There remains and deserves little to be said about Disney’s own Pandora’s Box, their inaugural feature-length animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Not necessarily because its status as a first of its kind has rendered its reputation beyond reproach, but in addition to that, more than 70 years’ worth of ridicule and superior cartoon fairy tales have eclipsed the nature of Walt Disney’s achievement here. If the runaway success of Snow White opened the door for the production of Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Fantasia (made, respectively, with significantly more intelligence, heart, and élan than their predecessor), it also provided the aesthetic left with an easy scapegoat for all that’s crass and artless in Hollywood filmmaking, thereby rendering many unable to appreciate the likes of…Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Fantasia.
It is Snow White‘s afterbirth that merits both canonization and destruction. The child itself remains an underwhelming underachiever awarded undue merit simply for being first born. And yet, the fact that Snow White as an artifact is anything but impenetrable now emerges as its sole saving grace. The movie’s (and, consequently, Disney’s) legacy stresses the supremacy of craft over art, of labor over style. Far from simply elongating their Silly Symphonies into 80-plus minutes, the animation team labored over technical innovations like multiplane cel animation, which simulated depth of perception. The film took a painful three years to piece together, and the exertions are plainly visible in the callow final product. Like Snow White herself careening fearfully through menacing woods, Disney’s team understandably missed the forest for the individually animated trees in their first time at bat. Snow White fails to transcend its insipid characters, kitschy setting, and abysmal pacing, lollygagging on exposition and incident and misplacing what dramatists refer to as the inciting incident by placing it roughly 20 minutes from the end. It almost feels as though the animators truly didn’t grasp the duration of how 24 frames would play when jammed into one second.
But it’s precisely because Snow White‘s seams are so retroactively apparent that it deserves a break from our Disney Demolition Derby. As a model of craft and entertainment-product, it’s the antithesis to Disney’s later, equally retrograde but dangerously efficient indoctrinations. (Not for nothing was Battleship Potempkin workhorse Sergei Eisenstein a major fan of the Mouse House.) And so far as the potential for Snow White herself to teach yawning young female minds to accept their lot in life as domestic goddesses goes, the brunette princess doesn’t register enough as a human to serve as an inspiration. Thanks to the maladroit animation, she isn’t even pretty enough to engender instinctive parroting. Nor are many girls or gay boys likely to accept noted tenor Prince Charming’s ability to catch a tune, straddle a pony, or perch atop a stonewall as any sort of treatise on masculinity. If it’s possible for a parable to be too simple to even qualify as a parable, the convincingly dim Snow White represents the dopey standard.