have a lot of money at the time,
and there was also the fact of what
Walt wanted to achieve with the film. His desire for a three-dimensional feel
and a more realistic portrayal of humans seemed impossible to critics, so they
wrote his endeavors off as foolish. But their opinion didn’t end up mattering.
Despite what they might have thought of the film before its release, it turned
out a hit.
Besides Walt Disney’s
determination, another contributor the film’s success was its technology. “In
1935, when he (Walt) began to prepare for it, he felt it needed an illusion of
depth.” Walt Disney didn’t want Snow
White and the Seven Dwarfs to feel like the animations and shorts before
it; he was “afraid that eight minutes of flat, one-dimensional animation might
be hard for the public to take.” To achieve this illusion of depth, he
experimented with a device he invented: the multiplane camera. The multiplane camera was invented to give the
backgrounds a three-dimensional and more realistic feel. Thus, the backgrounds
were separated into multiple planes. The first evidence of similar techniques
was in 1926 in The Adventures of Prince
Achmed. After that, Ub Iwerks actually invented the multiplane camera in
1933. Then, finally, Walt Disney had his own multiplane camera invented in
1937. Other technology used was the drawing and painting itself—the
cel-animation. And this was using that art for a film. So, it was very tedious and lengthy work. The cells, or
images, were two-sided. One side had the lines which were to be inked. The
other side was where the images would be painted—basically, coloring in the
lines that were visible from the other side. Once completed, the cell was then
taken to be shot by the multiplane camera. And 24 cells created 1 second of
film. For Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,
there were over 200,000 cells. Though this meant creating the film would take a
while, it ended up being worth it.
As such, another reason why Snow White
and the Seven Dwarfs was so revolutionary was because of the multiplane camera and traditional animation. By
separating the background into multiple planes, each plane was able to move at
a different speed—and just move in
general—to give a more realistic and three-dimensional feel. Walt Disney
explained it by having a painting with a large, luminous moon. With old
cameras, they would have to zoom in and out on the shot, and that just made the
moon grow larger or smaller with the rest of the image. With the multiplane
camera, they were able to zoom in and have the moon stay the same size, large,
while the rest of the image grew smaller. This made the shots more realistic.
And the traditional animation contributed to this realism as well. With the
two-sided cells, on the side with the paint, some of the characters—Snow White,
specifically—would have real make-up
added to them. So, both technologies—the traditional animation and the multiplane
camera—really aided in the success and the acquirement of fame for the film.
Now, I have included a lot
about the film’s framework. However, I have only barely touched on the story.
And when I did, I focused on its effect more so than its contents. The story itself
is very engaging and beautiful, though, so I will dive more into it.
The film opens with a shot of
a decorated book. The book opens and you’re taken into a story where Snow
White, a princess who is stepdaughter to an evil Queen, is dressed poorly,
nothing like a princess, and it’s revealed that this is because the Queen is
jealous of Snow White. She has Snow White act as her maid. The exposition
continues as you see the Queen confer with a Magic Mirror, asking it, “Mirror, Mirror
on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” In which, the Magic Mirror replies
to be her. However, that changes one day, as the mirror’s answer says Snow
White “is a thousand times more beautiful than you.”
As the Queen is being told
this, Snow White is down in the courtyard. She is singing, and her high, sweet
voice is soon joined by another—the prince’s. The prince, having heard the
beautiful voice, sought it out and discovered Snow White. Snow White, startled, runs inside. However,
the prince begs for Snow White to come back out. She succumbs to the balcony,
where the prince sings to her.
The Queen, angered by the
revelation that Snow White’s beauty is superior to hers—as well as the
interaction occurring outside—demands Snow White’s death. She calls upon the
Huntsman, whom she orders to kill Snow White and bring her heart back to the
Queen. He is ordered to take her out into the forest, away from any prying
eyes, and kill her. The Huntsman is not keen to do the Queen’s bidding.
However, he is bound by orders. So, he takes Snow White out into the forest.
