Walt Disney opens new road to screenland: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
by Cyrus Le Roy Baldridge
Four weeks ago, Manhattan’s adult population — including its sophisticates — went starry-eyed. Revealing a touchingly childlike — and unsettled — capacity for enchantment, it succumbed to a Princess in a land that never was.
Broadway has, this season, more than its usual quota of successful plays, dealing with a wide range of subjects and including such novelties as a “Julius Caesar” without scenery, soon to be exported to London, as well as a class-conscious musical satire enacted by union workers from the needle trades.
But the dramatic entertainment most widely discussed for the past four weeks has been Walt Disney’s first full-length film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Its opening was marked by a thunder of ecstasy from the motion picture critics, those tired-eyed indefatigables whose columns were filled, next day, with glittering adjectives.
The Disney movie’s success in New York City
The giant theater, The Music Hall of Radio City, seats 6,720 people. Five times a day a film is shown. (You can do the arithmetic for yourself.) Meanwhile, the thunder of ecstasy has not abated. It has been increased to deafening proportions by the thousands of adults who have elbowed their way into the theater, standing rain or shine, during the first 10 days in box office queues whose length created a traffic problem for Manhattan’s police.
But now, high above the thunder, shrill noises are audible. They are being emitted by members of Walt Disney’s own profession, by artists whose opinions it is gleaned that the motion picture critics and the thousands of enchanted moviegoers have been strangely misled. For it has been discovered by artists, who have begun writing to the press, that the neck of Snow White is “uninventive!”
So great is the achievement of Walt Disney and his staff that they obviously require no champion. However, by weighing the protests against “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” it is possible to appreciate more fully the significance of that achievement not only in the entertainment field but in a field where the motion picture industry’s repeated failures have evoked no comment, the field of art.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
It has been charged that Snow White, her lover and his white charger are “badly drawn attempts at realism,” at factual representation, and that their attempted realism besmirches the whole picture’s fantasy. I have never met a dwarf, hence I am unable to say whether the seven dwarfs are ill or well drawn. I can only say that, to Disney’s everlasting credit, they are consistently lovable and never monstrous. I propose, however, to champion Snow White.
The Princess — a lineal descendant of Disney’s Spring — is represented as possessing a full complement of human physical attributes, although her eyes are too large, too round, and too far apart, while her neck is “uninventive” (it does not articulate in a precisely normal fashion) and her body lacks substance, as a consequence of which she moves with a liquid grace to which well-muscled and well-articulated contortionists sometimes achieve.
But this does not constitute an unsuccessful attempt at realism, at naturalism. For how else could Snow White be portrayed? Were she either more or less naturalistically conceived she would fall to be what I assume her to be, neither realistically human nor yet an unrealistic elf, but a fairytale Princess who, having nothing to recommend her but an innocuous prettiness and a sweet perfection of conduct — which would incite any but a fairy tale prince to murder — is a symbol. Chaste and harmless as a snowflake, she is a symbol of all the good and pretty fairytale Princess who live happily ever after.
Her Prince condemned as a “cardboard lover,” a symbol of all the fairy tale Princes who had fairy tale Princesses; while his white charger, cited as an example of bad realism and, therefore, a “carousel horse,” is a symbol of all the fairy tale horses upon which Princesses ride off; and the Queen is a symbol of all the Wicked Stepmothers by whom the Princesses are traditionally ill-treated.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs movie trailer (video)
Vintage Disney movie poster for Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs