Snow White can’t be tarnished by time or cynicism | Sunday Observer

Snow White can’t be tarnished by time or cynicism

7 March, 2021
A scene from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
A scene from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Out of all the creations of Walt Disney, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ is a unique and memorable animated movie. Some of us can even rattle off the names of the seven dwarfs: Doc, Dopey, Sleepy, Sneezy, Bashful, Grumpy and Happy. However, in Grimm’s 19th century fairy tale, the dwarfs had no names. Even if you have not read the fairy tale, you may have seen Disney’s film which remains one of the most popular movies in history. The film had its premiere in 1937. Since then over 500 million people have watched it. It was one of the films shown simultaneously in over 60 countries, including Russia and China.

‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ received rave reviews. When it was shown in the United States, the New York Times editorial urged people to “look at those seven dwarfs again.” It said, “Snow White cannot be tarnished either by time or cynicism.”

Walt Disney (1901-’66), the creator of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,’ was an American cartoonist and producer of animated films. He left school at 16 and later studied at art schools in Chicago and Kansas City. In 1923, he began to produce animated motion pictures in Hollywood with his brother Roy O. Disney. Disney produced a cartoon series, “Oswald the Rabbit” in 1926 and after two years, he produced “Steamboat Willie.” In this film, he introduced his most popular and enduring cartoon character Mickey Mouse. He began to produce feature-length cartoon films with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and followed it with “Pinocchio (1940), “Fantasia” (1941) and “Bambi” (1942).

Comic strips

In the 1950s and ‘60s, Walt Disney Production Ltd became one of the leading producers of films for theatres and television. The company also published books and comic strips for children. Most of them featured lovable characters, such as Donald Duck and Pluto the dog. In 1955, his company opened an amusement park known as Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The park had historical constructions, displays and rides.

It soon became a popular tourist destination. The company also produced documentaries, such as “The Living Desert” (1953) and “Secrets of Life” (1956). The company began to produce action films, such as “Treasure Island” (1950), “Robin Hood” (1951), “The Shaggy Dog” (1959), “The Absent-minded Professor” (1961) and “Mary Poppins” (1964). Animated features of this time included “Peter Pan” (1953) and “The Sword in the Stone” (1963).

Walt Disney became well known when he produced “Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Silly Symphonies” and “Three Little Pigs.” However, they were not commercially successful cartoon films. As a boy, Disney had seen the silent version of “Snow White” starring Marguerite Clark. He realised that the story had all the ingredients for a full-length film. There were the prince and princess for romance and the seven dwarfs as comic characters. What is more, there was an old witch as a villain. He decided to produce an animated film. However, the film industry analysts in Hollywood predicted that such a film would be a disaster.

Being a man of sterner stuff, Disney discussed the new project with his team of 40 artistes and explained to them how to portray Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to entertain the audience. His art director Ken Anderson said, “It was a shock because we knew how hard it was to do a short cartoon, but Disney’s performance inspired us.”

Definite personality

Being a capable film director, Disney wanted each of the dwarfs to have a definite personality. As all of them looked similar, their differences had to be shown through their gestures, voice and name. He called the leader of the dwarfs “Doc” as he had known a domineering doctor. His creative animator Ollie Johnston made “Doc” stand on his heels with his wrists pressed on his hips to convey pompousness. “Grumpy” was given a slight hunch and swagger. He looked somewhat pugnacious. “Sneezy” was made to look like a serious and responsible citizen.

Hollywood’s leading sneezer Billy Gilbert lent his voice to “Sneezy.” Pinto Colvig, the voice of “Goofy” and “Pluto” spoke for both “Sleepy and “Grumpy.” Otis Harlan, Scotty Mattraw and Roy Atwell were cast as “Happy, Bashful” and “Doc.” However, “Dopey” was not given a voice. In the film “Happy” tells “Snow White,” “This is Dopey. He don’t talk none.” “Snow White asks,”You mean he can’t talk?” “Happy” says, “He don’t know.”

Disney used Adriana’s voice for the princess. Harry Stockwell’s voice was used for the prince. Frank Churchil and Larry Money were the composer and lyricist for the film. Disney rejected some of the songs but selected a few of them which still linger in our minds.

Wicked queen

Disney had a clear vision as far as the characters were concerned. The wicked queen was created from salient features found in William Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth and the Big Bad Wolf. Her beauty was sinister, mature. She had plenty of curves. Lucille La Verne lent her voice for the queen and the witch.

At every point, Disney’s experience made its way into the film. He gave each dwarf a different snore. For instance, Grumpy listens to others snoring. Bashful snores in low moans. Happy’s snores end in long whistles. Doc rumbles and gargles. Sneezy snores like a buzz saw. Dopey whimpers.

The film was produced at a time when technology was not so developed. As a result, certain animated scenes required about 2,000 drawings. The whole film required about two million drawings. In the course of the production, Disney ran short of money and banks did not want to lend him any more money. However, he did not give up his ambitious project. Finally, he received a big bank loan and completed the film.

Academy Award

Disney’s efforts were not in vain. In 1939, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” won a special Academy Award and seven miniature Oscars for having charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field for the motion picture industry. Today, the film remains an all-time box-office hit. After the film’s premiere in 1937, the “Time” magazine predicted, “Snow white is a combination of Hollywood, the Grimm Brothers and the sad searching fantasy of universal childhood.

It is an authentic masterpiece to be shown and loved by new generations long after the current crop of Hollywood stars are sleeping where no Prince’s kiss can awaken them.”

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