Snow White picks flowers and plays with the animals, seeming very happy. While
she is helping a baby animal find its parents, the Huntsman advances. He
unsheathes his dagger and prepares to strike. Snow White notices this and
screams. The Huntsman, perhaps because he stared her vulnerability and kindness
in the face, drops the dagger, unable to carry out the order. Demeanor
completely changed, the Huntsman begs for Snow White’s forgiveness, and alerts
her to the Queen’s hatred—which has grown so much that she wants Snow White
dead. Snow White, heeding this, flees through the woods. However, as she is
running, her fear appears to her in large, intimidating manifestations. Eventually,
the fear and running become too much, and Snow White falls to the ground. Her
fear soon disappears as the woods soften and animals come out. Snow White
befriends them, sings to them, and asks if they know of place where she can
The animals, happy to help
Snow White, lead her to a cottage. When she enters, she discovers the house is
empty and dirty. Snow White cleans the house, with the help of the animals,
thinking perhaps the owner will let her stay if she does. The seven dwarfs, who
own the cottage, are away at work. They are in a mine, digging for diamonds. After
she has cleaned the entire house, Snow White falls asleep, though not on just
The dwarves, on their way
home, notice a light on from inside the cottage. Concluding that a monster has
taken up residence in their home, they approached the cottage cautiously. They
enter the house, but are wary as they search the first floor. They find nothing
and continue up to the second floor, where they find Snow White asleep. Snow
White awakes soon after they discover her and befriends each of them. Snow White prepares them dinner, but has the
dwarves wash before she serves it to them.
While this is happening, back
in the castle, the Queen confers with her Magic Mirror. As she asks it the same
question she does every day, though this time expecting to hear that she, once
again, is the fairest of them all, the Queen is surprised when it answers that
Snow White, still alive, is the fairest of them all. The Magic Mirror also
tells her that the Huntsman gave her a fake heart, a pig’s heart. Enraged, the
Queen decides she will kill Snow White herself. She disguises herself as an old
woman to deceive Snow White. She then decides to use a poisoned apple to send
Snow White into the Sleeping Death.
While the Queen is plotting,
Snow White is preparing the dwarves for bed, growing closer to them. The Queen
sets out for Snow White soon after.
The next morning, the dwarves
leave for the mine. Grumpy, in passing, warns Snow White to not let any
strangers inside the house. After they leave, the Queen, disguised as an old
lady, approaches the cottage and Snow White. She offers Snow White the poisoned
apple. Snow White is about to accept it, when the forest animals, sensing the
danger from the vultures flying overhead, try to attack her. Snow White, taking
pity on the old woman who was victimized by the animals, invites her inside.
The animals, still trying to save Snow White, rush to the mine, where they
alert the dwarves to what’s happening. The dwarves, once made aware, rush back
to the cottage.
As this is happening, the
Queen has convinced Snow White to take a bite from the apple by claiming it to
be a Wishing Apple—one that will make any of her wishes come true. Snow White
takes a bite and immediately falls into the Sleeping Death. The dwarves
discover the Queen, and what she has done, and chase her up a cliff. Cornered,
the Queen tries to crush them with a boulder. However, that doesn’t work, and
she is pushed off the cliff by a bolt of lightning, and the same boulder crushes
Having dealt with the Queen, the dwarves return to the cottage. Both the
dwarves and the animals mourn Snow White, who appears dead. They place her in a
glass coffin, which they then take and set up in the forest. Not long after,
the Prince arrives. Mourning, he sings to Snow White’s dead body. He ends the
song by kissing her. His kiss breaks the spell of the Sleeping Death, and Snow
White wakes up.
The film ends with Snow White
saying goodbye to the dwarves and the forest animals, and riding off into the
sunset with the Prince.
The story is sound all
around. It has sweet moments and tense moments, and it engages you right off
the bat. Though Snow White is revered
for its techniques, its story can’t be dismissed either. And that’s thanks to
In conclusion, without Walt
Disney, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
would have been impossible to create. His creativity and passion and
determination led to the appealing, new light of the story and its characters,
as well as to the pursuit of a three-dimensional feel—which, in turn, lead to
the invention of his own multiplane camera. The story elements and this
illusion of depth made the film revolutionary, as well as the fact that it was
the first full-length animated feature in color and with sound.
Walt Disney took animation
further. He explored storytelling in animation. He explored depth in animation.
He explored cel-animation. When he went into the “infant animation industry”
with his brother, he had ideas. And those ideas became real, tangible things
and achievements through his creativity and determination. Snow White was just one of them.
I think animation would not
be where it is today without Walt Disney—or, at least, not have arrived at
where it is now by now. Of course,
there were other artists and creators right beside Disney or very close
behind—and even a few ahead—but I don’t think any of them really possessed the
same passion and determination as Walt did. He
worked all the time. But for him, it seems like it didn’t even feel like
work. From what I have researched, he loved what he did. He had a true passion
for it. And that passion is very visible in Snow
White—and not just the film itself, but also the creation of it.
Despite the odds being stacked against him, Walt
Disney, through creativity, ingenuity, and passion, created one of the greatest
classics of all time: Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs, a revolutionary film that changed the game of animation.