Although it’s definitely a little cheesy now, I do like the whole flip open an elaborate book as the audience reads the text thing it does at the beginning. It makes it seem like we are being told a fairytale, which we are, and in that sense, we can more easily forgive its simplistic and unsophisticated storyline. Anyone who is familiar with my opinion on Beauty and the Beast (1991) knows that I believe a simple story retold well can earn the perfect grade, and anyone who agrees with my opinion on The Little Mermaid (1989) understands that the whole Disney flaw of love at first sight can be overcome by masterful storytelling. So, now the question is: does this movie tell its story well?
The short answer is yes. Before we proceed, let’s summarize the story and its immediate flaws. Snow White is a princess who has a step mother. Of course, the step mother is evil, and she hires an assassin to kill Snow White because she is jealous of her beautiful looks. The assassin is unable to kill an innocent princess like Snow White and tells her to run off. Snow White settles in an empty cottage, which houses the seven dwarfs. The step mother with her magic mirror figures out that Snow White is still alive, and turns into a witch to do the job herself. She gives Snow White a wicked apple to eat that will make her sleep forever unless at love’s first kiss. The step mother is chased away, the Prince who Snow White heard sing once comes to kiss her, and he carries her into the sunset to live happily ever after.
If you couldn’t pick out what part of the plot is problematic, it’s that it assumes love can be achieved without any meaningful human interaction. I mean, Snow White never knows the Prince’s name… ever. We don’t even know it. He’s just referred to as The Prince, and his name, or lack thereof, is indicative of his role in the movie—he’s just a let’s-make-the-ending-happy character. Moreover, this has some serious moral implications that shouldn’t be encouraged to young children, which is why I cannot bring myself to award an A grade. So unfortunately, it will not join the likes of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.
However, I do think Snow White is a great role-model, and it’s sad she is often the first example for the whole “Disney princesses aren’t good role models” argument. In fact, I don’t think any of the Disney princesses deserves these criticisms, with the exception being Aurora from Sleeping Beauty (1959), but that rant is for another day. Snow White reflects what was attractive at the time, so she has smaller eyes, shorter hair, and a plumper figure. She is a presumably praying Christian and a housewife, or at least would be perfect for that role. Disney could definitely not get away with these characterizations in their kid’s movies today, but I’m glad that they were able to get Snow White in before this became unacceptable by the feminist movement. I like Snow White because I think she’s a perfect mother-figure. As the title suggest, this film is really as much about her as it is about the seven dwarfs, and their interaction together is splendid. Just the way every single one of them is developed with patience and lightheartedness; it is heartwarming stuff in an age of kid’s movie (except Pixar) that are fast-paced and stuffed with obnoxious jokes. Really, if you just slice off the ends of this film, it is Disney charm at its peak.
The animation quality exceeds even today’s standards, which has benefited from the assistance of computers since 1990. The stepmother witch is one of Disney’s most memorable villains, the iconic magic mirror and wicked apple adds mysticism to the entire story, Disney does not shy away from darker tones, Snow White is just a well-natured human being, and each one of the seven dwarfs more than justify their existence in the film. The way the music syncs with the animals and the action of its characters is delightful, and even the dialogue rhymes like it would have, had it been read out loud from a fairytale. Yeah, the movie certainly isn’t didactic, but it’s definitely one of Disney’s most enjoyable to revisit.