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'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' 4K Review: The Monster Who Cleaned Our House
Walt Disney's first feature-length animated film is now streaming in 4K on Disney Plus.
Now Streaming: What were they thinking? To watch it now is to realize the dwarfs had murder on their minds.
After working hard all day long, the seven dwarfs walk home through hill and dale. Undoubtedly exhausted and bone-weary, they are singing and whistling, likely because they know they have earned their keep from the gems they have mined. They are ready for a bite to eat and then to sleep. Upon arriving home, however, they notice that their home, a cabin in the woods, is lit up. Jiminy cricket, who could it be?
Sensing danger, they quickly formulate a plan to search their cabin for the intruder, who they surmise is a deadly invader, ready to harm them. As they search, they realize that the unwelcome guest has cleaned their filthy cabin thoroughly and prepared something to eat. What a monster!
Upon discovery of a figure, under cover and sound asleep in the upstairs bedroom, they decide that the monster who cleaned their house must be murdered. Perhaps they can even behead the beast. Pick-axes at the ready, the seven little men yank the covers off the intruder's body and discover a sleepy princess.
Such was the stuff of magic in 1937. Walt Disney's first feature-length animated film, in production for more than four years, became an instant success when it was released in December of that year in the U.S., spreading overseas after that, and into everyone's hearts with global acclaim.
I can't remember when I first saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. If I saw it during one of its theatrical re-releases (perhaps in 1967), it did not leave a strong impression, so I may have first seen it on television during the 1980s. Again, it did not leave a strong impression; it felt very much like a product of its era, more important for the studio it kickstarted and the creative people it influenced than as a vital cinematic treasure.
Now that it's available to stream in 4K, I watched it again with greater appreciation for its place in cinematic history. "Heigh-Ho" and "Whistle While You Work" are instantly familiar to me; now they sound like celebrations of manual labor, which is not a bad thing at all, and I'm sure felt reassuring for people during the Great Depression who were happy to have any job at all.
"Someday My Prince Will Come" is more problematic for modern audiences, as is the whole idea that a woman should happily busy herself with domestic labor and wait for a man to come rescue her. It is instructive, I would say, about how men in the 1930s pictured their place in the world, that men were the ones who would decide the fate of women.
It is noticeable that the prince is barely glimpsed until he arrives to deliver "love's first kiss" to the sleeping Snow White, who hasn't any agency in what happens. The Huntsman, who saves Snow White's life by not killing her, instead telling her to run for her life, thereafter disappears.
From previous viewings, I'd forgotten that Snow White is able to communicate with the animals in the forest, which is a good reminder that the movie is, after all, a complete fantasy, a fantasy of male entitlement and female dependence. I would argue, however, that Snow White's offer to stay at the cabin as an unpaid maid for the dwarfs in exchange for room and board is not completely unreasonable, especially in 1937. (Even today; I'd take that offer).
Disney does not offer all its classics yet in 4K, but I'm glad they have done so with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The 4K just looks better, with deeper, sharper resolution, even to my untrained eyes. Compare with the extras, which are not in 4K, to see the difference.
I'm glad that Disney has included some extras on its streaming service. I watched "Disney's First Feature: The Making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," which appears to be of recent vintage. It provides a fine overview in 33 minutes, crediting individual artists, and weaving together archival photographs with video interviews with Disney creatives and audio interviews with some of the original animators.
Extras also include a trailer, a deleted scene, and two vintage "story meetings." It's worth a watch, especially for fans of animation. [Disney Plus]