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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #141: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs

Odds are you know the story of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs by heart, and the odds are greater still that the first you became familiar with the story was when you saw the 1937 Walt Disney animated musical, directed by David Hand. The Brothers Grimm were the ones who first popularized fairy tales in the 19th century, but it was the creator of Mickey Mouse who created the versions we all know in the 20th and 21st century. Comparing the work of the Brothers Grimm with the cheerful films of Uncle Walt is like comparing Game of Thrones to Frozen: they both feature princesses and elements of fantasy, but one has a lot more blood and murder.

Of course by removing the more mature parts of the Grim fairy tales and using colourful animation as well catchy tunes to tell the story, Walt Disney pictures managed to reach millions of viewers and cemented their movie as the definitive version of the fairy tale. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs was Hollywood’s first full-length animated feature and the earliest in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, but it is constantly being rediscovered by new generations of children even though it was released 78 years ago. I can’t recall exactly when, but I know I watched it as a kid sometime in the early 90s, most likely in a classroom. Nothing will calm down a group of toddlers like the sight of the seven dwarfs singing “Heigh-Ho, it’s off to work we go.”

Knowing the story is one thing, but for a real pop culture challenge try remembering the names of the seven dwarfs off the top of your head. That’s right up there with knowing the names of Santa’s reindeers or the names of the Magnificent Seven. I can’t do it, but I do remember my favourite dwarf was the mute and bald dwarf Dopey because of how silly he behaved.

Both girls and boys usually love the animated movie, but of course nowadays the idea of a princess cooking and cleaning for seven guys who go work all day in a mine seems somewhat antiquated. Add to that she is eventually placed in a coma and falls in love when the first guy who kisses her while she is asleep, and there is a lot here to anger feminists the world over. This is probably why in 2012 alone there were two new live action versions of the film that featured a much more proactive Snow White. Mirror Mirror has her becoming essentially a stick-up artist with the dwarfs, and Snow White and the Huntsman has her picking up a sword and storming the castle of the evil stepmother for a final showdown. Apparently the studios really wanted to emphasize the “action” part of a live-action version of Snow White.

Although those new versions are definitely more progressive in terms of giving the female protagonist a lot more to do other than cooking and cleaning, it does still feel like something has been lost from the early animated version. The Walt Disney version is a product of its time, when a female character in movies was at best a prize to be rescued, but seen today the movie still has a certain magic. It’s a simple story with lots of cutesy characters and a damsel in distress, yet if it has lasted for close to eight decades Walt Disney must have done something right.  


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